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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chapter Eighteen, in which The Beggar goes on the Bookstore Trail -- Part the First

We decided to take a little tour of the bookstores in the surrounding area this week. Each day we will provide an account of our adventure. Monday (Day One) went like this:

The day dawned with sun and a blue sky painted with brushstroke clouds. We were on our way some fifty miles to a store that reportedly had discounts every Monday morning. I thought I was told they opened at seven. We arrived at eight. Either we were given the wrong information, or we heard it wrong, or we had found the wrong store.

The Book Market bills itself as a Paperback Sales and Trading Center with over 100,000 new and used books. Through the window could be seen a six-foot pile of books ready to topple over at the bump of a spider. This business had obviously been thriving for the last twenty-eight years. The hunting grounds looked promising.

With two hours to enjoy before the store opened, a daily newspaper came in handy. And what better time to find a small cafe and relax with a cup of coffee and a muffin, and maybe read whatever book we have at hand? Unfortunately, a health checkup scheduled for later in the day required that we fast for the morning, and we hadn't brought any books with us, because we were going to get some. It's a good thing the newspaper is filled with plenty of irrelevant stuff.

A lady strolled into the store about ten minutes after the posted opening time. Inside we discovered more books than could reasonably fill the alloted space. The main room contained six rows of approximately fifty feet of shelves, filled, with books lined across the floor in front of each aisle, and books stacked on top of those. In a back room another ten aisles of about twelve feet each was likewise overflowing. Again each aisle had piles of books on the floor, one had a small mound that had either toppled over at some earlier date, or had simply been created out of frustration, and the last aisle had boxes piled over the head to one side, limiting admittance to the Thin Man.

The selection is heavy on paperbacks and fiction. We happened upon a paperback edition of The Wizard of Oz, containing critical essays and the original drawings, which was just what one of our clients was looking for.

So, to make our purchase. Behind the counter loomed the great mountain of books. The lady had been working dilligently on them, but it seemed like a hopeless task, and I wondered where one would even begin to process all the books waiting to be properly shelved. One can only imagine what gold a miner might dig out from within that mountain. But, alas, it is far too prone to avalanche, and the risk too great. We pay for our book, and thank Gutenburg to have escaped with our lives.

Back on the road, and to another town off the highway where two bookstores await. This is a town with a mild reputation for antiques, and an appropriate quaint downtown section. It is here, within two blocks of one another, and the city library, where we will hunt next.

The first store turns out to be closed on Mondays. The second store is on the corner, with a narrow A-sign on the sidewalk to lure us in. From outside it has a clean, upscale look, quite different from our first stop.

Buy the Book offers a wide selection of items as well as books, such as greeting cards, accessories, stationery, and art supplies. They have a mix of new and used books, and the selection is thin and shallow. What is available for purchase is nicely displayed.

Near the register there is a shelf with "Old Books" and that is where we head first. There is nothing spectacular there, although I did spot a herd of Sabatini volumes. One book did appeal, an historical biographical look at emminent Europeans, and the price was right, so we decided to buy it on speculation.

The one unique feature of this store is that it apparently is in an old bank building, so behind those heavy vault doors is, appropriately enough, The Book Vault. Inside this small space are most of the used books, but the total footage is perhaps only twenty feet. The remainder of the store space is occupied by new books and the other merchandise.

The day's scheduled stops were now complete. But before we made it out of town, an antique store was spotted in the bushes along the side of the road, and we veered off to take a closer look.

Ol' Fiddle Stix is your common conglomerate of dealers under one roof. There was a smattering of books seen napping here and there, but nothing of interest. Then at last, leafing through some old magazines, we uncovered a catalogue of Official Photographs from the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair. What a feeling of euphoria to locate something new for one's private collection! And, best of all, at a reasonable price. A fortuitous finale to our first day of bookstore hopping.

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