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17 October 2019
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 Book Shops > Surprised


I must say I'm surprised to discover that I can still be shocked by how bad some of the secondhand bookshops in the UK are. A few of years ago I described the stock of one I visited as 'so dull that I could find nothing to like, let alone buy'. The owner was offended by my comment and said that my attitude would be the death of secondhand bookshops, and we would only be left with charity shops.

Last week was my first opportunity to see if I had been overly harsh in my judgement of this particular shop. I really hoped I had been as I have no interest in dissing a fellow bookseller; life being hard enough as it.

Interestingly, the affronted shopkeeper shares the town with a bookshop run by a local charity. Despite the fact that it is entirely dependant on donations for all its stock, I found it as good as and perhaps better than its 'commercial' counterpart - at least in the wide range of subjects that interest me.

I find this utterly depressing. Of course, there are the endlessly recited benefits enjoyed by charity shops ... but I'm too bored by the litany to reprise it here. However, the one advantage that every 'commercial' bookshop owner has over its charitable competitors is the ability to buy interesting books.

Clearly, this bookseller invests next to no time or money in stocking their shop with anything other than the sort of books routinely found in charity shops all over the country. Most of these are titles their owners are happy to give away and few customers will now want to buy. However, at least the majority of charities date code their books and regularly cull the dogs - but in this shop they wearily persist in taking up most of the shelf space.

I primarily judge a bookshop by how interesting I find the titles they stock, not how much profit I can make on reselling any of them. As a bookseller, I will struggle to make any profit on a couple of books I bought while I was away, but they were just too engaging to resist. Oddly enough both were bought in a charity bookshop.

I don't imagine I am alone in feeling like this. A good secondhand bookshop still provides a unique opportunity for customers to purchase books they never knew they wanted, but can't leave behind. As for the other bookshops - I'm sure that in the near future charity shops will replace them.

Mike Goodenough

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