Bluebottle's Bookshop Blog

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Bluebottle mourns the loss of a dear friend, the East Street second-hand bookshop.

books on a shelf in a second-hand bookshop

When not on h2g2 during lunchtime, I can usually be found in one of Southampton's nearby second-hand bookshops. I'm fortunate enough to work just a quick walk across the parks to the shopping district with the shopping centres and the retail park nearby, yet I rarely visit the shops selling new goods. I feel that if I want to buy something new, that's what the internet is for – you can usually get DVDs, CDs etc. cheaper online.

The shops I do go to are second-hand bookshops. Proper second-hand bookshops, not the ones where 20-year-old Mills & Boon romance leaflets go to die. With standard bookshops and stationery shops, such as WH Smith's1, once you have visited one branch, you know pretty much what books will be on sale in every other branch in the country. Yet with second-hand bookshops, even chains such as Oxfam Bookshops, this doesn't apply. There's the 'Thrill of the Chase' factor, as you never see the same set of books in two different shops. You never know - half hidden behind that book on Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley, you just might find them selling And Another Thing in mint condition for 99p.

With second-hand bookshops, you can also develop a rapport with the staff who man, or more frequently woman2, the shop. You get to recognise the same faces, and they get to know you, to know the sorts of books that you are interested in. Soon you are told whether there are any new books of the sort you might be interested in as soon as you enter through the door. And the doors are proper doors, too, not automatic, sliding doors. Often they even have a bell to make entering the shop even more of an exciting experience.

Terry Pratchett in Soul Music wrote about mystical, magical music shops that appear and disappear. Similar to these, and a part of Discworld's 'L-Space', are the ultimate second-hand bookshops. These are vast, TARDIS-like shops. From the entrance they look like a normal room full of books, yet as you browse the shelves, near the back you find a little label and an arrow, promising more books this way. Following this sign takes you to an almost hidden room with a staircase in the corner, up which you find rooms behind rooms and round corners. There are even further levels upstairs and packed in every corner, vast piles of second-hand books for sale3.

Bluebottle's pile of books to read after a visit to the bookshop

There are charity shop bookshops, too. In these you can happily buy second-hand books and, as well as getting a book, you take away the satisfaction that you have helped contribute to curing cancer or otherwise helping the ill, young, old, helpless, homeless, endangered animals and needy.

As much as I enjoy bookshop browsing, there are some things which annoy me in the smaller charity shops that sell a selection of books as well as other goods. Foremost among these are the shops that dump all their books in a basket shaped like a wire-frame bin at the back, for the books to be bent, squashed and damaged. Other shops write the price in biro on the cover, rather than pencil which can be easily erased, or, even worse, use price stickers which, when you try to peel off from the book, take part of the cover off, too. And some bookshops even hole punch out the as new price written on the book's back cover, which in my view is tantamount to vandalism.

Sadly, second-hand bookshops seem to be a dying breed, being replaced by internet sites which allow you to sell your unwanted books direct. The individual second hand book shops are therefore closing, being replaced by tattoo parlours and empty, boarded-up shops to the detriment of us all.

A reader of the h2g2 Post

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1Founded by First Lord of the Admiralty, William Henry Smith. He was the inspiration for the character of 'Monarch Of The Sea' Sir Joseph Porter KBE in Gilbert And Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore' operetta.2Often second-hand book shops attract elderly women behind the counter, who get very confused with the lethal Arkwright tills, which involve typing bizarre codes no-one understands, such as '99p on 1, £1.99 on 2' yet the closer to a University a second-hand bookshop is, the more likely you are to see younger volunteers, during term time, at least.3Trying to take a perambulator into one of these shops, sadly, is not recommended.

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