Photos and article by Jeremy Benson

For many — those known to the psychiatric profession as bibliophiles and to booksellers as fresh meat — the act of reading is as much a tactile experience as it is a mental one. "There's a lot to be said about holding a book," says Audrey Marsh, the owner/operator of Buy the Book in Kawkawlin. The feel of scratchy pages against fingertips and the balance of weight shifting from the right hand to left as the gumshoe gets closer to his MacGuffin are as important as the next clue along the plotline.

Despite recent threats that updates to technology like the Kindle and Nook will destroy books as we know them, paper-and-ink editions are still more readily accessible than ever before. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers, like Barnes and Noble or Amazon, have millions of titles to purchase, whole libraries figuratively and literally at readers' fingertips. Yet simultaneously, the economic environment has disallowed readers from splurging half their paychecks on the newest Sue Grafton novel, leading to the recent closings of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks stores across the nation.

However, as with our hapless heroes, we tactile readers are never completely out of options. Libraries are one, and across the country they have seen a growth of borrowers in recent months, drawn to the stacks because of the ultimately low price of printed entertainment: free.

But libraries aren't perfect for every reader or situation. Sometimes one needs to hold on to a book indefinitely, or wants to pass the copy on to friends. Some just like to have a physical record of every book they've ever read. The answer, then? Used bookstores.

Used books are the happy medium between free borrowing and expensive purchasing of new books. Buying used is light on the environment and the debit card, like libraries, but serves the book collector as well as serial reader, while supporting local small business.

Because of their hole-in-the-wall nature, used bookstores often slip into the background. "People keep telling me, 'I didn’t even know this place was here,'" says Sandy Block, who opened Sandy’s Book Worm in Bay City 23 years ago.

Hopefully, that will no longer be an applicable excuse:

Buy the Book
2894 S Huron Road
Kawkawlin, 48631

When the rental agreement ended at her M-13 property, landlord Audrey Marsh decided she could use the space more effectively, and turned the front two rooms into the bookstore. Three years later, the store has expanded into the rest of the house, with five rooms of browseable shelves — two fiction, one young adult, one children’s and one non-fiction; the rest are used as storage. "If you can’t find [a book], let me know, and I’ll find it for you," Marsh says. The store keeps an accurate record of their inventory, so customers can call ahead before making the trek. If they don’t have a book in stock, they will track down a copy with book swapping websites or E-bay. For children, they have a room of pictures books, and Carl the Cat is always eager for attention.

Maxey’s Discount Bookstore
3647 Bay Road
Saginaw, 48603

Maxey's is a paperback reader’s dream. Her collection is color-coded by genre, with a large key on the wall, and Maxey is always eager to help the befuddled customer navigate. The perimeter walls hold boxes of works by the most popular authors and series, while the center area is home to general titles. Although the bulk of the inventory is in paperback fiction, a side room houses nonfiction. To clear out multiple copies, Maxey also has a table full of 10-, 20-, and 30-cent books, which are almost impossible to pass up.

Sandy’s Book Worm
108 N. Walnut
Bay City, 48706

Like Maxey’s, the Book Worm has a large offering of paperback fiction. Sandy herself is a fan of the mystery and true crime genres, and she can easily recommend one if you're in need. The store has the smallest square footage of the used bookstores in the Tri-cities area, but it holds a floor-to-ceiling selection of books and is devoid of the unkempt stacks of seemingly unsorted titles typical of most used bookstores. Dotted throughout the usual Danielle Steele romances and Louis L'Amore westerns, treasures like Yann Martel's Life of Pi or Stephen King's last bestseller can be found at half the cover price.

Sleepy Hollow Bookshop
22 Ashman Cr.
Midland, 48640

Owner Jo Henton says that a lot of her business comes from women of a certain age reading novels of a certain racy content, but the Sleepy Hollow collection isn’t limited to romance novels. In fact, they offer a handful of graphic novels — a rarity among bookstores, new and used — and the Bookshop features rare and collectors' edition antique books. Henton estimates that over 50,000 books line the shelves of the Midland store.

Tattered Pages and Tea
1018 N. Johnson Street
Bay City 48708

Tattered Pages and Tea combines a used bookstore, a tea room, and a gift shop into one relaxing package. Although they don't have the same quantity as the other bookstores, their prices are simple and frequently low: $1 for paperbacks and $3 for hardcover; rare books have prices set by professional appraisers. After you've chosen a book or two, feel free to plop into a chair and sink right in. Order a cup of tea to help set the mood — better yet, call the day before and arrange for scones with your mystery novel. Tattered Pages also offers etiquette, knitting, crochet and watercolor classes, by appointment or as part of their regularly scheduled events.

Audrey Marsh thinks browsing for books can be downright auspicious. "Sometimes you don’t know you want to read a book until it’s in your hands." Though it may be impossible to find the hot vampire bestseller at these used bookstores, they offer a place, and the shelves, for literary discovery.

© Jeremy Benson, 2010