If you’ve already read my last post, you’ll be aware that a trip to Barter Books was probably not the most exciting thing I did last Saturday, but it definitely came a close second. I’ve loved Barter Books since I was little, and I’m old enough to remember when there was also a branch in Seahouses (yes, that was a thing, my parents actually know the people who used to run it so that is a verifiable fact), so it wasn’t a new or particularly novel – no pun intended – experience going there last week, but that absolutely didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
I’ve written before about using libraries, and how being able to roam freely to lose yourself in new characters and adventures with no cost incurred is just so incredible for a bookworm like myself, and definitely something that people generally don’t take enough advantage of; and the same applies for Barter Books, or secondhand bookshops generally. It’s so thrilling to be able to rake through the shelves with no idea what you might find, it’s like going treasure hunting without running the risk of accidentally touching a worm.
No disrespect to Waterstone’s, I’m still a loyal member of their rewards club, but you know what you’re going to find when you go in there; even if you leave it a few months or even a year between visits, the same authors tend to feature on the ‘buy one get one half price’ stands, and the same genres are in the featured positions on the shelves. With a second hand bookshop, that’s different no matter how often you go in because they get a constant churn of new, pre-loved stock. The sad thing about high street bookshops is that, unless a novel is a ‘classic’ or the author recently published something new and they’re trying to re-promote their previous work, books have a very limited shelf life. After a few months, sometimes even weeks, they get demoted to the general A-Z fiction section, where they go to die. I know that if there’s something you particularly want there’s always a keen, helpful bookseller at hand to order it for you and make other recommendations, but personally I don’t always know what I like until I see it in front of me. If I want something entirely new and undiscovered to read then I need to rake, and if the next ‘right’ book for me to immerse myself in is over a year old then, sorry, but I’m unlikely to find it on the high street.
I tweeted recently about how to spot a great library book, as I’d just checked out a book where the date label was almost totally covered in date stamps – a sign that it had been loved more times than Stormy Daniels (I am absolutely not one to condone slut shaming, but you get the point I’m making). A similar technique applies when in a second hand bookshop, the more battered the cover, the more creases in the spine, the more likely it is to pique my interest. No, we should not judge a book by its cover inherently, but if said cover implies that the book has been read and re-read multiple times, then it’s definitely worth a look over the blurb at least. And if that hasn’t persuaded you already, just think of the savings. Last week I got four fairly recent paperbacks for less than £10, rather than the usual £7.99 each, just because someone else has cracked the spine first. I can’t speak for other secondhand bookshops, but Barter Books has a system where you get credit for bringing used books in, which you can spend on new ones, so if you’re a book junkie like me this is a much safer way to enjoy your habit and soften the guilt of parting with your old books – I’m fairly sure my parents have never actually used cash in that shop. And if nothing else, they have free tea and coffee, a warm fire and a range of other customers’ dogs to pet.