The Archaelogy of Secondhand Books

I love digging through piles of secondhand books.

It’s an archaeological pleasure, I reckon. There’s the anticipation you might uncover a long-lost, long-buried treasure. There’s the revelation of changing trends in cover art and book formats, and the rise and fall of popular authors. And it’s a sort of personal archeology too: digging back into your own past to see if you can recover something you once read and thrilled to, even after the title and author’s name has been forgotten.

I’ve only recently started keeping a list of the novels I’ve read (and the ones that got abandoned halfway-through), and no amount of googling has ever told me the name of the book I read as a child about the sarcastic, hyper-intelligent mouse called Mortimer…

Or the one where the grumpy, animated inhabitants of a weatherhouse take our heroes on a trip to Mars (only for the genial Martian hosts to turn abruptly murderous)…

Or the one about the dusty hidden attic room with a circular window, in which a malevolent enchanter lurks, spreading his power out over the house beneath…

Sometimes I think I just dreamt those books.

Sometimes I think the only way I’ll find them again is to pick up my pen and write my own versions.

For now I’m going to keep digging. There’s a lot to find, and to re-discover.

What about you? Are you susceptible to the lure of the old and secondhand – or do you prefer the new and shiny? What are the stories you once read, and would love to find again? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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2 thoughts on “The Archaelogy of Secondhand Books

  1. Have only recently understood the lure of secondhand books while sourcing materials for my PhD. love to get books from America with library stamps from places like Texas and Douglas County (wherever that might be). It’s great they have a history.

  2. A book having a visible history is fascinating, isn’t it? There’s something hugely poignant about finding ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ inscriptions dated from years ago. I always wonder what happened to the giver and the receiver, and where and why and when they parted with the book… One collection of short stories I bought recently had a ‘thank you’ message on a heart-shaped note stuck to the flyleaf, addressed to the giver’s wife! I *assume* this means they’re no longer together – but maybe she just didn’t like the book – and forgot to take out the note when she donated it…?!?

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