Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Joys of Secondhand Bookshops

Mooching around secondhand bookshops is possibly my favourite thing to do. Whether it's a dusty old store with narrow staircases and books piled on every surface, or an outdoor market, I can happily spend hours exploring, browsing and reading pages here and there. I have found some absolute gems in various stores around the country and, occasionally, abroad (in Amsterdam I found a beautiful copy of Olive Schreiner's Dreams).

There is something almost magical about secondhand shopping. Coming across heartwarming or witty inscriptions, finding old bookmarks or notes tucked into pages, and reading annotations left by some previous reader is a connection to people throughout history who have read and loved and shared their passion for the written word.

I'm quite an ordered browser. I make my way through the genres that appeal to me, from fiction, to classics, to history, to art, to literary criticism, picking up books as I go and always on the look out for certain books by certain writers. I'll always look under 'C' for Collins before moving onto 'W' for Woolf, West and Wyndham. In history I'll go straight to the First World War before searching out the Suffragettes. There's this wonderful quickening of the heart which comes over me when I discover a book, amid so many others, that I've been searching for and I inevitably find my feet dragging and my head turning for one last look as my bank balance forces me back out of the shop.

I've made some marvellous finds in the last month or so, firstly in a little bookshop hidden away in Bristol and secondly at the Southbank Book Market. It's rare that I'll leave a secondhand bookshop empty handed and I do seem to have a sixth sense for tracking down certain writers and subjects, but even knowing that I've been amazed by the books I've found recently.

You'll notice a couple of Simenon's in this pile and I've said before that he seems to be almost following me - every bookshop I've entered in the last six or seven months has given me Simenon and his invention, Maigret. I don't know whether it's because he's coming back into the public consciousness thanks to Penguin reissuing the Maigret novels, or whether it's my own awareness has changed since reading The Blue Room. Either way, I'm in love and so happy to be stumbling across various old editions.

I was perhaps most excited to find this old Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby. My sister actually found this on the Southbank Book Market and shook it wildly at me until I came running over. I was then distracted by seeing a sea of Simenon's and a copy of Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader (which I'm still kicking myself for not buying). I have a couple of different copies of The Great Gatsby already, one which I filled with my A Level annotations and one which I filled with my degree annotations, but I am overjoyed to own this gorgeous Penguin - I particularly like the mini synopsis on the front!

I'm having a slight break from book-buying, secondhand or otherwise, at the moment as my shelves here in London are bursting at the seams (I've been forced to stack books on every available surface now, as many of my favourite bookshops do!), but I'm planning a couple of trips around the UK for the summer which, if all goes to plan, will essentially be one long bookshop crawl.

Do you like secondhand book shopping? Found any gems lately?

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