Four Purchases I’ve Made at Used Bookstores

By Alyssa Grimaldi

Used bookstores might have an odd collection, but if you look around long enough you can always find something you might not have expected you’d enjoy.

As both a used bookstore-enthusiast and a Libra, I have often found myself frantically perusing the shelves in charming small businesses, absolutely panicking because my friends want to depart but I still haven’t found that life-changing novel. This list is for fellow hopelessly hesitant Libras in danger of being stranded at a bookstore, and for people of other astrological signs not as notorious for indecision who want some inspiration. For those of you who have never been to a used bookstore, this compilation will introduce you to a peculiar and pleasant world where you can find just about anything, whether you’re looking for it or not.

A used bookstore find that becomes a certain guilty pleasure
  1. A book about the disappearance of JonBenet Ramsey. I’m not saying I’m necessarily proud of this purchase, but if you know about the JonBenet case and haven’t spent at least one night wide awake convinced you’ve solved it, you’re lying to me and yourself. I secured this book in a used bookstore in Northampton, MA that reminded me a little bit of a moderately haunted attic, but in a good way. It was dusty with piles of old and battered books everywhere and the elderly man behind the desk was reading a newspaper that could have easily been from the 80s. I would not be surprised if I had accidentally walked into a set for Twin Peaks. Needless to say, the absolute best atmosphere for purchasing a book about a mysteriously murdered child. The one downside? The size of the book. Take it from me: you don’t want to lug around a giant, heavy book about a young beauty pageant star’s homicide while you’re grabbing Boba tea.
  2. Anna Karenina. While a lot of so-called literary classics are somewhat overrated, it’s my goal in 2020 to at least give them a chance. On my last trip to my favorite used bookstore, Raven Used Books (if my life was a video game and I died, this is definitely on the list of potential save points), I spent a solid hour hunting for a book that would satisfy my literary hunger. Among possible contenders
    Any paranormal enthusiast will have plenty to entertain them at a local used book store.

    were a well-worn anthology of H.P. Lovecraft stories (too racist), a compilation of Sylvia Plath’s letters (my friend told me it looked like something someone would let gather dust on their coffee table), and Tolstoy’s classic. Yes, I inevitably end up falling asleep every time I read it, but that isn’t Tolstoy’s fault. His characters are compelling (shoutout to Anna Karenin herself); I’m just an exhausted college student. 

  3. Two books about the paranormal. Every time I go into a used bookstore, I experience a profound (dare I say…supernatural?) magnetization towards the section that encompasses astrology, psychic how-to-guides, Tarot card compilations, and, of course, ghost stuff. It’s the latter that I’m particularly partial to, and while I always grab a book from this section promising myself I’ll read it, they more or less end up shoved in my bookcase for a rainy day. I have an absolutely enormous anthology of anecdotes by a famous paranormal investigator, and I’ll probably read it someday, but for right now it is super useful as a bookend. 

    Books aren’t the only good finds at a used bookstores.
  4. A musical score for the 1944 movie Laura. I could pretend here that I am just super fond of classic cinema, and that I have a wide array of knowledge regarding old films, but in reality, I saw this movie in an intro film course I took. The next semester when I was studying abroad, I found the musical score for it in a used book store in Edinburgh. This purchase was made purely for aesthetic purposes. Gene Tierny is gorgeous, and she has featured in a prominent location on the walls of three of my dorm rooms so far. 

Regardless of what you end up grabbing at a used bookstore, you can leave those shelves with the satisfaction of knowing your purchase has a unique personality, with each coffee stained and dog-eared page contributing to the rich and mysterious history of the object itself. You are not only purchasing a book, but also a physical record of those who have grasped and cherished (or maybe hated) that specific copy. 

Alyssa Grimaldi is the Long River Review social media coordinator and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at

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