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Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
We can trace our passions to particular individuals who introduced something new to us, either deliberately or incidentally. In my case it was a girlfriend, a relationship that petered out in less than a year. Twice in my life I had been with someone who appreciated a good used-bookstore. The relationship didn’t endure, but my love for old books did. There was a decades-long lag between my first period of used-bookstore excursions and my second.

While the girl moved on, my love affair with the used-bookstore “took,” especially the second time around. It began in New York, but this disease, “archaeobibliophilia” (I just coined that psychological condition, though there’s probably a better one floating around) has moved with me wherever I go. I’m recording an atlas of used-bookstores. It’s a little loose and sloppy, but as I edit it this atlas becomes more concise, coherent. I just picked up a brochure called "Antiquarian and Used Bookstores of Upstate New York".

Not all used-bookstores are the same. Regrettably, on rare occasions a store owner will sell out, and the new owner takes it upon himself to clean up the inventory, straighten rows, pick books up off the floor. Inventory is reduced to fit the new owner’s preconceived bias, categories are precisely meted out, and the bookstore loses all charm. Hey, don’t do that fellas, that’s what we have Barnes & Noble for.

I encountered one of these recently. A perfectly disordered bookstore in Greenfield, with overflowing piles on the floor, literally, books cascading like surf on a rocky beach, around corners and down the stairs to a veritable hellhole of a cellar where entrance was impossible. The new owner neatly picked up and sanitized the space. That happened, by the way, to a favorite herb and natural food store I frequented in Vermont. The old woman became sick or died, and sold out to a young couple with visions of branding and shrink wrap packaging. I don’t go there any more.

I have a few favorites. One is Troubadour Books in Hadley, Massachusetts, on Rte 5. Its motto is “Books for scholars and holy fools.” In fact, it is my favorite store for offbeat, esoteric books on psychology, religion, mysticism, magic, kabbalah, Gnosticism and anything spiritual. The owner carries huge selections of eclectic titles. Even the reference books, like 1970s editions of the Oxford Dictionary lie on the floor in mountainous piles.

On Rte 5, there are several used-bookstores in close proximity to one another. Besides Troubadour, another is the Book Barn in Whately, a stone’s throw from Troubadour Books, and another is Meetinghouse Books in Deerfield. I recommend all of these.

Another favorite, mostly because of its ambience, is The Book Mill in Montague, Mass. The Book Mill not only provides a great selection of titles, but wireless internet, too. I was there yesterday. One woman had set up her laptop on an upstairs table with this ungodly monstrously huge flatscreen, it was disgusting. Anyway, the interior resembles an old barn, with two floors. There are lots of nooks and reading/writing crannies. People actually bring moleskine notebooks and write. It is immediately next door to the Lady Kilgrew café, and overlooks a river about 30 feet down. You can traverse the books store and café through a side door. Sometimes when the café is full of patrons, they tell you to drink your coffee in the bookstore. Very laid back. The store is part of an artsy mill complex. There is an art gallery, the Fly By Night Restaurant downstairs, a used CD store, and an antiques dealer. This time of year is the best for visiting the Book Mill because of the European-style outdoor patios and tables with parasols. I can’t recommend the Montague Bookstore enough. It is hard to find, prepared to get lost.

There is another bookstore I visited in the spring, but I can’t remember the name of it, in Hoosick, NY. There are so many books in it the building is tilted, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An old man runs it. Hoosick is a small town—the home of Grandma Moses, by the way—and there wouldn’t be too many used-bookstores there, so look for the one and you will surely find what I am referring to. The books can be a little pricey, but the selection is vast, and the ambience is authentic.

I recently revisited the very first bookstore I ever went in. It had moved out of state, however. I was probably 17 when I first went to this one, 30 years ago. I was with my first girlfriend. I bought some paperbacks by Lobsang Rampa, “The Third Eye,” etc. I also bought a very rare hardcover on the Tarot. I paid two bucks for it, but sold it a few years ago on Ebay for $30. My latest visit was unsatisfactory. Most of the aisles were cordoned off for some reason. Perhaps the owner does a lot of online sales? The selections available for perusal were not many. I left with one book that I paid one dollar for. I shrugged at the owner, “Sorry, this is all that strikes my fancy today.”

There is a used bookstore in North Adams that, while closer to my home, I think I’ve pretty much browsed everything of interest to me. A few years ago, however, I bought a book titled “Cosmic Consciousness,” by an author with the pen name Ali Nomad. This book, dated 1913, had a label on the inside saying, “This book is the property of Alexander McIvor-Tyndall – New Thought Fellowship, Chicago, Ill.” After a little research, I discovered that McIvor-Tyndall was the real name of Ali Nomad, and this book was a first edition, one of the author’s personal collection. In fact, I confirmed this through a brief correspondence with one of the author’s descendents. I paid $11 for that book, but didn’t really care for it as literature all that much. I sold it a few months ago on Ebay for $90. I had another book by the same title, from the same era, but the author was Richard Maurice Bucke, who is the better-known author of that title. I sold that book at a substantial markup, as well.

As for selling any book, I always suffer regret later. Between the two “Cosmic Consciousness” books, I would have preferred to keep the first, and am a little ambivalent about the second. I have decided there are some books that I enjoy reading so much, I shall not willingly part with. If I enjoy reading a book, I probably won’t sell it, but economy is a fickle master.

I’m willing to pay a few dollars more for a book from an independent bookstore, if it helps to sustain the store. I could pick up most titles on Amazon or another online source at a fraction of the cost. But, there is a bigger point to buying local, and small. I once heard an owner talk about a prediction that used books were going extinct. However unlikely that is in the near future, the thought of a world without used-bookstores disturbed me. A society without bookstores seems culturally deprived, like the repression of prohibition. Used-bookstores are an indicator of America's connection with a literary past. The very nature of variety transcends conservative-liberal lines, or ecumenical, sectarian denomination. Cities where the numbers of used-bookstores are on the decline seem to correspond with rigid, sterile "big box" economies. You know, you can go to a used-book store, browse, and leave without buying anything. While legally you are accorded the same rights in a Barnes & Noble, an odious commercialism is always lurking, lying in wait. And, your money doesn't stay in town, it goes to some far off corporate bank account.

When the Syracuse, NY Barnes & Noble first opened, there was plenty of lounge space and soft, cushiony sofas and chairs. Those had all but disappeared by the time I moved. Apparently, the management wised-up and decided that its patrons' comfort was not in the interest of their bottom line. That's a statement about the city, in general, where you can't just go somewhere to read, you are expected to compensate for your leisure time. Barnes & Noble is basically a Wal-Mart with more books.

Northampton, MA is a city with half-a-dozen thriving used-bookstores (I recommend Raven Books and Half-Moon). Used-bookstores do well in tolerant climates, often accompanied by charming rides in the country, or captivating neighborhoods renowned for art and cultural. Post-industrial influences probably will take their toll, and before the last used-bookstore closes shop, I would like the trophies of my years of travel and browsing to reflect something about my own personality.


  1. Niamh's Avatar
    I love antiquarian bookshops! the smell of old books....
  2. mtpspur's Avatar
    I still mourn for the passing of the Clinton Avenue Bookstore in Rochester NY. They had everything!! There was another bookstore a few blocks away name forgotten now run by a middle aged man with coke bottle glasses who sold used hardcovers--I was collecting the Graustark series by McCutceon back then (age 17/18) and he always seemed pleased when I and Jim D> would show up about once a month. I'm sure he's gone too and he way Rochester is these days not worth the hassle to hunt the locations down anymore. I miss the 60s.
  3. kiz_paws's Avatar
    There is definitely a lot to be said for quaint bookstores that operate without rhyme or reason. I could get lost in one of those for hours. We actually have a music store that does things this way too, funny enough. Best store in the Prairies, hands down! Thanks for the beautiful way you worded this entry, I enjoyed reading it.