Secondhand Books

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Wednesday 20th November 2019

As someone who loves to read, I own surprisingly few books. Part of this is practical. I love physical paper books but they take up space and when you live in an apartment space is at a premium. Another part of it is financial; new books are expensive (I don’t see Amazon as an option). The third reason though is the most important reason for me, and that is that I find by ‘owning’ a book I have paid full price for, I feel compelled to complete it cover to cover and then hang on to it even if I don’t like it. I have wasted months of good reading time trying to force myself through books I don’t enjoy, half a page at a time. The reason I have read fifty books and counting this year is because I have almost exclusively been reading library books. They’re ‘mine’ for four weeks at a time, and if I don’t like something, I simply return it unread. It’s been liberating.

That said, the library doesn’t always have the books I want to read. I like to read a lot of fiction in translation, and my library tends to favour popular fiction by English language writers. I have a list of books I want to read, and make a note of which titles are available at my library when I add them to my list so that I know at a glance what I can borrow and what I’ll have to find elsewhere. Elsewhere involves two options; buy full price brand new from a bricks and mortar bookshop and take a risk on something, or buy it secondhand.

I do buy some books from bookshops at full price, but I reserve that luxury for work by authors I know and love. For example I recently bought a copy of Philip Pullman’s ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ because I loved the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy and ‘La Belle Sauvage’ and know that in a few years time I will re-read them. It’s worth having physical copies. I have also bought copies of books I’ve first borrowed from the library and fallen in love with, for example Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’. I am considering putting aside my TBR pile for a week over the winter holidays to re-read The Goldfinch as it’s one of my favourite books of all time.

Beautiful end papers in The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann

I have also come to love buying books secondhand. Secondhand books are cheaper and can be sourced from charity shops as well as online via companies like World of Books (who themselves buy from charities; I am not affiliated with them). As the overheads of buying a secondhand book are reduced and the books are pre-loved and a little worn around the edges, I don’t form the same emotional attachment to a secondhand book as I do a new one. I know that if I don’t like a book I’m more likely to re-home it if I have bought it secondhand. Buying secondhand is also good for the environment as it is less energy intensive to use something that already exists than it is to feed the supply and demand cycle of creating something new. I buy clothes and electronics secondhand too for the same reasons.


I recently bought a few books secondhand from World of Books. They’re titles I couldn’t find at the library but really wanted to read, and so I’m glad I managed to find secondhand copies of them. Some of the corners are a little battered, a few pages have marks on them, and the dust jacket of one of them is missing, but they’ve still got a lot of life left in them. As with library books, one of the joys of secondhand books is finding little reminders of the previous lives they have lived. In one of my new-to-me books I found a bookmark for an independent bookshop in London. In the past I have found train tickets, shopping lists, a leaflet about a museum in Prague, and borrowers’ receipts including lists of books other library users have taken out on loan. I love the little stories that come with secondhand and library books and for me it’s one of the joys of forgoing ‘brand new’ for something a little more lived in.

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