There is little better than a great used book store. It is a literary trip into the past, filled with books you didn't know existed or even wanted, but sitting there on shelves, just asking for you to take them home and hopefully read them.
Too often, we are losing our used book stores, as people read less and the internet gives us access to large volumes of reading material, in addition to cheap and easy ways to search for the books we know we want. To be honest, it scares me that the average mall seems to have two baseball cap stores and nary a place to purchase a book.
Even sadder is the poor quality of some of the local used bookstores. I went to the Cranbury Bookworm a few weeks ago and was saddened to learn they moved from a house to a small store across the street. The selection was far less and the atmosphere was wrong. Princeton should have a great used bookstore, but it has a decent bookstore mixing old and new, not unlike the Strand, but with none of the charm.
However, I had occasion to travel to Bergen County this week. Having spent most of my life there, I was intimately familiar with Brier Rose Books in Teaneck. The store has been there since I was in high school, which was a generation ago. I remember going there every so often in my youth and walking the four or so miles from my home each way, especially in the dead of summer, because for some reason, there were just times you needed to buy books...and avoid the bus.
And despite not having a website, this is by far the best used book store I've been in. When you enter, the store just smells like books, which is either your thing or you are an ill-bred, illiterate mongrel. Visually, all you see are walls and shelves just filled with books. Knowing the store, I headed right through the stacks to see what was for sale. In the back are metal shelves filled with $1 paperbacks, which I perused and found a copy of American Gods by Neil Gaiman and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.
From there, I avoided the main area of the store with the chess set and couches and moved to the history section. I found a book on the War of 1870 and a shelf of books on the Spanish Civil War, which is exactly one shelf more than I've found elsewhere. Moving through the war books, I found a book on World War I, which I surprisingly have not previously read and added it to my stack.
By this point, the proprietor came around and offered to take my books to the front, so I could use both hands. The proprietor genuinely cares about books and unlike every other bookstore I've been to, actually adds to the experience with his knowledge and his understanding of customer service. After my first batch of books moved to the front counter, I managed to refill my arms and make way to the counter, where all of the books I purchased fit into a grocery store bag, instead of having a single volume to carry out of the store.
Should you ever be in North Jersey, Brier Rose Books is by far the best place to go to buy books and I highly recommend you head there and leave with your own grocery bag of tomes.