Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bookstores and Such


I was recently walking with a friend past a second-hand bookstore. I remarked to said friend how much I love not only second-hand books, but the idea of second-hand books. It brought up a seemingly insignificant memory of a small, perfectly chaotic second-hand bookshop I found in Italy. An elderly man, wearing a sweater in May, sat in the doorway reading not just a book, but books.

I found myself thinking of this elderly Italian gentlemen again when I read George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories.” It said, “When I worked in a second-hand bookshop—so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios—the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people.”

Orwell then goes on to talk about these people who seem to frequent and annoy second-hand bookstores. Those who are looking for a nameless book with a red cover. Those merely, and always only browsing. Most offensively are the consumers wanting first editions or rare treasures just for the sake of “having.” Each of these individuals is unaware that it is not their purchase that subtracts from the store; it is their presence.

For the last hour I have tried to convince myself the reason I didn’t go inside this seemingly perfect Italian second-hand bookstore was to preserve its integrity. Telling myself that only the Italian literature-lover would not accost the store. Only those who were not seeking for a treasure (like the first edition hunters) but for an experience could go inside and come away with a book and still leave the bookstore whole. Because I’m not fluent in Italian I didn’t belong, I tell myself.

Since conversation with aforementioned friend I have been kicking myself for going back to the bookstore only for a picture and not a browse and purchase of a book that would never be read, but because of the memory, always endeared.

Elitist literature readers be dammed, I should have gone in for the treasured experience.

4 comments:

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

You write of second-hand book stores that I imagine, but have never seen.

You must help me learn to appreciate our second hand bookstore more. I'm not looking for rare treasures . . .

Rachel said...

So Ande, I'm curious if you asked this man for a picture, or if you hid behind something and tried to snap it inconspicuously. I would be impressed either way, but I need to know or it will bug me.

Ande Payne said...

Aunt Rachel,

I asked. He was more than gracious but would never actually look at the camera. He was probably one of m favorite people I met in Europe.

Cali said...

Oh, I'm so glad your post ended this way. When you wrote the Orwell quote, I was shaking my head, "That's just NOT true." I love the picture. I love any picture that is crammed so FULL of character. I loved the books practically bursting out the door. And last-but-not-least, I love you.

Cali