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Finding a Good Second Hand Bookshop

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by Chris Shepherdson (subscribe)
I'm a copywriter and freelance writer living in Melbourne. My novel, Another New York Murder, is available online.
Published June 7th 2013
My wife doesn't understand. Many would see this as a deal breaker, but, as a good wife she knows better than to encroach on my love of second hand bookshops. She knows that whenever I see one, the next hour I have will be spent perusing what it has to offer. An hour if I'm lucky, an hour if it meets my criteria that takes a second-hand bookshop from being a graveyard for obscure fiction to a revered place where a history of the world of literature is at your fingertips for the price of a sandwich.

To me, the greatest place to be is in a good second hand bookshop. Head tilted as I scan the shelves for gold hidden among the orange and white Penguin and Picador candy striping for that copy, that obscure novel, that book you know is out there somewhere hidden somewhere in the many catacombs of paper, cardboard and leather holding stories of magic wonder and trivia, alive with the possibility of what lies inside the dusty cover past the scratched pencil price on the opening page.

The Internet has made it easy, but it has also made cheats of the lesser among us. But for the true bibliophile the thrill is in the hunt and what better place to undertake that hunt than a great second hand bookshop. One like the place in my dreams. The lead light windows, the old armchairs, the soft sounds of classical music or Triple R in the background -chosen to perfectly match the proprietor- the bell on the door, the encroaching shelves and most importantly –this is just me- the creaking floor, which to the true bibliophile, is a sound far sweeter than any note Miles Davis ever blew into his horn.

The first introduction should be the discount bin on the footpath. this shouldn't be some sort of literary hard rubbish, it should be a microcosm of what's inside, a meeting of the bibliophile and proprietor's minds. Vanity biographies, text books, student editions of Hamlet tell you as much as a copy of The Da Vinci Code sitting proudly in the window. However, if the discount bin is a cornucopia mixing Le Carre and Mann, a dash of Patrick White with some Thurber to flavour then you should make your way inside.

The first thing a bibliophile will notice is the smell. It's a musty, used smell, not as strong as your grandmother's house but slightly mustier than a beach house in winter. It's a smell that promises much and the true bibliophile can tell a perfect bouquet, watched over by the well worn proprietor determined not to let it escape.

The layout is another beacon of comfort for the bibliophile. One can always tell from the flash of black and primary colours on the spine, where the crime and mystery section is. From here, it's a short segue to thrillers and then literary fiction. We are blessed with a form of patriotism that places an Australiana section in our bookshops and here you can find anything from Robert Drewe or Max Walker to a Geographical Survey of the Frankston Foreshore 1932-36. One will always have a favourite section, Maybe it's military, maybe it's science, maybe the section will be constantly ignored until a notable book on a certain subject comes to ones attention and then a new section will open its doors to your long lost attention.

There's also something about the space inside a good second hand bookshop. The room between shelves should be anything but expansive. It is here that bibliophile etiquette comes to the fore. There should be no room for two people to stand abreast in the aisle. A new browser must wait patiently for the first to finish. This should be done by perusing an adjacent shelf. It is in this way that new gold may be discovered as the previously mentioned ignored sections can become new acquaintances.

When it comes to space in a second hand bookshop, it's a case of the less the merrier. This will produce Eiger like piles of books that must be negotiated with precision. Care must be taken when negotiating these precarious piles but it is here where the true bibliophile assumes their most pleasurable position: on their knees with a handful of books. Searching, inspecting, smiling, acquiring. Such bliss is hard to find.

People like to plot the exaggerated demise of many things, but we all know the book will always live inside these beautiful palaces. I could give you a list of my favourites but that is also cheating, a bibliophile arranged marriage if you will. For the most important thing a bibliophile knows, is that you have to find your true love for yourself.
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Why? There's nothing like a good secondhand bookshop
When: Anytime you need a new book
Where: Secondhand bookshops everywhere
Cost: Cheap
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