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The Books We’re Drowning In: A Bookseller’s Lament

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Margaret Kingsbury

Contributing Editor

Margaret Kingsbury grew up in a house so crammed with books she couldn’t open a closet door without a book stack tumbling, and she’s brought that same decorative energy to her adult life. Margaret has an MA in English with a concentration in writing and has worked as a bookseller and adjunct English professor. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor, and in addition to Book Riot, her pieces have appeared in School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, The Lily, Parents,, and more. She particularly loves children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and any books with disabled characters. You can read more about her bookish and parenting shenanigans in Book Riot’s twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter. You can also follow her kidlit bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians, or on Twitter @AReaderlyMom.

You buy that book everyone’s been talking about. You read it, have heated discussions about it at work, talk to all your friends about it. Because for some reason this is THE book everyone is reading. The buzz dies down. Weeks or months or years later you find that book on your bookshelf while you’re putting together a box to take to the used bookstore. Oh, you remember that book! It was good. You don’t want to read it again though, so into the box it goes.

Or maybe you used to really love a particular series of books, and collected every one. As did everyone else. But now you’re just not interested in reading those kinds of books anymore.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? To you and thousands of other people.

And that’s where I come in: the used bookstore employee that buys in and then shelves and then recycles all those thousands upon thousands of copies of X book that EVERYONE is bringing in. You know the one.

Of course, some once popular books still fly off the shelves, but others simply don’t, for whatever reason.

Here are the types of books used bookstores are drowning in.

The Books Used Bookstores Are Drowning In

What Happened by Hillary Rodham ClintonPolitical Tell-Alls

How many people bought a copy of What Happened by Hillary Clinton? A lot, by my estimation. How about Fire and Fury? Even more. So. Many. More. I never want to see a Bill O’Reilly book again, except I will when I go to work tomorrow. Dozens. A Higher Loyalty isn’t quite there yet—they’re still selling—but in another month I’ll be wringing my hands at the 20 copies piling up on the shelves every week. The one good thing with these is that I can take a little joy in recycling them. Oops, I tore Paul Ryan’s face. I’ll just have to do it again. And again.

Nonfiction Titles Made Into Movies

Seabiscuit, Unbroken, Marley and Me, The Blind Side, Black Hawk Down. These are the main culprits. I guess what happens is the movie comes out, everyone goes and buys the million copies the publishers printed, and then they’re like, “Wait, these are actually pretty dense. And I already watched the movie. Do I really need to read the book too?” And then back to the bookstore they go.

’80s And ’90s Paperback Hits

Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steel, Sydney Sheldon, Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts. Yes, all of these authors still publish books, but their books published via paperback in the ’80s and ’90s come in in overwhelming amounts.

James Patterson

Can you believe that the most prolific “writer” (in quotes because he has a team of writers working on his books) ever also sells terribly once his newest book is six months old? That’s probably why he needs to push them out so fast.

Book cover of The Shack by William Paul YoungChristian Fiction Greatest Hits

Every bookseller remembers being asked “Where do you shelve The Shack?” a year or so ago. Now? Nobody cares. Same goes with the Left Behind series. And while I hate to include anyone I share a name with, Karen Kingsbury’s books are piling up too.

Chicken Soup For The Soul

There are so many variations of these. Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul. Chicken Soup for the Scrapbooker’s Soul. Chicken Soup for the Country Soul. Chicken Soup for the Soul, To Grandma. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Indian Mothers. Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause. Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul. Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul. You know what’s missing? Chicken Soup for the Bookseller’s Soul, and we need it after recycling all these books.

Cookbook Celebs

Only certain cookbook celeb books don’t sell. Like In the Kitchen with Rosie: Oprah’s Favorite Recipes. Paula Deen: It Ain’t All About the Cookin’. Julie and Julia. And the only one I’m sad about: all of Racheal Ray. I love Rachael Ray. She taught me how to cook. I can’t think of the six years I spent living in dorm rooms without thinking of Rachael Ray. Yet I’ve never bought any of her cookbooks, and judging by the numbers, I’m not the only one.

Go Set a Watchman_Harper LeeGo Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

You remember when everyone was reading this? And were ultimately disappointed because Atticus Finch turned out to be racist? All those disappointed souls (I wonder if this is a Chicken Soup title?) traded in their copies to their nearest used bookstore.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

This one really surprised me. I’m told we receive more than 200 copies a month of this series, and it only sells at 40%. That means we have a surplus of 120 copies a month. That adds up fast, y’all. Surely they’ll start selling when the last season airs? But what will we do after that?

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

We actually had to put a blanket ban on buying in this one because nobody’s reading it anymore and we couldn’t even sell copies for 5¢.

The Twilight Series and The Hunger Games Trilogy

Everyone expects the Twilight series to be on this list, but The Hunger Games trilogy fairs little better. But if you want a copy, they’re only 25¢.

Book cover of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. JamesFifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James

Another series everyone probably expects to be on this list. I’m here to confirm: yes, we could build a nice sized house out of these books, if only we had the time. But alas, there’s all these books to shelve.

Love Inspired

A book series customers are inspired to trade in after reading.

Imagination Library

It seems odd that people trade in the free books they receive from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, but they do. Many, many, many people do. And usually with their address still on the back. Those stickers peel right off if you do it immediately, folks.

The Hodges Harbrace Handbook

Are you an English teacher who requires all their students buy the Harbrace? And then you grade papers by writing number combinations that correlate to errors? Guess what. Your students hate that book and they’re trading it in as soon as class is finished.

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

For the sake of the many recycled copies of this book, I hope book heaven is also real.

Have you read any of these? Any you’re sad to see on this list? Any you were expecting to see but didn’t?