You don't know if there is much on this earth that is better than a used book store. You know they're not just crammed with trashy romance and mindless mystery novels. You know there's always good literature hiding there, as if it's waiting just for you. You walk into these places and behave the way Bobby Brown would if Costco sold pallets of crack for a dollar. You become absolutely shameless. Not just any kind of shameless, but dorky shameless, the most pathetic shameless varietal. You snatch books off the shelf like a desperate bridesmaid lunges for the bouquet, even when you're the only customer in the store (and married). You fight to contain a squeal when you find a first-edition copy of Vineland for $8. You pack a change of underwear, because you just might crap your pants if you find that Colin MacCabe book on Godard that's been out of print for years. When you do things like this, you manage to make nerds feel cool.
You could blow your life savings in here, and you know that someday you will. You love the thin, crinkly paper bag the grumpy clerks put your books in (they're always grumpy, at least when they're not talking to themselves). As you carry your loot out in their nondescript tote, you feel like you're carrying something naughty. You wonder if people think you're carrying a huge stack of porn or 40 oz. of freedom. And you know that's not too far off. This is your porn, your booze, something you do when no one's watching, under cover of night, and you don't want to share with anyone. This is a private love, a torrid affair, each trip a steamy tryst in a dingy motel room off the interstate, and you wouldn't have it any other way.
You like to go home and look at them. All the books, all the bargains, all the rare finds, organized by time period, grouped by author and genre, but not alphabetized, because you're not OC freaking D or anything. You make lists in your head of what you'll read next, knowing full well that you'll probably wind up reading magazines. You know that your musty volumes of Gaddis and Melville are going to annihilate your allergies when you finally get around to reading them, but you think it's worth it.
You love the inscriptions you find inside the title pages, the more emotive the better. Like in your copy of Kosinski's Pinball: "To Steven, Thank you for all your kindness and honesty that inspires and delights me. I hope one day to be at a place that you already are. Jeffrey, 1990." Or in your copy of Hunter Thompson's Generation of Swine: "December 1988. Ron, I love you. I wanted to give you a gift that I knew you'd enjoy. Love, Karin." (Obviously, he loved it.) Or that four-leaf clover you found in The Last Temptation of Christ and how you wondered whether its owner was an Irish Catholic or a second-century heretic. Or the receipts and bookstore stamps that span the country of your copy of The Sun Also Rises: New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois. You wonder where it will go after you. You imagine it will be discovered by a failed boxer in Pamplona, but you know it'll just wind up in the hands of some high school kid who doesn't want to cough up all his/her allowance for a new copy. That's how you got it, after all.
You dread the day that Book Castle (a.k.a. Movie World) in Burbank closes. You know it's coming, but you try not to think about it. Instead, you choose to dwell on the fact that the people who own used book stores are the people who truly love books. Sure, all those independent bookstore owners really love books, too, but the used book store love is a little different, a little deeper, less glamorous or self-conscious, maybe more than a little scary. They're able to go from talking about Nabokov to the Kennedy assassination (and their own researched theories) by way of Don DeLillo in one conversation without making it seem odd. And while it is kind of flesh-creepingly odd, you'll take that any day over the clerks at Barnes and Noble who really only care to know if you'd like to save 10 percent with a Reader's Advantage card (and while you would like to, you'd rather hear them say "Oooh! David Foster Wallace! Have you read his essays?").
If you have a favorite used book store, you know what this is about. Please share your favorite in the comments section. If you don't have a favorite used book store, you'll hopefully find some recommendations near you.