'Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.' Jen Campbell, The Bookshop Book.
For any book enthusiast, it goes without saying; bookshops are magical places but I would like to argue that second hand books are even more magical. So what is it that provides that spark of magic? What can charity bookshops offer that regular ones just can't? of course there is the obvious fact that you get a good quality book at a much reduced price. You know that the money you spend is going to a good cause. You've helped the environment by reusing books that would otherwise require new paper (and dead trees!) These are all important benefits in today's world, but for me/many the most magical aspect of a second-hand book are the hidden memories.
When we read used books we often notice their imperfections and peculiarities; folds in pages, highlights, underlinings, tear, foxing, a puppy-chewed corner, light fading, sparkly smiley face stickers plastered on the cover, gigantic smudges and plane tickets from the 90s used as a makeshift bookmark. All these are often seen as undesirable, but as connoisseurs of stories we recognise them as traces of a book's previous life, clues to the book's second story, and if we read them carefully we can begin to construct that story in our imagination.....
Why was this page folded? Could it be something as mundane as an interruption? Or perhaps there was something in the text that spoke to the reader? That smudge looks like it came from a thumb, who would have put it there? It could be dirt, maybe is charcoal - did the book belong to a gardener, a builder or an artist and did they read it on a hastily taken coffee break? What was that holiday like? Was it a fabulously romantic getaway? Were the sunsets that the book saw beautiful? and how different was the Seychelles in the 90s? This paperback has a lot of creasing and curled edges... maybe the previous owner was a reckless reader or was it a good story that it's been passed through the hands of an entire extended family and worn out from use? How funny the look upon that parent's face must have bee, when they discovered that their child has drawn a picture of a lion on the inside cover of that very sombre novel.
So when you're next in a charity bookshop to pick up a read, give yourself a moment to think about all the magic involved. You have the sustenance that books provide 'After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need the most in the world.' - Philip Pullman. Remember that each book has made a unique journey to be there, has seen more of the world than the warehouse and the view from its shelf. If you can indulge your imagination - and I highly recommend that you do - you get a whole other story with what you purchase. You also get to relax in the sense of nostalgia and history that comes with recognising that books are ties to people who lived. And you get all the good feels that come from making a charitable choice...surely that's book magic at work right there.