I know I’m going to sound like a record with the needle skipping, but I love used bookstores in general, and I love the Half-Price Books chain in particular. And I love them for the same reason I know I will never switch completely to e-books despite how much I’m enjoying the Nook.
What reason is that?
Because there is nothing like filling in the gaps in a treasured series collection, and being able to look at that complete, or near-complete, run on your bookshelf.
The first time I walked into a Half-Price Books store, in Pittsburgh PA several years ago, I walked out with a handful of Perry Rhodan paperbacks at a cost of $2 each. Finding those books reignited my high-school love affair with Forrest J. Ackerman’s English translations of a German science fiction / space opera series. I’ve been looking for them in used bookstores ever since.
Likewise, one of my first visits to the HPBs in the Dallas area hooked me up with a couple of the Bantam Doc Savage reissues from the 1970s. Tonight, at two stores in Arlington TX, I picked up another 12 to fill out that collection. Including this gem:
Fu Manchu. Solar Pons. Hamish Macbeth. Sister Fidelma. The Medieval Murderers anthologies. James Bond. Holmes pastiches by John Gardner, John Lescroart and LJ Greenwood. The works of Philip Jose Farmer and Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Buchan. Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Three Investigators. The early Hard Case Crime books that I missed when they were released. All series I’m enjoying slowly filling in over time as I come across them in used bookstores across the country.
Yes, I could order them through Amazon. Occasionally, I have. But honestly … nothing beats the feeling of just FINDING one of these books on a shelf in a store. Apprehension as I dig through the nostalgia section of HPB or scan alphabetically through the shelves of any store: is that a familiar logo on that spine? Could that plastic-wrapped paperback be the Carson of Venus book I don’t have? Look at all the Gardner on that shelf — are any of them the Bond books I’m missing? And what are the odds this is the time I’ll find one of those Otto Penzler-reissued “Sherlock Holmes Library” books? And then there’s the elation of finding something I know I’m missing: tonight, along with the Doc Savages, it was the second Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu book, John Gardner’s “The Return of Moriarty” and John Lescroart’s “Rasputin’s Revenge.” Those last two completed series runs (admittedly, short series — 3 books in the Gardner, 2 in the Lescroart — but still!).
There’s also the excitement of discovering something new in among the old. Tonight, I encountered for the first time Michael Avallone’s series character The Satan Sleuth, Gary Brandner’s The Big Brain, and John Creasey’s The Baron. All three look fun, similar to Doc Savage and Bond and the Saint. They could be horrible, of course. Maybe that’s why they’re not as famous as Doc Savage and the Shadow and the rest. What mattered to me was they were there, they looked fun, and they were cheap. We’re not talking collector’s mint signed first editions. I’m not that kind of collector. These are books I intend to read. Of course, I intend to read every book I buy.
The feeling I get when I find a book that’s missing from a run in my collection or when I discover a new long-out-of-print series that I might enjoy, is probably the same feeling some people get when they spy an especially well-aged whiskey on the glass shelf behind the bartender in a seedy little out-of-the-way joint: it’s hoped-for but unexpected, and the joy of discovery leads to thoughts of being able to savor it slowly because you may not come across it again.
That’s why I love used bookstores, and why I’ll never completely switch to the Nook.