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.