The Magic of Used Bookstores

We here at Gold Millennial are book lovers. We hold a monthly book club and all 3 of our core team members have English degrees. We enjoy reading, whether that means learning about the world around us through a non-fiction book, enjoying the beauty of language in poetry, or escaping the world around us by reading a fiction story.

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How wonderful is it that our current times provide us with more reading opportunities than ever before? Not only can we buy new and used books, but we can also purchase e-books and audiobooks at any time of the day or night. Libraries allow us to borrow both physical and digital books, as well as audiobooks. Plus, we have new services like Kindle Unlimited that help us read a variety of authors on a Netflix-like subscription model. With the advent of e-books, it has become simpler for authors to self-publish and reach audiences, or share poetry, short stories, and other works on a digital platform.

There is something special about each way of reading a book. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on one specific type of book: a used book.

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I was an adult when I discovered used bookstores. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, most of my books were sourced from the library, with occasional trips to Walden Books, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, or a local book store to purchase new copies. Books can be expensive, though, and college required a lot of them. Most of the required readings for my classes were bought as used books from the university bookstore, where they would allow me to pre-purchase my required textbooks and class supplies on a financial aid IOU. However, when some books were out of stock, I would venture out to the local bookstore.

After college, I had more time on my hands to read for pleasure. However, the world was still recovering from the Great Recession, and like many millennials, my funds were limited. I spent many a Saturday perusing the racks at Goodwill. Thrift stores are fun. They are filled with clothing from prior decades, unique home décor, and interesting surprises. The Goodwills in the town I lived in at the time also had sections devoted to books.

There were several Goodwill stores in town and I was familiar with most of them, visiting every few weeks to see what new finds were in stock in each location. The Goodwill organization in that area eventually opened up a store devoted to just used books, which was a real treasure. You never know what books you’re going to find at a used bookstore, especially one that runs on charity donations like Goodwill. Dollar store inspirational titles mixed with works of classic fiction. Exam prep manuals mixed with books of poetry. The latest titles mixed with obscure independent works.

It was always exciting to find one of the latest titles in the used book stacks. The books that everyone was talking about – the ones that were most assuredly full price at a new book retailer and probably had a long wait list at the library. Searching through the stacks and finding a copy for $2.50 or $5 at Goodwill always felt like an accomplishment.

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Finding a specific title in the Goodwill stacks took skill and patience. At the regular Goodwill stores, the books were rarely organized. Associates often tried to place them in alphabetical order by either author’s name or title, but frequently the stacks were in disarray due to customers browsing through them. At the dedicated used book store, the books were more organized – in specific sections by genre and then alphabetical order. However, each time you walked into any of the stores, you could never be completely sure what you were going to find. There was no guarantee that the latest book would be there. Perhaps no one donated the book. Perhaps others already bought the books that had been donated. Or perhaps you would be the lucky one to find that much-searched-for title.

Even more special than finding the latest titles, however, were the joyous surprises of relatively unknown books that would sometimes greet a reader. Stacks of biographies of historical figures, aging copies of first-edition fiction books, random other works that spoke to the souls of the people perusing the stacks.

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How serendipitous that 2 unknown people in the same town would both be interested in such works. That is the magic of used bookstores. They bring strangers together to connect over stories. These strangers may never meet, but they will have shared that experience. Those strangers are unknowingly connected, having spent hours pouring over the pages of the same book.

What lives had these books before we bought them? Were they cherished? Read in coffee shops, on buses, in spacious living rooms, in cramped apartments? What beauty of their covers, a myriad of colors, names, and sizes sitting on the bookshelf? A delightful menagerie of stories, words, connections.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

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