Friday, October 3, 2014

The Magical Land of the Used Bookstore

This week, my husband and I went out on a date. And because I have the best husband in the world, part of that date involved a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. While I'm quite fond of Barnes & Noble (and would love it if the closest location was less than 90 miles from my house), my heart belongs to the independent bookstore.

And then there's that even more magical place...the used bookstore.


Richard Van Nice Books occupies a weathered little house that sits on one of the busier streets in our town. One in a short row of random houses-turned-businesses, it's easy to ignore--or simply miss--as you drive by. I often wonder how many people don't even know this little gem exists.

Inside smells of paperbacks and pipe tobacco. The books are stacked precariously, more heaped than orderly lined. Although the mystery section is *mostly* alphabetized.


To most, it looks like a mess. To a bibliophile like me, it's a treasure hunt. I mean, where else are you going to find things like this:

The Bible in a Southern accent. In which Mary (Jesus's mama) is made pregnant by
the Holy Spirit before she and Joseph (a.k.a. Joe Davidson) have relations.
I don't think we'll be seeing this one on YouVersion anytime soon. 

And this:

From How to Live With Cats. This one came home with me.

But I think my favorite thing about Richard Van Nice Books is Mr. Van Nice himself. He's pretty much exactly who you would expect to find behind the piles of books that surround the tiny counter.


A disabled Vietnam vet, his hands are gnarled, his fingers permanently clenched, yet he somehow handles each book with ease. His passion for books is obvious--he's not just a collector, he's a connoisseur. Despite the seeming chaos, if he has the book you're looking for, he knows exactly where it is. He found me a copy of Watership Down in about 30 seconds flat. And his disappointment was evident when I told him I hadn't found any Laurie King books in the mystery section. I have no doubt it pains him not to have every book ever written.

Browsing also has an added bonus. Like his books, Mr. Van Nice has some tales to tell. They go something like this:

     "My greatest goal in life is to win one of the major lotteries. Then I'll go to the Strand Bookstore in New York City. There are 2.5 million books in the Strand. I'll walk up to the counter and when the clerk asks, 'Can I help you with anything?' I'll say, 'Yes. One of each, please.'"

And then he continues...

     "I used to have a dream of being kidnapped by a group of women starting a book commune. They'd carry me off and make me their book God. I've given them 30 years and they haven't come for me. I don't think they're going to do it. It's too bad. I could just see myself sitting comfortably on my throne, looking down into their adoring faces, and saying, 'Now fetch me some light fiction.'" 

I handed him my three books. He charged me three dollars.

I would have happily paid a whole lot more.