Stores keep Howard County reading

Volumes: Local used-book sellers serve a cross-section of residents.

September 16, 2004|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The day might come when a student, browsing through a virtual museum on the Internet, will come across an image of an ancient object called a "book."

Fortunately for book lovers, that time has not arrived. Thousands of new volumes are being issued every year by publishers large and small. In addition, books published in the 20th century and earlier are constantly being sought by readers and collectors.

People still want to buy Joseph Heller's 1961 novel Catch-22. Jane Austen novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, published between 1811 and 1818, are bought almost 200 years later.

Hundreds of used-book dealers nationwide, including five retail stores and four Internet dealers in Howard County, serve this small army of book lovers.

Local booksellers say their customers are a cross section of society, and they disagree with the common perception that young people, raised on the Internet, don't read books.

Teenagers come in looking for books on school reading lists, but they also buy books for themselves, said Jan and Dan Riker of Basset Books in Columbia. Their tastes often run to fantasy and science fiction, such as the novels of J.R.R. Tolkein, including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Marvin Schaefer - who owns Books With a Past in Glenwood with his wife, Mary Alice - said children frequently come to his shop, alone or with their parents. And people in their 70s and 80s go to his store from retirement homes, he said.

Schaefer also sees many young adults. Some of them have found that they can pick up secondhand copies of recent bestsellers such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code at a good price. The books come from people who have bought them for a vacation or a plane trip and decide to dispose of them and get a little money back.

A customer recently came into Second Edition Books in Columbia and asked co-owner Vonnie Frazier for Jack Kerouac's books.

Schaefer remembers a young woman dressed in black leather who rode up to his store on a motorcycle. She was looking for the works of the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus.

Certain subjects, including military history, are frequently asked for. The Rikers also note a demand for books on religion, fantasy and science fiction.

Another popular category is mysteries. Its many subcategories include police procedurals (Michael Connelly is a popular author in this genre) and stories with British settings (by Gladys Mitchell and Charlotte MacLeod, among others).

Jan Riker has noticed that more women than men buy mysteries.

Schaefer adds categories, including music, art history and art commentary. Books on local history are also good sellers. "We never have enough," he says.

Used-book stores usually reflect the interests and tastes of their owners. Walter Jackson, owner of Gramp's Attic in Ellicott City, was a pharmaceutical sales representative before he retired, and his shop has an impressive selection of books on medicine and medical history.

Jackson - who grew up in South Baltimore, close to the harbor, and has always been interested in ships and the sea - also has a number of books on maritime subjects.

Marvin Schaefer is a mathematician, so his shelves contain many books on mathematics and cryptology. Mary Alice Schaefer has had a long equestrian career, which is reflected in the store's section of books on horses.

The Schaefers' store has an area labeled "Children's Books" and one labeled "Antiquarian Children's Books." That was a business decision growing from their discovery that there are two kinds of buyers of children's books.

The children's books section is for the child who is looking for something good to read or the aunt who wants to buy a present for her nephew or niece.

"Antiquarian" generally refers to books published in the 19th century or earlier, but in the Schaefers' store it is a synonym for "nostalgic." Many people have a feeling for books they read as children, such as the Nancy Drew mysteries; Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories, illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham; The Black Tanker by Howard Pease; or any book with gorgeous color illustrations by Howard Pyle or N. C. Wyeth.

The Antiquarian Children's Books section is for those sentimental customers. Sometimes the buyers want the books for themselves, to bring back old memories; sometimes they want to give them to their children or grandchildren. The Schaefers have had customers ask for Tom Swift and Bobbsey Twins books - the original editions.

The demand for old children's books is strong enough to support a few dealers who handle nothing else. One is Dana Richardson, owner of Windy Hill Books. Based in Columbia, she has no retail store and operates on the Internet, with help from her husband, Tom.

Online dealers

Richardson is one of four online dealers in Howard County. Last Page Books, owned by Patti Dahlin, has a general stock that includes large-print books.

Carl Hahn's Alder Books specializes in books on horticulture and gardening.

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