Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? (Author: Brené Brown)
There isn’t incense burning or a chorus of angels singing as you walk through the doors. There are no priests or monks or stained glass windows filtering the midday light in dusty shafts through the air. No candles burning, no latin incantations. No robes or divine Scooby Snacks, no vessels of blessed water or baptismal founts…but it IS my church. There ARE commandments (Thou Shalt SHHHHH!, Thou Shalt Use a Bookmark, Thou Shalt Put Thy Fucking Cellphone AWAY…et al. ) And (blasphemy!!!) I DO hold no gods higher than the knowledge contained within.
I speak to you, dear reader, of that Mecca of all things used and bound, that promised land of the written word: Half Price Books (specifically, the HPB located on E John in Capitol Hill, Seattle). This, my friends, is not your grandma’s used bookstore. Put away all notions of creaky floors and musty odors. You’ll not find precarious stacks of unorganized tomes or dimly lit basement caverns paved with moth eaten carpets. Dream instead of an impeccably catalogued and merchandised warehouse of two levels, packed with floor-to-ceiling shelves of books on every topic you could list. Though organized in a similar fashion to that anti-Christ, Barnes and Noble, HPB boasts a larger selection which is, most importantly WAY CHEAPER!
The Old Man and I stumbled upon one of these on our way home from the outlets one weekend as we stopped to grab a bit to eat. I discovered that it was a chain shortly thereafter as I began my new job in Seattle–4+ years ago. It just so happened that my region contained what I’ve found to be the best one. This particular HPB is within spitting distance of Seattle University and Seattle Central CC. The residents of this portion of town are young, educated, and artsy. This, to my delight, means a higher quality of book is being traded in/sold here, and I’ve never made a trip with something in particular in mind and left empty-handed or disappointed.
This store feeds my most basic need: the overwhelming compulsion to READ. I am a reader; an avid inhaler of all things written. I will read the ingredients off of the back of a can of Campbells if there is nothing else around. I dream (literally) of one day owning a house replete with white built-ins in each room, filled to capacity with books. The joy I get from organizing and cataloguing my own limited supply is outrageous, fullfilling, settling, rewarding. I’ll never own a Kindle or a Nook because of my snobbery and tactile need to feel actual paper pages between my fingers. The hardcover’s heft and the portability of a paperback, those are my drugs.
The trouble is, I’m also quite cheap. Miserly actually. I hate spending money. If there is a need for us to buy something high in value–even if I’ve saved for it and started a separate account for the sole purpose of stashing away money for that specific thing–I will leave the store before looking at the final total or seeing the money changing hands. It makes me ill and anxious and I can never quite justify the expense. And books are expensive.
So, when I first discovered this store, this heaven, this children’s candy shoppe for adults, I almost peed myself with joy. I can walk in its doors with $50 and a cloud over my head, and walk out, three hours later with a smile on my face and 14 or 15 new volumes to pour over. HPB is my ordinary joy. Walking up and down it’s stacks–Fiction, History, Biography, Autobiography, Sociology, CounterCulture, Poetry, and then Clearance to see if anything in my hand can be found for $1 instead of $5–I browse away the world outside. No matter what I’m scowling over at that particular juncture, I can find peace in this store. It’s like a gigantic retail hug padded with words and bindings.
Books are my fix. My pleasure. My joy. My guilty indulgence. And Half Price Books is my dealer.