Adventures in Jackson’s Used Book Shops

By Sarah Stonestreet

In this increasingly digital age, it’s easy to view a used book store simply as a dumping ground for unwanted books-something that is going to become obsolete sooner rather than later. Admittedly, I was prepared to be underwhelmed walking into The Book Exchange and The Book Cottage, Jackson’s two major used book stores. I steeled myself to a low selection to browse and titles that I had never heard of and had no interest in buying. But the moment I stepped through their doors, I quickly recognized the potential in these stores and remembered exactly why I loved them in the past.

Walking into a book store, time seems to stand still; your mind focuses on every new discovery on the shelves. The books themselves are mysteries to solve. Who owned this book before you picked it up? Was it well-loved and given up in a frenzy of spring cleaning? Or was it a well-meant-but-completely-missed-the-mark Christmas gift donated at the earliest chance?

One of the best parts of a used bookstore is you never know what you’ll find. They’re always changing their inventory, depending on the donations they’ve received. Maybe you’ll stumble upon a book from your childhood and reunite with a long-lost friend. Maybe you’ll find that book everyone keeps telling you to read, but you’ve never picked up yet. Why not now?

I went to the Book Exchange once when I was younger. I remember the store as comfortably dim and quiet, giving me a feeling of awe at the rows and rows of books. It was nothing like the fluorescent lights and tidy rows of the chain bookstores I had been to before. I remember never wanting to leave.

I was happy to see that little had changed from my memories. The towering rows of books are still there and I happily lost myself exploring it again. The store has almost any book imaginable, and multiple copies of some more popular titles. Row after row, pile after pile of books…it’s almost overwhelming. (One of the best parts of this store is for every book you bring in, you can get a dollar off an item in the store. Nothing is priced above $5, as far as I could see).

I managed not to get too lost in the sea of literature and picked up three books. The first, a Gable & Lombard biography, captured me with its candy-colored cover (I picked it up three times before finally keeping it in my pile). The second was “Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende, a book I had read in high school and didn’t enjoy it much then, I preferred happy endings and flourishing romances. This book had neither of those things, but I hope to appreciate it more as an adult.

The piece de resistance, however, was a small black Bible I found sitting among American history and presidential biographies. Embossed with “British and Foreign Bible Society, New Testament,” at first glance there was nothing special about it. Then, I opened the cover and found scrawled in pencil various passages, ones special to the owner and meant to recall later; and then on the back cover, in the same elegant scrawl, a page titled “Family Records.”  Here was my mystery; here was the reason I had come in to the book store. Though the handwriting is hard to read, the family recorded (and possibly the ownership of this book) dates to the 1800s. Imagine holding in your hands the keys to a past – it may not be yours and in the grand scheme of things it may not be deemed important, but it’s still history. The feeling is heady-it’s magical.

My next stop was The Book Cottage. While I have no nostalgic memories about this shop (it opened in 2006), as an adult I certainly understand its beauty. It’s a labyrinth of rooms, filled to the brim with books and, just when you think you’ve reached the end, you turn a corner and two new rooms appear.

I could have spent all afternoon browsing room after room there and ended up finding even more books to take home. The first that grabbed my attention, again due to its cover like Gable and Lombard, was “The Gambler’s Fate” by Frank Pinkerton, printed in 1887. A brief Internet search, and closer inspection of the title page, revealed that the stories in the book are part of The Pinkerton Detective Series.

The other treasure I found was an innocuous book I almost mistook for another small Bible (and almost gave up because my arms were already full at that point). Instead, it was a set of letters by the Rev. John Newton from London, written to his adopted daughter in the late 1700s. This was no mystery like the Bible I had found, but just as great a look in to the past.

I also picked up a 1960s reprint of “Cooking the French Way” and “Mary Queen of Scotland and The Isle,” which, according to the writing inside, was possibly a Christmas gift in 1941 and belonged to E.E. Crampton. I also found a framed 1919 ad for Washington’s Coffee tucked in a back corner that I couldn’t resist.

The Book Cottage is the best of both worlds with its stock of new and old books. One might come in looking for the latest Tom Clancy and not only will they find it, they may also find an old copy of an Agatha Christie mystery. In fact, I had only been a day late on the opportunity to pre-order the publication of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which also included a free gift and entrance to their launch party later in the month.

 All told, with a few children’s books and three novels by Philippa Gregory (you might have heard of her book, “The Other Boleyn Girl”) I spent less than $30 (Gregory’s books range from $10-$20 a piece on Amazon). And I had spent less than $10 at The Book Exchange. Not bad for one weekend.

There are other places, of course, to find used books. Thrift shops and secondhand stores that don’t specialize in books will, from time to time, have older books for sale. These stores, however, will rely more on your luck; this is where your treasure hunting skills really come in to play. Another alternative is the book sale by the Friends of the Library, a group of volunteers who fundraise, mainly through these book sales, for the library. Each branch of the Jackson District Library has their own Friends group and the Carnegie Friends of the Library host a book sale corner in the downtown branch. Take a look inside Carnegie and you’ll find shelves with books for sale that you can access whenever the library is open.

No matter where you go, you are sure to find something to add to your bookshelf and who knows? You might find a mystery to solve as well. Click here for more on Shopping in Jackson.

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