Books are my thing. It’s pretty much been that way since I learned to read when I was four. In the third grade my teacher sent home a note telling my parents that I had been reading books in class instead of paying attention to the lesson. In the sixth grade, I transferred to a new school and spent my lunch hour reading at my corner desk. In high school, my parents confiscated my library card until I pulled my algebra grade up to an A – a little dramatic if you ask me, but whatever. It worked.
Now that I’m in college, I am wonderfully, fabulously, magnificently surrounded by books. They are everywhere! Aside from the regular books I have to buy for my classes (most of which – besides textbooks – I enjoy reading), I’m in a town with more bookstores than I can count on my fingers and toes. They’re all over the place – and thank goodness!
When it comes to choosing a bookstore, there are obviously the major players: Borders Books and Music, Shaman Drum and Barnes and Noble. They’re aesthetically pleasing, pristine, most with light violin music in the background and uppity cafes. With their corporate power, they draw in the big names, writers like Salman Rushdie and Billy Collins. Looking past these, however, I’ve found the real treasures – little places filled with books, crammed in from floor to ceiling, stacked in waist-high piles and jostling for counter space. David’s Books, The Dawn Treader and The West End Bookstore are just a few of Ann Arbor’s secondhand gems.
A used bookstore is a magical place. The salesclerks, often the owners, are personal and individual. At David’s Books, I have often asked for the authors of books I’m in search of. At the Dawn Treader, when I was strapped for cash, they let me take the book and come back the next day with the rest of the money.
At Ann Arbor Used Books, a tiny little space up some cramped stairs off of State Street, I met the owner and his beautiful golden retriever, Jake. In addition to the sort of service that’s rarely seen in corporate bookstores, the prices are much lower and range according to edition and quality. A used book isn’t like a used T-shirt. Sometimes it’s more powerful when you know that other hands have turned the pages, other voices have whispered the words and other thoughts have sprung from its contents.
Besides the more mundane advantages of cheaper books and better service, there’s personality in used bookstores. I never realized it until I came to Ann Arbor. With the beginning of my college career I found a tiny kingdom of yellowed paper and fading ink, where prices were negotiable, time slowed down and worlds waited to be discovered in long rows on crooked shelves. Wrinkled covers stopped being important. Dog-eared pages were moot. All that mattered was that finally, after 14 years of hard reading, I got a glimpse into the heart of what a book is all about – the reader.
It doesn’t matter if the cover of your book is shiny. It’ll fade. No one will know whether or not you paid full price if you love a book enough because loving takes its toll. Something will rip. Something will bend. Even though it’s used, the essence will still be there. The words will still mean something. A book is only as valuable as its reader – stories can only be told if there’s someone to listen.
Places like Borders have their advantages. They stock clean books with a wide selection and you can probably find pretty much anything mainstream there. But they lack the fundamental virtue of used bookstores