One Dollar Wonders

One Dollar Wonders

As regular visitors to this blog will know, I am lucky enough to fly around the world and often have the opportunity to visit some of the globe’s iconic sights. As thrilling as this can be, I find that I increasingly seek out lesser-known experiences; those which rarely make it into the front pages of your travel guides, if at all. Perhaps it is a growing aversion to crowds and the frustrations which they bring; perhaps (and this threatens to make me sound like the ultimate travel snob) I am simply after a more ‘authentic’ experience, one which I am unlikely to find shuffling round a world-famous gallery with thousands of other dazed and confused visitors.

Recent memories which I know will stay with me for a long time haven’t involved a tourist attraction or an ‘important’ painting; they aren’t snapshot images which I can call on in a personal slide show, but rather everyday experiences which linger because they have involved something which happened to me or which was totally unexpected. Recently, in Hong Kong, I first slurped my noodles inexpertly over a complete stranger in a local noodle bar (we laughed, I think), then followed this experience with watching frogs being relieved of their heads by a cleaver-wielding stall holder in a Kowloon wet market. A headless frog, it turns out, maintains an impressive ability to keep jumping, if with somewhat less accuracy. I’ll happily remember both of these events over queuing for two hours to ‘ride’ to the top of any number of the world’s tallest buildings.

More prosaic, although no less memorable, was my visit last week to a shop in Long Beach, California. Not for me a morning spent at the city’s most famous attraction, The Queen Mary; it looks wonderful enough from a mile away, majestically glowing in the sunshine. No, I have found a place which promises to bring infinitely more pleasure to the reader or book-lover in us all. I give you the One Dollar Bookstore.

Just one section of the dollar bookstore, Longbeach, CA

The Long Beach branch (part of a bargain book empire of four stores, two of which have been renamed ‘Piccolo’s’ after the owner Piccolo Lewis, which seems a shame when the original appeared to do the job with sublime simplicity) has recently moved into a defunct Border’s store and uses every last inch of the vast space; shelf upon shelf of books, stretching far away into the distance. That is, shelf upon shelf of books which all, either read just once or read over and over, cost just one dollar. For lovers of recycling or those of an anti-capitalist bent, this is pure bibliophilic serendipity.

The blurb on the store’s website suggests that the owner is of a philanthropic nature, keen to bring affordable reading to the masses. To point out that libraries have been doing this for some time would be churlish and misses the point: owning a book, even just a single book, is something special. A good book, one you have loved reading, is a treasure to hang on to, and, for me at least, is priceless. But if that book only cost a dollar, its value seems to increase. The thrill of discovering a gem of a book, or of finding that missing volume from an author’s now out-of-print oeuvre (and with the right jacket design too – the book collectors aesthetic holly grail) is a thrill to savour and one which stays with me for far longer than that crowded ascent to the top of the Empire State.

My haul of treasure last week was mostly classics because that section alone took an hour to delve into, but just look at what I for nine dollars.

That’s months of reading which I will remember for years to come and I still had change from a ten dollar note.

Who knows if I’ll go back to Long Beach again, but the one thing I’ll remember from this city by the sea is its fabulous cathedral to bargain reading. Long after this recession has ended, after bargain stores like this have moved on after the rents have once again increased, I will still have the pleasure of taking one of those books down from the shelf and re-living the thrills I discovered in Long Beach. Travel, it would seem, really can broaden the mind.

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