I was in the middle of posting some comments on a post about used book stores at Ordinary Reader, but the comment would not publish so I figured that I may as well do a post on the subject.
Let me start by saying that I don't really like new book stores and that I generally only shop at them when someone who knows I love books, buys me a gift card or I need a speciality item in a hurry (ie: my swiss travel book). There have been several occasions where I have come across a new store and stuck my head into it and tried to quickly duck out when someone behind the counter asked "Can I help you?" where I posed this rebuttal question "Only new books?"
There are several reasons why I prefer used books over new ones.
A) They're cheaper
B) They're better for the environment
C) They smell differently
D) Hunting for them is more fun
E) They can be of better quality
F) They have character
I was trying to pick out which of these descriptors were more important to me, but it's too difficult to fragment an experience into it's constituent elements. I figured the easiest way to tell you how I feel about used book shopping is to give you an example of how I shop.
There are two types of events to me, as they pertain to book shopping. One is a planned event and another is unplanned. They are equally gratifying to me. Planned events usually involve 'making a day of it' and food or coffee is usually sandwiched between shopping (not the other way around). If there is an event that limits my ability to take long periods of time to browse, these trips are less enjoyable. Some stores take me five minutes and some take me more than an hour and I like to be able to do what feels appropriate.
Unplanned events sometimes have unwanted time restrictions, but the 'aha! moment' can be large enough to overcompensate for a lack of time management. When you stumble upon something great, my first thought is... how much time do I have? My second thought is.... how am I going to be able to get these books home? ...and my third thought is... will my spouse kill me? Admittedly, while this thought occurs to me... it always occurs at the checkout line and by that time I am generally committed.
If I know the bookstore already, here is the general methodology I follow when entering.
1) I say hi to the store owner (if I know him/her). I don't know all store owners, but I have a few favourites that I like to say hello to and ask them about business and about how they are doing. The problem is that if I see something pretty WHILE I am talking to them I want to run directly to the section and check it out. If I'm shopping with someone, this is harder because they get to shop while I'm talking and I feel envious... or frightened that they will find something like a "The Catcher in the Rye" first edition that is priced at $20 or something and that my only chance will have slipped through my fingers. This has never happened, but the probability is there!! ;)
2) I go to the rare section or the leather bound section first. If these sections happen to contain amazing finds, I don't make it to the fiction section and I spend all my time humming and hawing and smiling like a little kid until the time comes when I hand over cash or look at the final ominous number on the receipt. (Parenthetically, I have never spent more than $90 on a single book... and usually my limit is about $60). This section rarely (pun intended) contains a huge find and sometimes contains a small one but usually has nothing. If it has nothing, instead of feeling sad I feel relief. Phew! I have made it without spending too much on a book. Then I go to fiction.
3) I scrounge the fiction section in this manner. Going in alphabetical order is a necessity and I cannot tell you why. It just is, and I will step over anyone reading on the floor or hogging a section or whatever... in a nice way. But I am going to get through the section alphabetically. This is for certain.
I scan the shelves looking for a few things. The type of edition is important, and nearly everything I buy is hardcover. I like the structure and with so many unread books on my shelves already I can afford to be picky. Sometimes I am searching for select titles or authors, and I usually do that on the fly but occasionally after I have made my A-Z journey, I go back and search for select authors because I may have missed them.
4) If the fiction section didn't yield anything, out of respect for the store owner (maybe I've only been there 5 minutes), I TRY to find something else. I look through history, science fiction/fantasy and some of the popular Malcolm Gladwell type stuff. If I'm really desperate I go look at the Bibles, but this is unusual and has only lead to one Bible purchase [I have yet to read anything from it].
5) I pay or give the owner a brief farewell. If I know the owner, I will usually stop and chat some more until I feel awkward for whatever reason (there is a time when all conversations reach a logical conclusion and any length of time after that is just awkward) and then I leave.
That's the process, and I only deviate from it during times when I'm with someone and they want to shop 'together' or I am in a new place and I am so overwhelmed I get excited like a puppy and just start randomly slobbering over everything.
I could get into the types of bookstores that are out there... but I think that's a topic for another post.