Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.

Virginia Woolf

I have just realised I have quoted Virginia Woolf two weeks in a row - apologies to anybody who doesn't like her.

I think this is a fabulous description of second hand books. Firstly the images she creates in my mind's eye of the books as birds, of different feathers all flocking together is wonderful.  That sense of non-uniformity, of differences all brought together often under one roof (or roost).  I like too the image of them as homeless; not rooted in place, of moving about, being shared, passed from hand to hand, regularly on the move, finding new homes...

Second hand books have a history too - they are not fresh or newly minted; they have been handled and read and moved about. Other people may have written notes in them; left their dockets in them; turned down page corners to mark a place, or left their mark on them some other way. Sometimes it seems as if they have hardly been touched at all.

I also find second hand book shops quite irresistible places - when you are on the hunt for a particular book you have to drop in and check if they have it; when you are holidaying and reading lots of book they help replace the stash without breaking the bank; for that book you have to read for book group but aren't sure you want to fork out the full amount for; for picking up books in a series you have gotten yourself addicted to; and for dozens more reasons, they are wonderful places to visit. Even if just for the smell!

Photo courtesy of


  1. The other great thing about secondhand bookshops is that so often the book you were not looking for but was apparently looking for you will suddenly make itself known and insist you take it home with you! And then you get to become the latest in a series of owners who have left their mark, visible or not, on its makes one feel part of a human continuum.

    And no worries over-quoting Woolf!

  2. F-Just love the imagery of this quote- flocks of homeless books. Thanks for this thought it is one that I can see going into my none existent stash of great thoughts. B

  3. flocks of books, any gathering place, the used bookstore, the library, a garage sale...they all need touching. that's it, again, the haptics thing. sad about throwing away books at the library we volunteer for, except for the old DOS books!

  4. Lovely quote, so don't worry about Virginia. I've been fortunate in my life to have had two wonderful bookish jobs. The first in Berkelouw's Antiquarian Bookshop when I was very young, where I was imbued with a love of old books, their feel and their smell. The other magical place was the Research Library of the Australian Museum, where I spent 28 years delving into rare books. I consider myself very fortunate to have had these experiences.


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.