There’s really no greater thrill than entering a secondhand bookstore with near-unlimited funds. Everything’s priced at or below $8.00, so it’s just too easy to fill your arms and go back for more. I loaded myself up with a travel-handy Walt Whitman collection, Christopher Reeve’s last book, and a battered copy of Jewel’s poetry. I picked up books by Carrie Fisher and Delia Ephron, Larry McMurtry and Oliver Sacks, I found a book on JFK, Jr.’s life and death, and I finally nabbed a copy of Charlotte Gray – a book I always see at secondhand stores yet am normally never in the right mood to buy. I went slightly nutty, overwhelmed by the musty book-smell, and the excitement of the old folks behind each and every secondhand store counter ready to talk my ear off about how busy I’ll be doing so much reading.
My favourite experience on the trip, however, was at the Book Inn. It’s a little shop, crammed with books, overseen by ladies who sit behind their counter-like table and knit all day long. One of the ladies was telling the other one that she’d picked up a book on assassinations and had been held rapt by its stories, especially those on political figures and celebrities who “were assassinated and survived”, like Ronald Reagan and George Harrison. The book had only cost her $4.95 at the supermarket.
But that’s not the experience I’m talking about. While browsing the Book Inn, I stumbled across the rattiest, dustiest copy of P.D. James’ The Children of Men for just one dollar. I took one look, put it in my pile, and continued shopping. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what I’d done. See, I already own Children of Men, which I bought brand new early last year. I rarely buy books new, especially paperbacks for $20.00, like this one. I had to, though, because every single secondhand shop I’d visited in the months prior did not carry a single copy of the book. I scoured them, too. The big secondhand stores, right down to the crazy little ones near the bowling alley that mostly sell clothes from the 1960s and copper pots.
No one had Children of Men, and I was getting desperate. I wanted to see the movie, but I couldn’t without reading the book first. My partner cracked and saw the movie without me. And then I cracked. I was in Melbourne with my mum, it was the last copy left on the shelf, marked down from $24.95, it was shiny, and I thought, bugger it, I’ve got no choice. It was right in front of me. It was then or never.
So, a year and half later, when I saw that elusive book exactly as I’d wanted it for the price I’d really wanted to pay, I had to grab it. On principle. I don’t need two copies of Children of Men, but I look at my new ratty edition and think only one thing: Mission accomplished.