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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guest Post: A Quest for Treasures in the Stacks by Cindy Young-Turner

The bankruptcy of Borders puts another nail in the coffin of the big box bookstores. As a reader, there’s nothing better than browsing the stacks and looking for new books to discover. I admit, I love the sheer volume of books available in places like Borders and Barnes and Noble, and the combination of books and a café is appealing. But the cost of a new book is often a deterrent for me. And if you’re looking for an older, less popular book, or something by an indie publisher, you have little chance of finding it.

Used bookstores, on the other hand, are a book lover’s paradise. Books for a quarter? I’ll take a dozen, please! I got hooked on SF/fantasy through used bookstores. I didn’t read much genre fiction as a kid, and I’m embarrassed to admit that when I initially picked up The Hobbit, it bored me (both The Hobbit and LOTR are now favorites, though). The first SF/fantasy books I tried to read were a jumble of confusing names and places, so I gave up on them for a while. Some friends in college successfully reintroduced me to the genre, and then after college a friend who shared my love of fantasy and creepy tales took me to his favorite used bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island. (Note: the year was 1996 or so, before Google and Amazon.) The best part about this
bookstore was its amazing SF/fantasy section. What better place to be introduced to H.P. Lovecraft than in his hometown? I started with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At The Mountains of Madness and immediately became a fan, drawn in by the lush, descriptive language and bizarre and wondrous creatures. It’s sad to think that Lovecraft would probably never be published today, with the prevailing belief that readers don’t have the patience to wade through that kind of prose. I actually prefer reading authors who really care about the craft of language in addition to telling a great story. From Lovecraft, I moved onto Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and The October Country, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, and C.L Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. This bookstore also had a number of books that had been part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the 60s and 70s, with beautiful cover art. I splurged on some of the short story collections edited by Lin Carter, partly because I loved the covers.
 Not only did these books make me a fan of the genre, they also raised the bar pretty high for used bookstores. After that, I tended to judge a used bookstore by the quality of its SF/fantasy section. I’ve found a few good ones over the years, including one in Boston that was solely devoted to genre fiction, but none that ever matched the store in Providence.
Eventually my bookshelves filled up and the backlog of books to read became a bit overwhelming. I started to avoid the temptation of used bookstores. Then the big bookstores popped up everywhere, driving out the independents. Now the future of print books themselves seems to be at stake. You can download a book to your e-reader with the touch of a button without even getting up off your couch. I see the appeal in bringing an e-reader on vacation rather than lugging several books around, but I’ve rarely browsed for books online. It just doesn’t have the same appeal as perusing the musty shelves and pulling out a book to read the back cover blurb, admire the artwork, and flip through the pages.
But I’m a throwback. I drive a stick shift, use a Mac (okay, maybe Macs are trendy these days), and I don’t even own an e-reader—yet. I’m a reader and an author and a book lover, and I’m proud to display my love for the genre in the form of well-worn paperbacks. Those pretty book covers don’t look nearly as nice on your Kindle.


What about you?  What kind of fun experiences have you had with used bookstores?  Let us know in the comments!


Cindy Young-Turner is the author of Thief of Hope, a fantasy novel published by Crescent Moon Press. Check out her website.
Sydney, a street urchin and pickpocket in the town of Last Hope, has managed to evade the oppressive Guild for years, but there is no escaping fate when she's sentenced to death for associating with the resistance. After she's rescued by a wizard, Sydney is forced to accept that magic-long outlawed throughout the Kingdom of Thanumor-still exists, and the Tuatha, a powerful faery folk, are much more than ancient myth and legend. When the wizard offers a chance to fight the Guild and bring Willem, bastard prince and champion of the Tuatha, to the throne, Sydney embraces the cause as a way to find her own redemption. But Sydney's fear of the Guild, distrust of authority, and surprising connection to the Tuatha threaten Willem's success. Can she untangle the strange threads that entwine her life not only to the fate of the kingdom, but also to Willem himself?

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  1. Great post, Cindy! I also have a long-standing love affair with used bookstores. My dad, a writer, would take us downtown every few months to the used bookstores in San Diego. And every time we drove to Los Angeles, used bookstores were on the agenda.

    I received many books as gifts from the used bookstores and have found many authors that way. I'll admit, though, that I didn't finally read Lovecraft until last summer, while camping. I read a compilation of his greatest hits, and now I'm a huge fan.

    Great post! And Thief of Hope looks awesome - looking forward to reading it!

  2. Thanks, Christine! I keep hoping used and independent bookstores will make a comeback. Lovecraft is great. After writing this I feel like re-reading some of his stories.

    And Shaun, that's the same cover as my copy of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. Love it!

  3. Hi Cindy,

    Used bookstores are great for finding old titles by favorite authors! I, too, look forward to reading Thief of Hope.


  4. Hi Cindy,
    Oh, I love to find books at thrift stores. I look to see which covers are the most worn. I figure, if it got a lot of milage, it must be good. I've found a few keepers and some I pass onto the next thrift store.

    I'm loving your story by the way. It's a keeper !
    Jean Murray

  5. Great Post. I love used bookstores though even they are closing shop in this new age. I love ebooks, but there are times I just love cuddling up on the couch or in bed with a regular book. I can't afford the new prices for books any more so used bookstores are my favorite places and I can browse new authors and have found quite few this way.

  6. Lovely post, Chrisitne. I too am a huge lover of bookstores, whether they be used or new. And I don't own an eReader yet either. I need to feel the cover, hear the pages turn and love the smell of a brand new book. However, I see the advantage of having an eReader when plowing through 'War and Peace' while in bed.

  7. Cindy,

    I love your post. You are sooo talking my language! I lived in the library as a kid. Once I got older and had a job, I migrated into used bookstores. I spent hours combing the shelves, reading book blurbs and admiring the cover art.

    When my girls were born, I took them along. Now, they all love to wander through bookstores. A couple read more than the other two, but I'm proud to say I passed on the book-love gene. The difference with my girls is they're from the techno age. They see no difference between a paper book and a digital book.

    I asked them why they felt that way, and they told me a book's a book. Art is art...especially when we can do our own covers on the computer.

    I guess their response shouldn't surprise me. They've been hooked to televisions, video games and computers since they were born. Digital media is second nature for them. I just hope their children appreciate the written word, in whatever format, as much as we all do!

  8. MLDoyle1:51 PM

    I love the SMELL of old bookstores. And I love meeting the people who run such places. They're usually interesting folks. Another place I love to shop for books is at garage sales and estate sales. Usually dirt cheap and its amazing what you can find.

  9. Thanks, everyone! I've also found great books at library book sales and sometimes antique stores have a shelf of cheapies or even free ones. You just never know what you'll find.

  10. Hey Cindy. Looks like I'm late to the game. I LOVE used book stores, and it sounds like we think along the same lines when it comes to SF/F (great minds think alike, maybe? Hm...)