used books in Barcelona

A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Used Books

This is a guest post by Karen Schofield.

In this age of e-readers, smartphones, and tablets, it sometimes seems as if no one reads paper books anymore. People like the convenience of carrying a small device around, on which they can store and read thousands of e-books. Nothing wrong with that, but for me, nothing beats the feel of a real book in my hand. Which is why I still take a paper book with me almost everywhere I go. Sure, I have an e-reader, but I don’t use it much. It just doesn’t give me the same thrill as reading an actual book.

However, it’s not just physical books that I love; I’m an avid fan of used books and the used book sale. I can’t help it. My interest developed over several years, to the point where today it might safely be called an addiction. It began while I was completing my teacher education, in a city with an enormous used book store. You could browse for hours in that store, and never once be disturbed by another person. The store was like a maze, with rooms of various sizes, each crammed full of books of every kind, on countless subjects. By the end of my program, I was obsessed.

After I finished my studies and moved away, my source of used books shifted to the used book sale. Luckily for me, where I live there’s a big one every September, and it’s an event I always look forward to. And the best part is prices at the sale range from .50 to $4, so leaving with a sizeable haul for a reasonable sum is always a possibility.

5 Tips for success at a used book sale

While part of the fun of the used book sale is stumbling upon a great find, I’ve found that there are some tips that can help shoppers maximize their chances of success.

  1. Before you go, compile a list of titles to look for. Having a list in mind will give you a little direction and keep you from getting overwhelmed. Sometimes you can even find very recent bestsellers in almost mint condition.
  2. Come with a list. If you’ve got many books by a particular author or in a particular book genre, jot down the titles before going to the sale. This will help you avoid buying something you in fact already own. I keep a list of all the Stephen King books in my collection for this very reason.
  3. Take a brief stroll through the sale when you arrive. Try to get an overall sense of what kinds of books are available, making note of where each section is located, so you can revisit the ones of greatest interest. For example, I tend to favor biographies and fiction at used book sales, so I pay particular attention to those tables.
  4. Take your time. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, head back to the sections you’re most interested in, and go through each one. Pick up books that look interesting, and read the back cover. Skim first few pages as well, to get a feel for the writing. If you’re hooked or at least intrigued, go for it.
  5. Don’t put books down–at least not until you’re sure you don’t want them. Hesitating can mean missing out. Used book sales tend to attract serious book lovers, so if you don’t grab something when you see it, you won’t get another chance. Of course, risk-taking can be part of the fun. It’s really up to you!

Try these tips on for size the next time you visit a used book sale. Have fun, and while you’re at it, perhaps spend some time contemplating the journey that the books you buy have been on.

How books (used and otherwise) help us relate to the world

After all, books are one of our biggest means of relating to the world, and to each other. They help us to learn about ourselves, and about people whose experiences may be quite different from our own. They allow us to question ideas and to consider new ones.

I think a big part of why I love books, and used books in particular is because they help me feel more connected to others around me. Owning something that has already been appreciated and loved by someone else makes me feel that I am a part of something bigger than myself. And if I can find a bargain while forging a greater connection to others in the world, so much the better.

Used books for the win!

What’s your favorite place to buy used books? Share in the comments below.


About the author: Karen Schofield is an avid reader who lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. She also loves to write, and shares her thoughts on books and reading on her blog, Better with Books.

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