I have trouble deciding my favorite thing about used bookstores.
Is it the smell? Is it the opportunity for discovery? Is it the towering, sometimes precarious stacks of books surrounding you?
Is it the curators who have an unreasonable amount of knowledge and passion about niche topics — passions often reflected in their incredibly well-curated collections?
Some used bookstores are more like a book hoarder’s tomb than a collection. It’s not so much that they’re curated as an overwhelming compendium of books on books on books.
Some authors crop up frequently on used bookstore shelves. Janet Evanovich’s hardback mysteries sell well. They also, apparently, resell well as lines of them idle regularly on used bookstore shelves.
Despite having several books that are fantasy favorites, I rarely spot Brandon Sanderson’s tomes in a used bookstore. I’ve seen only one Sanderson in the wild on a used bookstore shelf in Biloxi, Miss., near the Gulf Coast.
Someone had given up a copy of Elantris, the first book he published and the first of his novels I’d read. Reading it turned me into a Sanderson fan.
I’ve since bought several of his books new and on purpose, not out of mere curiosity at a used and well-loved cover. The power of the used bookstore.
What makes a used bookstore so superior to a regular bookstore? I think it’s the sense of misadventure. The possibility that you can find almost any story from almost any decade on the shelves.
What lives have these books lived before they reached your hands? How long did these books persist without you? Are they out of print? A book that doesn’t exist in a new bookstore anymore?
I love weird tiny books, poetry chapbooks printed on flimsy paper in short runs; homemade, hand-folded zines; palm-sized leather-bound books with quotes on marriage and love.
There’s something romantic about a book that can be slipped between the pages of something else or slid under a door.
Homemade poetry books feel like a message in a bottle — words someone needed so desperately to send out from the island of their thoughts that they staple-bound the book themselves with faith someone would read it.
When I travel, I try to visit a used bookstore. I like to think about the journey those books have endured to make it to my hands. Who read them first? Why did they give the book away?
A book is a terribly useful and enjoyable souvenir. You have something to read on the journey home, and you can get a feel for the flavor of a place by the selections available in the bookstore.
Of course, you don’t have to travel too far to find a good used bookstore. Las Cruces is home to perhaps the largest collection of used books in the state.
Coas Books has two Las Cruces locations, but if you visit just one, go to the Coas on Main Street on a Saturday morning during the weekend farmers market. There’ll be plenty of art and food at the market, plus you can browse used books to your heart’s content.
Even closer to home, the Friends of the Socorro Public Library hold their monthly book sale at Zimmerly Elementary. The sale is both a great way to find interesting books and a great way to support your local library.