In my past life as a bookseller, I once spent thirty looong minutes with a customer who insisted on checking through piles of books to find the perfect copy. She wanted only pristine editions, preferably ones that human hands had not touched prior to hers. While I respected her wishes (and that she was buying at least ten titles), it was an exacting process that somehow required me as well as her to inspect each one for microscopic scratches and feathering of the corners. The removal of the price stickers caused even more angst, for both of us.
There’s a sharp division between brand-new and secondhand buyers. Some people come out in a sweat at just the thought of touching something pre-loved. And paper in particular can be a depository of germs and stains, so yes, secondhand books are not for everyone.
But I love them for several reasons – they’re cheap, it’s a great form of recycling, and they have a history – someone loved and read them at some point, but their time has come to move on to another reader’s hands. Or they’re just the dreaded syllabus novel that wasn’t even cracked (the movie was watched instead).
I also love opening the front page to find a prior owner’s signature inside, with sometimes the date and location, or a ‘Happy Birthday’ message from an aunt and uncle. This sets off my imagination as to why the book was eventually given away. And early this year I found a secondhand book signed by the author – extra bonus!
I find it very hard to give away books myself and have titles on my shelf from my childhood. I am however missing quite a number (like the early 1960’s editions of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and Famous Five series that went to my nieces and nephews and then disappeared forever *sigh*). But I still have most of my pony novels, inherited from a cousin or bought one by one out of my pocket money. Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series, Marguerite Henry’s series based on the stories of real-life horses (Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Black Gold, etc), The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley… All read many times, well worn and much loved old paperbacks from the seventies.
There are so many memories of the excitement of buying them myself, taking them home and pulling them out of their paper bag, smelling that amazing new-book smell, and then the joy of diving into the story, far away from my boring suburban life at the time (for which I am truly grateful – I wish all kids could experience a peaceful suburban life). I could never give those books up. But I’m glad that others can, or there’d be no secondhand book sales!
Books are ideal for re-using – they can keep going for as long as their fragile paper and glued spines hold out. And as with my childhood books, they can be over forty years old and still going strong. They are definitely worth giving that extra life.
Even better, buying books from op shops raises money for charity, as does donating books. I do confess to donating back the odd few books – usually a double-up because I’ve bought a book secondhand and then find I have a copy at home.
Recently I’ve discovered the best online bookshop – Brotherhood Books. It’s a second-hand bookshop that raises money for the Brotherhood of St Laurence, a charity based here in Australia. The website has a very good search engine and they are very efficient, delivering within a couple of days of ordering (I’m in the same city as their warehouse though). And while they are a little pricier than your average op shop, they give free postage (Australia only) for orders of three or more books. The warehouse utilises volunteers to keep costs down. A win-win situation for charity and booklovers!
Here’s my haul from there so far (at left). After working in bookshops and publishing for nearly a decade, you’d think I’d have collected every book I ever wanted. But often I just read particular books on loan and didn’t realise until much later that I might want to own copies. Also I got many books for free, or at least cheap, so it took me some time to get used to having to pay full-price for books once I left the industry.
Secondhand is a great way to buy up a series, and I’ve spent years searching bookshops for some of my (slightly eccentric) interests, such as Monica Dicken’s World’s End series, about four children left to raise themselves and their menagerie of animals in 1960’s England (I’m only missing the final one now, Spring Comes to World’s End, which I want in a particular edition to match the others).
Online secondhand bookshops take a bit of hard graft out of the search (some street secondhand shops are serious fire hazards in their method of shelving and stacking), but it’s still hit and miss as to what you’ll find when. But it’s all for a good cause, whether it’s recycling or raising money for charity, or just fulfilling the eternal booklover’s dream of overflowing bookshelves and TBR* piles 🙂
So, how do you feel about brand-new versus secondhand books?
*To Be Read – the pile which never gets any smaller, no matter how much you read 😉
NB after writing this post, I went back online and bought three more books from Brotherhood. Whoops.