They came in the month of May when I was in the 8th grade. Big brown boxes that were shipped directly to the classroom just in time for summer vacation. Books. Boxes and boxes full of them. The assignment had come a few weeks earlier: make a list of all of the books that you were going to read during the summer. There was only one book catalog, but it was passed around to everyone in the class and it was pretty dog-eared by the time we were all done thumbing through it. Some chose their books by the covers, how their pictures looked in the catalog, while others went for a certain type of genre. Mine was science fiction or sometimes a murder mystery. When the boxes were finally opened, you could smell the fresh print and the paper, even more so if you flipped through the pages and stuck your nose down close to them. You can still get that feeling at the top 5 places in St. Louis
to buy used books.
Subterranean Books motto is: “From High Culture to Subculture.” This grand little alternative bookstore is located on Delmar in the Loop area just outside of St. Louis near Washington University. If you have about 5 bucks in your pocket and an hour to kill, this is the place to go. They have everything from erotica to fiction to surrealism to natural history and sociology. They also have an excellent selection of books on politics and political science. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, but never pushy. If they get to know you a little bit, they might even let you take that used copy to the coffee shop next door to browse through it, but the chairs in the front window are comfortable too.
Left Bank books sits on the corner at 399 N. Euclid in the fashionable Central West End. It is the last independently owned full service bookstore in the St. Louis area. Founded in 1969, Left Bank Books has a cultural and progressive political focus. Specialties include: modern literature and poetry, the contemporary and performing arts scene, African-American, feminist, gay and lesbian literature, and multicultural children’s books. They offer every book in print and a vast used selection online and can ship anywhere in the world. The bookstore also has an art gallery on the premises that features shows from various local artists about twelve times a year. The store also takes a very active role in the community. They sponsor the “Book Angels Program” where they ask customers to purchase books for needy children during the holidays. They wrap the books and deliver them to the children through the Lutheran Family and Children’s Services. Their latest project is a reading program at a local elementary school. Thirty six selected students there will receive a book a month until the end of the school year. Left Bank Books also hosts readings by local and national authors throughout the year.
A1 Books in Overland has a huge selection of old Playboy magazines and some really weird 80’s role playing game stuff.
If its fantasy that you are in the mood for, Star Clipper Comics and Games has the beat selection of independent and alternative used comic books and graphic novels. They also have a large selection of games, import models, toys, novelties, and collectibles. If you’re looking for used science fiction, The Book House in Rock Hill at 9719 Manchester has the biggest selection.
The last, and sometimes best place to buy a good used book in St. Louis only comes, like Santa Claus, once a year. The Greater St. Louis Book Fair has been held for the past four year in early May in the underground parking garage of the Westfield West County Shopping Center located at I-270 and Manchester Road. The fair is in its 56th year. For the week that it’s operating, this event is a bibliophile’s dream. Throughout the year people can donate their books by dropping them off at the little yellow house on the parking lot of Washington University or at any of the Famous Barr (soon to be Macy’s) department stores. By the time they are finished collecting, the entire underground garage, which is several blocks long, is crammed to the rafters with books. From hard to find classics, to self-help books to trashy romance novels, they have it all. They also have some software, CD’s and vinyl records. Years ago you had to stand in line to get in for the first couple of days. The reason was that they just threw all of the books out there and it was like a big flea market. Sometimes if you got there early enough and knew what you were looking for, you could find a really rare book for just a couple of bucks. In later years they have volunteers sort through all of the donations and the more expensive and rare books are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Last year an original J.R.R. Tolkien Lord Of The Rings published in 1956 sold for $170.00 and a Henri Cartier Bresson book designed by the artist Matisse fetched a whopping $475.00. All proceeds from the sale of the books are donated to charity.
Tip: A huge crowd of bargain hunters still show up for the first few days of this event, so come early and reserve most of the day to look around. Even though it’s held in a parking garage, finding a place to park can still be a problem.