The Love of Books

IMG_4379This past week brought the extremely sad news that our beloved Capitol Book and News will be closing its doors forever in January as owners Cheryl and Thomas Upchurch retire. As we face the grim specter of a town largely bereft of bookstores, we want to encourage everyone reading MML to prioritize Capitol Book for your gift-giving and personal needs. Let’s send Cheryl and Thomas into retirement with as much money (and as little inventory) as we can.

However, just because Capitol Book and News is shuttering doesn’t mean you need to either stop reading or enslave your interest in books to some kind of giant mega-corporation or horrible digital tablet. In addition to locally owned New South Books, Montgomery’s got another often-overlooked used bookstore over in Capitol Heights. If you haven’t been to Trade ‘N Books recently, you need to get over there and rummage around.

On Saturday we hauled a bag of books into the shop to see about trading them in. Some were science fiction, which evidently helped us, as sci-fi trades in at a higher value than some of the more obscure titles we were trying to get rid of. And we were reminded of what a wonderful little shop this is. It’s easy to get disoriented when you first walk in – every available surface is stacked with books. There are floor to ceiling shelves everywhere you look, boxes along the floor with some of the more popular authors impeding your way as you look across all the spines, all the possible worlds you could get lost in if only you’d take them home and crack them open.

We’d meant to find a new home for some books we had already read (and clear out some space in advance of the holidays), but instead our store credit sent us fishing for replacements. Here’s the thing about a store like Trade ‘N Books: The selection is only as good as the books we all bring in. If everyone brings in literary fiction, or cookbooks, or military histories, that’s what will populate the shelves. For now, everyone seems to be bringing mostly genre fiction. And that’s not a bad thing.

Trade N Books has at least four full aisles of the shop devoted to romance novels, compared to just one for science fiction. Off to the side are areas reserved for the big names: Stephen King, John Grisham, James Patterson. Around the edges are political hardbacks, a selection of the classics, a sprinkling of modern fiction. Then there are the unsorted boxes of mismatched books on the floor. If you didn’t know what you wanted when you walked into the place, you might just get a little lost. Which is part of the fun of used book shopping. For some people.

Aside from the kids who were excitedly pawing through heaping mounds of colorful children’s’ books, there are two kinds of people that probably frequent Trade ‘N Books. The first are genre enthusiasts – folks who want crime-packed mysteries, or epic space operas or Westerns and are willing to pick off the dedicated shelves. The second are people just looking for a good book to read. Their journey is likely to be somewhat more complicated, especially if they don’t already have recommendations or authors in mind. It’s one thing to want to get lost in a good mystery. It’s another thing to choose one among hundreds of seemingly-similar titles without a good lead.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of Trade ‘N Books:

  • Plan ahead. It’s easy to get overwhelmed once you’re looking at shelves full of books. Make a shopping list with some authors you’re looking for. Keep the list around – stock can flip over pretty fast, and next time they might have the Sue Grafton or Poul Anderson book you’re looking for.
  • Think about your interests. Did you see and enjoy Gone Girl? Maybe Gillian Flynn’s other books would interest you. If they do, look to see who’s giving blurbs on the back, and check those authors out. Ask friends for recommendations. Many of the television shows that you know and love may have originated from (or been strongly, strongly influenced by) the time-tested plots and authors that populate the genre shelves. You may not know that there’s a smarter version of your favorite televised crime shows, but if you like that stuff, you should be elevating your game by checking out Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.
  • Take a risk. Maybe you’ve always been intimidated by the science fiction section. But there’s lots of good stuff there (and plenty of bad). Pick a few books off the shelf based on their titles or cover art. Open to a random page. If the writing seems good, give it a try. The cost of entry is among the lowest of media you’ll sample outside of the public library. And you can always just trade the book back in if you don’t like it.
  • Read the back issues. We don’t re-read as much as we used to, but classics are considered classics for a reason. They stand up over time. Re-reading things allows you to discover them in a new way, and appreciate different elements. You’re a different person than you were when you read some of that stuff back in high school, and you’ll bring a whole new perspective to the work. Consider rediscovering some classic Stephen King or Asimov’s Foundation series.

Perhaps most importantly, recycle your quality books here. If we all pitch in a little, we’ll all reap the rewards of a shared used bookstore!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, fifteen fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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