I love used books. Throughout my life I’ve bought used books more often than new, and not only because they’re cheaper than Amazon. The smell of them, for one— dusty and faintly acidic—and the way the dust flutters out from between the pages as I riffle through. Will this book be a marked-up copy with distracting highlighter marks all through it? Or will I find fascinating margin notes, dedications, inscriptions—proof that this book has been lived with by someone before me?
Which is why this morning was such a good morning, as Drew and my other CST friends introduced me to the legendary Pilgrim Place book sale. Pilgrim Place is a local retirement community for pastors, religion professors, and other faith community-minded people. Every fall they throw a festival full of parades, plays, craft booths, and food (most of which we skipped over and will head back to check out tomorrow). But the biggest draw, for us and most of our friends, was the book sale. Think about it: on the one hand, you have pastors and professors liquidating their libraries, and on the other you have future pastors & professors (or writers/editors!) who need to build their libraries. It’s rare to find a used bookstore that has this solid of a selection for what we’re interested in. And did I mention nearly every book sells for two dollars or less?
We went first thing in the morning, and after only an hour there, our count was already up to 22 books. And this was a small number, comparatively. More than one of our friends needed cardboard boxes to get their discoveries back to the car.
I say discovery because that’s the other thing that I love about used bookstores is the hunt. I’ve got a list in my mind of books that I’ve read already but can’t forget, books that I know I would turn to again and again, as resources or as escapes. And this list is long enough that no matter which bookstore I go to, or which table I peruse at the book sale, there’s always a chance that something might turn up.
Today what turned up is Madeleine L’Engle, whose books I’ve been reading voraciously since the third grade. A Circle of Quiet, her first memoir, has been on my mental bookstore list for years. I’ve read it already, on a research project in high school, but its quiet prose stayed with me, and I’ve kept an eye out for it ever since.
But then again, there’s also the element of surprise… I found A Circle of Quiet, of course, but I also found a copy of L’Engle’s next memoir (which I’ve never read—it will be new to me!) signed by the author herself. All books have a history that includes the author, of course—but this book’s got a little more of a connection to the woman who wrote it. And now that I’m reading it, I feel connected too.
I found enigmatic inscriptions as well, with a history not quite as traceable. Ruth found this in a pocket prayer book and showed it to me: For Margaret, I hope this book brings you as much comfort as it has brought me. There are snippets of memory inside these books, from people I will never know, and it just underscores the fact that these books are not only mine alone.
And I like that. I’ll admit it makes me a bit suspicious when I find used books in too good condition, at a used book sale. It might mean this was one of those books that didn’t leave an impression—bought in the airport, read once, and then discarded as soon as the flight was over.
I don’t shun these books (I picked up a couple of shiny hardcovers that looked intriguing enough to take a chance on) but if I had to choose? Give me a book that’s been lived in any day.