Monday, June 01, 2009

Under S, for Steinbeck?

Monday, June 01, 2009
This afternoon I wandered over to the used book store a few blocks away from our apartment building. I've been meaning to pop in for months now. My old favourite used book store was a few blocks from the house I lived in (the Fortress of Smoothitude, she was) before I moved in with Gary, but it closed sometime after I started spending all of my free time in his apartment and less of my free time wandering the streets of Hillhurst/Sunnyside alone.

It was replaced by The Mommy Store. If that's not a sign that a new phase of my life is beginning, I'm not sure what is.

At any rate, I wandered in. I find the key to perusing a used bookstore is twofold: keep an open mind, but keep focused. It helps to have an idea of a genre or author you like in mind, but one can never know what scrumptious literary gems are hiding in a stack of Louis L'Amour paperbacks.

Thus, I went in with the following goals in mind:

1. Get a general, poking-about feel for the place.
2. Check out some paperbacks for our upcoming trip. (ELEVEN MORE SLEEPS!!!)
3. Find a reasonably priced copy of The Grapes of Wrath in passable condition.

This used book store, located mere footsteps from the end of the C-train line, sandwiched between shady "office" buildings, a Holiday Inn Express and parking lots, is unlike any other I've ever experienced in this city. Perhaps in this country, and I have seen some interesting used book stores in my day. (One in Winnipeg springs to mind, and one somewhere between Washington and Idaho, and one called Packrat Annie's in Nelson, BC, which just got a quick peak through a rain-streaked window.)

This is the kind of used book store filled with tiny rooms and claustraphobic corners. It was windowless, dark, and musty. The floors were stacked with boxes, every visible surface covered in piles of books of every condition. Folio books with never-cracked spines were sandwiched between Trixie Beldon stories and a copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

You know those people who die, and then their family or friends come to clean out the house, only to realize that the recently departed never threw out ANYTHING and that they were essentially smothered to death by stuff?

That was the exact feeling of this bookstore. There was hardly room for me to turn around to examine the shelves, which were crammed full from floor to ceiling. I'm a tall lady, and I had to stand on my tip toes to see the titles on the top shelf.

I have no idea how the portly man working there even gets in and out of the building. I'm pretty convinced he lives there, amid stacks of torn Harry Potters and neglected Biochemistry Textbooks.

It took me several minutes to figure out how the lit/fiction section, located in a small room at the very back of the store, was organized. With only the light from a single flickering fluorescent bulb, I searched through the stacks, going around the room three times before I gave up my search. If The Grapes of Wrath was there, it wasn't located next to the other Steinbeck books, or in the American Classics section. I was pretty sure that at any moment I was going to be hit over the head with an encylopaedia from 1947 and/or be teleported into one of my favourite novels at ANY MOMENT.

I walked up to the front and was amazed when the man working there told me with absolute certainty that he knew he didn't have a copy of the book I was looking for, but that he'd keep an eye out for one and put it aside for me.

How he knew, for sure, that he didn't have that particular book amid the thousands in disarray, I'll never know.

But I do know that I loved that place- creepy, dusty, dark, book-smelly hole in the wall, the antithesis of the modern bookseller. God, I hope I didn't dream it.


Snowflake said...

I was in a store in Mesa very similar to the one you described. And how anyone would find anything is beyond me, but I could have spent hours there!!!

Paper Bag Princess said...

I've also been in one like that before. You get the sense that the owner cannot say no to free book donations.