Everyone—you, your grandma, your best frenemy—should buy used books. In fact, I will go so far as to say that everyone should buy used books as often as they can, reserving purchases of new paper books for special occasions, gifting, and those rare, delicious occasions when you get a gift certificate for your family’s particular gifty holiday.
The reasons transcend thrift! Everyone already understands that a $30 new book is at best prohibitive, at worst impossible. Buying used means more than the sticker price. It speaks to our humanity. It’s an act of social and economic heroism. It’s the way we all need to think from now on, not just for our personal bookshelves, but for how we view ourselves as readers, our critical thinking abilities, and our planet’s continued livability.
A big box bookstore will never surprise you. You are not there to be surprised. Your only task while shopping is to walk the same track of customer behavior that psychologists determined 60-odd years ago to be profitable and predictable.
Fuck that. That is joyless. It is not what reading is about. You read to eat, not to be fed. Despite the sincere passion of particular individuals involved in bookselling, the corporate direction of bookselling companies has no true love for reading. Their job is to peddle books that you won’t care about in six months because FOMO exists. My god, why do we put up with it? DEVIATE.
Weird Book Love
The books you’ll find on the used rack may not be this year’s New York Times bestsellers. They may be mainstream misses. Maybe they were popular two or 20 years ago. Either is valuable in an era when our collective memory is three weeks long. They’re deep cuts in our cultural history and you will be surprised by them. You will even have the opportunity to take a chance on something that you haven’t heard about. It might suck. You might love it. But whatever your reaction is, it’ll be information about us. About you.
How books age is significant and often surprising. Why they have been resold is often a mystery worth solving. Find them. Read them. Absorb their wisdom. You’ll develop a perspective that is unique and long.
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The Joy Of The Hunt
The books that make you earn them come with an experience whose particulars a national chain can’t replicate. They don’t have to be rare or valuable for them to be technically hard to find and valuable to you. Have an adventure. Buy used books that require you to hunt them down.
This process is not only entertaining and empowering, but important to your continuing love of your quarry. Strolling into a big box and making an assured purchase is an easy-come, easy-go situation. Speaking as a librarian, I can assure you that my library alone receives hundreds of last-season bestsellers in donations every year.
On the other hand, your copy of Good Omens with the pre-Amazon cover will be special to you for much longer because it was worth your time and effort. When it does leave your possession, you’ll have a real relationship with it, even if you’re reselling it because you hated every word.
What you’re after when you buy a new book is a twofold experience: personal entertainment and collective participation. Considering the fact that library waitlists are a thing, we can boil much of new book desire down to expediency. This, my friends, is a dumb reason to use resources.
Right now, our planet in dire ecological shape partly because rich countries rely too heavily on manufacturing cheap, quick solutions for our needs, then throwing those solutions into landfills when we’re done with them. We need a mental revolution. We need to get into the groove of loving—and buying—used stuff, including books. Maybe it won’t singlehandedly save the world, but it’s one pellet in the silver buckshot that we need to save our climate and, ultimately, our world as we know it.
A new book now and then isn’t the end of the world. Many people hesitate to gift used books, which I validate. Some education requires new paper books. Ebooks are a great solution, but not everybody has an ereader. I don’t believe in eco-shaming. You’ve got to do what you can.
But if you can choose to buy used books or new, think about what you’ve read here today. Think about the ways that buying used books can improve your experience and your world. Then spend a little time at your local book reseller and see how you feel. I promise that it won’t be time wasted.