The Unique Pleasures of Second Hand Book Shopping

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Thursday, January 27, 2011 - Save & Share - 8 Comments

In my first post at the start of Rachel and Carolyn‘s Virago Reading Week, I mentioned how much I enjoy hunting these lovely green books down in second hand book shops.  There is a particular joy in catching sight of that distinctive spine when it is least expected, and I often find myself emerging from a charity shop having pounced on a Virago bargain, my glee at my new book completely obliterating any feelings of guilt I should probably be experiencing at acquiring yet another book.

On very rare occasions, I am particularly lucky and unknowingly stumble on a book which is not just a bargain but also rather special in a way that a new book, shiny and attractive as it may be, can never hope to achieve.  I was browsing through my Virago stack trying to decide what to read next, when I came across this note fixed inside my copy of Try Anything Twice by Jan Struther:

Happy Christmas 1995 and much love from Robert and Claudia.  Almost every year since 1974 our “Christmas card” for the family has been a home-made pamphlet on some aspect of family history, or a tape, or photographs of paintings etc.  This year I am absolved from producing anything so original, having acquired the publishers’ remaining stock of my mother’s book, “Try Anything Twice”, at a price no greater than that of printing one of my leaflets.  So this is in effect our Christmas card or 1995.  To make the book short enough for their series, Virago Press had omitted two essays from the 1938 edition — “The Curious Phenomenon of the Militarist’s Sister” which Virago thought politically incorrect in 1990, and “Cruel Collinses” which by chance had been included in my 1988 booklet “Just a Family Joke”.  My family did not approve Virago’s choice of cover illustration; but apart from that we hope you will enjoy this book, which I think makes better reading now than her “Mrs Miniver” (1938, reprinted 1989).

I feel as though I own a little piece of Virago history!  I was particularly interested to learn about the omitted essays and, although the 1938 edition seems impossible to get hold of, both essays are available to read for free here, so I’ll definitely be reading them along with the rest of the book.   Without this note I would never even have known about them.  I can’t wait to get reading.

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8 Responses to “The Unique Pleasures of Second Hand Book Shopping”

Comment from Rachel
Time January 28, 2011 at 12:09 am

How lucky to have found that note! How amazing! I love second hand bookshopping – such treasures to be found!

Comment from Annie
Time January 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

Do you know Helene Hanff’s ’84 Charing Cross Road’? She always bought second hand books and when the company from whom she purchased them sent her a book with a note in it on a note card rather than writing it in the book she was livid. She said that she loved books that had notes in it from the previous owners because it tied her to the book’s history and the other people who had loved it. Your find would have filled her with pleasure. I’m off to the local Oxfam shop this morning to see what Viragos I can find.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time January 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm

It was very lucky. It’s little things like that which make hunting for books so enjoyable.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time January 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I’ve actually just read that recently (review pending) and I couldn’t agree with her more. I always love books with inscriptions inside, even if they are from completely unknown people. I like books that have a history of being loved. Good luck with your book hunting!

Comment from Simon T
Time January 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

What an amazing discovery! I long to find things like this…

Comment from Virginia
Time January 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

That is an amazing find! When I see short notes on the endpapers of books, it’s usually along the lines of, “To a dear friend, from ______,” or “Happy birthday! Love, _____.” That one makes you feel a part of Jan Struther’s family and gives you so much useful information about the book. Thank you for sharing!

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time January 31, 2011 at 9:58 am

You’re very welcome. I’ve come across a few signed copies of books before, but never anything quite as interesting as this.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time January 31, 2011 at 10:00 am

I feel very lucky! It’s fascinating to come across information like this and I’m glad to be able to share with people who find it equally interesting.

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