In Praise of the Secondhand Book

I love secondhand books.   Well I’ve been selling them for over 25 years and I’ve been reading and collecting them for even longer, Stack of booksso I would say that.

There’s just something about used books that appeals to me. They have a certain smell that is different from a new book. And they sometimes have blemishes that show that they’ve lived.  There’s a crease where someone has turned a corner down. There might be a note in the margin. I know some people hate that but I think it’s lovely. I especially love all the bits and pieces people leave in books – bus & cinema tickets, old bookmarks, postcards, pressed flowers, letters, recipes…I’ve found them all. I love these hints at the people who read the book before me.

I once bought a box of books at an auction and in it I found a little leather-bound set of four  Victor Hugo books.  I opened one and there was writing all over the endpapers and the title page and in the margins of other pages. Initially I was horrified. But then I started to read what was written. It was a diary written by a soldier in WW2. He described his life in training, spoke of his girlfriend at home, described all the places he went to and what happened to him. It was fascinating.

Those books, far from being ruined by the annotations and marginalia (I love that word!) were enhanced. The books told a story apart from the one the author intended.  As I recall they sold to a collector in the US for far more than their usual value.

Now, not every secondhand book has such a tale to tell, and of course the books in our boxes don’t have annotations as I select the best quality used books for our boxes. Mostly the ones that you get in our standard boxes are going to look pretty much like new.  But we also have a range of vintage boxes and these books will generally have lived a bit more than our contemporary books.  Many of them will go back to the 1950s or 1960s and they may have been well-read and what we in the trade call well-loved.  They may have some creasing, and the pages might be a little tanned.  But they will all be complete and in at the very least VG condition.  Imagine the tales those books could tell if they could talk.

Of course the other thing about used books is that they are a very sustainable way to buy books. Every secondhand book you buy rather than a new one reduces your impact on the planet and that has to be a good thing.  Plus all our packaging is recyclable so you don’t have to worry about that. You can pop the whole box in your recycle bin.

Now, the one thing about secondhand books is that of course the author is not getting a cut of the sale price.  And we need to be supporting authors or there won’t be any books to read at all.  But I like to think that we’re introducing you to authors you may not have read before. And if you find an author you love you may well buy more of their books. I know I have favourite authors who’s books I buy new as soon as they are published – even if I know a secondhand copy will eventually pass into my hands.

And of course these days it’s not always convenient to get to a local bookshop. As I type this, bookshops are still closed. And many towns no longer even have a bookshop.  The problem for me, with our current high street bookshops, is the lack of choice.  Go into almost any branch of Waterstones and you will see the same books.  Where are the backlist titles?  Where are the hidden gems? You’re unlikely to find them there. The pressures of keeping a chain of bookshops viable push out the lower selling authors so you never get to know them.  The same applies to Amazon. You can’t really browse for books on Amazon. And there’s no handy bookseller to recommend a book for you.

The experience in a secondhand bookshop is very different. There is always the possibility.  The chance of finding a book you’ve been trying to find for ages. Or stumbling across a book you didn’t even know you wanted until you picked it up.  These are the things that I love.

We don’t have a bookshop that you can browse in, but we do have many years of experience in choosing books for people, and a wide ranging and ever-changing stock of books to choose from.  Tell us what you like to read and we’ll endeavour to find you new authors, new books and even new genres – what type of books you select and how many is up to you. The rest is down to us.


photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash
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