Last year, following the death of a Santa Barbara woman in her 90s, a number of secondhand bookstores bid on her library, amassed during a lifetime's love of reading. She had several first editions on her shelves, including a copy of "Gone With the Wind" in its original dust jacket. Naturally, these added to the attraction of the sale, and the books went to the highest bidder for almost $4,000.
Six months later, at the Ventura Book Fair held at the county fairgrounds, a first edition of "Gone With the Wind" was one of thousands of volumes displayed by more than 40 secondhand and rare book dealers. "Gone With the Wind" was priced at an eyebrow-raising $2,000. But it wasn't the most expensive book at the fair that weekend--Raymond Chandler's "The High Window" was priced at $3,500. However, that very Sunday, the New York Times reported a first edition "Gone With the Wind" selling for $3,000.
There's gold on those dusty shelves.
Even if you're not tracking down first editions, searching for secondhand books can be a bona fide treasure hunt. Perhaps you're hoping to come across a copy of a book that was a favorite when you were a child. Or you'd like to find a collection of Pauline Kael's essays for your daughter in film school. What about those Josephine Tey mysteries you gave away in college, not realizing what a hold they would have on you all these years?
Whether you enter a secondhand bookstore to free-associate over the titles or to search for a specific and elusive book, most of the pleasure will be in the hunting itself. Where else are you going to find a book called "Dogs as I See Them" stacked between a five-volume set of "English Costumes of the Middle Ages" ($275) and an autographed copy of "RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon" ($395)?
There are real economic incentives for buying used books. For those with a passion for romance or a heavy horror habit, already-read books offer a cheaper way to while away the hours. Meanwhile, collectors of fine out-of-print or rare books are finding that prices just keep going up.
Ventura County offers a wide selection of bookstores catering to all manner of readers looking to give an old book a new home. The owners run the gamut from paperback purveyors to antiquarian and rare book dealers, and the stores range from dusty and cluttered to elegant and orderly. So whether you stumble across a 50-cent copy of a well-remembered paperback or a first edition worth thousands of dollars, venture forth. There's nothing quite like that moment of discovery.
* Second Time Around
391 E. Main St.
Open every day 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The wide range of books in Second Time Around--from cheap paperbacks and old magazines to fine first editions--make it a browser's paradise. But give yourself plenty of time; the store has more than 100,000 books on hand.
The bookstore has been at the same spacious, somewhat funky location for almost 18 years. Every category of nonfiction book seems to be represented, including books on Judaica and books on black history. The store is particularly strong in the areas of metaphysics, science fiction and biography. It also has some 20th-Century first editions, poetry books and books about Hollywood. And it is one of but a few bookstores that has a section of books on women, which is located opposite the shelves of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Great numbers of old magazines--Life, National Geographic and Scientific American, among others--can be found here. The store also has aisles of romances, and the walls are lined with hardcover fiction. It has one of the best selections of paperback children's books in the area.
As with most secondhand bookstores, the inventory has not been computerized. "Maybe by the year 2500," joked an employee. So you're on your own when it comes to search and seizure.
* Calico Cat Bookshop
495 E. Main St.
Open Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m.
This is a small but choice bookshop: light, clean and quiet. Calico Cat carries mostly hardcover books and seems almost like a new bookstore--the condition of the books is good, and the subject matter is fairly topical. But with almost 18 years tenure, it is actually one of the oldest secondhand bookstores in the county.
Children's books at Calico Cat consist of mostly hardcover classics. The categories are both eclectic and interesting. Topics range from navigation and boat-building to UFOs and composers. They don't sell any romance, horror or Westerns, so the small section of quality paperback novels really stands out. Because the store is small, titles are easy to peruse (although alphabetizing is a little casual), and you get the satisfying sense that you haven't missed anything. They also have a fair number of first editions.