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17 Books That Sell Way Too Fast at Used Bookstores

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Tuesday, January 3rd.

This post originally ran August 15, 2016.


A funny thing about working at a used bookstore is that there is only so much control you have over your stock. You can select from what people bring in, but you can’t make more people bring you the books you want the most. Book buyers have to mentally calculate how many copies of this title we already have, how many we expect to sell, and what space we have for it. Sometimes a book piles up for years only to sell out in a week when a popular radio show mentions it.

But there are some books that stay constant. Some books, despite being published decades (or centuries!) ago, still can’t seem to stay on the shelves. This is a mix of a) sheer popularity and b) the delicate ratio of how copies go out the door vs how many books come in. Some books we sell in huge amounts, but we also buy stacks of, so it creates a perfect balance. Usually, it just doesn’t add up that way, and we either end up with too many or not enough. Here are 17 books that are inexplicably difficult to keep on the shelf.

  1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
  2. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julie Child
  3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  7. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  8. Carrie & The Shining by Stephen King
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. Anything by Haruki Murakami
  11. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Animal Farm & 1984 by George Orwell
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig
  • Anything by Terry Pratchett
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

    These are all books that have been out for many years, but have consistently sold at a rate higher than we can bring in used. You can begin to see some patterns, like books that are commonly assigned in school, books that are often passed down through families, but others are a mystery.

    Some authors just remain popular that even their most common, older titles are snapped up as soon as they come in. And some hardly come in at all! We buy thousands of books in a week, but that doesn’t mean we get every title.

    These are far from all of the back list bestsellers, but it gives you an idea of what books you might be surprised don’t grace the shelves of used bookstores very often. And hey, if you do have a dusty copy of one of these that hasn’t been read in years, consider trading it in at your local used bookstore!*

    *used bookstore stock may vary, this is no guarantee of store credit amount issued, I am not responsible for unwanted copies of Jonathan Livingston Seagull