[So that I can speak freely, I’m not going to divulge the name of this bookshop or even where it is located.]
Not too long ago I stumbled across a used bookstore that made me gasp a little. First, despite knowing the location pretty well, I had no idea it existed. Second, I wasn’t looking for a bookstore. I had an appointment in the building next door and was entirely gobsmacked to see a cart of books on the sidewalk. Third, the place is huge and delightfully crammed full of books of a vintage that looked particularly promising for my particular predilections. Fourth, at one point the bookseller/owner asked me if I wanted to see the basement.
A used bookstore with a basement isn’t the weirdest thing to come across. I’ve been in many a book-crammed basement that had me wondering about the last time time the fire marshal had inspected. But those basements are typically found below a handmade sign announcing more books downstairs. In this case there was not only no sign indicating another floor of books, but there didn’t appear to be another floor, up or down, accessible from the store. And so it was. The 70/80-something bookseller took me out the door into a common hallway in the old commercial building, through an art gallery to a giant elevator that took us down to a very basementy basement. And there, behind an unsigned, nondescript, metal door was a giant room with a maze of tall metal shelves crammed full of books and LPs. The old man flipped on a few lights and told me I had until 7:00 pm, just shut the door behind me when I came back up. [I have to say that this was the third time I had heard him mention the closing time to various people and each time he gave a different time. The posted time was 5:00 which I heard him tell a customer, then to a customer on the phone the closing time was 6:00, and then for me in the basement, it was 7:00.]
Often when presented with such an opportunity to browse a prodigious number of used books, I’m confronted by what I call Book Bowel Syndrome (BBS). You know what I’m talking about, that moment when you are about to settle in for a nice long browse, a kid in a candy store kind of moment, but your body says “Too bad you aren’t going to be able to spend much time here because I have other plans. I’ve got a poo just about done and I’d really prefer to deliver it as soon as it’s ready.” Now, this isn’t to be confused with CT (aka crampy tummy), which is a discussion for a different kind of blog, but it can be a real pain the butt (seriously, no pun intended). So despite the seemingly endless browsing possibilities I had other things on my mind. Still, I managed to call forth all of my fortitude and managed about 45 minutes in the stacks.
So what was the verdict? It was one of those stores (and basements) that is a delight to poke around in, but none of the authors I was hoping for were present. It was kind of like when you set your fingers on the computer keyboard slightly off center so that everything you type is off by one letter. How could there be so many books in one place with none of them really jumping out at me. Was it the BBS? No, it was the stock. Good stock, but just not what I was hoping for. Also, things were reasonably priced, but definitely not cheap, so unless I found something that really tickled my fancy I didn’t really feel like buying.
I did find one book in the basement by Margery Sharpe that I put on my modest stack of four books. But the bookseller decided it was worth $30 not the $20 that was penciled in “25 years ago”. I told him it was wasn’t worth it to me at that price (in truth it wasn’t worth it to me at $20). I thought for sure he would relent. But no, he set it aside presumably to go back to the basement where it would sit until he dies and the store gets liquidated. Which isn’t far off. The man is well beyond retirement age and he admitted he is still acquiring stock. That’s great to be optimistic about the future, but it smacked more of book hoarding than book selling. Happily I didn’t by the overpriced Sharpe because it tuns out I already own it.
Aside from a May Sarton biography I don’t remember what else I bought. It’s a place I would still like to spend time fossicking around just for the fun of doing it, but I wouldn’t except to find much I wanted.
How bizarre, about the Sharp! Do you remember which it was?
I read too much crime to have been brave enough to go to the basement at closing time.
Ok you probably get sick of hearing from me, but I just gotta say that you were perhaps giddy on book fumes while writing this. I certainly would’ve been in there. You ARE the first blogger I’ve read of any sort to talk about poo distracting you. It was bound to happen, with the large amount of time you spend exploring book shops. It’s a lovely personal touch…
I am still laughing at BBS.
I think the owner of the shop has hording tendencies. He seems more interested in accumulating than selling.
If I were rich, I would buy that shop and PAY you to sort it all and blog/vlog about the alphabetizing, categorization, etc.
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I would volunteer to help! Also, perhaps Thomas experienced this? https://www.buzzfeed.com/michellerial/does-walking-into-a-bookstore-make-you-want-to-poop
Great story! I’m also curious about the Margery Sharp, as I’ve just read Cluny Brown and loved it. Some of her books have just been reprinted by Open Road and I want to add some to my Christmas wishlist, but I don’t know which.
And I love your use of the word fossicking, which I shall try to use in conversation as soon as possible.
Wow, I would have loved to browse through those basement shelves myself. Too bad you did not come up with any good finds down there. I really don’t understand why the shopkeeper declined to sell it to you at a decent price, but all for the best as you would have had a duplicate copy! (something I’ve brought home by accident more than once).
Where is this magic bookstore? I’m in the DC area, so I’m definitely interested!