I confess: I am passionately addicted to used bookstores. I am a reluctant shopper under most circumstances, but I'll pull your arm out of its socket if you try to restrain me from going inside a store that offers old books. I find that the benign shelf elf that Arthur Koestler dubbed the Library Angel comes instantly into play when I enter a used bookstore, placing volumes I wasn't looking for - but fulfill a dream, or set the right course for new exploration - exactly where I can't miss them.
On vacation in the Champlain Islands in Vermont this week, I just had to make a run down to Burlington (on a wild, windy day when swimming conditions in the lake weren't optimal) to one of my regional favorites, The Crow. I left with only nine new/old books, which is very moderate for me. One of them was The Death of Freud, a moving study of Freud's last two years that includes an indelible account of the Gestapo calling at the great psychiatrist's apartment on Bergasse ("Hill Street") in Vienna in the immediate aftermath of the Anschluss, Hitler's annexation of Austria in March, 1938. Up to this moment - when the Nazis took his daughter Anna away for questioning - Freud did not appear to grasp that he would need to leave Vienna. Yet he told Arthur Koestler afterward, in the relative safety of London, that the spilling over of the Nazi nightmare from the darkest basements of the unconscious into the world was not surprising but "inevitable".
I'm hesitant to make a list of my favorite used bookshops, because memory is fallible, and I know I'll leave out some of the best. But I'll make a start here, confining myself (for now) to the United States, and will welcome additional suggestions from book-lovers who are following this blog:
Copperfields in Sebastopol, California (with companion new and old bookstores)
Powell's in Portland, Oregon (though I confess the "city of books" downtown scares me in its immensity; I prefer the more human-scaled Powell's on Hawthorne, where I frequently give readings and book-signings)
Twice-Sold-Tales in Seattle (especially the branch at the foot of Queen Anne Hill, where a well-fed cat is often dozing by the cash register)
Easton's in Mount Vernon, Washington (great selection of literature, history, anthropology, mythology)
The Librarium in East Chatham, New York (full of mythic literature)
G.J. Askins in New Lebanon, New York (where I acquired full sets of Conrad, The Golden Bough and - wonder of wonders - the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations, containing the reports of blackrobe missionaries from the time of first contact with Northeast Indians)
Dove & Hudson in Albany, New York (0ne of my current "magic bookshops", where I expect the shelf elves to be lively)
The Book Barn in Latham, New York (terrific values, best for popular titles but also a place for discovering the unexpected)
The Strand in New York City (though I am sometimes disturbed that the recipients of review copies recycle them here without seeming to draw breath).
Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (great for psychology, mythology and children's books)
Barely Used Books in Mystic, Connecticut (shelf elves very active, during my visits, producing - for example - a book of bawdy Scottish ballads at the precise moment I was humming "Oh you take the high road/and I'll take the low road..")
The Frugal Muse in Madison, Wisconsin (I would give it first prize for the best bookstore name that has come to my attention except that I have to award that to Malaprops in Asheville, NC, one of the truly great independents)
To be continued...