I also have a passion for reading. It astounds me that there are so many bookstores, since I rarely see a) anyone in them buying books and b) anyone out in the world reading books. I know there are readers out there, and perhaps they just do it in the privacy of their own home, but it still strikes me as odd that Barnes & Noble is able to stay in business.
Especially when you look at the cost of a new book! New paperbacks are $7.00! Here's where thrift stores are a godsend. I can't remember the last time I spent more than $3 on a book (and that was for illustrated hard-bound editions of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen's Tales published in 1945). Of course, it's not just about the money. I could easily (and often do) pick up books from the local library. There's more to it than that.
The Thrill of the ChaseThe best places to find cheap books are not necessarily the well-known places like Goodwill or Salvation Army (although they often have good selections). I much prefer the small, local church or community based thrift stores. They usually have many more books coming in, and often price books much less-- paperbacks for fifty cents, hardbacks for a dollar.
And that's where the fun comes in. If I want a particular book, I'll go to the library. But thrift stores are all about serendipity, patience, and the luck of the draw. You never know what you might find. I like to think I read a pretty wide variety of books, so I'm open to just about anything. Kon Tiki for 25 cents? I've heard of that, why not? Just yesterday I picked up The Magic Lantern, Ingmar Bergman's autobiography. Would I ever have thought to look for that in the library? Doubtful. Would I think to ask for it as a gift? Never. But to find it there for a buck was fantastic! I can't wait to read it. With it I also picked up Jude the Obscure, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and some goofy Star Wars book that I never would have paid more than 50 cents for.
The Mystery of MysteriesThe stores with the largest selections are usually very helpful and sort their books by subject: fiction, non-fiction, self-help, romance, and mysteries. Some have more categories, some have less, but all of them contain that last one. Those first few may seem self-explanatory, but let me explain what the thrift stores mean by "Mystery"-- everything else. Does it look serious or have the Oprah sticker on it? Fiction. Was it written by Tolkein or have "Star" in the title? Science Fiction. Other than that, it gets shelved in Mystery. Dan Brown? Mystery. Tom Clancy, Ken Follett? Mystery, mystery. Stephen King? Well, that's a tough one. Usually, it's in the "Stephen King" section, but if there isn't room, put it in Mystery. In order to overcome this Screwy Decimal System, you have to develop additional skills.
Judging a Book by Its CoverAfter a while, you start to recognize patterns in books. I bet I could tell you the type of book, genre, and year of publication (within five years) just by looking at the spine. Big block letters? That's pop fiction, some sort of thriller. Soft cursive against a soothing background? That's "women's fiction." It's easy, really.
There are also books that are staples of every thrift store I've been to. And I'm not talking about the easy ones like some huge mass-market paperback that was printed a billion times. For example, I have yet to visit a book section that didn't have Franzen's The Corrections (a good book, by the way). Nine out of ten of them have Gutterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. What's with that?
On a different note, I have frequently seen book buzzards. I don't know what else to call them. These people must be reselling the books online or something. They come to the book section armed with some sort of hand-held scanning device, then proceed to pull every book off the shelf and scan the barcode. After looking at the results, they either toss it back or into their cart. This bothers me for a number of reasons. Obviously, they're taking advantage of the system and profiting from a charitable organization. Clearly, they aren't really readers. But lastly, it's the thought that my knowledge and skill at finding good or valuable books has been reduced to some piece of electronic equipment.
Take and GiveOne last benefit of buying books at thrift stores is the ease of disposal. My wife liked to check books out at the library. Every time, she racked up a few dollars-worth of late charges because she didn't return them on time. I kept telling her I could have bought it for her for less. She's finally taken me up on that, and is now a convert. She give me a list of authors/titles to look out for, and it usually isn't long before I find it. She almost bought Deep End of the Ocean one day when I was with her, but I told her I saw it all the time. Two days later and one buck lighter, it was hers.
But my point is, with a used book you bought for a buck, you don't worry about things. If you spill beer or coffee on it (one is far more likely for me than the other), who cares? You won't have to pay the library anything. Did you start reading it and decide you hate it? No problem. Donate it back. You're only out a buck, and you gave to charity twice. I love to give books to my friends if I think they'll like them, and this way I never expect them back. Sometimes if I have a big enough stack of better than average books, I'll sell them at the Half-Price Bookstore and feel like I either made back my investment or earned some extra change.
I buy a lot more books than I'll likely have time to read, but that's a good thing as well. I have a strange private library of books that caught my eye. It's nice to know that when I'm in the mood for something different, I have a lot to choose from at the tip of my fingers.