Recently I was given a thank-you note for a service I’d performed for my choir, and inside that note was a gift card for Chapters of some certain value. When I thanked T, the purchaser, she said this:
Now you don’t have to go to the used bookstores. You can buy new books, that look nice on the shelf.
And I didn’t say anything to her then, but I was a little bit flabbergasted by this statement. Sure, new books are okay, I guess — but I love second-hand books. I don’t shop for used books because they’re all I can afford (well… sometimes they are, but it’s still not the primary reason). I shop for used books because I genuinely prefer them.
Why do I like you better, second-hand books? Let’s count:
1) You are cheap, cheap as all get-out. I love that I can go to a used bookstore and get my school reading for $20 instead of $100. I love being able to buy ten books at a time … at a buck apiece. And being able to get a book for a small cash outlay means that I’m more likely to try out new authors, whose books I may afterwards buy at full price — if they’re good enough!
2) You are used. It might seem strange, but I don’t like reading new books. I don’t like new books as objects: too shiny, too crinkly, too bright. I like my books to have some character: some dents, maybe some tears, yellowed pages. It’s a character thing, and also a mark that a book has been well-read, if not necessarily well-loved. I feel more connected to other readers, somehow, when I know I’m reading something that’s been in other hands before.
3) You are found in charming places. I’ll go to the big shiny bookstores when I have a gift card or something, but mostly I like the shopping experience at used/discount stores better. One of my favourites has tiny aisles and giant piles everywhere and styles itself the “world’s messiest bookstore,” an epithet which is probably deserved. Finding a book there is like treasure-hunting.
4) I can treat you badly and not worry about it. I bend corners and use things like mugs and table edges instead of bookmarks, and I throw my books around a lot when they’re being moved between my bag and the shelves, or rather from my bag to the floor and eventually possibly onto a bookshelf. Used books are already a little dingy, so hey, what does it matter if I accidentally break the spine?
5) Marginalia, mementos, and other things are enclosed. Sometimes used books come with surprises inside. Old receipts. Photographs. Cartoons. Grocery lists. I found a copy of Alias Grace with a very sweet dedication in it. And my $2 copy of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India has this to say on the inside back cover:
I don’t understand — I still don’t really understand why he wants to see other people. Why does he need to kiss them? Yuk. it must be that he needs to put himself in a situation where something could happen and see if he could allow it to. almost as thought he’s testing his feelings/love for me. Perhaps he wants to see if he could kiss someone else too. if he feels something when he kisses them then… to me this seems a bit naive. i’m sure if i put myself in a situation where i was with someone i’d always found attractive i’d be able to kiss them. if I put myself in that situation with brooke actually i don’t know. has about danielle? I have this feeling if i did it would be disappointing. I’m not sure — the thought of him kissing someone else makes me want to throw up. I can talk about this forever with everyone and still I feel nauseous when I think about it.
Gee, I’m sorry to hear that! Maybe he wants to kiss other people because he’s a big jerk. You know, just my two cents.
6) Did I mention the “cheap” thing?