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  • Writer's pictureKyle Lee

Finding Yourself in a Used Bookstore

When in the course of browsing through my local used bookstore years back, I found a copy of one of my former creative writing professor’s books. Out of curiosity and nostalgia, I put my finger on the top of the spine to pull it from the shelf and flip through it. The book was autographed but made out to no one in particular. I received my own autographed copy of the same book not long before that so, my first thought went along the lines of some other student being a jerk and selling their copy.

Time has tempered that assumption. He or she may have had no choice in selling the book and others for the simple need of money. I’ve done that myself and have regretted it every time I’ve returned to build one of my lost collections. That assumption also didn’t take into account that the professor was in fact a published author and any number of people could have purchased the book at a signing and later sold it. Not everyone is as sentimental as I am, but I leaned defensive that day. I like that professor and the fact someone sold his work is still kind of fiendish.

I did however find myself at that same bookstore not long ago. As I browsed the poetry and short story collections, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d somehow find myself on these shelves. Most of my published work is online but there’s that one poetry anthology one of my college classes did for a final project. There’s that one short story collection made available on Amazon. I exist in printed media and I’m on someone’s shelf. Presumably.

I reasoned that there’s every bit of a chance I could find myself here.

I’m apt to dream of things unreasonable. I’m apt to concoct some sort of scenario in which I’ve succeeded at one outlandish goal or another. Even at my most realistic, I set myself milestones to reach. For a time longer than I can remember, I always thought finding myself on the shelf at Barnes and Noble or other reputable book seller would mean that I had “made it” as a writer. It didn’t matter if it was a poem or short story in a collection. That collection would be in the same retail space as the giants.

It occurred to me then, looking at the shelves at my local used bookstore, that this did not mean someone would actually buy that collection. This was the darkside of the scenario making, the pessimistic and more realistic side that watched the dust gather only to be disturbed by the employee who pulled it from the shelf to be sent off to whatever afterlife the unsold live.

Then there was the used bookstore.

While I realize that much of what these stores sell is unsold stock bought by the pallet, there’s that odd book that’s been autographed, that has a torn page, that has someone’s notes scribbled in the margins. Those are the books that may have been given as a promotion or as a gift. They may not have even been sold in a retail space. But they were in someone’s hands. They were a possession of some kind, good or bad.

Your big box bookstores deal in the speculation you’ll buy something.

The used bookstores deal more in potential that once upon a time something was loved and that it will be loved again. Or at the very least, that’s the poetic and idealistic version of it. I stopped working retail long ago.

So, to find myself in a used book store, tucked away on a shelf, that would be a better indicator, would it not? Someone once owned the book. Someone once took a chance. Wouldn’t that be a better indication of making it? Maybe that’s just another dream being unreasonable but now’s the time to deal in dreams and the unreasonable to bridge the gap to potential. Its something to hold on to.

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