What I Look For at Used Bookstores: A Category Analysis

(Via Washington Square Review)

We have a rule in my house that whenever we want new books we have to take back the same number of old ones to the used bookstore. This is hard. Because some books we want to keep–to read again, for some sort of perceived prestige (I guess), to read for the first time (hey D.H. Lawrence), and because we…like books? But it creates a stasis somewhat equivalent to the amount of bookshelf space we have, but I’m able to sneak a few in on my desk.

Here’s what I look for at a used bookstore, selecting a few examples from recent trips:

True Crime [Example: Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger]
Price: $3.00

I usually only read true crime about every 3 years. In fact, I can’t immediately remember the last one I read all the way through. But this premise is kind of interesting me: Junger remembers the Boston Strangler because he was a carpenter at his house. A few years ago when the book came out, I read an interview with Junger and it stuck with me. This would seem like a good candidate for a library acquisition, but with the library, I have a certain time period that I must complete the task. After getting this one, it can just sit for awhile.

Modern Classics: [Examples: Rabbit Run by John Updike; Libra by Don Delillo]
$1.00; $3.00

I totally vanquished the Rabbit series a few years ago when I  discovered the series. None of my professors or friends had ever suggested the book to me (my classes always seem to skip from the 1920s to the 1970s), but I love some classic American Studies. I’ve already read this, but it was $1. Hardcover. Score. And I feel better about my bookshelf to impress only me, really.

On Delillo:

Wife: Do we have every Don Delillo?

Me: I’m sending one back, I promise…

Home Improvement: [Example: The Home Depot Home-Fix-It Book]
Price: $3

I curse you leaky faucet. I curse you flowers that won’t grow. I curse you doorknob. Give me the answers, early 90s Home Depot cartoon guy.

Business [Example: A college textbook with a title like “Contemporary Advertising”]
Price: $5

I’m a secret business book reader. I never took any type of business class in college (okay, there was that weird Statistics class that I scored a C in) and this whole “business” thing has flummoxed me ever since. Problem is, I need to earn money. And a business pays me. My local mega used bookstore has mostly 5 year old textbooks in marketing that I devour. They’re easy to read. They have clear language with a glossary in the back. And they’re cheap, unlike in college. A surprising bestseller in this category is Seth Godin. All his stuff is still expensive.

Religion [Example: Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo]
Price: $.75

I’m interested in religion and theology, but I have a hard time paying full price for these titles. A lot of them seem to say the same things but in different ways. Sure, that’s every story, but a lot of these title seems egregious. And the writing is often not as good.

American Studies [Example: Working by Studs Terkel and Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese]
Price: $.75

Studs and Gay slay my eyes every time. I always want to know about the WAY IT USED TO BE. Luckily, these guys tell me.

Honorable Mention Categories: TV & Film, Graphic Novels, Sports, Sociology.

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