The used bookstore was the Internet of the 1970s. And the Wikipedia. And the WikiLeaks.
Before the Internet, used bookstores were a clearinghouse for all sorts of eccentric stuff like science fiction, alternative music and politics, softcore erotica, classic literature, leftover pop novels of the 50s and 60s, weird cookbooks and training manuals, and all sorts of other ephemera. Where else growing up in your own backwater town were you going to find this stuff?
There was one story your parents told you, and that they told you in school, and on the TV. Then there were other things that nobody bothered to tell you, either because they didn’t seem to matter, or they just didn’t fit in the nice, neat narrative that was being collectively written and transmitted over the public address system. Or because they might be “subversive.” Just an odd fact could be subversive. Wrong in one thing, wrong in everything.
The used bookstores, and the thrift stores, and to some extent the public library, with its yellowed, crumbling old books: that’s where you could still go to really learn about the shadow culture. They tried to throw it in landfills, but some of it survived and washed up, flotsam and jetsam. The truth was out there. You could only see glimpses, but that was enough to show that it was much, much bigger.
I know I’m probably repeating myself here. Writing about Steve Jobs and science fiction a couple of months ago I think I touched on this.
Today of course, every fact is seemingly a click away. Our brains are augmented with instant access to all information sacred and profane. With Wikipedia blacked out for a day in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, people are saying, “We’ll just have to check the Encyclopedia Britannica.” But that doesn’t even begin to cover it, does it?