People who look through the dirt encrusted window of a second hand bookshop and see nothing but a dark, musty cellar of a room, full of aging tombs nobody wants; you are deluded. Those who peep, nervously through the highly polished window of a second hand book shop and see an immaculate and expansive, scholarly scene of mahogany shelving, displaying perfect yet ultimately unwanted volumes; you are being deceived.
Those people who pick up the books from any of these shelves and see them for their true worth; you are the reason they were written.
Second hand book shops are places few venture anymore, yet that is fine. Their owners probably do not even want patrons. They are too busy appreciating their collection to deal with some other inquisitive bibliophile. For a hardened linguistic appreciator, the grime in the windows, the dank and seemingly dull interior is all a facade, designed purposefully as an illusion to deter custom. The same can be said for the intimidating clinical cleanliness of that shop that feigns upper class authority and reverence in its pristine exterior. These are the brutally dedicated who hold literacy at the very heart of their soul and wish nothing but to harbour their collection as close to its spiritual home as possible. For a customer to interfere and remove one of those hard found books would be like removing a child from an adoptive parent; they did not always have them, but after a long wait and a heart-wrenching search for the most fitting one, they found that perfect companion, the companion that you will not steal away from them once again.
At least, that is how I like to imagine them. The most determined guardians of literature, even more-so than a librarian of hawk-eyed order and organisation.
To read a good book from years past is something very special. Just because a book is second hand does not negate its value – if anything it only increases the tenderness with which the story should be re-discovered.
Finding a ragged gem in the dusty folds of an old bookshelf is something that gives a reader a buzz, knowing that in your hands you hold something with the potential to contain magic in it’s grimy pages. For an enthusiast, those grains are not the mark of disuse and lack of worth, that broken spine and tatty edge not a tell-tale reminder of a tale no longer relevant or valued; they are the signals that fairy dust is contained within and that such wonder as can be read on those pages, have been seen many times. Those imperfect edges are the consequence of repeated page thumbing, as the adventure is re-lived over and over again.
There is a copy, for example, of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, that can be found tucked snugly on the shelf of a friend of mine. That particular edition has passed through the care of three generations of women in that family, handed down as an heirloom as valuable as any diamond ring or bone china tea set. The spine is worn thread bare, dust seems to miraculously spring from it at every touch and there is a smell… Yet every one of those blotchy, worn smooth pages has been studied and adored a thousand times. And that is what makes it worth the sneezing.
Part of the allure of an old book or a second hand book is the state that one might find it in. Think; it is one of the few occasions that the level of outward distress shown by a damaged cover can in fact be indicative of its inherent value, having been handled and used to such lengths that it is falling apart. That is one of the many benefits of the written word; it may be printed, written, scrawled in sand, but so long as it is set in letters that can be understood, their meaning never changes, and so their sentiment can never be lost.
In a modern world that places so much unnecessary value on appearance flashy imagery and gimmicks to cover up the pyrite that hides in the reality, a well-read book is something to be treasured. There is something comforting in the rough and yellowing pages of a novel long forgotten, penned by a name no memory lives to remember. It is not only the story the reader brings back to life, it is the hand that wrote it and the heart that breathed life in it to begin with.