By Jeff Salter
Well, I was in love with bookstores a long time before I began my nearly 30 year career in librarianship … so blogging about a visit to a bookstore is right down my alley.
Though I’m sure I was in a bookstore somewhere, at some point prior to this instance, here’s the first visit I recall … and that’s probably because it was also the first time I remember buying my own book with my own money. I’m not positive, but this likely took place in late 1959, when I was in the first semester of fourth grade.
We went from the small town of Covington LA to New Orleans several times a year — and it was a big deal to visit the huge, busy Crescent City. Back in those days, in the main New Orleans business district, you could still buy fresh produce, painted turtles, and baby alligators from small shops along the major downtown streets.
We had stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore and – though the books were usually not rigidly organized – I somehow found myself in the general section which included books for kids. Spotted a newish-looking book with a red hardcover (no dust jacket, of course) — Teddy and the Mystery Dog by Howard Garis. It was marked at 25 cents and evidently I had a quarter of my own money … so I bought it.
I didn’t realize it then, but this 1936 novel was the first in a series. And, having never seen this dust jacket [until just now], I had no sense of what Teddy looked like! But I enjoyed the story and I’m sure I read it more than once. Hanging on to books as I do, I’ll bet I still own that title … and, if I could locate it, I’d probably read it again.
My second book purchase, from one of the plentiful small N.O. bookstores just like the first, was likely that same school year or possibly the next. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Josie Hyde, had read excerpts from a particular novel during certain class periods when nothing else was scheduled. It was funny, interesting, and full of memorable characters. It fell out of favor in the following decade because – written in the 1920s – it featured stereotypical depictions of a racial minority.
When I saw that book – with its faded, torn cover – in the used book store for fifty cents, I had to own it. It was Miss Minerva on the Old Plantation by Emma Speed Sampson (published in 1923)… and it continued the humorous and endearing adventures of Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, made famous by Frances Boyd Calhoun in 1909. [Though nearly forgotten because of her outdated depictions of African-Americans, Calhoun’s literary reputation experienced a revival when a university press re-published her 1909 volume. Some have referred to Ms. Calhoun as the female Mark Twain.]
Those two books, along with other gift titles – and probably a few trades – formed the core of my early home library. I would love to go back and visit those same old hole-in-the-wall bookstores and hunt for bargains once again.
Now don’t get me wrong: I do love some of the modern bookstores with scads of brand new books – among many other items – such as the terrific Joseph Beth bookstore in Nicholasville KY. But, given a choice, I’d much rather browse a small shop with used books… the older the better. All kinds of treasures … and sometimes BARGAINS.
Do YOU have any special memory of a book store experience?
No special memories here, right off hand, Jeff. (I’m sure you know that by now.) LOL! I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your blog. It has always bothered me the way they try to change history by pretending it never existed. Books and/or movies reflect the times they were written and should not be censored just because the times and people have changed. I, for one, would love to be able to watch the animated feature, “Song of the South” again. I enjoyed it so much, I always cried at the end.
Song of the South is a wonderful movie with a terrific blend of live action and cartoon. And excellent depictions of Joel Chandler Harris’ classic writing.
I enjoy going to the Barnes and Noble store near my house, as well as the Schuler Books across town. But I remember my excitement the first time I entered a dusty little hole-in-the-wall shop near my parents’ home that featured used books. Here I could fill an entire bag for the price I’d pay for one new book – and then I could bring them back later and get credit for more books! It was practically a library – except that if I found a book I really liked, I could keep it. The shop owner was a former teacher and well versed in several genres and often made recommendations, and despite the overflowing shelves always knew exactly where to find whatever you wanted. I spent many hours there before she closed the shop a few years ago.
Yes, Patty. That’s exactly the kind of experience I’m talking about. Of course, you’re so much younger than me, I’ll bet the shop you went to already had a computer!
If she had a computer in there, it was hidden behind the piles of books! This was at least twenty years ago. My kids were pretty small.
LOL, Patty … let’s see, that would be about 1993 or so. No, small bookstores might not have had computers then. but I had already been using an IBM desk computer for several years by then. Of course, it was a stand-alone — not hooked up to anything.
Wonderful way to spend the day with kids and even on a date.
Absolutely, Duffy. Bookstores can be VERY romantic!
Glad you could visit today.
I am stressed out with guests coming but I will gather a few of my thoughts on bookstores for tomorrow. I love your early memories, Jeff…looks like you were destined for books and writing to be in your future.Hard-wired to it, as it were!
I love used shops, but will touch on new books sales tomorrow, as well.
Yes, definitely wired to love reading … and books … and writing.
For me it was Betty’s Books, located in the walk-out basement of a semi-retired book-lover-turned-entrepreneur…named Betty, of course. It was a dim and smokey cavern with towering stacks of new and old reads on overflowing tables and shelves punctuated by an occasional ash tray. As a pre-teen, I spent most of my weekly allowance there on used, hard-bound copies of every set Betty steered me towards. The cigarette would bob up and down between her lips, as she would rasp, “Here, hon. Why don’t you try out this one?” She handed me the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Cherry Ames, Anne of Green Gables, Polyanna (squeeeeeling out loud at the memories!!!) and the list goes on. Pure gold! It’s no wonder our beloved Betty now owns a building in a prominent part of town overlooking the main highway. Thanks for taking us on a trip down such a favorite memory lane, Jeff.
Thanks for stopping by, Jo. [And, BTW, glad to meet you — I saw you cool new book about the Roanoke folks today.]
“dim cavern” pretty well describes what I recall of this old New Orleans book shop.
Oh, and I also owned a Trixie Beldon book — though I no longer recall which one.
My brother had several of the Hardy Boys and I read his… I only owned one of those (Mystery at Devil’s Paw, I think).
I actually remember that one even though it was more than…ahem…twenty years ago. Good good times! Alas, I left most of those amazing collections at home when I flew off to college so my younger siblings could enjoy them – and they did. I’m on a new quest now to collect some of the same sets all over again, because one of my sons pulled Book One off the shelf a few months ago and is currently working his way through the entire Hardy Boys series. Woohoo!
I’ve done the same thing, Jo — gone back and repurchased some books I remembered enjoyiig as a kid. I bought several of the ORIGINAL Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew — published before the 1959 overhauls. And I believe some of them have been overhauled yet again.
I’m having trouble finding you on the AP site, BTW.
No book store memories. When I saw small and my mom went grocery shopping (Weingartens), the first thing she would do is buy me a Golden Book (conveniently located at the front of the store) and I would be preoccupied the entire trip. I still have most of those books and my kids now enjoy them. 🙂
Thanks for visiting, Jenn.
I used to LOVE those little golden books. We got plenty for our kids, too.
When I was buying children’s books for one of the public libraries I worked in, I bought bunches of those little Golden books and reinforced their fragile bindings with wide, sturdy library tape. Very cost effective and the kids loved them.
I am blown away by your memories every time you go back in time, Jeff.
I love the photo of the old book!
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