View RSS Feed

Q's Views

Bookstore Angst

Rate this Entry
I know I'm not the first to express or confess this particular weakness, but I seem to have a real problem staying out of new and used book stores. Even worse, I can't seem to walk out empty handed. I want to start with the used book stores. Near where I live there are 3 used book stores, Mike's, Edward's, and Steve's.

Mike's is a fledgling storefront, clean and neat. It only has a little over one book case of "literature". I stop in from time to time, but rarely do I find anything of consequence, especially works that fit into my reading quest. However, the last time I was in there I found a copy of Drieser's Jennie Gerhardt and Zola's L'Assomoir. Had to have 'em, bought 'em. Didn't need 'em.

Edward McKay's is kind of a chain and I think it's rooted in the trade of college text books, but has expanded to other books, music recordings, videos, and game systems. The one near here is kind of clean and organized, but the two rows of "classics" usually produce reasonably priced collection fillers. The last purchase here was a while ago, but it included The Damnation of Theron Ware and a collection of short stories by Fitzgerald. Coincidentally, I heard about Theron Ware in This Side of Paradise.

Steve's is a whole different animal. This place claims to have over 1 million volumes inside and I believe them. This place is crammed with all sorts of published works, a lot of them theologically based (there's a seminary near here and loads and loads of Baptists). There are books on the floor of every row running down both sides of the aisle. The rows are at least 30 feet long. One aisle is dedicated to "classic literature". One of Steve's real charms is the smell; it has this musty atticky/basement smell of old books rescued from libraries and private collections, probably obtained from estate sales, library sell offs, and yard sales. It's hard to describe, but "crap everywhere" comes close.

I spent an hour in Steve's tonight just walking the classics aisle. I found some interesting things, but I find Steve's prices to be a little high in comparison to the quality of the volume. Somewhere along the line, ol' Steve has it in his head that every beat to hell, yellow paged book has appreciated in value. He rips off or blacks out the original price and pencils in his own. Now I can understand asking a high price for a mint condition, first edition of Moby-Dick, I get it. But when you have a reprint from 1940, yellowed pages, notes in the margins, etc. it is not worth $15 just because it's old. I have yet to spend a dollar with Steve, but it is inevitable. He has some less commonly available titles by Sinclair Lewis that I want, but very little else.

I ended up at Barnes & Noble from where I had a gift card burning a hole in my wallet. I ended up with a collection of Hemingway's short stories (I blame you people for that), It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I went way over the gift card amount and put several works back. I've got a problem.

My problem is the backlog. Keeping with the American novel pursuit, I have a question -- continue forward or circle back? In continue forward, I keep reading authors through the 20th century starting with Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. Others I could include are Bellow, Mailer, Roth, Salinger, Kerourac(?), and others. I'm inclined to stop at Faulkner. In circle back, I go back and read additional works by authors I have already read and read some of the authors I missed the first time through. So here's what the shelf looks like (literally):
After I finish 1919,
The Big Money Dos Passos
The Sun Also Rises Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms Hemingway
East of Eden Steinbeck
Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck
The Sound and the Fury Faulkner
Flags in the Dust Faulkner
Snopes (The Hamlet, The Town, and the Mansion all combined) Faulkner
The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald
Winesburg, Ohio Sherwood Anderson
Death Comes to the Archbishop Willa Cather
My, Antonia Cather
The Damnation of Theron Ware Harold Fredric
The Pit Frank Norris
Jennie Gerhardt Dreiser
The Financier Dreiser
The Titan Dreiser
Three Soldiers Dos Passos
The Call of the Wild and White Fang Jack London
Daisy Miller, Washington Square, The Aspern Papers, and The Turn of the Screw James
You Can't Go Home, Again Thomas Wolfe.

Plus, I want to reread Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn. Plus, I've got two Zola novels I want to read -- Germinal and L'Assommoir. And I added two more tonight. On top of that I have short story collections by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Flannery O'Connor.

What's an old man to do?
My Literary Journey


  1. Virgil's Avatar
    Oh I have the same angst. I don't know what to tell you Pablo. My method used to be to simultaneously circle back to the older classics while mixing in something newer. It's knid of like walking forward and backward at the same time. Oh I was in the book store the other day and I nearly picked up Thomas Wolfe. I've never read him and I really must, just for his flowing prose. But I held back. I've also been really meaning to read Bellow. I think I've already have Herzog waiting for me unread. And I have missed Henry James, even though I struggle through with him sometimes. And I can always read more Faulkner.
  2. Sweets America's Avatar
    Ah, "L'Assomoir" was pretty cool, I read it a long time ago for class and I have very good memories of it. Makes me want to go back to French lit.
  3. applepie's Avatar
    "Library, library, library" yep, that's my chant for whenever I want to go look at books:D. Browse the library. Sure you don't OWN them, but if you're anything like me you buy it, read it, and then maybe you don't touch it for another two or three years. This way you can get what you would like to read, mine will even order books for me, and you save a good bit of money in the process.
  4. optimisticnad's Avatar

    We've not met before I believe. Which is probably a good thing - for you - because I'm not everyone's cup of tea.

    Now that I've bad mouthed myself, I'd like to say I loved your above post. It was well written, honest, amusing and relatable (is that a word yet?).

    I have a phobia of old used books. I have bought stuff from the internet but they've always NEW. that way it's mine. I don't know, it's silly. The few used books I have on my shelf are normally trashy popular fiction which i've scattered across the whole bookshelf to make it look less conspicuous.

    Hemmingway is great. I shout at my sister if she used the word 'great' as an adjective, it doesn't say much but there you are, he's great. I've not read anything by Steinbeck but really want to read Grapes of Wrath so let me know how you got on with that.

    And...Henry James. I want to be next Henry James. He's got a taste of heaven in his writing.

    The library idea above is good, i like to browse a lot so i'm either on the internet or on the library. BUt nothing beats the feeling of...owning a book. What is this preoccupation we (i?) have with possessing.

    I think I'm going to write about my bookshelf now....not here don't worry, i think this is long enough.

    Happy New Year.
  5. Virgil's Avatar
    Opti makes an interesting point about used books. I've often wondered how cleanly the previous owner was. Was he picking his nose and then turned the page? What germs did he leave behind? I've been developing a phobia on that myself.
  6. PabloQ's Avatar
    Leave it to Virgil to play the booger card. I find used books interesting. I bought a copy of The Pat Hobby Stories by FSFitzgerald for about $2. In it I found a Portuguese chinese take out menu. How intriguing is that? There's also some sort of ticket stub for a bus or a train.
    I don't particularly like margin notes in a used book, but the occasional stain (coffee, tea, or nostril drainage) can add real character.
    The local library is nearly devoid of classical literature, but typically loads up 10-15 copies of the lates claptrap from King, Grisham, and Clancy. I gave up on them a long time ago. Plus I like ownership as Opti puts it. The cool thing about used books is I can take a flyer on a book for a couple of bucks and if I don't like it, I'm not that bad off. Prime example, I'm finding it unavoidable that I'm going to have to read On the Road. I"m prepared not to like it. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay full price for it.
  7. Virgil's Avatar
    Sorry about the bugger. Oh On The Road is a fun read Pablo. I bet you'll enjoy it. It's just over rated by the people who love it. It's not exactly a finely crafted work. But definitely very American in its anti-American attitude. Though I think that's over rated too. I do not find Kerauac as anti establishment as the other Beats.
  8. kiz_paws's Avatar
    Was he picking his nose and then turned the page? What germs did he leave behind? I've been developing a phobia on that myself
    What the heck?!

    I really hate finding FOOD stains in a book I'm reading. It can be annoying to try to turn a page that has been glued to the next via a chocolate melt!

    I had rented On The Road, The Original Scroll from the library, but took way too long to get to it (busy time for me), so I had to return it due to a waiting list for this book. But I'm going to get it back, my name is back on the list. Yes, I plan to check it out, too, thanks to the advice of a few here at LitNet.
  9. NickAdams's Avatar
    $15, ol' Steve sounds insane.

    I don't have a phobia with used books, but they do make you wonder. I have a used copy of Pound's ABC of Reading and inside the back cover someone wrote:

    "I'll feel it for
    they're all too
    I'll feel it for them"

    along with the number for a homeless hotline.

    I also found William Packard's business card in my copy of The Poet's Dictionary: A Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices by William Packard founder and editor of New York Quarterly.
    Updated 01-31-2009 at 02:29 AM by NickAdams
  10. Virgil's Avatar
    That's funny Nick. I wonder if he called that homeless hotline. What would a homeless person be doing reading Ezra Pound? Actually that little ditty doesn't sound too bad. I like the slant rhyme of them/numb.