I like books. I like to buy books. I like to buy books by the tons.
And, well, while I might not literally buy them by the measured ton, it certainly feels that way when I’m lugging them home from a discard sale, or reshelving them after dusting. (Yes, I dust both the books and the shelves they rest on. I care very deeply for my books; I like to take care of them. They are also not only alphabetized, but categorized as well.
And, see, the kind of books I buy are a particular kind. I don’t mean the context of the book—though, I am often picky (and sometimes downright snobbish) about what I am reading. No, I’m particular about where I’m getting my books from, and sometimes, what printing it is. Sometimes, yes, I buy new books. Sometimes when the book is new, there is no other choice. Sometimes, when my friends write books, I want to be supportive and boost their sales (and technically, because I believe in them and their many future printings, I will be able to own a first printing of my friends’ books. Yay friends. Good work.) Sometimes every so often, I see a book I want at a bookstore at a price I am willing to pay. I know, this side of it doesn’t happen often. More frequently it’s that I must read a book right now at this moment for whatever of myriad reasons, can’t find it among the used books I scour, so I must sigh heavily, deal with it, and pay the overpriced mark on the back of the books. (Will I feel this way about my books marked for such a tidy fee?) Still, while I like to look in a bookstore, me buying from a bookstore is not the usual fare.
Yes, I buy used books. I buy used books, like I said, in epic proportions. I order them from the internet and I am a regular sight at library, church, and college discard sales. I put the discard sales into my day planner. I plan whole days around the discard sale. I have reusable bags for just this purpose. I have bored my blog readers (I hope not) with recaps of my odysseys. Oh, sometimes I live for a discard sale. And yes, part of this is eco-friendly.
I am torn about book buying. As someone recently said to me, “I like to actually hold a book, but I like trees too.” Yes, I dig that sentiment. For a book that’s been around since the turn of the last century, I would rather find one already in circulation than have somebody chop down a new tree to make a new book.
Here’s the other thing: it’s not all so high-and-mighty of me to be buying used books. While I am concerned (in varying degrees) about the environment, I am not concerned only with the environment. Frankly, at this juncture of my life, I am ballin’ on a budget. In other words, I need to acquire my reading material cheaply. It’s not that I’m cheap as a matter of habit, exactly, it’s that I read many, many books and am not independently wealthy. (I’m also not dependently wealthy, for that matter.) Buying used books is considerably cheaper. Often, discard sales let you fill up a paper grocery bag for $5. I am OK with that. When you buy online, shipping is often the most expensive part of the procedure (by bundling, you save on shipping, thus defeating the game. Ha!)
And then, besides the finances and the ecology, there’s one more reason.
Here’s something you may not know about me: I like old things. (That last sentence of factoid was sarcasm.) I do. I like old things. I like that holding a book printed 50-odd years before I was born feels like a connection to another time, another place, and another person who wanted to read this book as much as I do. Really, I think I prefer it this way. It speaks to my soul. It matches my wardrobe. It makes me remember there was a time when a novelist actually had a place in this world…oh wait, that’s another column.
Also, as a side note, I do not belong to the public library. They took my card from me. We had a fight. Things got ugly. Something about me not returning a Tennessee Williams anthology and them trying to charge me upward of $60 for it—but, in my defense, I thought that anthology was wonderful, and I certainly would have remembered keeping it and would have just avoided the library, not tried to prove my innocence. Alas, it did not work.
Though, sometimes I think this is just as well. I like to write in books. I like to make notes in the margins; I like to underline. I like to pen inside the front cover each time I read the book. Because I do reread. I think you are a different person all the time, therefore the book is different. So, it’s better to build my own library—and forgive me for being so condescending about it. OK, enough of the detour.
It seems to me, used book buying is becoming a trend. It used to be just me and men who looked vaguely like my college French professor (he was an alum of Exeter, wore patches on the elbows of his tweed jackets, stopped paying attention to societal issues somewhere before Women’s Lib…you know the sort) at the discard sales. Now I’m fighting my way through hipsters and college kids in sweatpants to grab a copy of Plath’s The Colossus printed in the 70s, or a two-volume set discussing the growth of the English novel (don’t worry—I’ve secured them both). Where have these people come from? Where are their e-readers? Do they feel the same pulling and longing from merchandise comprised (probably) mostly of estate sales and underuse? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess I’m just glad they’re reading. And in this time of electronic publication (which I am also very fond of, because I love trees and because it is easily accessible to the masses), I guess I’m glad I’m not the only one who stills wants to pick up the same book that has been haunting various shelves for various decades.
In conclusion, my final question to others at discard sales is this: how do you walk into a whole basement full of books and only leave with ONE? Mind-boggling.