Since childhood, one of my favorite day trips was a visit to local used bookstores.
So much birthday money from those years went to growing my collection of The Babysitters Club and The Magic Treehouse. Once I hit high school, used bookstores became my go-to source for romance reads, which helped me find my love for reading and writing my own novels in the genre.
I always loved scanning the shelves to see what I could find, especially because there was an element of mystery to it. There was no inventory that could tell me how many copies of a book or which installments in a series the store had on hand.
It was a scavenger hunt, and I relished in it.
That sense of wonder at the heart of used bookstores has endured well into my adulthood and as I continue to grow as a writer. The only difference here is that instead of my excitement coming from discovering a Boxcar Children book that had been eluding me for so long, it's often nonfiction finds that thrill me.
As a historical romance writer, it goes without saying that I do a lot of research for my projects in a fairly broad range of topics. These resources can be sparse, especially when I'm delving into specifics. I rely somewhat heavily on textbooks, but it's no secret that those can get pretty expensive; this is why I opted for ebooks and rentals wherever I could throughout college.
Used bookshops tend to offer these materials at a lower price because they're not brand-new. Occasionally, I've purchased textbooks seeming to have belonged to students at one point because some lines will be highlighted or there might be notes scribbled in the margins. This might be a turn-off for some, but these annotations carry a sort of charm for me. Having that insight to others' thought process can direct my own. What the previous owner felt was important enough to highlight or the notes they added can be a sign of things for me to include in my own works because future readers may find them just as interesting. I've even found notes regarding a professor's comments about the topic at hand and expanding on what the author included in the textbook.
While I tend to avoid making marks in books and applying sticky flags next to things of intrigue and jotting things down in a separate notebook, these little kernels from the past create a trail of breadcrumbs well worth exploring.
Visiting used bookstores will have me exploring their nonfiction sections, from history to crafting and everything in between, on the chance I come across something that could prove useful for ongoing writing projects or those I have planned. And there have even been a few times where a book I've found on these expeditions inspired a new story idea. The majority of the books I own about architecture, British history, agriculture, and other seemingly random subject matters are treasures I've happened upon at used bookstores.
There is no rush to match that of finding a book that gives you the key to finally pinning down the information you've been hunting for so long, except the rush of finding the information you didn't know you needed.
Granted, the latter may also cause feelings of frustration when your new discoveries snap what was an otherwise secure plot thread and unravel the very fabric of your story, but I would rather have this happen and deal with making the necessary changes than learn of an inaccuracy after publication.
The possibility of spontaneously discovering exactly what I need is by far the thing I love most about making the trek to used bookstores in my area, but there is an equally important aspect: supporting local businesses.
To my knowledge, the used bookstores in my area are independently owned, which often has them taking a special interest in their community. Most have a section dedicated to the region, with books on state history or more localized with a focus on the town itself, as well as books written by authors from the area. The staff is likely knowledgeable in local trivia and may even share an interest in your most specific areas of interest.
One indie bookshop in my region hosts frequent signings and other events designed to foster a sense of connectivity among readers. That engagement is something truly special and is among the things that keep me coming back.
Just like the books filling their shelves, used bookshops carry a special charm. It's hard to not get lost strolling through the aisles while you're searching for your next read. Not knowing what you want to read next and entrusting the decision to fate makes those discoveries all the more magical and rewarding.
It's not always about what you want to find, but what you didn't realize you wanted.