I spend a lot of time in used book stores.
Like you, I have my favourites. Saskatoon has a couple of dandies, although less than there once was. We never go through Calgary without a several-hour stop at Fair’s Fair (the original) and its labyrinthine and wonderfully cool basement.
I even have a favourite out here in rural Saskatchewan. A few years ago, a wonderful man, Ralph Crawford – and his entire book collection — moved to the town next door. He had operated a used book store for years in New Brunswick, but when a new highway bypassed his town, business slowed.
A friend was looking into real estate in Saskatchewan, which, twelve years ago, was an excellent buy compared to everywhere else in Canada (that has since changed, with the Saskaboom going on). Ralph traveled out here and promptly purchased a lovely old brick bank building. Then he packed up several truck loads of books. Several. Semi-truck loads. And out he came.
His store in Perdue is an adventure. First of all, you can’t see in the windows. They’re stacked too high with books. I don’t recommend wheelchairs — don’t even try. The books are piled across every spare inch of horizontal real estate, including the floor.
I’m not sure which section I love best. He is an avid book collector and his coming has opened the shelves of many local people, serving as a swapping place for our respective hoards of books. Perhaps the cookbook section is my favourite. Ralph brought along several boxes of local cookbooks from the Maritimes, the kind each Women’s Auxiliary and church group and Homemaker’s club make and sell as fundraisers every year.
It has given me a sideline, thinking about recipes as a cultural and historical indicator of place. Not many Saskatchewan cookbooks have a section on lobster; that’s a staple in east coast cookery.
What I really love, though, are the finds within the books themselves. After I bring home my latest pile, it usually takes me a while to actually read them. Some of the books I choose are meant as reference books, after all. I may not need them right away. But when I do, lovely things pop out to greet me.
Old bookmarks from libraries and bookstores, coast to coast in Canada, a few from America and occasionally one in a language I recognize but can’t read, add themselves to my collection.
Letters and notes often drop out. Most are fairly businesslike, relaying strict information and little else. Others…well, let’s just say that people give a lot of books for Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. Flyleaf inscriptions reveal the same.
I like pamphlets, too. Often, they are for sales long past or events back in 1973. I was alive, but really small and unlikely to get too far on my own. But I enjoy knowing that someone else went to the latest local theatre production, or enjoyed some music.
Business cards have become more common. One fell out of my new/old copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac last night while I was reading. Its title caught my attention: The Crypt of Academe. John L. Brown. (and an Alberta phone number). Wow! Now that’s a title! A quick Google search (how did we ever work without the internet?) revealed “U of A professor John Brown’s The Crypt of Academe, a tongue-in-cheek account of his 26 years roaming the academic halls.” Cool! It’s not his own title, it’s his book! Now that one, I may have to get.
I have also found invitations, scribbled notes for groceries, grocery store and other receipts, sticky notes, newspaper clippings (including obituaries), and recipe cards. Fair’s Fair book store in Calgary — yes, I know I mentioned them once, but really, they are that good — keeps a collection of things they have found in books under glass on one of the counters. Some of them are probably valuable, like old postcards of Calgary and playbills from vaudeville acts in the 1920s.
I’ve never found any money, though. But like all of you, I religiously check the bible in each and every hotel room I stay in. Someday, that urban legend of the guest who leaves money in the bibles will come true for me. I’m sure of it.
And I know exactly what I would do with it: find a good used book store.