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The Vacuum Issue 4 spacer Issue 4
Second Hand Bookshops
by Stephen Hull
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Upon moving into new premises most forms of commerce will deploy a barrage of interior decorating and makeover, both as a means of asserting their own corporate identity and also as a way of eradicating any trace of the previous occupant. This process of territorial demarcation seems to presuppose some degree of permanence, insomuch as one does not normally go to the effort of fortifying one's position unless one has it in mind to remain there for some time to come.
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Of course, the fact that one feels compelled to buttress ones position in this manner is a clear indication that one feels oneself to be under attack, and the more elaborate the fortifications the greater must be the sense of insecurity. No amount of digging-in however, is likely to nullify the threat posed by the rabid uncertainty of market economics, not that this ever seems to deter those in charge of the decorating war-chest.
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By contrast, most second hand bookshops will set up camp with a minimum of pretence - it is, for instance, not uncommon for them to commence trading while there are still traces of the previous occupant in plain view for all to see. The book shelves themselves will more often than not be a patchwork of recycled and roughly hewn materials and as a rule there are never enough of them to accommodate the seemingly exponential flow of books that accompanies the trade.
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Is it the case that the second hand book trade is simply not lucrative enough to be able to justify the expense of a comprehensive makeover, or are these characteristics perhaps indicative of some rarer philosophical leanings? The general demeanour of the second hand bookshop seems to belie a quiet resignation in the face of the impermanence engendered by the market place, not just in being disposed to accept its surroundings as it finds them, but in a readiness to up-sticks and move elsewhere or to simply disappear into the ether altogether should circumstances require it.
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The effect of this nomadic outlook on life is to endow those who make their living thus with an almost mystic capacity for survival. To have lamented the sudden disappearance of a favourite second hand bookshop only to discover shortly afterwards that both proprietor and books have resurfaced at some new location in the city, is indeed a thing of wonder. You, quite naturally, had assumed they were gone for good.
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Not that any of the joyousness or wonder at this unexpected reunion is acknowledged openly. Rather you get straight to the task of familiarising yourself with the invariably chaotic layout of the new premises and attempt to locate your favourite cache of books amidst the packing cases. The proprietor, meanwhile, sits impassive and Buddha-like behind their makeshift counter, presumably contemplating their next departure and re-entry into the fluid world of second hand literature.
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Second Hand Bookshops
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