Thursday, November 30, 2006
Serendipity in a second hand book store
Yesterday I was in a BookSale outlet in Goldcrest doing my usual browsing. After having gone through the children’s books situated at the end of the first gondola, I went to the paperback novels just below the rack where the coffee table books were arrayed. It was a routine movement that I have done tens of times before. I always started from the end of the first gondola working my way through the other end, which was occupied by the cookbooks. After the culinary section I would turn right from the corner and stay over for a while going through the non-fiction paperbacks. At the upper rack of the paperbacks were technical books on computers, economics, child-rearing, useful stuff to some but completely irrelevant to me. What is conspicuously absent are the current best selling authors. Instead, you would have a smattering of old best sellers most of which the younger browsers would not be acquainted with.
From there another short stretch then you turn right again and be at eye level with more coffee table books. I stopped buying coffee table books because they were no longer at bargain prices. Despite the yellowed pages and the torn jackets of most the prices would range from five hundred to a few thousand pesos. My usual budget during this forage is about a hundred and fifty pesos. With this I could manage to buy three books on a lucky day.
Again like in the first display there were paperbacks and an assortment of short story anthologies like the New Writers from The south, literary reviews (I was hoping I could find old copies of the Literary Horizons, a selection of short stories and essays from the budding writers of the fifties and the sixties), and nonfiction on a wide range of subjects. This was at the other end of the gondola.
With that I would have covered the full length of the store. There are days that I would retrace the route taken and do another round of scavenging for the third or the fourth time.
If you have little time to spare don’t go to bargain books outlets. You have to be without time pressure. There is no semblance of order at all in the way they display their books. Except for the general headings such as children’s books, cookbooks, magazines after that you are on your own. After that lame attempt at order the whole place becomes a bedlam of authors, topics, genres and it would easily take you more than hour and a half to find a particular book that you were searching for, besides, you would probably not find what your were looking for. The books sold in this kind of store are discards, donations coming from libraries of schools, public libraries and from personal libraries whose owners have passed on and have left his collection to unappreciative heirs…but, prepare to be rewarded by a gem every now and then.
Finding something that you really like is a joyful experience. One should not come here with something specific in mind. You must allow yourself to be surprised by a find. My idea of a find is a combination of content and cost, a real value for money book.
It was one if those lucky days. I bought three items one of which was a New York Times collection of daily crosswords for thirty pesos, a back issue of The New Yorker with a short story by David Sedaris (my daughter’s favorite) for forty five pesos and a book on writing, specifically, a book on encouraging budding writers to keep at it…this was for less than a hundred. The book’s title was Wild Mind. When I picked it up from the lower shelves the attraction was not because it was about writing. In fact I thought it would be about the chronicles of a character with a mean streak, a hell’s angel’s odyssey or a pulp fiction type of story. The title was provocative enough for me to read the jacket copy and was glad to find out that it was one of those books which satisfied my criteria of substance and cost.
The book is all about the encouragement of budding writers. It is about letting go, about being unshackled from inhibitions and not to be hamstrung by grammar, spelling, punctuations and other conventions that impede the creative flow. Being an elderly novice and an off and on writer, this book could help me to be more persevering with the craft I am stumbling to master.
Book scavenging has a lot going for it. The satisfaction of buying literary treasures for a pittance is immensely fulfilling. The joy of just being around books, all sorts books brings inexplicable delight.
Inside the second hand bookstore the place can transform into an ancient, cramped and musty reading room. In a flash fantasy, from where you stand could espy an antiquity master leaning at the far end of the room in rapt attention to a monograph, while another, a famous university don, is perched on the gondola’s end leafing through a tattered paperback. At the first turn of the corner a renaissance great is rummaging at the lower tiers of shelves. Your favorite eccentric is seated on the floor unmindful of the illustrious crowd, absentmindedly tapping his pipe on the floor visibly amused of what he is reading. You couldn’t wish for a more congenial company.