Reading Ruminations

[Saturday Reads] The Distinctive Taste (and smell) of Secondhand Bookstores


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.


A few weeks ago, I finished reading Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. I confess to not loving it as much as I thought I would: it was only the first essay which really made me laugh out loud as she talked about Marrying Libraries. The others I found to be quite alienating and not really much to my liking, although I still dutifully read everything. One other essay that I enjoyed reading was the one on Secondhand Prose where Fadiman discusses her fascination with secondhand bookstores vis-a-vis huge retail bookstores. I took a photo of the page (p. 119) and edited it using an iPhone app:


We share our book hunting expeditions here in GatheringBooks every Sunday, where I often feature the many discounted, out-of-the-way, super-secret bookstores that I manage to find in a few of my travels. And so, to say that secondhand bookstores appeal to me would be an understatement. It is not so much the fact that I get my books at a much cheaper rate (although admittedly that’s a primary consideration). It is because secondhand books seem to possess character: the fact that they have experienced other hands, felt other eyes skimming through their pages seem to bring forth a softness in their spine; the books become more pliable in my hands. They seem more willing to reveal their secrets to me and whisper words textured by other readers who have fumbled their way into the book’s bumpy and convoluted sentences.

I also feel like a book hunter, bee-lining my way through rare treasures buried amidst quaff and the occasional irrelevant titles that do not speak to me. Again, I go back to Fadiman’s essay (p. 120):


So far, I managed to find the most treasure in the Savers store in Las Vegas (surprise, surprise)


and fell in love with the rows and rows of secondhand bookshops in Budapest.


And our very own Evernew Bookstore in Bras Basah here in Singapore:


I added this one at the last minute. How could I have forgotten Book Off in New York!


My absolute favourite though is still Green Apple in San Francisco.


How about you, dear friends, do you go to secondhand bookstores? What’s the experience like for you? Do you have a favourite second-hand bookshop?

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6 comments on “[Saturday Reads] The Distinctive Taste (and smell) of Secondhand Bookstores

  1. LOVED reading this post, Myra! And perfect timing because I just noticed yesterday that one of my favorite discount book stores (Book Warehouse) has opened on the Main Street very close to my house! I LOVE bookstores – old, new and everything in between. I try to support the smaller, local stores in cities. We have an amazing children’s book store here called Vancouver Kidsbooks. If ever you come to Vancouver, you MUST go there! I will meet you and give you a tour! (I joke that they should have a cot set up for me so I can sleep there!) Thanks for celebrating book stores today!


  2. Love every bit, of course, and yes, I know the used bookstores here as well as the Indies. I remember that you need a picture, but I’ll be out of town next weekend, so will get to my favorite in a few weeks. It is deliciously big, and a little dark, and one can poke around and find wonderful books. They do sell a few new ones too and have a few bookish things, bookmarks, etc. It’s named West Side Books, & they are inventoried, will search their database to see if they have the book you’re looking for. Sorry you didn’t care much for Fadiman’s book. I remember loving it, but it has been a while.I enjoyed the parts you shared, Myra. Happy hunting!


  3. I really love your “Saturday Reads” picture, Myra 🙂 And all these photos—what fun to look at! Thank you 😀


  4. So many bookstores… 😉


  5. Pingback: When Murder Brings A Teacher and Student Back Together – Gathering Books

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