The display boxes out the front are covered in a gritty dust, the spines of the books have faded to a lighter shade than their covers. Stickers on the inside of the door advertise new releases that came out two years ago and were commercial failures. The windows are devoid of any display, and through them you can see a few people idly sifting through the new stock display table.
It is a discount bookshop.
The red and white striped awning has faded, and the red stripes have become pink. A large sign – “BOOKS” – has faded, too, revealing where the thicker brush strokes were.
Inside, it feels empty. The shop looks like it is in the throws of a closing down sale, there aren’t enough books to fill the space, and they look like they have been shoved into the shelves with little regard to the shelves’ categories. The Twilight novels have been put next to Dickens in “Literature", while A History of English Spoons has been slid in next to Self-Analysis: A guide to the self diagnosis of Mental Illness in “Self Help”.
There are a few paper-bag readers scattered around inside, too, and a few more outside surveying the pickings in the display boxes, running their fingers contemplatively down the faded spines of cheap paperbacks.
Paper-bag readers are the sort of reader that will read anything, paper-bags included. They churn through books at a frightful pace and many of them accurately remember each and every one of them. They don’t care if the book is well renowned, or an airport paperback; if it is words on a page that tells a coherent story, believable or not, they’ll read it. They’re the sort of people with ten books always on the go, and they’re chronically starting new ones before they’ve finished old ones. But they always get back to the old ones, and even if they’re books of self-published tripe, they will read it. They read like machines, and they are the reason that these Discount Bookshops stay in business.
Discount Bookshops have no pretentions of being snobbish, and they don’t make false claims of having connexions to the world of literature. They sell books: awful cheap books, publishers’ remainders, printers’ seconds, they’re all books aren’t they? If they’re books they can sell them, and our friends the paper-bag readers will buy them and read them when no on else would touch them, normal readers wouldn’t go near them, let alone read them. It’s thanks to this that the Discount Bookshop will survive. Sure, they might get the occasional normal reader in, and they might even buy a book, but it is the paper bag reader that takes up the three books for ten dollars offers, keeping these sorts of shops alive.
I like going into discount bookshops occasionally. Sometimes I end up finding a bargain, other times you don’t. Just this week I bought an Oxford published paperback on words that originated in the twentieth century. I definitely wouldn’t have paid full price, but $3.95 wasn’t a bad offer, was it now?
Really, they’re a funny little establishment, with a balding, short man for a shop-keeper and books that maybe should have never been published, but they’re good fun if you’re looking for a bargain, if you’re in the right frame of mind.
January 16, 2013