Wherever I happen to be, I have a special instinct for finding book stores, especially used book stores. I love everything about used book stores – the musty smell, the happy clutter, the unassuming people. The best combine the alarming pseudo-organization of mom’s garage with the anticipatory excitement of digging for treasure. Heaven on earth!
The first vacation day here in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, my bibliophilic antennae picked up a lovely book nook: Ricki’s Place. It contains a potpourri of items – it’s a motel with beach supplies, games, CDs, wool, kites, needlecraft…and used books in English and French. There a loose organization to the place, with books piled on shelves in quirky categories — political, French, thrillers, “antiques”, biographies, and sports to name a few. There are others jammed into milk crates and cardboard boxes, sitting alongside paintings, magazines and various knick-knacks. Several of the boxes are piled in front of the shelves, requiring extra effort to dig behind them to find more books. Obviously, money-making from the books is a low priority. I was tingling.
As I walk in, an older woman with a cigarette-stained voice greets me from behind a desk piled unevenly with a mountain of…stuff. “Just looking at the books,” I say. She says to “have a ball”, and points out that there is “good stuff for beach reading”. Also, she points out, there is a special deal – if you return any of the books you purchase later, you get a 50% credit to get more books. I wonder: is this the actual Ricki from the sign? I resist the urge to ask.
I start pawing through the shelves, my 11 year old son waiting patiently, longing after the Stephen King and Koonz novels his parents won’t yet let him read. The semi-random organization of the books is thrilling; I feel like the Pickers guys from the History Channel, hoping to turn up a treasure among the debris. There don’t seem to be any prices penciled inside the books, and I’m about to ask, when I come across an orange piece of paper tacked to the wall: a price list – paperbacks $2, hardbacks $4, and “antiques” $6. Hallelujah!
I have multiple categories in my mind as a surf. Category 1: Better copies or earlier editions of books I already own and love, like Killer Angles or Battle Cry of Freedom. Category 2: Books I’ve heard about or by previously-read authors I’ve liked, especially older, out-of-print versions. Category 3: Extra copies of books I like to give to others, like Ender’s Game, The Poet, or Fountainhead. Category 4: Genuine collector’s items, older books, especially first editions, that I can add to my collection that includes a first edition of U.S. Grant’s Memoirs and Mark Twain’s Roughing It. As I’m squatting down like a catcher behind the plate, sifting through the stacks of the “antiques” section, my son walks up, looks at the titles over my shoulder, “Those are boring.”
Over the next hour or so, I turn up three treasures I can’t resist. From Category 2, I find two things. First, having just finished Peter Matthiessen’s magisterial Shadow Country, I turn up a nice paperback version of his National Book award-winning Snow Leopard. Score! Also from Category 2, I discover a very nice, nearly pristine first edition, of The Reckoning by David Halberstam, author of Best and the Brightest fame. As a bonus, the volume is likely worth more than the price as a collector’s item alone. Boom! Finally, from Category 4, sitting randomly in a box off to the side, rubber-banded together, are three volumes of high-quality early editions (1885, 1886) of books by the writer and father of a future Supreme Court Chief Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. While not hugely valuable, they are worth far more than the $18 they will cost me and make a lovely addition to my collection. Booyah!
Ready to check out, it takes some time for me to catch the addition of the gravelly-voiced woman in charge. She starts ringing me up, reminding me of their half-price trade-in deal. Half-way through the transaction, she gets distracted by a phone call and wanders off talking on her cell. She returns, and as she’s admiring the Holmes volumes, she stops suddenly to yell past my shoulder at a kid standing in the doorway, which is causing the tone-alarm to chirp repeatedly. Someone from the back of the shop yells to her, “Ricki, you have to take care of that!” confirming that she is the namesake owner of the place. She then checks me out, including change with several $2 bills, and offering to put the Holmes’ volumes in a separate bag to protect them. I happily accept, and turn to go. My son says, “finally” and we head out for the day.