Books Hold Memories

My classics corner
There are two things I like about second-hand books: the price and the atmosphere. Living in London, where a decent science paperback can set me back anywhere between £8.99 and £10.99 and hardbacks break the £20 barrier, being able to get books cheaply is important to me and my insatiable desire for more stuff to read.

...Maybe the problem is that I've got too many books.

That's probably it.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The atmosphere, however, is what makes me love coming in bookshops - any sort of bookshop. In a normal bookshop, the kind where all the books are fresh and bright and new, I love just getting lost looking at the new releases or the promoted books, or going further back into the winding bookshelves to search for their classics and foreign literature sections. I love picking up books and looking at the blurb, or catching a whiff of some of that new book smell as I quickly flip through them to see whether I like the writing style. I love sitting on the floor to arrange the books I want, and I love carrying armfuls and armfuls of them to the brightly-lit counter to bankrupt myself.

In second-hand bookshops - particularly the independent ones which I really like visiting - the atmosphere is very different. Far from the brightly-lit shelves of a Foyles or even a Waterstone's, battered old books are crammed up against each other in the most bizarre ways. I maneouvre myself into tiny spaces with books strewn everywhere just to find one I might like. And when I take a book out to look at it, I find the most touching things.

Lucien Leuwen by Stendhal
I once walked into a lovely little second-hand bookshop not expecting to find anything particularly good (I then walked out carrying 4 books and having to be dragged away lest I buy any more, so I was wrong about that one). In a lot of second-hand books, you tend to find people writing their name on the inside - John bought this book in 1970 and so on.

What's rarer, and a lot more touching, is to see actual dedications. I remember that in that bookshop I picked up a hardcover title that, to be honest, I wasn't entirely interested in. I couldn't read what the spine said, so I opened the book to find the title and what it was actually about.

When it fell open right at the beginning, so did my mouth. For someone had written a dedication to a loved one back in the 40s. That in itself is not unusual, true - and I don't see it as that unusual. But I found it very touching, very emotional: someone loved and cared for this book - and the person they bought it for - very, very much. It was sad to see it wind up in a bookshop, far from its original owners.

Books are loved and cared for and studied by people from the past, people who have perhaps passed on - but who nonetheless had their own hopes and dreams and personalities. Their books are a link to them, a link I am privileged to have.