Sunday, November 25, 2012
Secondhand bookshops, free tea and cake
I'm not generally a fan of secondhand bookshops; on the whole, I think they attract praise beyond their worth. Often they are smelly, poorly organised and bursting with overpriced junk that's been bought by the yard. The worst trade on the dubious sentiment that buying old books is both a virtue and a bargain - and that part of the pleasure is fumbling through their dust ridden shelves in dark and labyrinthine rooms.
I don't buy it.
That said, there's a place for them. I'd not have my collection of Wayside and Woodland without secondhand bookshops, nor have been able to replace all my old college texts; some categories (art and nature in particular) have key works which have long been out of print.
The Internet has been a saviour to many dealers, some of whom now regard walk-in customers as distractions from the post. Buying online is quick and easy - and it takes away the smell and uncertainty of those labyrinthine rooms. On Friday a friend recommended I read Edge Seasons by Beth Powning - I found a copy in thirty seconds and paid 17 pence plus postage. To be fair, that is a bargain!
But for all my reservations, when secondhand is done well, it can be a delight. The other day I called at Pen'rallt Books in Machynlleth - a treasure of hand-picked stock, with clear and limited categories which the owners know well and can offer advice on. There was a browsing table, a comfy sofa, an exhibition of photography on the wall. And best of all, the selection surprised and inspired; a mix of stylish oddities and classically good, if out of print, titles.
I do buy this.
In fact, I bought two. A copy of Pip Pip by Jay Griffiths, and a wonderful old volume on The Mole by Kenneth Mellanby. The latter is an especially good find - I don't know much about moles and had been looking for a short guide - this one was written in 1971 for the Country Book Club and has a rather lovely cover.
Pen'rallt Books also sells new titles, and even has regular author evenings - I'm (prepare for the shameless plug...) reading and talking there on 6 December. I understand they also do excellent tea and cakes. So, in a completely unbiased way you understand, I'm going to take back everything I said at the start of this post and dub Pen'rallt Books (did I just mention Pen'rallt Books in Machynlleth again) as my secondhand bookshop of the year.