Hidden treasures on the road: Second hand bookstores

I know books don’t make the best souvenirs:

Little Prince, Beauvoir
Little Prince, Beauvoir

Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.

The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.

Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:

BOOK OFF, Japan

BOOK OFF, Tokyo
BOOK OFF, Tokyo
BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.

Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.

When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.

During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.

Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.

The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.

The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.

Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.

But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.

I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.

While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.

The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.

He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.

Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones
While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.

When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.

I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.

I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.

This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.

Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?

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More about Liau Yun Qing

Yun Qing is a writer, improviser and curious person. She loves finding little adventures in life. In 2013, she went on a 130-day round-the-world trip. She wrote a book to help those who also want to go on a career break.

3 Comments

    1. I randomLy bought a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in a secondhand bookshop in Kyoto, and it has been one of my most treasured book ever since.

      1. I always pretend that the second books and I were fated to meet each other. :) Glad you found one you love.

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