Used Books

My friend Linda is a book collector.

Until recently she managed the largest used book warehouse in our area. That warehouse closed last year. The massive inventory was bought by an online bookseller. Linda took a few boxes in lieu of severance pay, and our community is now without a used bookshop.

Which is to say, diminished.

I’ve never owned a bookshop, used or otherwise, but I think about it as a thing I might like to do. I suspect it’s akin to owning a coffeehouse, i.e., a marginal business. You do it in order for the thing to exist, not because it’s going to make you any money. You hope it breaks even. You hope you can afford a staff. That sort of thing.

I like margins. Edges. Things that exist along the periphery. I like businesses that don’t require high-volume sales to survive, shops that invite the sort of slow, measured participation that encourages aimless thought and the chance for random encounters.

Used bookstores deal in the currency of a less formal economy, a reclamation economy, that invites reciprocity (buy-sell-trade!) They’re a respite from the casino economy of perpetual extraction-production-exploitation. They keep products out of the waste stream, extending their useful life long past their conventional expiration date. That matters, even if there’s no money in it.

I’m wrapping up my tenure at the latte bar that’s been employing me this past year, and thinking how nice it might be to give one more thing to this community before I’m done. We need a used bookshop. Something small and intimate. With high ceilings and good light and a shop cat sleeping in the window. It’s a fool’s venture, so I just might do it. I have Linda to advise me. She’s the perfect partner. She’s never learned to care about making money, either.

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