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 [Though nearly forgotten because of her outdated depictions of African-Americans, Calhoun’s literary reputation experienced a revival when a university press re-published her 1909 volume.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?