A young man was in our used book store looking for the play that was the basis for the movie A Few Good Men. The play was going to be staged locally in less than a month, and he wanted to read it before then. We didnt have the book, but I located two paperback copies that were being offered for sale on line. I found the phone number of the bookseller who had them, which I wrote down for him, and he went on his way.
I wanted to say to him, please dont let this transaction give you the wrong idea about used book stores. If you are looking for a copy of a somewhat scarce book, we are worth a try, but we probably dont have it. On a given day, we may not even have copies of some very common books. If you need a fairly scarce book, and if you need it soon, probably you will end up buying it on the Internet (or ordering the e-book, if one is available).
But when you have some time on your hands, come back to our store and just look around. Bookstores offer an experience that the Internet really cant provide – browsing. A book-for-sale listing on the Internet may make available a few pages of the book, selected by the seller, to help you decide whether you want to buy it. You may be able to email the seller and ask questions about the books contents. But books listed for sale online are not books you can read to your hearts content while you are deciding whether or not to buy them.
You can do that with the books in our store; we even have comfy chairs for you to sit in. Also, the Internet can make only a feeble attempt to tell you about the other plays and other books that you might want to read, if you like, say, A Few Good Men. By contrast, our store is mostly about the books around the book you are looking for, the books that the one you are looking for might lead you to.
After all, who really knows what book he or she is looking for? A man just called us asking whether we had books on taxidermy and on the anatomy of game animals. We didnt (though sometimes we do). But is gutting and stuffing animals all he reads about? I suggested that he come into our store sometime and look around. We have hundreds of titles on nature, hunting and the outdoors, and about 30,000 more books on almost everything else.
Many of the best books I have read seemed, at least at first, to have nothing to do with my usual reading. Google would not have turned these books up for me based on my previous search patterns. Amazon would not have recommended them to me based on my previous buying patterns. I encountered most of these books on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.
It seems to me that people who shop for books only over the Internet and/or through e-books – at least as those technologies are configured now – are denying themselves important discoveries. They risk becoming stuck in the narrow world of their pre-existing interests and prejudices, like people who only watch Fox News or never read fiction. If you want to widen your intellectual horizons and sympathies, at least for now you need to spend time in bookstores and libraries.
And while you are in them, talk with the people who work there. Nothing else about their work is as enjoyable for them as talking with you. Often they can help you find what you are looking for, and sometimes they can help you find more.
co-owner (with James Thomas Jr.) of Every Other Book