Growing up, most books in our home were second-hand, mainly from jumble sales. We had a fine collection of Enid Blyton, Jennings and Just William from such sources. Second-hand books have a history that new books just don’t have; I love finding a handwritten dedication.
Jumble sales now seem old-fashioned, do they still happen? Or have car-boot sales usurped them? Over the years second-hand bookshops and charity shops have become my first port of call for old books. However, second-hand bookshops are becoming rarer and rarer and are more likely to close down than to open. There are two that no longer exist except in my rose-tinted memory.
One was on the corner of St John Street and Clerkenwell Road, London. It was a small shop with leather bound antique books and years and years of The London Illustrated News. I can't remember its name (if it had one). I worked around the corner and would spend my lunchtimes searching the bookshelf which had books for a pound. I bought a 1950s paperback of Ivanhoe, much to one of my co-workers disbelieve (she’d studied it at University and had bad memories of pages and pages of greenery). Another was an Everyman version of Robinson Crusoe, I guess it was early 20th Century, there was no date in it. The print quality was far superior to a modern paperback and I spent many bus journeys to and from work reading this small hardback. I was delighted to discover that two pages in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe had not been trimmed properly and were still attached to each other. Was I the first person to read this book? Had it been on various shelves over the years, unread? From that first Everyman I’ve bought more than a few, usually Dickens, they are just the right size for pockets and are usually in good condition. The shop is now an estate agent.
The other shop was in Stoke Newington, The Vortex. The Vortex was/is a jazz club that has now moved to a new building in Dalston, in the old building the jazz club was on the first floor, the bookshop on the ground floor with two rooms of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling of books of every description. When my youngest brother came to visit I took him to the bookshop before the pub and had to leave him there as I had to meet other people, he eventually turned up with a grin and several books under his arm, I populated a lot of shelf space from that one shop. The building was demolished and rebuilt as Nandos.
These are just two of many shops and stalls that have gone. At the time there were three second-hand bookshops within two minutes of each other, now, sadly, there is only one left and that’s under threat. Are ebay, Amazon and Kindle killing off the second-hand market? But as we’ve been reminded this week that we don’t actually own our Kindle ebooks, I can’t imagine the various owners of second-hand bookshops coming to my home and reclaiming my books, so I’m going to continue to search out second-hand books for my shelves, while reading my borrowed books on the Kindle.