Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Joys of the Secondhand Bookshop

Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.
Virginia Woolf

There is a particular joy about a new book: a smooth, shiny spine and unmarked, crisp pages. I use to pride myself on keeping my new purchases in pristine condition, but cast your eyes along my bookcase these days and you’ll find a number of frayed, faded spines years older than the neighbours they share their shelves with. These books are the spoils of my forays into second hand bookshops. It’s the perfect way of indulging literary passions without breaking the bank with the added excitement of never knowing what you might find.

Second hand bookshops are always the site of synchronicities for me. I might stumble upon an out of print book by my favourite author. I might find a 10p copy of a book I’m about to study. The other day I found a W. Somerset Maugham first edition for £5 – highlight of my week. It sometimes feels like the books have been waiting for me to collect them. Of course, it’s not as easy as putting an online order in but it’s certainly a lot more satisfying.

Any place with full bookcases is a happy place for me. But a visit to a second hand bookshop is a uniquely sensory experience. There is that old book smell - literally because you’re surrounded by old books. There are books spilling out of boxes, stacked against walls, all in colourful jacket covers from sixties orange paperbacks to bright neon self-help books from the eighties.

There’s also that feeling that you’re not just buying a book – you’re buying a historical object. The battered, tired volume you hold in your hands had a life of its own. It’s been the witness of countless conversations and arguments. It’s been thrown in a suitcase and taken across the world. It’s been lovingly chosen for someone as a birthday present. You are the next step in its journey.  Sometimes you’ll find a dedication written on the inside cover or a shopping list slipped between the pages – little artefacts of the book’s former lives.

Next time you’re looking for a new read, seek out the second hand bookshops and stalls in your area – what hidden treasure will you find?

Do you like visiting second hand bookshops? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I once went to Fjaerland in Norway where there are 4km of second-hand book shops! It is an absolutely amazing place right by a fjord. I picked up a really old copy of some Sherlock Holmes stories.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...