I become ridiculously happy when set loose in a good used bookstore. This week I've been visiting family in Athens, Georgia, and I spent some time browsing in Jackson Street Books (260 North Jackson Street). As soon as I walked in the door and saw the floor to (nearly) ceiling shelves, the glass cases with first editions and rare books, I knew. Since I didn't have too much time at my disposal, I walked the whole bookstore once just to get a feel for the place. The store is organized, and seems to have a good selection of many types of books, but I knew I was going to concentrate on fiction. I like to start at one end of the alphabet (beginning or end, doesn't matter) and slowly scan all the shelves methodically. There are a few things I always look for: books by my favorite authors, my favorite books (most especially Middlemarch), and those odd, really old books I've never heard of but want to know. I also look for anything by Anthony Trollope, whose books I collect with the urgency of the smitten. I look for the out-of-print book, the book with the poignant inscription, the book with an author inscription, the book I have to have-even though I didn't know it existed.
Sometimes in a used bookstore you open a book, and there on the flyleaf or the title page is a little glimpse at another life. Words of endearment and encouragement and advice; words of fondness and seduction and apology. Why did the recipient of this book, these words, let it all go--the book, the sentiments, the scrawled words of intimate avowal?
This can go on for hours: me, totally absorbed, picking up books and moving along the aisles. In the end, I couldn't buy them all--I couldn't even look at them all. After picking up and considering a much larger number of books, I walked out of Jackson Street Books with a first edition of Richard Wright's American Hunger, an Oxford World's Classics paperback copy of Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray, and a collection of stories by Margot Livesey, Learning by Heart. I'm still thinking longingly of one or two books that I put back on the shelf.
At any rate, I know I'll be back.