A nice Paris Review piece by John Lingan describes an afternoon spent with book critic Michael Dirda in what sounds like a great used bookstore (“That store, in the basement of the Wheaton Public Library, is also a magnet for any reader in the vicinity; the stock turns over constantly, the volume is overwhelming, and most books go for two dollars or less”). Here’s a small sample:

“Always bend down,” he said. “That’s how you find the sweetest strawberries.” And there it was, the day’s first catch: a German edition of Hamlet.
“The Schlegel and Tieck translations are classics in themselves.” He put the book under his arm.
“I’m just a sucker for pretty books,” Dirda explained as we turned into the kids’ section. “Anything glossy and new is probably not interesting.”
And how many of these pretty things does he own, anyway?
“Impossible to say,” he said, reaching for a hardcover of The Wind and the Willows. “Maybe ten thousand? Most are in boxes. I have a storage unit, too. I keep the ones I haven’t read on the shelves in my living room to pressure myself.” I’m familiar with this tactic. The largest shelf in my office at home is filled with unread books, most purchased at this very bookstore.

But if you enjoy browsing bookstores, you’ll want to read the whole thing. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. So true that the gems are often on the bottom of the bookshelf! I have found some amazing ex of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the 1920s just by browsing trough the bottom row even though it kills my back:)

  2. As a veteran of (the not crummy) Second Story Books many years ago, I’m curious to know what “crummy D.C. bookshop” they worked in. Damn his discretion!

  3. I’ll bet if you wrote and asked, he’d tell you.
    And yes, bottom shelves are often rewarding.

  4. Oh, no. I didn’t know that there’s a store in the basement of the Wheaton library. Now I’ll have to go there. Also, I agree completely about Riddley Walker. An amazing book.

  5. Back in the days when not all book covers were of headless women.

  6. Oh, no. I didn’t know that there’s a store in the basement of the Wheaton library. Now I’ll have to go there.
    Be sure and report back on any great finds!

  7. A major thing missing here in my Haida Gwaii exile is combing through second-hand bookstores, which used to be such a huge part of my life.
    Stand on Zanzibar, Voyage to Arcturus, Riddley Walker yes! yes! yes! But shouldn’t The Sargasso Manuscript be The Saragossa Manuscript?
    Goodbye to All That yes! I agree with him on westerns, but would throw in Shane, The Ox-Bow Incident, Warlock.

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