Browsing My Bookshelves When My Favorite Used Bookstore is Closed

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, August 17, 2020

Since I can’t go book shopping, I’ve decided to browse my own bookshelves instead. I’m amazed by what interesting books I find there.

It’s been months since I’ve shopped at my favorite used bookstore, Second Editions. I use to visit it at least once a week. I certainly don’t need any more books, there are already thousands on my to be read pile. Over the years I’ve discovered that my reading habit is entirely separate from my book-buying habit. I love to read and I love to shop for books — I just don’t always read the books I buy.

The other day I browsed through my entire library of 1426 audiobooks looking for all that contained short stories. Time and again I was amazed by what I owned that I hadn’t listened to yet (I can’t resist a good sale). Once again, I told myself I needed to stop buying new books and read or listen to what I already own. But I love going to Second Editions, the used bookstore run by our Friends of the Library.

I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes it’s an old book I’ve been hoping to find again, or it’s a book I never knew I wanted but had to buy, or it was a hardback copy of a book that just came out that I was thinking of paying full price — that’s how I got Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson for $5.

I’ve only got five six-shelf bookshelves to browse — but I’m overwhelmed by how many books I find that I want to read. Strangely, it’s 100%. Well, maybe not so strange. Because of my limited shelf space, I tend to donate books back to the Friends of the Library of those I’ve read or decided I’m not going to read. My self-imposed rule is I can’t own any more books than I have bookshelves. I’ve technically broken this rule because I’m currently allowing myself a legal loophole by shelving some books at the top of my clothes closet. Those three six-foot-wide shelves really do look like bookshelves. (But don’t tell my wife!)

Second Editions bookstore is closed for the duration of the pandemic. I know everyone is missing their favorite places to hang out, so I shouldn’t whine about missing mine. However, I do miss it. And browsing my own bookshelves looking through the books I often bought at Second Editions does help a little, but not much. It does help me empathize with young people who can’t resist gathering in public places during a pandemic.

I wonder if I pulled out a few books, and gave myself a twenty if the experience would feel more like visiting Second Editions? Maybe Susan could pretend to be the clerk at the cash register and we could chat a bit about books?


5 thoughts on “Browsing My Bookshelves When My Favorite Used Bookstore is Closed”

  1. Jim, I always enjoy your writing, but I especially love this piece! I identify with it very much! (I’ve been browsing among my books at home as well.)

  2. Fortunately, our Libraries are open. Everyone is required to wear a mask. Only a dozen people at a time can be in the building. However, I am also finding plenty to read on my bookshelves. I’m finding myself reading more “fluff” instead of deep, difficult books (although I own plenty of them, too). The important thing is to keep reading despite the pandemic.

  3. Shelves? What kind of criteria is that? It’s a matter of cubic volume in your home. Shelves are optional.

    Seriously, I’m contemplating a move and found myself, yesterday, pulling books off the shelf for my first actual selling/donating of books. I used to operate on the Brezhnev Doctrine — what we have we hold.

    But, really, I’m very unlikely to read all of Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series and do I really want to keep all those hardcovers just for the cover art? Do I really want to keep review copies of books that, while science fiction, don’t fit into any topic I’m likely to ever do blog entries on? General histories outside my specialized interests? Reminders of fleeting interest now faded?

    And, yes, it was likely going to a bookstore — run by a book buyer with good taste but overstuffed.

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