• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If You LIke Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain

There are a few used bookstores here and I could happily die inside any one of them. Where do floorboards better crick? Where is the smell of death and must more erotic? Books that bear inscriptions speak of happier times. I sometimes wish I wore a hat when perusing the poetry section, belles lettres, autobiography. The only marketing here is the conversation among the books themselves. The undead. Why is the store owner always eating a sandwich on black bread? Why does he seem not to notice our patronage until we pile a stack of books by the register. Did I wake you? One store has a candy dish filled with gum drops. Another a picture of a golden retriever now certainly gone.

What’s your favorite used bookstore?

43 Responses

  1. Shakespeare & Co in Paris (at least I think that was the name)… in the 1980s (and for all I know still today) you could tell them you were a poor student or artist and they would show you through to the back and into a salon that continued upstairs where you were allowed to sit and read all day and talk with other like-minded souls.

  2. Hi Betsy — it’s been a long time since Camp Laurelwood but someone linked your blog… so here I am!

    My favorite used book store: Shakespeare & Co in Paris… which I believe also sells new books. In the 1980s I went and back then (and for all I know, still) you could go in and tell them you were a poor student or artist and they would show you into the back which lead to a salon there and on the second floor where you could sit and read books (and speak with others) for hours.

    • Sorry — both of these replies are mine… I am still figuring out how to reply to blogs (technologically challenged).

  3. I love the Book Revue, in Huntington, NY, because they put the used books on the same shelves as the new ones. Musty, yellowed, ornery old men and women right next to the spanking, new, sparkly younguns. There’s also a bookstore I love in Maine… Is it Naples? Norway? Bridgton? Can’t remember. I could spend all day there. Except they have bad coffee.

  4. Here in Ann Arbor, I’m a fan of Dawn Treader books. (I liked the shout-out you gave Dawn Treader at the 826 conference. Speaking of which, hello. You may remember me from the semi-narrated tour of Ann Arbor’s many scenic construction zones and parking lots.)

    In the world, my favorite is probably Myopic Books in Chicago. I’ve only been there once, and I don’t even think I bought anything, but my memory of that place is dream-like. The sort of bookstore where you stagger outside without any sense of what time it is.

  5. Downtown Phoenix, next to the motorcycle repair garage and I was 5’7″, 104, and adorable and the guys gave me such a ration. I think I bought a couple of back issues of Poetry Magazine. I was manic and nuts and all by myself and happy as I can ever remember. But being nuts’ll do that to ya.

    Yeah, yeah. You noticed. It’s all about me.

  6. It closed down a few years ago and I don’t remember its name.

  7. Betsy, that hat is so you. I was going to say The Strand, but then I thought of the Atlantis Bookshop in London. I’d have to say that. A key scene in my first novel takes place there. And if it’s ever made into a movie, I want to play the owner (if I can get the accent right).

  8. Before Barnes and Noble was Big n Nasty (and way before it teetered on the verge of death), we’d take our semi-annual trip to the city and spend an afternoon there. Unlike anywhere else in NY, my little sister and I were set free to swarm the stacks and wander aimlessly about. Now that B & N is the mega-chain we love to hate, I have to admit, I can’t quite get on that bandwagon.

    Besides, I live in Portland-land of the indies. Powell’s, Broadway Books, Annie Blooms. Most of them have resident cats and offer tea, and brown bread bakeries are within spitting distance, but I still occasionally yearn for the gleaming hugeness of a Costco-sized book-village. The slight Cloroxy scent, the piles of non-book crap stacked up at the register in hopes that you’ll impulsively buy a Livestrong band or an itty-bitty booklite to go with your discounted bestseller.

    • But Powell’s IS a Costco-sized book village! And parts of it DOES gleam! Especially all those racks of impulse-items near the register! The only difference between Powell’s and some Borders monster is that Powell’s shelves my book (singular: they had one copy when I ran in to check my Portlandia creds last month) in the Travel Narrative section, where it belongs, and not in Self Help (which is why I had to bring the chain down — I take full credit for cursing Borders into annihilation).

      I’ve traveled to Paris often, I even lived there in the early ’80s. And I’ve never made it to Shakespeare & Co., not even seen it from the outside. Everything I’ve read about the place makes me think it must reek like a pissoir of pretentiousness.

      Foyle’s in London in 1977: that’s my idea of a swell bookstore.

      • It is true. Powell’s downtown is very Costco (though some of the satellite Powell’s retain that “would you like some fresh-brewed kombucha with that travel narrative book”? feel).

        I will make a note of Foyle’s to add to my UK wishlist!

      • Could be… but in 1981 to a wide-eyed college undergrad, it delivered. Ratty, yes. Creaky, yes. But there were a lot of people in there discussing things like Nietzche (which I loved at the time) and Kafka in French. Cliche, I think, but they exist for a reason.

    • I can’t imagine going to Portland and staying out of Powells. I don’t mind if it gleams a little — so many shops by me have closed, the craving is stronger. And I forgot to mention Kepler’s on Menlo Park, CA. They do the best job with readings.

  9. Haslam’s Book Store in St Petersburg, Florida – opened in 1933 selling used books and magazines and has grown to 30,000 square feet and houses over 300,000 new and used books. The staff are welcoming and knowledgeable, hold frequent book signings and support local authors. Three generations of Haslams and various cats have kept the store open, and locals claim Jack Kerouac used to hang out in the book stacks. And Small Adventures Bookshop in Gulfport – another favorite, with Emily Dickenson as resident cat, where Jan the Booklady will let you sit on the deck and read, cooled by the breeze off Boca Ciega Bay.

  10. The Shire Bookshop in Franklin, MA. Not sure if it’s still standing. Reeked chronically of gas — always expected it to explode one day. It was in an old mill. Owners offered free tea with honey. All that charm and dust.

  11. Black Swan in Lexington, KY. A restored Victorian house with creaky floors and floor-to-ceiling shelves in small rooms that wind back and forth until you are happily lost.

  12. When you pull together your collection, kill this sentence:
    Don’t ask questions solider. Just do it.

  13. Why is the store owner always eating a sandwich on black bread?
    The sentence in question (who knows why cut and paste doesn’t work in blog response database…) is <>
    As the man said in ApocNow: With extreme prejudice.

  14. Shakespeare and Company in Paris-pure bliss…

  15. John K. King bookstore in Detroit is the king of used bookstores as far as I’m concerned. It’s four stories of used books of every kind. I have to take you there if you ever come back to Michigan. Also, I was going to apologize for the unintended pun but then I thought: “Why? Sometimes puns just happen.”

  16. Where I live there isn’t really a nice one. To be honest, and it is pathetic, we only have three book stores for several counties that I know of. People here don’t love books the way that my wife and I do.

  17. Annie’s in Jensen Beach, Florida is my haunt. Hot black top, 80’s plaza that houses a dog groomer, a swing dance studio, restaurants whose names I can’t remember because they last about six months, and Annie’s, which somehow manages to survive. The beach and Micky are nowhere in sight, and neither are the tourists. This is real Florida and the people who set their alarms on weekdays. On the sidewalk outside Annie’s are sundries for sale, like 60’s era coffee percolators that look they are made of polyester, always in olive or gold, that somehow remind me of days spent in the cement cellar while my grandmother turned the crank of her wringer washer.

    Inside Annie’s, packed into shelves in all directions and piled high on the floor are the promise of long afternoons of transport–if only I live long enough to find the one I want. The mold is so noxious, I’m tempted to wear not a hat, but a mask, and would not consider eating the store-bought vanilla cream sandwich cookies they offer free to shoppers.

    But a Charles Baxter novel for half the cover price, minus 50% of whatever my family members donate to the cause? I’m that brave.

  18. The Bookshop in Chapel Hill, NC. Creaky floors, poetry books floor to ceiling, art books, food writing, poetry criticism, southern lit. Die happy.

  19. Glad to see Shakespeare & Co. getting so much good vibe. I though it would probably be a tourist trap by now thanks to Hemingway and Woody Allen more recently. Powell’s in Portland remains the most impressive used book store I’ve seen. Wish it (or any used book store) was around the corner.

  20. Used: Downstairs at Brookline Booksmith (MA).
    New: Upstairs at Brookline Booksmith (MA), King’s English (SLC).

    The Booksmith’s floors creak in just the right way, the people who work there love books and know their stuff, the readings rock. I have a photo of their author’s podium, taken surreptitiously one day while browsing for books, as inspiration. That’s my vision of making it as a writer.

  21. Then there’s this:

    “I remember those old dignified merchants who served their customers with downcast eyes, in discreet silence, and who were full of wisdom and tolerance for their customers’ most secret whims. But most of all, I remember a bookshop in which I once glanced at some rare and forbidden pamphlets, the publications of secret societies lifting the veil on tantalizing and unknown mysteries.” — Bruno Schulz, “Cinnamon Shops” (trans. Wieniewska)

  22. I’m partial to the treasure troves of books at estate sales. Often the heirs are not interested in the quality of the items – more interested in just clearing out the houses and the books are usually priced for quick sale. I have found several nice first editions; beautiful, leather-bound classics; a 1946 activity book “for boys” (quite hilarious) and a soft-bound 1905 edition of “Modern Drawing Room Pieces for the Piano”. (The compositions are WELL beyond my skill level, but I’m slogging through the nocturnes.)

    • Yessss! More below on that one.

    • @Karen. At an estate sale, where i bought old advertising packets of needles and other aged sewing paraphernalia, I stopped at a table full of family albums, ladies in long summer dresses, photos pasted in with those little triangles, everyone identified and dated in white ink on the black album paper, and my daughter had to drag me weeping from the room cuz that beautiful family had just died out and there was no one left to cherish those wonderful albums.

      Yeah, I need to get out more. . .

  23. My favorite used bookstore is BJ Books in Warrenton, Virginia, luckily (for my brother) on my way to his house, thus ensuring that I visit him at least once a year (and buy books on the way). I nearly always have a good book day at B.J.’s.They have everything, and it’s categorized. I like serendipity, but I like it categorized.

    There is an excellent used bookstore nearer to my home. It’s in Front Royal, and the only reason I don’t go more often is because they play big band music (not my favorite kind), and the speaker is hooked up to the mysteries/SF section (my favorite kind). So I totally can’t concentrate on the titles.

    That’s true about the sellers never noticing us walk in! But I like it! I hate those stores that have Greeters. I avoid eye contact and walk past fast. I’m friendly, but I object to it being professionalized.

  24. In my suburban town we have a used bookstore I’ve really taken to, R&B Used books. Family owned, I always end up chatting with the mother or daughter who are working. Two cats live in the store full-time, and it’s not uncommong for a cat to jump up on the register hoping for a scratch while you’re paying. The shelves in the front of the store are all sagging from the weight of the books. The daughter told me that the shelves “are smiling.”

    It seems like wherever you go/live, there’s a good bookstore to find, which is kind of encouraging.

    When I lived in Portland, I of course loved Powell’s. There were other good ones around as well, of course, but Powell’s was nearby, and had coffee.

  25. It was a place tucked away in the back alley of some city. Or maybe it was a small town. There were books on the shelves, in boxes on the floor and stacked high in the corners. Obscure, old books and many copies of popular mainstream titles by a flavor of the month author. It was a big store. Or maybe a small one. People came and went, some lingering, some checking for a specific title then exiting quickly, disappointed. I was young. I saw a copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book! Did anyone expect to make money from that book? Besides Abbie, I mean. I pulled out my shirt, tucked the book into my pants and anxiously left the store. Maybe it was an act of subversion, but really all I did was rip off some people trying to make a living. That’s the problem with middle class revolutions – they’re so easily misunderstood.

  26. Great post with lots of responses. The only thing is that now I have that doggone song in my head.

  27. Ten Editions is in Toronto at Spadina and Sussex near the university. Books are stacked from the floor to the ceiling with sliding ladders to reach them. I feel at peace there.

  28. If you like making love at midnight / With a dude in a cape…

    Wait, never mind. My favorite used bookstore would probably be Housing Works, for sentimental reasons — it kept me sane during the end run of a job I hated. I’d retreat there nearly every lunch hour and let the jazz and little sandwiches and random selection of literature soothe my soul. I also dig that little hole-in-the-wall place on 80th and Broadway because it’s so old-school.

    But what I really love are the folks selling books on the street: West 4th outside NYU, that stretch of Sixth Avenue between 8th and 4th Streets, Broadway and 72nd, and upper Broadway by Columbia University — my lunch hour downfall. Some of them are down and out, some do it because that’s what they do, but they all have a place in my heart. No store-sanctioned bookseller will take the time and talk to you the way a street vendor does… of course some of them are crazy, but it’s New York — who cares?

    I’m also with Karen about the estate sales, and library sales and church bazaars. Especially around lower Westchester — the Tarrytown library has an awesome sale twice a year, and out in Pocantico Hills, the old Rockefeller estate, the church has a harvest thing in the fall — you find insane treasures. Mummy giving away Uncle Eddie’s 1950s New Yorker short story collections when he went into assisted living, that kind of thing. Last April I came home with a beautiful illustrated hardcover first of Brendan Behan’s New York for $2. Don’t get me started.

  29. All Books in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada). It has an excellent selection and very good prices and it’s tiny, as in walk-in-closet tiny, and the proprietor (he’s a slightly Heathcliff-ish type (with a dark and thunderous brow) who knows EVERYTHING, if you’re brave speak to him) seems to have given up trying to find room for anything anymore — the books teeter in piles on the floor and on tables and in two-deep rows on the shelves, especially in September, when he has to make room for an influx of textbooks (used and new) on top of everything else. Customers rotate around the shop on a sort of unspoken schedule: you only get so much time in front of one pile/shelf and then move on to make room for the next person in line, but eventually you’ll end up where you started, for Round 2. It’s also right next door to the best repertory theatre in town (the Bytowne Cinema) and keeps similar-ish hours, so you can often browse before or after your movie.

  30. Smith’s Book Store
    North Howard Street
    Baltimore, Maryland

    1950 to 1954
    When I was in High School.
    Learning the difference between
    cost – price – and value
    of ideas encapsulated in books.

    Smith’s was urban renewed
    decades ago.

    I still remember some of the
    books I bought there – from
    the owner with is dark bread sandwich.

  31. I love Shakespeare and Company in Paris, and City Lights books in San Francisco, which are connected. I last visited Shakespeare and Co. in 2007, which has been run by George Whitman since 1951, and now owned and operated by his daughter, the beautiful Sylvia Beach Whitman. It is certainly a wonderful place. But I also found the original bookstore landmark also on the Left Bank, now a small clothing store, once run by the insightful Sylvia Beach. She made history with James Joyce in publishing “Ulysses”, one of the more extraordinary moments in literary history. All that nostalgia permeates the Shakespeare and Company now situated across from that lovely Gothic monstrosity, Notre Dame.
    Here in my town of Ventura, Ca., Bank of Books does justice to all the books of past and present.
    Donald Sommerfield

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