Mile 21: Used Book Stores

Let me clear this up, right up front. I bare no ill will toward Kindle, online stores or even new book stores. That being said, there is something different, something unique, something magical, about used book stores.

It is the rare writer who doesn’t love reading (I have met one, however) and the rare writer who is not inspired by a great used book store. For me, they often serve as an inspiration, a source of motivation, when a chapter isn’t flowing the way I’d hoped or a story isn’t quite where I think it should be. I jump in the car, pick one of the used book stores in the area (which are painfully becoming fewer and fewer) and immerse myself.

The smell of the store. The almost always jumbled presentation and complete lack of organization — which can, admittedly, be frustrating, but frankly, it’s part of the charm. You never know when you’ll find a great travel book shoved between some Louis L’Amours and Elmore Leonards.

Pick up an old paperback and leaf through it. Who bought the book new? Did they like it? How’d it wind up here, for sale for 50 cents?

Leaf through some 100-year-old hard covers. Look up front for inscriptions — “Merry Christmas, Love Grandma” is the most common one I’ve found. Flip through and see if you find any pressed roses or notes, something tucked away long ago, of some importance at the time and now lost to history and indifference.

Talk to the person behind the counter, who is almost always a fanatical reader and a wealth of information. See if they can’t direct you to a special treasure, maybe buried deep in a seldom-visited row but just waiting for you to discover it.

Grab a couple of old Westerns. Heck, even if you don’t read them, it’ll help keep the store alive, and you can at least savor the covers, many of them works of art that bring more pleasure than the words inside.

And stop in front of the Western section, usually tucked in the back on the bottom shelves. Imagine your book(s) one day being there. I’ll share a little secret. I carry a few copies of my first Western, “Coyote Courage,” in the car. I’ve been known to slip one onto the shelf, usually next to Zane Grey or Frank Gruber, depending on how well-stocked the store is. I imagine someone stumbling upon my book, having never heard of me or the book, but deciding to buy it anyway. And usually, at that moment, I’m ready to get back to work.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

2 Comments on “Mile 21: Used Book Stores

Mari Collier
October 23, 2018 at 2:25 pm

You would love the Raven’s Book Shoppe in 29 Palms. She has everything from rare to why did someone bother to write this one. It is room after room of volumes that you simply must have. She even stocks a few brand new ones from local authors. Not all, just one or two.

October 24, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Great Article!

Stumbled upon your bio from Rope and Wire (just read your short story – New to Town and I can relate on so many levels the idea of starting a new adventure!).

I’ve recently started dabbling in writing and thought it would be good idea to stop in a local used bookstore. I walked out fifty dollars lighter but learned some great tips on writing and was even asked to be part of their Friday meetups.

Here’s what I’m learning: Although the Internet is great and all, and big-box retailers like Barnes and Noble are fun to peruse; nothing beats human interaction with like-minded, passionate people. I would of never found the books I purchased while “googling” or walking the isles of a new bookstore let alone be welcomed to a community of writers that may turn out to be something one day!

Scott from Phoenix


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