The Thrill of the Chase: Used Book Stories

Robert Russell By Robert Russell, 7th Mar 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Society, Politics & Philosophy

This article contrast online book buying with searching for books in used bookstores, yard sales, and library sales. Despite the convenience of shopping online there are many advantages to the old fashion approach.

The Advantages of Bookstores

The Internet is profoundly altering the ways in which people shop. I assume that this as true for the used book market as for any other market. Online sites such as Amazon make it quite easier to search for your favorite books and authors online in the comfort of your own home. In many cases, online prices are substantially less than you will pay for the same book in a used bookstore. I admit that I am a frequent visitor to online book sites and they have served me well from time to time. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling a tinge of guilt when I buy a book from a large online corporate entity rather than from a local used bookstore proprietor who, in many cases, struggles to the store up and running.

In addition to the tension one may feel between the convenience of buying books online and buying books at a local bookstore there are several compelling reasons to peruse bookstores. One the one hand, there is simply the aesthetic experience of being physically surrounded by the feel, texture, visual images, and smells of the books. This is a point well addressed by the 20th century literary critic Walter Benjamin in an essay titled “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting.” On the other hand, visiting a used bookstore makes it possible to leisurely stroll around the store and be caught off guard and pleasantly surprised by a book that wasn’t on your radar. Online book shoppers, at least in my case, tend to know what they want went they go online. When I walk into a used bookstore, or a library used book or yard sale, more times than not I walk away with unexpected gift and treasure. The list of books that I have found in this way is too numerous to mention but I will mention three of my favorites.

Years ago I was in my hometown of Black Mountain, North Carolina visiting my parents. Black Mountain is a scenic town and one of the most interesting streets is Cherry Street. Cherry Street is a cobblestone street full of quaint stores and restaurants. I walked into a small used bookstore that I had never been in before. After browsing for five minutes I came across the Marcel Proust’s two volume “Remembrance of Things Past.” I bought both volumes for $5.00. I often attend the local library book sale in the town I live in now. It is held two or three times a year and I have easily bought over a hundred books in the last couple of years. Hard covers are $1.00 and paperbacks are 50 cents. I actually found the same edition of Proust which I bought for $2.00. One of my favorite finds from the library book sale is:Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Chivalry – The Legends of Charlemagne.” This is a book that I would never have thought about in my online bookshopping. Thomas Bullfinch was a 19th American mythology scholar that I knew nothing about until I came across this 600 page paperback book. One of the books I am most proud of is “The Star of Redemption” by Franz Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig was an early 20th German philosopher and this book had a profound influence on peers and contemporaries including Walter Benjamin. I had completely forgotten about Rosenzweig until I came across tucked away in the corner of a little bookstore in Davenport, Iowa.


Bookstores, Online Book Buying, Used Books, Walter Benjamin

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author avatar Robert Russell
I play guitar professionally in a Cajun/zydeco band named Creole Stomp. We are a nationally touring band that have been together ten years. I also have a PhD in philosophy.

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author avatar ittech
8th Mar 2012 (#)

marvelous! :D

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author avatar Robb714
8th Mar 2012 (#)

I would be the first to congratulate you on a wonderful article but not in an effort to just be mean I think if you re proof read it, add a couple of pictures and add a little more content, it would definitely a Star page, I would at least hope but then again I sense they just hand those things out namby-pamby on here with no adherence to any consistency. I saw one that wasn’t even coherent and just full of generalizations based on no facts whatsoever. Anyway, I once lived in Black Mountain and forgot all about Cherry Street, which would have been one good picture itself. You could have also mentioned buying used books in person will also keep you off any “lists.” You did make the point that treasures can be found though, it is highly unlikely that any book bought online is going to be an instant treasure. I bought a First Edition used book last year at the flea market for 50 cents and sold it online two days later 250 dollars. You touched on but could have elaborated more (more content) on how as more people by digital books, print books are only going to increase in value. Over all, I would give you half a star for effort and really enjoyed this article very much. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar Robert Russell
8th Mar 2012 (#)

Thanks Robb for the interesting comments. I thought about the digital book issue as well which raises a whole other set of questions. I should have included it. It is interesting that you lived in Black Mountain. I play guitar professionally for a living and there used to be a guitar store on Cherry Street years ago that I spent hours in jamming and playing.

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