Jack and I grouse about Gore Vidal. He’s become the poster child of books that aren’t moving anymore.
Occasionally someone wanders in and gets excited about our Danielle Steels. (We pay them 35 cents per book. :] ) But for the most part our rural shop fills quickly with the detritus of 1970s book clubs and the five-year-old passions of a reading public that’s not really on the grid.
Gore and his friends are just…. past it. And yet, they were hot items in their day, tickets to discussion groups and in crowds and even costume parties. Now, they’re slightly musty, fusty, freyed-jacket doyennes and dowager duchesses, all but sniveling on the shelves as they eye the bright shiny Lee Woodruff dust covers.
Ah, for the days of glory; we all miss them, don’t we?
But take heart, for a used books shop is not like the cruel fleshmarkets of retails bookstores and libraries–and I’ll just pause here to remind you that some of my best friends are bookstore owners, so don’t write me in a huff; tuck your tongue in your cheek and keep reading! No, used book shops are the hospices of the library world, where books go to finish with dignity what began with flashiness.
Nary a “six months or you’re out” deadline here. We still have a couple of books that we opened our shop with, six years ago. Now, since we don’t keep electronic inventory, it is possible that they’ve been bought and returned for credit two or three times in their post-high-life careers. Or they could just have sat there all this time, taking up shelf space that Tom Wolfe and Barbara Kingsolver would have left more quickly.
Yet this is the joy of a used books shop: nothing is ever over–not until the spine’s last piece of masking tape disintegrates, the cover is too grubby for human hands to contemplate, or the ideas in the book are so old, sad and sorry that to carry the book would be to connote something lower than the bottom shelf. Short of this, the shawl-draped books of yesterday sit, patiently waiting, for readers who remember and appreciate their glamor, their wisdom, their glory days.
It’s not unlike elders in America, is it? There’s an African proverb: when an old person dies, a library burns down. When faces wrinkle, hands shrivel and bodies shrink, do we dismiss the voices and the minds that still carry so much history, so much wisdom, so much insight into how we should live? How much do we miss when we judge a book by its well-worn cover?