I greatly enjoyed Mark Morris
's column in the latest issue of Prism
I was born in the early '70s and it was probably around the early '90s before I really had my own money with which to go out and spend on books.
I got in just at the tail end of there being secondhand bookshops in Glasgow: by the early 2000s they were gone.
But, yeah, I have fond memories of those few good years - pre-internet - of going out book-hunting!
Sure, the internet makes it ridiculously easy to find books now, as Mark says, but you just can't beat that pleasure of walking into your regular secondhand bookshop and the owner grinning at you upon seeing a familiar face, saying nothing, but instead hands over a plain brown paper bag. You don't know what's in it, but you grin too, wondering which out-of-print title on your wants-list he's managed to track down this time. You know you're going to love it.
In Glasgow's city centre there were two main secondhand booksellers, Russell Aitken at Virginia Galleries and Fred Rennie near the High Street cross. I became friends with both these men and, indeed, every Thursday evening Fred and I would meet up at his local for a beer and a blether. I still see Russell regularly but, alas, Fred has moved and now only one of his old customers still sees him.
The point I'm making here, obviously, is that it wasn't just about the pleasure of trawling those dusty and musty bookshelves searching for that elusive gem: if was about the friendships you made, both with the booksellers and fellow customers. Those who had the pleasure of knowing that dear, wonderful gentleman Ken Slater will know of what I'm talking here.
Sadly, though, the new generation with never know this pleasure (although conventions go some way to address this).
Hell, back in the youth of my book-hunting days there was even here, in my small local town of Airdrie, a small secondhand bookshop/stall/cubbyhole located in the indoor market. It was there, at the age of 14, that I picked up the 1978 Ace edition of Alice Sheldon
's Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home
. I didn't get it
, not at that age, but the book?s images and the sheer tangiblness
of her style never left me.
(And, as a by-the-way, here's a book that you absolutely OWE IT TO YOURSELF to read: James Tiptree Jr.:The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
(2006) by Julie Phillips, issued just last June in paperback http://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Tiptree-JR-Double-Sheldon/dp/0312426941/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208009069&sr=8-1
The ease of the internet is terrific ? for instance for years I tried to track down a copy of John Crowley
?s Engine Summer
. Russell and Fred had no success. The only copy available, it seemed, was from Erik Arthur down at London?s Fantasy Centre (another wonderful gentleman of the secondhand book trade). But it was a first edition and kind of expensive, and besides I was ? and still am! ? a humble paperback reading copy type of person ?
- then the internet came along and I picked up a paperback edition for a few pounds.
I was delighted.
But, you know what, not half as much as I would have been if I?d walked into Fred?s shop and he?d grinned at me through his beard and handed it to me in a brown paper bag.
(Second by-the-way: http://betterworld.com/
has been a God send to me ? they accept PayPal, only charge $3 international postage per book and, best of all, it?s a charity. I?ve picked up some wonderful gems here, such as a bunch of out-of-print Scream/Press and Dark Harvest titles from the '80s. If you?re a reader like me ? in other words, you?re not that bothered with this whole fine/fine unread condition malarkey ? then betterworld.com is great for simple good condition reading copies.)