Requiem for a Used Book Store

You take them for granted.

Somehow, since they’ve always been there, you think they’ll be there forever. They’re your best friend. Your advisor, your entertainer, your refuge. Your comfort. Your used book store.

And then one day you see the sign. Going out of Business. Clearance Sale. And then they’re gone.

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Heaven.

So goodnight, sweet prince. Goodbye, Almost Perfect Bookstore. You were my happy place. You reeked of books. Your aisles were a glorious mess, shelves overfull and bowed, books stacked waist high on either side, with just barely enough room to sneak between the piles. So many books. SO MANY BOOKS. A wonderful, jumbled up, car-bomb explosion of books.

It wasn’t glamorous. There were no stained walnut shelves, no smooth jazz, no deep carpet. No coffee bar, no cafe with upholstered leather easy chairs. No front tables with tastefully arranged displays of New York Times bestsellers.

But there were books. Good Lord were there books. Piles, mountains, heaps of books. It wasn’t the equal of Powell’s or Strand, but by God it was close. It was a solitary bright star of culture in the banal corporate landscape of the Sacramento suburbs.

Honestly, you deserved better. You were better than glaring fluorescents and a linoleum floor in a bland suburban strip mall. You deserved stone and brick, some quirky old two-story building with a creaky staircase, on a quiet side street, shelves of ancient wood polished by the touch of a thousand hands, nooks and crannies and dark corners full of books. A friendly but aloof cat that would sleep on the counter. A mysterious basement, long disused, filled with magical books, lit by torches and guarded by a dragon that asks riddles before allowing you to  pass.

Oh, the joy. The joy of wandering through your labyrinth of yellow shelves. Just wandering. From Asimov to Zahn, Fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, gardening, astronomy, geology, metaphysics.

How many authors, how many wonderful authors, would I never have known about, if not for serendipitously stumbling upon them, or taking a suggestion from the encyclopedic knowledge of the staff? William Gibson. Bruce Stirling. Lawrence Block. John Steakley. Joe Haldeman. Lee Child. Greg Bear. David Morrell. Garth Nix. These names, these friends whose worlds I’ve explored and loved, I know them because of The Almost Perfect Bookstore.

You fed my habit. Your store credit was the lifeblood of my paperback addiction. I tried to give you good stuff back, I really did. I often found myself filling up a paper bag to trade in, and thinking to myself, “Oh come on Matt, do they really need another copy of From a Buick 8? Why don’t you throw in an Alastair Reynolds to make up for it.”

Yeah, sometimes I had to wait for service. But that was okay, because I’m a human being and you’re a human being and sometimes things take time. And once you got to my question, you always, always knew what I was talking about and where the damned book was. You guys knew the inventory of that place like Smaug knew his treasure.

And now it’s all gone, and it breaks my god-damned heart. When you love something, don’t take it for granted.

So, Scott, Kelly, and the rest of the gang. Thanks. Thanks for everything. I’m sorry I didn’t buy more books, if that would have helped anything. Thanks for the memories.

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