Friday, October 12, 2007

Secondhand Books

Yesterday, the box of used books that I mailed from England more than two months ago finally arrived. The box contained treasures like Marghanita Laski's The Village, which I bought at the wonderful Staffs Bookshop in Lichfield, not far from Lichfield Cathedral and Samuel Johnson's birthplace. There's also a bookshop on the ground floor of the birthplace itself, occupying the same room from which Dr. Johnson's father sold books at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, bookselling was not the most profitable occupation, even in a cultured cathedral town like Lichfield, and Michael Johnson often had difficulty making ends meet. But what a start in life for a budding lexicographer like young Samuel, growing up in a house full of books!

Michael Johnson wouldn't have it any easier as a bookseller three hundred years later—unless he was willing to go online. According to a recent story in Entrepreneur, used bookstores are prime candidates for extinction within the next ten years—along with record stores, pay phones, and print newspapers. Online merchants like Amazon.com are rapidly driving bricks-and-mortar bookstores out of business. According to an unscientific Northfield News poll, nearly 60% of respondents do all of their shopping for books online (results as of October 12).

There are two used bookstores within a block of each other on Division Street in Northfield. If I'm looking for something to read, as I usually am, I tend to stop in at Jerry Bilek's Monkey See, Monkey Read. I love browsing, scanning the shelves for the familiar green binding of the Virago Modern Classics, or just waiting for something new to catch my attention. The last time I stopped in, I bought a nice little Harper Perennial Classics edition of William Dean Howells' The Rise of Silas Lapham, which is next in the queue after I finish The Awakening. Of course, Jerry can also track down books and place special orders if you don't find what you want.

Northfield isn't exactly Hay-on-Wye, but we're lucky to have a couple of good secondhand bookshops,* as well as the excellent River City Books for new books and CDs. While my friend Penny is encouraging everyone to eat local, I'll chime in and urge everyone to read local, and to support our fine local booksellers.

*One of the affectations I picked up in England that I think I'll keep is calling used books "secondhand books."

1 comment:

fabrile heart said...

For me, buying books on-line just isn't as much fun as browsing the shelves of a secondhand bookstore.

Apart from family and friends, it's one of the things I miss most about England. Good, old-fashioned, musty smelling, floorboard creaking, shut-at-lunch-time, Wednesdays and only open until 12pm on Saturdays, local secondhand bookstores! There, I feel better now!

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