Used Book Stores

As do most book lovers, I love used book stores. The narrower the walkways, the more precarious the stacks, the better.

This afternoon, I went into the city (Washington, D.C.) with my love, Marky. One of the things we enjoy is strolling through Eastern Market, a historic farmers’ market/flea market not far from Capitol Hill. At one end of Eastern Market, there is a bookshop: Capitol Hill Books. We wandered through the stacks for some time, looking for treasures, trying to keep a reasonable limit on our purchases. Marky could not escape with fewer then five books. I managed to limit my take to three:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Bend Sinister by Vladamir Nabokov
Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories by Italo Calvino.

I have not read this particular novel by Greene, though I have quite enjoyed others. Bend Sinister is a great name for a novel and an early Nabokov. Hard for me to go wrong with that.

However, I am most excited about the Calvino. I have not read him, though I have heard great things about him. The back of the hardcover I bought has gushing blurbs from two authors: Updike and Rushdie. Marky wanted to go in a clothing shop, so I sat on the curb and started reading the Calvino stories. My god.

When I finish the book, I will post a full review. But, judging by his first few stories, Calvino is sprinting toward my favorites list. I ordinarily would not say such things about an author, particularly after reading only a few very short stories. Sitting on that curb, though, I was both awed and struck giddy. I am in the middle of something else and this is a collection of short stories, so I will not drop everything to devour it. But the mere thought of reading another of his stories makes me smile.

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5 Responses to Used Book Stores

  1. Sarah says:

    I call them second-hand book shops, but nomeclature not withstanding, I love visits to these places too. Next time you visit perhaps you might like to post a photo of the shop… This is what happens when you give visually appealing descriptions of book shops: cheeky requests!

    Sounds like a most satisfactory book hunting expediton. A friend recently reviewed Invisible Cities by Calvino; and it sounded amazing. I haven’t read any yet, but am increasingly keen to do so!

    I am also in the market for a new Nabokov; have only read Lolita and Invitation to a Beheading so far. Was thinking of Pale Fire next but, given that my choices are largely influenced by book blogs, once you review Bend Sinister the choice may become less obvious.

  2. Kerry says:

    Second-hand book shop is a better description. The proprietor is a quirky, witty fellow. He has various handwritten signs posted throughout. The first I noticed on entering was this: “Reading by Updike Tonight. Cancelled.”

    I did not have a camera with me, but wished I had. As you say, next time…

    Invisible Cities goes on my list.

    As for Nabokov, I do recommend Pale Fire (my absolute favorite book). Another you might enjoy is Speak, Memory, his autobiography. It is no less brilliant, but doesn’t demand quite as much of the reader as Pale Fire (which is beyond me in many ways, but I love it still). I will let you know about this early work of his though.

  3. Regarding Nabokov, I’ve read Pnin which is tremendous and Laughter in the Dark which is flawed but contains one of the finest opening paragraphs in literature. Bend Sinister I’m wholly unfamiliar with, so that should be interesting to hear about.

    I love Greene, that’s apparently one of his best, but oddly enough I’ve not read it yet. I look forward to your thoughts.

    I’m not a big second-hand book shopper, but oddly enough years ago when I was 14 I was in a second hand bookshop in Wales, desperate for something to read. At the back of the shop, I found a mouldering and battered copy of a book of short stories by HP Lovecraft – the 1920s writer of weird fiction and cosmic horror. There is no more appropriate way to discover him as a writer, than at the back of a shop in a remote location, the book itself fading and damaged. It’s precisely the sort of thing that happens in his stories, though usually to be fair with unhappy consequences…

    They can be absolute treasure houses, places for serendipitous discoveries, like the Calvino.

  4. Kerry says:

    Great story, Max. I am not familiar with Lovecraft, but there are writers who should be found, by accident, in a dimly lit room piled full of secondhand books.

    I look forward to sharing my thoughts on all three. Somehow I look forward to reading these than more eagerly than I anticipate reading plotted and planned purchases. Of course, Calvino got his hooks into me there on the curb, but even the others (though I had been meaning to read the Greene for quite some time) have an added mystique as a result of where I found them.

  5. […] Calvino is that last sort of writer. As soon as I started his collection of short stories, months and months ago, I believed his promises. I still […]

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