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The Charm of Thrift Shopping Pt. 1

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I never leave a thrift store without buying something, no matter how senseless it is. Late last year, I found a set of four cheaply made coasters in the shape of Tasmanian Devils. Two days ago, I bought a collection of dried twigs bunched up like a witch broom. It’s leaning on a window right now, staring at me, asking to what purpose I brought into my home. And I am half embarrassed to say that I cannot come up with an answer. I could go on and on about the utterly useless things I have picked up at thrift stores: a book on theosophy, a candle that smelt like dead body, a tattered bowling bag I thought was a vintage classic. Nonetheless, I remain a card-carrying thrift shopper.

Thrift shopping is a vice I happily live with. It is not hard on the pocket. And from time to time, I find rare gems and other lovely and precious little things. Perhaps, I should say right off the bat that thrift shopping is different from antiquing. Granted, the obsessive thrift shopper and the antique connoisseur are bound in their love for the old. The difference is that the thrift shopper has less money to spare, has more patience for rubbish, and therefore, has more faith in the god of chance discovery.

The thought of sharing intimate articles like clothing with a stranger is perhaps repulsive. The thought of reading a book  layered with dust and dirt might be off-putting. The invisible stains of sweat, tears, and heaven knows what else on the moldy pages of books one finds in thrift stores. What of the unexplainable feeling of being intruded upon by a foreign element when one buys something that bears the traces of a past owner? It is like letting a stranger into one’s home or like reading a severely underlined book and feeling as though one is being rudely interrupted by the thoughts and confusions of the previous reader. I supposed then that thrift shopping is not for the fainthearted or the squeamish.

As for me, finding things that carry deposits or traces of other lives is fascinating. Questioning doubts left on the margins of a century old bible. Writing assignments forgotten in a 90 year old Latin grammar book. The most touching among all is the remark of triumph timidly scribbled at the end of a frayed copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. These ghostly remainders of past readers give me the thrill of peeping anonymously into lives that are themselves anonymous.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “The Charm of Thrift Shopping Pt. 1” Subscribe

  1. insomniac January 17, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Charming piece. But what about that odor? Doesn’t the near allergy attack within 3 minutes of entering a thrift store ever get to you? Or the smell of daily sprayed fabreze? I suppose they’re small sacrifices for that sapphire buried deep in the vinyl section. I can never listen to too many arias from the ’60s…

  2. admin January 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Hey Insomniac,

    Watch out for pt 2. You’ll get the dish on the Febreeze.

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