I lose all self-control at used book sales. If you give me a bag and tell me I can walk away with a bag full of books for a five dollars, I will loot your shelves like a ruthless pirate.
What self-proclaimed book enthusiast doesn’t love to comb through the catacombs of a library basement like resurrection men exhuming outdated clothe-bound volumes? Oh, you dog-eared used books with your vanilla-scented paper and yellowing corners, it seems I can’t even write a paean to you without spewing a lot of pretentious, old-timey gibberish.
My apartment bookshelf and my parent’s basement are both cluttered with ragged tomes that I will probably never read. I’m reluctantly, radically weeding them out. There is a bag of used books next to my apartment door and it has been there for several months. I promised to donate them to the library but instead they live in a purgatory between my shelf and a library sale, where I will probably just buy them again anyways. I read so slowly, you have no idea how frustrating it is to read so slowly and I am sure I will never live long enough to read all of these sentences. Especially if my sleeping habits remain as self-indulgent as they are now. I could die at any moment of lethargy.
Will I ever read the more obscure novels of Camus? Probably not. This book about Victorian customs clearly survived some sort of shipwreck, judging by the water damage. It would be a shame to cast it back into the great unknown when it has already endured so much hardship.
Other treasures I have unearthed: a collection of Keats’ love sonnets, an encyclopedia of natural remedies, a Dear America book that once made me sob on the school bus, a Secret World of Alex Mack novel from the 90’s, a hardcover collection of knitting patterns from the 80’s, the novel version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
New York City has a bookstore called The Strand. If you set the books side by side, the line of books would easily extend from one end of the universe to the other. But why would you want to do that when you could read them instead? The store keeps their bargain books on racks on carts and you can stand beneath the drippy overhang digging through the chaotic carts of one dollar and five dollar books for hours. I try not to. I know myself too well.
The books that show up on the bargain carts are like time capsules full of information that is no longer accurate or relevant. One time I found a book that instructed short women on how to dress in a way that exudes both power and style in order to help diminutive ladies advance in the corporate world. Every girly magazine in the world has some advice on this. I have read it all and failed to heed any of it. Wear straight legged pants because they lengthen your stubby body. Never wear bell bottoms or skinny jeans. Never wear patterns. Never cut your body in half with two contrasting colors. Wear heels every day. Assemble an entourage of shorter friends to create an illusion of height.
This book was from the 80’s. It prescribed one panacea for all ambitious beauties: the beige pantsuit. Or skirt suit. It lengthens your body without cutting you in half. The color is unmemorable, so that you can be more even more memorable. All men will bow down to you and your pencil skirt. The author’s official style icon: Nancy Reagan. I never bought this book, but I wish to God I did. I think I made a mistake.
One of the best things about used books is that they sometimes have inscriptions and writing on the blank pages or in the margins. The previous owner unknowingly gave the book another layer of intrigue. It makes me wonder who gave this book as a gift. Who was the receiver? And why did they give it away? Why did they underline the word “laudanum?” Is it because they wanted to look it up later or did they have some personal experience with laudanum? I will never know.
My friend Abbey and I were at The Strand over the weekend. She set this book in front of me:
I leafed through recipes for asparagus and chili peppers, each with an amusing anecdote from the authors. The Russian chocolate cake recipe proved its worth when their female friend made it for a coworker who wasn’t picking up on her advances. By the time the book was written, they had been living together for two years and even adopted a dog together. Cake has a way of bringing people together, and aphrodisiacs have a way of bringing them even closer.
Then I saw this message scrawled onto the first page:
I suppose love potions are no substitute for actual chemistry. Now Rob’s romantic gesture gathers dust among the multitudes of tattered jackets. Maybe someone in need of a romantic dessert will find this book and they won’t even know they were looking for it.