As a lover of literature I have hunted for favorites in used-book stores in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. To qualify for my continued patronage a store must meet the following criteria: (1) Provide a wide range including the classics. (2) Stock books in good condition. (3) Allow comfortable search by single-row presentation in alphabetical order under each subject heading. (4) Sell at a reasonable price. (5) Refrain from imposing discordant music or radio chat shows on the customer. (6) Leave the patron free to browse, offering service only when the desire for information or sociability is made evident. (7) Have book knowledge and sociability on tap.
Two years ago I came from Ireland to live in California. As I drove from Boston, via the South, I realized that American used-book stores score higher under these criteria than those of other countries. Los Angeles, I was to find, is particularly rich in vendors whose excellent service is only enhanced by an uncompromising individualism.
As I crossed the United States I searched in town and city for a good hard book copy of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." Finally, at the very western edge of the continent, at 1018 S. Pacific Ave. in San Pedro, Calif. 90731, I was successful. It was a beautifully bound copy, was delightfully illustrated, and it cost me $3. In the background, a Schubert piano trio was just loud enough to soothe my mind without seducing my concentration.