Whenever I get sad and think that love comes at too high a price, I go into a thrift bookstore and inhale the smell of other people’s discarded past. And I wonder how they decided on which books they could live without.
I pick up the closest book. It’s old and smells divine, like love affairs resurrected in a different form, given a different life. I could almost hear the laughter shared from lame jokes, could nearly visualize the coffee dates disguised as casual encounters, with the book a sort of social shield or an inanimate wingman.
I move deeper into the aisles, and see a tattered copy of Little Women. I smile as I picture the little girl who once loved the book, who grew up hoping The Laurie Boy existed somewhere, who realized her best friend couldn’t also be her lover. I imagine how she finally outgrew the little girl inside herself and stepped into the woman she wanted to be.
I see a copy of Catcher in the Rye almost in mint condition and flip to the first page. There is an untidy scrawl on the bottom right of it. “Darling, you are the Phoebe to my Holden.” The cliché makes me cringe, but I smile in spite of it, imagining all the Darlings in the world this little note could uplift.
In one corner there is a tall stack of unknown authors left to the hands of teenage girls who won’t know a good writer from a bad one; but it reassures me that there will always be people who are willing to take a chance.
Self-help books seem to take up multiple shelves, and instead of thinking they weren’t any help, I convince myself that their owners wanted someone else to benefit from them; ready to give up a book they loved so it could find its way to another troubled soul somewhere.
I find it amusing that in a thrift bookstore, there is a separate shelf for books with a sign that reads “50% off.” I like that people’s expectations are exceeded by this welcome surprise, that there are some who are going to get better deals than what they wanted—or needed—because we could all use one sometimes.
Whenever I get sad, I go into a thrift bookstore and come out more alive. Because if a person could find love in a second-hand book that costs two percent of its original price, I can be at peace with finding love in a world where all anyone has to do to spark a fire is to smile.