Rule number one: “When you enter a used bookstore, do not ask if it is a library. A common preliminary to that question comes from the man who stands in the entrance, looks around, nods his head sagely and astutely observes, ‘Books, eh?’ ”
So begins David Mason, a bookseller of 40 years who plies his trade at his eponymous shop in Toronto. In the latest issue of Descant, his essay “The Protocols of Used Bookstores: A Guide to Dealing with Certain Perils That Could be Encountered in a Used Bookstore,” is both witty and genuine, by which I mean: The 44-point piece made me laugh, even as his great love of books—and great respect for others who also love them—offered a gratifying glimpse into the world of bookselling. To point:
19. When the proprietor of a used bookstore asks if he can help, he is not beginning his campaign to sell you something you don’t want or need, like a new suit or the latest fad. He actually is interested in directing you to the appropriate book. If you answer, “Just browsing,” he will assume you are afraid of him. You should answer, “Only if I don’t find something on my own.” Remember, the bookseller wants you to buy a book, indeed he depends on it. But unlike many businesses he only wants to sell you a book that you want. The bookseller knows that he may never own another copy of that book and he wants it to go where it will be appreciated.
Note/Poetic Justice: “The Protocols of Used Bookstores” is not available to read online, so if you wish to fully inoculate yourself against the certain perils, you’ll either have to pick up a hard copy of Descant or order what appears to be the stand-alone essay from David Mason Books (check under “Special Announcements”).