Our bookstore now has a bargain basement. Considering that we’re a second-hand bookshop in the first place (heh heh) it’s pretty cheap. From now on, the books on the floor under any bookshelf are $1.
I was talking with another bookstore owner, Ann at Over the Moon, in Crozet, VA, about the difference between a second-hand and new books shop. We agreed that for a new shop, books get a brief period of handselling, a window of advertising opportunity via publishers and publicists, and then, if they haven’t done their duty, syanara. Maybe a year, maybe two. In a second-hand book store, people come looking for things they liked twenty years ago, titles they want to own in hardback, or a cheap, low-investment airplane read.
Completely different approach. “Backlist” becomes “bargain classic.” It’s one of the things Jack and I love about running a read-it-again (or get a chance to read it for the first time, two generations later): offering people access.
It comes back to that flash-in-the-pan bright star versus the long, steady light of those who, if not quite classics, are telling human stories that are timeless enough to endure. Diane Johnson. E.L. Doctorow. Delderfield. Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, Larry McMurtry. James Michener.
Oh lordy, the Micheners. I still remember my dad’s comment: “Any novel that starts with the volcano that formed the island on which the main characters conduct their business might be called thorough.”
Although American/British/Irish literature classes in future centuries may or may not study every single one of these lads and ladettes, they are part of the eternal library of humanity. And people may not make movies or write theses about them all, but they’ve influenced the way people think, commented on the way society runs.
Old books never die; they just get tape on their covers and dust on their spines, and they go into the bargain basement. Where smart people find them, and their ideas and stories live again, and again, and again, interesting and enduring.