I have joked for a long time about enjoying the way books smell. I am a huge fan of the scents of libraries and bookstores, but better than either of those, I love the scent of a used bookstore. When we were in Oía, Santorini, Greece, we discovered a tiny used bookshop called Atlantis.
The island of Santorini is one of the main candidates for the source of the Atlantis stories – having been drastically reshaped by a volcano and destroying some Minoan cities and towns along the way. At this shop, there were quotes that started at the street level, and then trailed down the spiral staircase into the shop.
They had sections in English, in French, German and Russian. They had a tower-shelf of Philosophy. And hidden amongst the shelves, in addition to the resident cat (available for rent for 5 Euros) there were beds. Can you imagine sleeping in the loft bed Brett is looking at in the picture below?
This place was a gem. An unexpected delight in a delightful little town.
Here in Atlanta, the Book Nook does not have beds. It does have a comic book section and shelves of trade paperbacks both new and used, but it’s not quite so quaint, and certainly not so tidy. The Book Nook shelves remind me of the stacks in a library. They are alphabetized by author and separated out by genre. I never have the hours I want to spend in there, and I frequently forget to update my list of author names to check for when I’m wandering shelf after shelf of books.
Of course, though they are some of my favorite places, I’m facing a new conundrum about used books.
Before I started all of this writerly stuff, I was a big fan of used books. In terms of the lifecycle of physical objects, they make sense. They are the re-use before the recycle in the process. The e-reader might be a “reduce” in that cycle, but I don’t really think it is (batteries, lights, etc are worse to discard and recycle than the paper is, and they take more energy to create, etc). I like the concept of getting a book with a history of its own.
Then I read this post by Chuck Wendig on piracy, and I realized that as a used book fan, I’ve been pirating other people’s work. As an author who hopes to someday make some money off of my work, I realize that this is pretty hypocritical of me. I’ve been a member of Paperback swap for a while, and this too, is essentially piracy.
Because of libraries, books feel like they should be loaned and shared. It feels like I should have something positive I can do with them when I run out of room on my shelves. I should be able to pass them along. Like Wendig points out, if I pick up a used book by an author, and I like it, then I’m more likely to go buy that author’s books from the store.
Like I said, this is a conundrum. I don’t have any answers. What do you think about used books?