One of the many fantastic elements of the Mindfield section of the Electric Picnic was the presence of an excellent little second hand book tent. Fellow Anti-Room panelist Aoife Barry and I had an excellent browse, and I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems and a collection of de Maupassant short stories (I’ve never read him, and have been meaning to check out his stories for ages) with an incredibly dodgy blurb.
It was a reminder of how much I love second hand book shops. In an age where we can track down any title we want online (if we’ve got the money to pay for it), nothing beats the serendipitous joy of seeing a long-searched-for title amid the random paperbacks, of finding a long out-of-print book you’ve never heard of by a beloved author. I find it physically impossible to pass a second hand book-shop without sticking my head in for a second, and I still head to certain sections hoping to find certain titles – the F shelf of the children’s section hoping for a copy of Peter’s Room by Antonia Forest; the S shelf of the adult autobiography for the middle volume of Noel Streatfeild’s memoirs and the S shelf of the adult fiction in the hope of finding some of her long-lost adult titles. For years I also used to look out for Dodie Smith’s wonderful autobiographies, which I’d got out of the library as a teenager, until my parents and sister got two of them for me for Christmas last year.
Because nothing beats that moment when you see the book you’ve been searching for, or the one you didn’t know you wanted until it was there in your hand in a dim corner of a rambling shop on Charing Cross Road. Over the last 20 years I’ve gasped in delight at the sight of everything from E. Nesbit’s The New Treasure Seekers to Mollie Panter Downes’s London War Notes 1939-1945, from 1940s knitting books to 1950s teenage girl annuals. And then there was the memorable time many years ago when I found my own copy of William Maxwell’s The Chateau, which had been stolen from my desk by a kleptomaniac colleague a week before.
So do you share my love of second hand rummaging? What are your favourite second hand shops (these days, there’s nowhere better in Dublin than Raven Books in Blackrock)? And what have been your best finds?