I lose my restraint near books.

When I moved last March, I brought my kiddie bookshelves with me. The only size I have space for in my room. They were half empty, then, because I moved some of my books back into my old room at my mom's place. The shelves are full again.

I try to be discriminate when I shop for books, but get carried away by smells, long forgotten childrens' classics, favorites I take out from the library often.

I like books that smell old, like stale cigars. I like yellowed pages. I don't mind water crinkled books. Personal notes in the flyleaf; scrawling, illegible script. I love the lived in looks these books acquire, a silent history evident in their imperfections.

These are where I get my books:

I am an unrepentant bibliophile--from reading, to the style and texture of a certain edition, to the illustrations, to the sheer strangeness of a certain title, my room is crammed full of books, and it's gotten to the point that I've started taking over my parent's basement.

stand/alone/bitch's node is great for New York; so I'm going to do the same for Philadelphia, as that's where I'm from.

  • The Book Trader: 5th and South Street. Two floors of used books; some hard to find, always some common ones. Plus the black cat is friendly enough.
  • Robin's Books: 13th and Walnut Street (or so). Carries new books, and is an independent.
  • The Bard's Shop: more of an Irish-everything store, it carries books in Gaelic.
  • Gene's Books: no longer in existence, but they were the best independent book store in the Delaware Valley; plus I worked there until I got fired.
  • Chester County Book and Music Company: largest independent in the Delaware Valley, in West Chester, at the junction of 202 and Paoli Pike.

This is just a small sampling I will add to at a later date. See? You needen't go to Buns&Nubile or Hoarders.

Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books. Whenever I walk into a bookstore and find a book on one of my hobbies---for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry---I say to myself, ``What a pity I can't buy that book, for I already have a copy at home.''

--Jorge Luis Borges, ``The Riddle of Poetry''

My taste in books is somewhat odd. As far as fiction goes, I am most interested in what elitists would term ``literature'', especially that of the twentieth century. This is all well and good: Kafka, Proust, Nabokov, and the like grace the shelves of any respectable bookstore.

Then I get to my other interests: literary criticism and philosophy. I go to Barnes and Noble, I go to the big local bookstores, and what do I find? The philosophy shelves, which are by the way usually located right next to the books on getting in touch with the cosmos through the channelling powers of crystals, hold mainly books by the likes of Nietzsche, Sartre, Hofstadter, and Martin Gardner. It seems that, if it's not either trivial fluff (yes, I'm calling Hofstadter fluff) or existentialism, it's not worth having. Try finding the Phenomenology of Spirit; something by Wittgenstein other than the Tractatus; or anything non-introductory by Kant: you won't have much luck.

Literary criticism is worse. If there's even a separate section on it, which isn't all that likely, it will generally take up a few shelves: not a few bookcases, but a few shelves. What will you find in that oh-so-frugal collection? Cambridge companions to T.S. Eliot and Milton. A few guides to Ulysses. A book or two on why you should be literate. Oh, and there's The salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors, which has an entry on J.R.R. Tolkein, but not one on William S. Burroughs (not to mention the fact that it omits anyone who doesn't write in English). Occasionally, I've even seen Cliffs Notes there. Where's Eliot's Selected Prose? Where's Walter Benjamin? Where, for that matter, are Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, M.M. Bakhtin? It pisses me off.

So I go to the local university bookstore. In addition to textbooks, the have fairly large sections on philosophy and literary criticism. They have political science that goes beyond mere history or Bill O'Reilly. They have huge, salivation-inducing law sections. They are bookstores for people who want to get something out of their books. I walk in with $300, and walk out with an armful of books like Sein und Zeit, essays on Borges, Kant's three critiques, and a bilingual edition of Les Fleurs du Mal. A month later, repeat. I have found bliss: it is a University bookstore and a credit card.

One way I've gotten around owing library fines is buying library discarded books. It's a good way to build a home library, provided that you shop at libraries that provide the selection you need.

My local public library hosts a discard sale three times a year in which it liquidates worn, obsolete, or rarely circulated books. Though many buyers are bookstore owners most are people who like to read and want to cultivate a good selection. More often than not, books are stamped DISCARD or the like, and the page containing the checkout card and ISBN serial has been torn out. Rarely, donated books are sold with dust jackets and other additions.

Discard books are not taken by bookstores for resale, so plan on keeping these books unless you donate them back to the library system. Rather, select titles you want to read, enjoy, and flip them for more books when you're done. at US $0.10/book or so, it's an unlimited loan for what you'd pay for each day overdue. Yet, the temptation is there to keep every book and never donate them. At one time I tried to cram 350 to 400 volumes into a tiny attic apartment. Saturation will eventually happen.

Best times to get to the discard sale is within one to two hours of opening on the first day of sale, and in the last few hours of the sale's run. Arriving early allows the viewer to get any "necessities", but I have been able to tote away boxes of books on the last day for no other reason that the library ran out of storage for the books. Better yet, if a cheap attack hits just scan for unpopular books you might want and get the favorites first. It's likely these books will be waiting at closing time. You'll find soon enough that most people are at the sale for Harlequins and travelogues, not Thomas Mann and Magnus Mills.

Expect a mess, books on the floor and people running around as if on ritalin. It's all part of the fun. There's no better feeling than crushing your fingers under huge hardcovers or getting your feet stepped on by some septugenarian hellbent on completing her Jeff Smith cookbook collection. Bring strong canvas shopping bags, and some hand cream for the parched hands and paper cuts.

These same tips apply to closeout stores and thrift shops, but in these cases books will be more expensive yet in resale condition. Have fun reading or getting school textbooks, and stay away from the high school student workers running those book carts down the hallways in top gear.

As the owner of a second-hand bookstore/book exchange, I can only recommend (nay beg) that you patronise these worthy establishments.

Why pay the extra money over and above goodwill? Well, firstly, any owner worth his or her salt will have the store set out in a way that you can find things easily.

Secondly, I can assure you that apart from antiquarians, few second-hand booksellers make much money - they do what they do for the pure joy of being surrounded by books. This means they'll generally know what they've got, and where it is, so you don't have to spend hours failing to find what you're looking for.

Thirdly, if they haven't got what you want, right now, they'll move heaven and earth to find it. These people haunt auctions and garage sales, publishers remaindered book skips, church, school and Red Cross fairs. They network, and can call on widely spread resources. They will buy a large lot, for a single book that they know a customer wants, because they can probably sell the rest.

Fourthly, because they are independent, you are likely to be dealing with someone who knows and loves books, not a mass-market shop assistant. If you like a particular author or genre, they should be able to recommend something else that will please you, and help you discover new treasure. If you've got time to spare, you can probably have a long, stimulating and fruitful conversation (and very likely a free coffee, and a chair out of the rain).

Finally, they'll often buy or trade in as well as selling - so you can still get new things to read, even when you don't have any real cash.

Support your local second-hand bookstore - or if it doesn't provide the things above, find one on the 'net that does -- I know a really good one *grin*.

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