Second-hand bookshopping

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I don’t often go second-hand bookshopping because either I won’t find anything, or I’ll find a bunch of stuff I probably won’t ever read. It’s a bit of a novelty for me, only really doing it when I’m on holidays and come across a shop I’ll probably never go to again, or if there’s a particular occasion (sale/closing down) and the books are going dirt fucking cheap. Well, cheaper than normal.

The last time I remember going into a second-hand bookshop I was in Melbourne and I picked up a book of three plays by Tennessee Williams. That would have been a little over a year ago and I haven’t read it yet.

At the start of the week I heard a second-had bookshop was closing down and selling everything for a dollar. I was working  all day Monday and Tuesday, so I had no time to check it out. I tried on Wednesday and Thursday but they were closed. I went to a shopping centre today, and they had another second-hand bookshop from the same chain (called “Booklovers”) and they had all books half price. It got me wondering if the whole chain was going out of business or what. Anyway, I bought seven books there for $23.50.

After reading Less Than Zero and American Psycho, I’m a bit of a Bret Easton Ellis fan. I’ve got a couple of his other books that I haven’t read, but I picked up Lunar Park second-hand. I’ll get around to reading his other books on my shelf eventually.

I also got a book called Lake Wobegon Days, by Garrison Keiller. I haven’t read any of this guy’s stuff, but I’ve heard him. One of my tutors (I forget which) played a radio recording of Keiller doing one of his parts on the things that happen down at Lake Wobegon. What I can remember about it was that it had an old-fashioned nostalgia feel to it, and I thought “fuck it, might as well check this shit out.” Probably the thing I love most about reading (not just the stuff I pick up second-hand) is the variation in style, the different ways to approach a story. That’s why I got the Tennessee Williams. Plays tend to be highly dialogue based, so I find it helpful, as a writer, to read up on plays so I can develop my own sense of dialogue. Lake Wobegon Days is kind of like that, it’s a completely different voice to my own, and maybe I can take away something useful from it.

The other five books were trashy pulp fiction. Two Goosebumps books (no choose-your-own-adventure books, to my disappointment) and three short sci-fi novels from the seventies and eighties that I’d never heard of before.

The Goosebumps books were mostly a nostalgia buy for me, but also because of the pulp children’s’ horror factor. It’s all about weird and gross shit, stuff that kids think are scary but adults think are lame. But the thing is, in their brevity, there’s no room to waste on messing about with conventions, poetic language, narration. The narrator is the same as the kid reading it. They build up the atmosphere, shit happens, the end. Nothing fancy, cut to the fucking chase, keep it nice and compact. That’s more or less how I like to work. If I want to do something, I do it, no messing about. Maybe a little messing about. But mainly, I just want to tell an entertaining story. That’s what I’m hoping to get out of R.L. Stine’s “The Blob That Ate Everyone” and the collection of ten short stories, “More Tales to Give You Goosebumps”.

Now, the pulp sci-fi books I got were all around 150-200 pages long because I can treat them like airport fiction. Stuff I take to read while travelling. Science fiction that doesn’t take forever to read. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I just hate how long some of the books/series are. At least with these, there’s a beginning and an end and only a couple of hundred pages in the middle.

There is Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth, which came out in 1972, and its R.R.P. in Australia was $1.25. I got it for $4.25 second hand forty years later. Heh. Also, I love the image on the back, the cover for a book called “The Destruction of the Temple”, by Barry N. Malzberg. It looks awesome. And so does Starflight 3000.

Then there is A Wreath of Stars, by Bob Shaw, from 1976, and while there isn’t a visible RRP on the back of this book, the other books mentioned in the back are retailing for 60-70p. What a bargain! This book looks like a real jargon-heavy mindfuck. It starts out talking about neutrinos and nuclear physics and something called “hadronic matter”. Yeah. The blurb on the back of the book doesn’t clear it up any better. Something about magniluct lenses and ghosts? According to the Oxford Mail, it’s “Unputtable down… one of Shaw’s most entertaining novels.” I have high hopes for this one.

And then, the Armageddon Blues, by Daniel Keys Moran. 1988. It’s an “extraordinary mission through time to prevent the end of the world.” Fuck yeah, time travel, that’s what I’m talking about. I get the feeling that as soon as the topic of time travel comes up, the instant response is “oh my god, really? Not another one…” That’s mostly because I kind of feel that way with time travel. It’s so easy to fuck up if you haven’t got it all meticulously plotted out. There are repercussions many of us have never thought of. Having said that, I’ve read, am reading, and am writing within the time travel sub-genre, and loving it when it comes together right. I guess when you pull it off, there’s a sense of pulp elitism in the sci-fi circles, like “yeah, I’ve written time travel, what of it?” And then there’s that thing where tons of shows have done that exact same thing on tv. It’s been done poorly so many times, and it’s been done brilliantly enough times to convince writers that they’ll be able to write it brilliantly too, and add their own spin to it. I’m one of those people, and I absolutely hate when it doesn’t come together. Nevertheless, the title and description of this book were enough to get me excited. It’s positively brimming with ’80s pulp magic.

And then I went regular bookshopping and spent the same amount on three new books.  Two of them were $5 Penguin modern classics. Both were less than 100 pages, as with all the other books in that series. Great books to add to the pile of stuff I can read on the go.

The first one was Killer in the Rain, by Raymond Chandler. I’ve heard lots of good stuff about him and crime fiction, and while I’m not big on crime fiction – although I did go through a brief (no pun intended) John Grisham phase – I thought now was as good a time as any to get my hands on some Raymond Chandler.

The other was called Him With His Foot in His Mouth, by Saul Bellow. I haven’t read any of this guy’s stuff, but I’ve heard he’s a bit of an American classic. I mean, the dude’s got a Nobel prize for literature. I first heard of him because that book he wrote, the Adventures of Augie March (which is sitting on my bookshelf) has a band named after it, and I’m a little bit of an Augie March fan.

Then there’s Haruki Murakami. I had it on the authority of Jeff VanDerMeer that the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a good book to start with, so that’s where I’m starting with. Found a copy of it pretty cheap, so I got it. All I know about this guy is that he’s Japanese and cats. Lots of cats. He’ll be the second Japanese novelist on my bookshelf after Koushun Takami (Battle Royale), which I also have not read.

How sad is that? I’ve got shelves and shelves, and stacks and stacks of books I haven’t read yet, and there are so many books I want to read, and yet I haven’t read so many books, and I buy more books. I can see why there are people like Matthew Revert, who seem to be perpetually buying second-hand books, even if you’re never going to read them. There seems to be something comforting about them, like even if you don’t read them, someone else already has. Some of these books have been marked by various libraries and second-hand bookshops. It’s like they’ve got whole secondary stories based around where they’ve been. You’re not just buying a book, you’re buying someone’s old books.

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2 thoughts on “Second-hand bookshopping

  1. So many interesting books Shane! I love Tennessee Williams. I played Blanche in year 12 drama once haha. Will be ransacking your house soon to get those 3 plays if you don’t read them! It’s better to have books on your shelf that you haven’t read yet than no books at all. I spent all day Sunday reading in bed. Glorious.

    1. The three plays are Sweet Bird of Youth, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie. You can borrow it if you want. However, you can’t have my book of Samuel Beckett plays right now because I’m reading it. I’m also considering buying the collected works of Sarah Kane because of what I’ve heard about the experimental angle to her plays. I haven’t seen that many plays, but I like reading them. I wish I had more and I wish I read more. Also, spending a whole day reading is a fantastic way to spend your time. I’ll try to do a bit of that today.

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