In late-night, dope-fueled “rap sessions” (yesterday’s defunct clichés come back so easily), we resolved to open a bookstore. We both had a little money. We even came up with a name for our dream shop – Omega Books, later abbreviated to O Books! We reviewed our cash reserves, visited available locations, smoked some more dope and dropped the idea. Neither of us possessed the least business sense. In fact, the idea was so ridiculous it arouses no romantic sense of nostalgia. For once, I acted commonsensically.
I’ve never been a book collector, merely a reader who likes hunting for books and acquiring the ones he finds most essential. Over the years I bought a few books strictly as investments – Thomas Wolfe, William Gaddis, Jack Kerouac – knowing I could sell them quickly and make a tidy profit or trade them for books I actually wanted. A collector, in my understanding, buys books as investments or trophies. He may not even be much of a reader.
Almost half a century after the fact, the English writer Alexander Larman confirms the wisdom of dropping our bookstore idea. His assessment is realistically grim. In “The Demise of the Second-Hand Bookshop” he catalogs the “high rents, a lack of demand and a sense that, in 2020, the second-hand bookshop is somehow inessential,” and adds:
“Decades, even centuries, of history and tradition are disappearing because of market forces, and the pandemic that we are all suffering through has sped matters up. So, although I would offer two hearty cheers for the Oxfam bookshops, please try and visit your local book dealer, if you’re still lucky enough to have one. Otherwise, this most eccentric and likeable of trades shows every sign of being annihilated forever, save for the most rarefied of dealers, and this would be a great pity, especially if it were to take place more or less through carelessness, rather than design.”
Next, I will call John Dillman, owner of Kaboom Books here in Houston, and share a rather substantial wish list.