Each time you step into an antiquarian bookstore, you cannot help but feel as if you are stepping into an orphanage of used books. Each book seems to scoot their shiny spines ever so slightly toward the bookshelf’s edge, calling out to you, “Please open my covers, read me — take me home with you.” But, alas, there are far too many to review, to really consider — especially in a well-stocked used bookstore that contains more than 50,000 books, some orphaned recently, and some long ago. Of course, the lucky few forlorn books that make their way to the cashier’s counter, evoking the ambivalence of envy and hope from its fellow orphans, treasure the notion that soon they will find a new home, sitting next to new siblings, each with their own journeys, their own stories to tell.
But it is not only the book buyer that considers these books as orphans — so too does the bookseller. It is he or she that has initially brought the book into the antiquarian bookstore after careful consideration, cleaned it, priced it, and gently placed it in its proper place in a labyrinth of bookshelves. And sometimes that place becomes the book’s home for months, that eventually turn into years and decades. For the bookseller, that book becomes part of the bookstores family. Each time, the bookseller glances at its proud, shiny spine, he or she thinks, “Perhaps today, this book will find its rightful owner, someone who will read it and cherish it. And if not today, perhaps tomorrow.” A bookseller must experience some level of sadness when they say goodbye to an old friend; however that sadness must be mitigated by the joy that the book will be rediscovered and find a new life in a new home.
Recently a bookseller from Broadhursts Bookshop in Southport, England (founded in 1920), shared the story of such a an orphaned book. Joanne Ball, a part-time employee tweeted on November 17, 2018: “I have just sold a book that we have had in stock since May 1991. We always knew its day would come.” The book was a children’s biography of William the Conqueror purchased by an “older gentleman who was buying several books on the Norman Conquest of Britain for his grandson.” Soon the news of this book sale captured the interest and imagination of book lovers and booksellers around the globe. One author wrote: “The book held its breath. It had hoped so often, only to have that hope crushed. Hands lifted it from the shelf, wrapped it warmly in paper. As the door closed on its past life, the book heard the soft cheers of its selfmates.” Other booksellers shared stories of books that were orphaned for decades; one wrote: “We had a book called ‘The Larger Moths of Warwickshire’ in stock for ten years. I was quite sad when someone bought it.” The folks at Broadhursts Bookshop were overwhelmed by the response; they wrote: “Would never have guessed for even a moment that this Tweet would go viral — thank you all for your likes, retweets, comments & follows. We are incredibly overwhelmed, and so happy at how many book-lovers there are out there.”
Perhaps the sale of this orphan book is the book that launched a thousand book sales — one book lover posted the perfect challenge to bibliophiles everywhere: “You know when people go to dog shelters and say I want to take home the dog who has been here longest. I’m going to this in bookstores. “Can you point me to the book you’ve had here the longest?” That will be some random book collection!… I will liberate those books!” This endeavor to paraphrase Portia from The Merchant of Venice — it is twice blest: it blesseth the indie bookstore that sells and the book lover that buys. So if you love books, visit your local antiquarian or used bookstore and liberate those orphaned books and share your story with Bookshelf readers.
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