Monday, October 1, 2007

From the Bookshop, October 2007

By Quillhill


An element of the unknown is one of the key pleasures of the used bookshop. There are treasures to be discovered in almost every shop, and stories abound of intrepid book-hunters who have found a rare volume at the bottom of a dollar bin, or a lost manuscript bound in with something as common as a Book of Hours.

One might think there is nothing unknown to the owner of a particular bookshop. That is not always the case. Many shop keepers have specialties, and one who is knowledgeable about the value of religious texts may not have a clue as to what a first edition of Thomas Pynchon is worth. Such bargains always await the book-hunter. There is also an infinite variety of ephemera to be found inside books, stuck there by former owners as place markers or for safe keeping. Just last week as we were systematically researching our political sciences collection, we came across a Sheridan Square Press hardcover edition of Profits of War, by Ari Ben-Menashe that looked normal for the first twenty-four pages, but the remainder of the text block had been cut to fit two velvet-lined compartments in which said profits of war could be hidden for easy smuggling or forgetting. What we discovered inside we will allow one to imagine, for the possibilities are endless, and the unknown is sweeter than the known.

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley, is, if not the most famous, surely the most pleasurable experience of the unknown in bookstore lore. This tale is a sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, following Roger Mifflin as the owner of a bricks and mortar store. One of the many placards hung in the shop reads:

THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts
Of all great literature, in hosts;
And as the bookflap says:They are the great spirits of the literary past and their part in the story is too much fun to spoil by any foremention. Open the covers of The Haunted Bookshop and simply read the first three paragraphs and one will find oneself drawn inside by the lure of the unknown (as well as the quality of writing).

For those uninterested in the Romantic (that insatiable yearning for the unattainable with a capital R, not the heaving breasts of lust with a minuscule r), any Barnes and Noble will tell you with certainty whether or not they possess a particular book, where exactly that book can be found, or how to go about acquiring the book elsewhere. For those steeped in the Romantic, the uncatalogued collection of a used bookshop offers all the pleasures of the unknown. We once heard of a bookshop whose owner would reply to any query about a specific book by saying, "I'm sure I have it, I'm just not sure where." And if one wanted that specific book, off one went to hunt for it. The shop was literally overflowing with books, so the owner probably didn't know where to find anything. But what he did know was that even if a book-lover couldn't find the specific book she was looking for, more often than not she could find several that she didn't know she was looking for. It is that surprise and delight that keeps us in the hunt. A bookshop is truly a repository of unknown treasures and delights.

1 comment:

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

The surprise and delight of the hunt indeed!

Heather T.