BROWSE: THE WORLD IN BOOKSHOPS Edited by Henry Hitchings

Editor Henry Hitchings sets the tone of Browse: The World in Bookshops with his antics in bookshops while growing up in London. Hitchings first experience results in his buying the sequel to Frank Herbert’s DUNE, Dune Messiah. Years later, Hitchings is ousted from a used bookshop because the suspicious bookshop owner accuses Hitchings–with his big overcoat–of being a shoplifter! The essays in Browse all celebrate books and bookstores. My favorite is Michael Dirda’s “Snow Day.” A monster snowstorm is about to hit the Washington, D. C. area, but Dirda decides to risk a quick trip to Second Story Books in Rockland, Maryland. What he finds there is impressive! This is a booking adventure I have experienced with slightly different results! Do you have a favorite bookstore? What’s you’re biggest bookstore score? GRADE: B+
Introduction: A Place to Pause — Henry Hitchings p. 7
Bookshop Time — Ali Smith p. 27
Something that Doesn’t Exist — Andrey Kurkov p. 39
The Pillars of Hercules — Ian Sansom p. 53
A Tale of Two Bookshops — Juan Gabriel Vasquez p. 67
Leitner and I —Sasa Stanisic p. 81
All that Offers a Happy Finding Is a Fairy Tale — Yiyun Li p. 95
If You Wound a Snake… — Alaa Al Aswany p. 109
Desiderium: The Accidental Bookshop of Nairobi — Yvonne Adhiambo Our p. 121
Snow Day — Michael Dirda p. 145
Dussmann: A Conversation — Daniel Kehlmann p. 161
La Palmaverde — Stefano Benni p. 173
A Bookshop in the Age of Progress — Pankaj Mishra p. 183
Intimacy — Dorthe Nors p. 197
Bohemia Road — Iain Sinclair p. 211
My Homeland Is Storyland — Elif Shafak p. 231
Writers’ Biographies p. 243
Translators’ Biographies p. 251

19 thoughts on “BROWSE: THE WORLD IN BOOKSHOPS Edited by Henry Hitchings

  1. Rick Robinson

    Somehow, “antics” sounds like the last thing I’d be doing in a book store, but maybe I don’t understand what you mean.

    So many of the best book stores I’ve loved are long gone, so options are limited these days. Thanks goodness for Powell’s.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, a lot of funny things used to happen in bookstores, as this collection illustrates. Like you, I mourn the loss of used bookstores especially in Western NY. We had over a dozen a decade ago. Now, we’re down to three. One of my favorite used bookstores is in Fort Erie, Canada. The last time I was there, the elderly woman who owns the store offered to sell it to me!

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    I put this on hold. Some of my best stories were browsing through British bookstores with our good friend, the late Bob Adey. Bob seemed to have a knack of looking at a seemingly useless shelf of books and plucking out some gem from 1905. Of course, had he not been there, I would have had no idea it was a collection of short stories that included a locked room mystery (Bob’s particular area of expertise – he literally wrote the book).

    Another highlight came on a visit to New York, when I was able to introduce Bob to Otto Penzler’s back room with his personal collection of books. Both had huge collections of Victorian fiction including triple deckers, and each seemed to fill in gaps in the other’s collection. It was like two mastodons butting heads, but in a good way.

    1. Art Scott

      I did find lots of good books in odd shops in Britain, guided and chauffeured by Bob Adey, Dick Stewart, Geoff Bradley, but my biggest find – ever – wasn’t in a bookshop, but in the attic loft of Bob Adey’s garage. Bob did the finding, I just had to scoop up the leftovers he was willing to sell. And George, you certainly figure prominently in one of my stories, one you like to tell too, the time I got us ejected from the Ken-Bailey Bookstore (do I remember the name right?) on a Buffalo bookhunt with you.

  3. maggie mason

    This book is right up my alley. I also lament the loss of bookstores. I’ve had many many scores over the years. You were with me for one memorable one: the finding of my third copy of fill the world with phantoms by Earl Emerson (his first book). We were in a store and you asked how I found collectibles and I used that book as an example: a mystery with a cover and title that looked like a horror novel, so we went to that section and I was telling you that this is where it would have been and there it was. The first copy I got for Leila Dobsha as Earl was her favorite write (in a small bookstore in Yuma Az. The second I got for myself in Phoenix Az, and the 3rd was for my friend Nancy.

    Another experience was in Bountiful Ut. My friend Scott and I were visiting George Easter (of Deadly Pleasures fame) and he took us booking. We went to his local paperback exchange – where he goes weekly. He followed me around and was stunned that I found a copy of Cocaine Blues by Walter Sattherwaite in fiction. That was a scarce book also. I regularly found copies of 2 for Texas by James Lee Burke in westerns.

    My most memorable booking trip was with my friends Scott and Kai. We went to AZ., Yuma, Phoenix area, Tucson. While we were picking up Kai at his house (in the country) I saw 2 Golden Retrievers and got to pat them. I had some of the best luck ever that trip, including a copy of cooking out of this world, a SF cookbook with a recipe that was supposedly fatal, thus the book was taken off the market almost immediately. Scott and Kai weren’t doing so well so we ended up going to New Mexico (Las Cruces and Mesilla – where Scott scored a lot of first edition childrens books in a new book store some 12 years old, the store didn’t do returns. I got a copy of track of the cat as well. And we ended the trip in El Paso Tex., We all did well.

    Another memorable trip was in Omaha. I was there for the first Midwest mystery convention. I met Bob Samoian in the lobby (had just met him at a library sale in Carlsbad Ca.) and he introduced me to Marv Lachman. We went booking and ended up at a remainder place. They had Neon Rain by James Lee Burke. We split the copies in the store, and I asked if he had any others in the back. The manager asked how many we needed and I said all of them. He told me he could order some from other stores. We split them, and I think we each got about 20 copies for $2 plus shipping.

    Another great find was at the Carlsbad library sale. I’d been told they had a large PB donation, gold medal books. At first I was the only one there and was selective, then someone else came and just started collecting them, so I did the same. Big Score!!

    Sadly, there are no such experiences any more. At library sales, people with scanners (and no book knowledge) abound. And the libraries look everything up. Sadly, the library staff or volunteers don’t realize a book club of a valuable book isn’t worth much, and don’t realize condition is important. The Coronado library sale was always the best in SD. I once got 2 copies of a fairly rare Lawrence Block book, a first of One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and an early Toni Morrison book at one sale, along with others. Like book stores, library sales are either diminishing or disappearing. There used to be a line for Coronado a block long. Last time I went, several years ago, it was only about 20 people. No bookstores mean no dealers at the sales. ( I had the Kesey signed at a book expo, and he gouged the page when he signed it. I pointed that out as a plus)

    1. george Post author

      Maggie, you are a Book Magnet! Yes, I well remember that time at THE BOOK CORNER when you found Earl Emerson’s first book. Very impressive! I had some Big Book Scores when I lived in Wisconsin. If found some rare Philip Jose Farmer books in a Green Bay bookstore. In the late 1970s, I was in Wausau and found a used bookstore filled with Gold Medal paperbacks! The woman who ran the bookstore sold them for a nickel each! I bought dozens!

  4. wolf

    As a Science Fiction fan I of course went to the stores in London:

    Dark they were and golden eyed (Long gone)
    Fantasy Centre (used books mainly, closed a few years ago)
    Murder One
    Forbidden Planet
    There I made friends over the years so they put away a copy of evreything they thought I might be interested in – often signed by the author (like for some other customers) and between two and four times a year I would go in and select …
    And as a thank you I brought German beer and chocolate and Black Forest ham …
    I also went to the FP shops in NYC (yes, there were two locations once) and afterwards we went out for a drinkand maybe some food – discovered/was introduced to some nice places like the Corner Bistro that way.
    Those were the days!
    Rather OT (hope you don’t mind):
    Since no one in my family is interested in SF that much, I’ve been thinking of selling my collection of more than12 000 books and magazines – any ideas?

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, I took the donation route to preserve my collection. I donated 30,000 books to the State University of New York at Buffalo’s SPECIAL COLLECTIONS. In return, I received a big Tax Deduction! But, if you want to sell your collection, I’m sure there are buyers online who would be happy to acquire your collection. Or you could sell them on Ebay.

  5. Jeff Meyerson

    In the early 1970s I was working in Greenwich Village at a time when two or three of the famed Fourth Avenue book row of stores still existed. At one, I picked up dozens of older Erle Stanley Gardner books, many non-series and odd pseudonyms that were hard to find then. I also found a treasure trove of 1930s John Dickson Carr books. I was only limited by how much money I had with me.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I love stories like that! When I was a college student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, I was also limited by how much money I had with me when I walked into the many bookstores that existed then.

  6. Kent Morgan

    I have browsed in bookstores on Charing Cross Raod in London including Miurder One in two locations, but sadly most of them had disappeared the last time I was there. When I made a trip to Hay-on-Wye, the booktown in Wales, I made a msitake by only giving myself part of a day to browse. Haslam’s new and used books in St. Petersburg, FL is one of my favourite browsing locations. One great find happned in the very small community of Winnipeg Beach on Lake Winnipeg. A woman ran a large used bookstore usually filled with the stuff you would expect to find in a resort community. I always checked it out as I figured old paperbacks such as Gold Medals would get cleaned out of cottages. Not much luck but after a new owner took over, I mentioned that I am always looking for old stuff in particular mysteries. She said there were some in a back room and I did find a dozen or so I wanted. I gave her my phone number and asked her to phone me if she found more. The following week she called to say she had so I stopped in on my next trip to the lake. That day I came away with at least 60 more vintage mysteries for 10 bucks. Have I read any – no. Unfortunately, when I went there this summer, the shop is no more.

    1. george Post author

      Kent, I love your lucky find of those vintage paperbacks! I used to tell used bookstore owners to call me if any old paperbacks came into their shops. One did call me about 10 years ago. Someone had dumped their entire Andre Norton paperback collection. I swooped in and bought them all. Some were upgrades of books I already owned. And, I filled in a few gaps. Most of those books now reside at SUNY at Buffalo’s Special Collections.

    2. wolf

      I remember Haslam’s too, was there once many years ago (around 1995?). However they had only the “run of the mill” Science Fiction, so I didn’t find many wanted books for my collection.
      We stayed in an apartment in St Pete Beach South – just a stone throw away from Fort deSoto.
      Those memories …


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