The wind is howling, we’re snowed in, and it’s a great day to begin planning this year’s book scouting road trip! This is when I get out the maps and book scouting guides. Finding open antiquarian book shops in distant cities and off-the beaten-track locations can be a challenge, but planning the search is part of the fun. Book scouting is travel with a purpose, and makes a road trip so much more fun and interesting, because you have a goal — and you meet such interesting people!
We always consult The Used Book Lover’s Guide for the region we are exploring. These are in-depth guides to used book dealers in six regions of the United States and Canada with helpful information on location, hours, contact information, and the types of books you can expect to find at each location with comments about the store. They also contain state and city maps with shop locations which help you plan your route. Published by Book Hunter Press, these guides are published in book form and are also available as an on-line subscription.
We’ve utilized these guides in exploring New England, the mid-Atlantic region and the Midwest, and we’ve always found them to be very helpful. I would caution that it is wise to phone ahead when visiting used & rare book shops you’ve found listed in any guide; it happens that they change their hours or go out of business at the drop of a hat, and much time can be lost if you drive miles to a location and find they are closed or no longer in existence. The on-line version of the guides has the advantage of being more up-to-date as it is more quickly revised.
These are just a starting point. Each state or region generally has it’s own association of antiquarian booksellers, and most of them publish membership guides which list the location and hours of member booksellers. These can usually be picked up at antiquarian book shops in each area you explore. Most of them also list their member book shops online, so before planning a trip you can Google with keywords, for example… antiquarian books Rochester NY … or any other city or state, and you should get results which include any antiquarian bookseller associations for that area. You will also get results that include individual sellers and yellow page type listings, which can be helpful as well. We usually do this when we have reached an area to explore, so we are aware of most of the possibilities in a given area before beginning our day of scouting.
The ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) publishes a guide to their members across the United States, and their membership is also listed by region on the web.
The Sunday Driver Directories can also be helpful. These are fold-out map guides that list antique dealers, and some antiquarian book dealers, state by state. Most of the antique dealers who carry books mention it in their advertising square in the guide, although any one of them might have books as part of their inventory.
I also check www.booksalefinder.com regularly so that we don’t miss an interesting book sale in a region we are visiting.
But what about the shops that aren’t listed anywhere? These are often some of the best discoveries, and they do exist. They are found by talking with the people you meet as you travel. Booksellers with open shops are generally willing to guide you to other sellers in their area, sometimes in obscure locations. If you are buying in quantity, shop owners sometimes have books stored off-site which they’ll give you access to if you are a serious buyer. But you’ll never know unless you introduce yourself, strike up a conversation, and talk about your book interests. Booksellers can often give you other helpful information as well — such as where to find good food and lodging in their region.
It’s always important to keep your eyes open for serendipitous occurences — a sign by the side of the road, a library sale in a small town, an estate sale you stumble across. We once stopped in a pub for lunch and soon had several people interested in selling books to us just by talking about our book selling life; we ended up being invited to a fellow’s home where we bought a dozen books.
When we travel we have a general route in mind, but we never plan anything in stone, never make reservations for food and lodging. It’s tremendously freeing to be able to spend extra time in one area if you like it and it’s panning out for you, or to explore an area that wasn’t originally in your plans when someone along the way recommends it.
We especially enjoy the New England states, because there are lots of books in cities like Portland and Boston, and in the many charming towns and villages. We try to travel there just ahead of the summer vacationers but when the weather is pleasantly warm…late May or early June. Traffic is less of a problem and lodging is more reasonable. But books are everywhere, and sometimes just a few miles or a day trip away. Each region of our country offers plenty of opportunities to search for great book finds if you know how to sniff them out!