You should only ever buy second hand paperbooks.
Actually, that’s not true. There are two very specific occasions when I buy brand new paperbooks.
The first is, quite obviously, when I buy orange Penguin classics. Buy them brand new every time. I mean, c’mon, they cost the same as a second hand book anyway, and they’re so gosh darn cute. Don’t believe me? Check this out.
The only other time I buy brand new books is at airport book stores. I can hear you thinking, are you mad? Books are twice as expensive at airports. It’s the law of supply and rip-off. But for me, there is something so exciting about buying books in airports. Generally, you’re killing time in an adrenaline fuelled haze, your mind locked onto your impending trip. And let’s be honest, the trip is always way more exciting when you’re waiting for it than when it’s actually occurring, right?
So, despite the fact that I always have at least two books on me when I travel, I revel in the luxury of airport-book-shopping. It’s a holiday expenditure that I always allow myself, and hang the cost.
But other than this, I always buy second hand. Why? Let me tell you.
1. They already exist.
I love that whole e-reader/paperbook debate. I particularly love it when e-reader fanatics delve into the whole ‘environmentally friendly’ argument. You know the one: It’s waaaaaaay more environmentally friendly to use an e-reader!! Think of all the trees we’re saving by not reading paperbooks!!
Yes, because e-readers are made out of 100% pure-organic-bio-degradable-recycled-reusable-cost-effective-guaranteed-never-to-break-parts. I mean, once you buy an e-reader you have it for life, right? It never breaks down, you never have to upgrade it, there is never a newer model. And if, god forbid, it did break and you had to throw it away, those bits of metal and plastic are going to decompose safely and organically aren’t they. As opposed to the paper which books are made of, which is going to hang around for the next few millennia.
It’s a great argument, isn’t it.
But on the off chance that you get a real fanatic who will continue to argue against the printing of books as an environmental hazard, it’s always nice to throw the second hand argument in their faces. These books ALREADY EXIST. They aren’t being chain sawed down and mulched up and squeezed out and printed each time we buy one. They are already here, as opposed to the latest e-readers which people are buying before they even come into existence. They are as environmentally friendly as it is possible to be. And when they sadly reach the end of their long and industrious life, they can be recycled as wrapping paper, lampshades, art projects, whatever. Try turning your Kindle into wrapping paper. I dare you.
2. They have history.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of avid readers have read these self-same pages before you. How awesome is that. The second hand book you hold has potentially made its way around the world, stuffed into backpacks or loaded into crates. It has probably been bought and sold more times than it cares to remember. It might have been given as a gift or bought for a school project, left behind in a café or swapped at a book exchange. And each time it moves on, it gathers into itself a little more history.
Some of my favourite books are ones that have inscriptions written in them, little memories that you will never find in a brand new book or an e-reader. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are nothing more than a name claiming ownership over something that they no longer own.
Here are my absolute favourites:
Seriously. How adorable is that. I have never before heard of someone giving another person a book as a gift for a third date, but I think it should happen more often. He was obviously over the moon about it, judging from those exclamation points, but the fact that I own this book now, not Anna, probably doesn’t bode well for their fourth or fifth dates. Nevertheless, each time I open Ian McEwan’s Atonement I am reminded of the exciting possibilities of young love. Thanks Tony.
This one is even more beautiful, if that’s possible.
Happy birthday – 1993
Just a little something to make you smile when I’m not around to do it myself.
So lovely, so personal and so poetic. Was she his friend, his sister, his girlfriend, his lover? I’ll never know, but she obviously cared enough for him to buy him an awesome book, and inscribe it. I can’t even remember where I picked up this copy of Ben Elton’s Stark, but I’m sure glad I did.
Anna, Tony, Adam, Nicki: I have no idea who you are or where you are, but I own a little piece of your history. I’ll take good care of it for you.
3. They are bloody cheap.
If there is one thing that I am always more than happy to spend money on, it’s books. They’re durable, they’re entertaining, they’re beautiful. Still, I’d rather own more than less, so buying second hand is definitely the most cost effective way to go. Let’s face it, books are getting crazy expensive. I was browsing in a Collins book store the other day, and checked out a lovely edition of Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. In paperback. For $45. No thank you. I would rather hold onto my second hand copy which is battered and worn, but which I picked up from a second hand book store a few years back for $13.
Later that same day I popped into our local Book Exchange, a second hand book store on the main street of town. I’m thankful that I did, because as it happens it is closing down. Whether this is because of rising rent prices or decreasing book readers I am not sure, but it made me sad. Until I saw the sign in the window: ALL BOOKS MUST GO! MAKE AN OFFER!
I was off like a shot. And here is what I picked up.
And yes. That is a hardback copy of Bryce Courtenay’s Four Fires, currently retailing on Amazon for around $40. I calculated the (second hand) marked prices for this bad-ass bundle of books. It came to just under $70. I asked if I could make an offer, and when I was given the go-ahead, I plucked a solitary $20 note from my purse. I was prepared to go into a bartering battle, my training in Asia giving me confidence, but before I could speak the lady nodded her head, grabbed my $20 note from my hand, and thrust my books into my arms. I walked down the street practically singing.
The last time I was this happy was when I picked up a hard back copy of Bryce Courtenay’s The Persimmon Tree for $5 from The Salvation Army. You just can’t get better value than that.
This is a mere shadow of why I love second hand books, but you get the idea. They are wonderful little snippets of literature that are far more worthy and majestic than their newer counterparts. And don’t even get me started on their technological new cousins. When e-readers are beeping ‘low-battery’ around me I will smugly pluck my trusty second hand book from my bag, settle back and crack open those delicious smelling pages. I’ll pause for a moment to ponder the path that this little collection of papers has taken to end up in my lap. I’ll read the inscription and wonder where those people are now. And I’ll use all my leftover money to buy myself a gin and tonic or two.
Because nothing goes together better than a gin and a second hand book.
Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes…lack.
– Virginia Woolf