Saturday, September 29, 2007

Second-Hand Books are Wild Books

Virginia Woolf on visiting a second-hand bookshop:

Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. 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. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world. There is always a hope as we reach down some grayish-white book from an upper shelf, directed by its air of shabbiness and desertion, of meeting here with a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it (the book was published at his own expense); was infinitely prosy, busy, and matter-of-fact, and so let flow in without his knowing it the very scent of hollyhocks and the hay together with such a portrait of himself as gives him forever a seat in the warm corner of the mind's inglenook. One may buy him for eighteen pence now. He is marked three and sixpence, but the bookseller's wife, seeing how shabby the covers are and how long the book has stood there since it was bought at some sale of a gentleman's library in Suffolk, will let it go at that.

From Virginia Woolf, "Street Haunting: A London Adventure" in The Death of the Moth and other Essays (1942).

8 comments:

Anita Daher said...

Nice...

Dorothy W. said...

"Street Haunting" is one of my favorite essays ever.

Kerry said...

I love "Street Haunting" too. I bought it in one of the specialty Penguins they brought about about two years ago, and I'll cherish that book forever. Thanks for highlighting this particular passage, especially as I am heading to the Victoria College Book Sale tomorrow!

LK said...

I have to check out that essay...love VW!!!

Melanie said...

Love this quote. Does that make a second-hand bookshop a wildlife preserve, and a library a zoo?

bloglily said...

This is just wonderful: "and so let flow in without his knowing it the very scent of hollyhocks and the hay together with such a portrait of himself as gives him forever a seat in the warm corner of the mind's inglenook." What a thing to accomplish, when you think about it, to write something that gives you forever a seat in the warm corner of someone's mind's inglenook!

J. Kaye Oldner said...

Stopping by to see what you're reading! :)

Kate S. said...

It is fabulous, is it not? I have to say that, for all her glorious writerly accomplishments, I think I love Woolf's essays most of all.

Dorothy, I'm pretty sure that it was your mention of this essay on your blog a while back that first brought it into my consciousness...

Kerry, I just had a peek at your blog to see what you got at the Victoria College Book Sale. Excellent haul!