Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Used Book Dilemma

Every year, my local AAUW chapter has a used book sale for its fundraiser. The sale brings in over $100,000 a year, most of which goes back into our community to support things like the local women's shelter, libraries, and daycare for children of low-income families. The books are donated by community members; this year we had over 250,000 books for sale. I'm a volunteer with the book sale, but I've also spent thousands of dollars over the past 20 years buying books.

For the first 10-12 years, the bulk of the books I bought were to build the library of my dreams: literary classics, my president and first lady collection, old school books, and otherwise impossible to find books from my childhood. I'm missing one book from the Five Little Peppers books to make a complete set, and this year, I landed 3 first edition, original Bobbsey Twins that I didn't already have.

But once those goals were fulfilled, I began to think about more contemporary books. And this is where my used book dilemma kicks in.

I used to live in libraries. For a kid like me, who loved to read but owning books was a luxury my family couldn't really afford -- at least not enough to satisfy my tastes -- the library was my lifeline. The first thing I did when moving into a new town was get a library card. I got books out every week.

But as parenthood and a job took over my life, reading time was cut down considerably and I struggled to finish a book during the time I was allowed to have the book checked out (2 weeks back in those days). I was now building up this great library of books I loved reading, but truth be told, I needed more variety than literary classics, president biographies, and Bobbsey Twins. So at book sale, I began to look more at the general fiction table and I began to experiment with authors I'd never heard of. And so my attachment to the fiction table began.

As did my guilt about buying used copies of books that are still on store shelves and still can generate royalties for authors. I bought 3 copies of a book, all in beautiful condition, for less than it would cost to buy that same book at B&N. They are for my book discussion group -- people who would either borrow my copy of the book or they'd borrow it from the library.

Most of the books I get at used book sale are impulse buys and still let me experiment with authors I am unfamiliar with or find books that are out of print or hard to find by authors I've come to love. I tell myself that someone did buy those books and chances are I wouldn't have read it without book sale to encourage me.

Yes, I really do feel guilty about this.

The funny thing is, I buy more new books than anyone I know among my local friends. I buy hardcover by first choice; softcover trade paperbacks by second choice. I try never to buy regular paperbacks because I don't like the feel of them when reading. Like I said, I almost never go to the library these days because I prefer to own books. I borrow books infrequently. And I can tell you that many of the authors I've discovered and liked at used book sale -- Anne Tyler and Maeve Binchey for instance -- have led me to rush to the store to purchase every new release.

I wonder if I'm weird about this used book guilt. Is buying a used book -- one that someone actually bought and dropped off for resale as opposed to some of the scams on where reader copies given for free are being sold used for a profit going only to the seller -- any different than going to the library to borrow a book?

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