Bargain Basements, Backlists and All

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.


Filed under book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

5 responses to “Bargain Basements, Backlists and All

  1. I also love that old books have places and known people I will never know. Holding history in my hand. But the saddest thing? I have come across very old books that still had the uncut pages and had never been read at all. So sad, like an orphan or something.

  2. Kathy

    Yes, books are definitely part of history, culture, and entertainment. I have a book that is a first edition. The name is The Little Union Soldier by Joel Chandler Harris who is famous for children’s books and I purchase it from a small bookstore in the southeast for a dollar. I was so proud of myself getting it so cheap until I started checking to see what rating it may have and oh well not so great. However, my Grandfather was in the Civil War as a Calvary soldier and faught on the Union side. That made it valuable to me. So your basement bargains better check them close for first editions.

  3. …isn’t that one of those Skanky-Scottish-Songs: “Babbette the Laddette”???

  4. I manage a used book store for my local, small town literary foundation. All volunteers, all donated inventory in all 1200 square ft. of a brick & mortar store. I loved your book Wendy & I think your blog is just THE BEST! It always makes me giggle out loud! Michener, I always tell folks, ‘Be prepared for the author to CREATE the world about which you are going to read. THAT comes first!”

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