Book Lover Debate: Secondhand Books

Posted by Lydia Eagle on

Hey friends - it's me again! Back with a conversation that was inspired by today's obscure holiday: National Secondhand Wardrobe Day. It's a day to celebrate the benefits of buying clothing secondhand. I can testify to it being an amazing way to find your next favorite thing to wear. There's something incredibly satisfying about finding something unique and giving it new life. Plus, you get it for a tiny fraction of the price of buying something new. If you're not convinced, let me tell you: the little white sundress I wore for my wedding rehearsal was bought at Goodwill. And. it. was. cute. But for those of us who own more books than clothes, it got me wondering about the habits of some of the hardcore readers I work with. So I decided to open the debate. I asked some of the most enthusiastic readers in the office about their book buying and retention habits. How do you acquire books? Do you keep all the print books you acquire? How do you feel about secondhand books?

Here's what I discovered - follow along and join the debate over secondhand books in the comments!

Eric: The Dream Home Library

I normally buy books. Secondhand paperbacks from secondhand stores or on online. But If I have read it before and loved it then I will get a hardback and display it proudly. I often center entire rooms around my collection. I typically only buy new if it is a new book and I do not read too many of those. Okay, I lied about not buying new books. I can’t not spend $100 dollars if I go to a bookstore and if I see one I go in, especially while traveling. But new books aren't my go-to. I read physical, e-book and audiobooks, I often have the same book in all three formats especially if they are longer (see 14 book fantasy series that has taken over my life since February). I still must have a physical copy, the smell, the feel, books line my walls. After I read a book it gets organized into my “read” bookcase which if it is a paperback (without sentimental value) I have a little sign for friends that says “take what you want”, friends are always asking me for recs. Otherwise I keep it indefinitely. I do keep books I will probably never read, as I sad reminder that this life (as far as modern science allows) is not long enough for my ever-growing list.
secondhand books book lover debate I recently moved and haven't finished unpacking, but here's one section of my library!

Savannah: The Sensible Shopper

I rarely buy books myself unless I already know and love them, so you can find me taking advantage of all three of my library cards. I especially love the Nashville library system because if I want a book at another branch, they’ll send it right over to whichever location is nearest to me! When I do decide to buy, it depends on how new it is. I bought City of Girls at Parnassus because I like to #shoplocal, but if the book has been out a while I’ll usually try McKay’s secondhand bookstore or (gasp) Amazon. I read physical books at least 90% of the time. I don’t care for reading on my little phone screen and I have to love the narrator to read audio. Holding a book and cozying up with a blanket is the best! After I read a book that I’ve purchased, I will keep it if I love it. I enjoy a good reread now and then, and some things with sentimental value (like my 75-year-old copy of Little Women that I read every December) are definitely worth keeping. Because I don’t purchase books very often, typically what I keep is what I like. I don’t mind lending if I know I’ll get it back eventually! If it’s not a winner, I’ll donate it to the free shelves at work or to a Goodwill. I know I have a few things laying around that I’ve never gotten to, but most of what I keep are stories that have really moved me or made me think (whether that be Educated or Gone Girl).

Taylor: The Competitive Collector

I primarily read physical books (always the hardcover if I can help it) and listen to audio (both bought and library loans). I’ll also sometimes buy an audiobook I originally got from the library if I absolutely loved the narration and think I’ll listen to it again (see my raving about the Lady Sherlock). Clearly, I am 100% a book buyer. I know a lot of people only buy a book after they’ve read and liked it, but that just doesn’t work for me (aside from audio). Once I’ve read a book, that particular book is mine. A new copy feels too inanimate. My read book is connected to that experience. Obviously, I don’t generally borrow books from friends. Not just because I’m a literary Gollum, but we get so invested in books we love, and to me borrowing feels like a lot more pressure to like a book than just taking a rec. I have one friend who is willing to lend and from whom I’m willing to accept books, and that’s solely because our reading tastes are basically identical. I also keep all my books. And I mean all. I don’t know the last time I got rid of a book. I have 722 books in my apartment (yes, I counted specifically for this post), all organized by genre, and probably at least half a dozen boxes in storage. Marie Kondo would be horrified, but hey! My excess of literature brings me joy!

My collection:

secondhand books book lover debate I’m not very picky about where I buy my books, but I am picky about their condition. I can spend hours in our local secondhand bookstore just finding the copies of books I want in the best condition. I never buy anything less than “used – very good” on Amazon. Writing and highlighting are a nonstarter. I request replacements regularly when my new books arrive with damage. It can be a headache for me and for customer service at times, but the books in my life have value as knowledge and as objects. I’m also a strong proponent of the value of having an abundance of unread books. I’m guessing at least 60% of the books on my shelf are unread. And I’m in no danger of that changing, because I can and will always buy books faster than I can read them. Unread books are a representation of potential. They’re knowledge yet to be learned and stories yet to be experienced. They’re where you go next.secondhand books book lover debate

Sydney: The Indie Enthusiast

I normally buy books, typically new, because I’m a crazy person that spends way too much on books. I pick up a few secondhand books at McKay’s, but generally I stick to new books at indie bookstores. Plus, I listen to a ton of audiobooks, which helps me maintain my shelf space. I am physical books and audiobooks all the way. It’s been 5+ years since I’ve read an ebook. I have definitely leaned into the audiobook format. This year it’s been a 1:10 ratio print to audio, so I’ve been collecting fewer print books (sort of, because I am a hopeless book buyer and have definitely added to my print TBR pile). I do pretty much keep every book indefinitely - unless it's a textbook or something I just really didn't like, they all live indefinitely in my shelves. My apartment is full of books, and I love it. I enjoy looking at the spines and remembering where I read it and what I was thinking and what phase of my life I was in, even if the odds that I’ll read it again are low. Generally I’m not a big lender, though my mom sometimes comes in and lifts a book or two! I actually used to donate to the library a lot in middle school/high school to free up shelf space, but now I just buy new shelves! Do I keep books I intended to read ages ago but may never get to? Oh most certainly! I’ve been on the losing end of a TBR pile since middle school. I doubt that will ever change since every time I go to an indie bookstore I typically buy at least one book even if I’m reading 3 different books at the time. I’m all about that beautifully curated local bookstore, and I love to go to different indies around the country and buy their recommendations.

Kayleigh: The No-Nonsense Aficionado

I almost always get books the first time from library books. Then I buy books after I’ve read them and know I would want to reread them unless it’s an author that I love enough that they are now on my instant-buy list. I read print, ebooks, and listen to audiobooks. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction books but I listen to them more than I’ve ever read them. But I also listen to a variety of fiction as well. Ebooks are usually limited to lighter content reads like romance or fantasy. I’ll read anything and everything in print form. Using the other 2 formats doesn’t effect the amount of print books I own.
secondhand books A small corner of my home library
If I cared enough to buy a book (unless I didn’t like the book), I will keep it. I keep 5 books to loan out to friends and family that are my top favorites, which are:
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
  • The Kiss Quotient
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • A Discovery of Witches
Typically I’ll try to take them to a secondhand book store (like McKay’s) for store credit to get more books (hehehe) and if McKay’s doesn’t want them, I’ll donate them. As far as knowing when to keep books... Did I read it and enjoy it? Would I want to read it again? If I didn’t like it, I won’t keep it. And even if I mildly enjoyed it but wouldn’t want to read it again, I usually have an easier time letting go of a book. I’ve gotten better about getting rid of books that I have had for a long time that I know I won’t ever get around to reading simply because I don’t care enough to ever get around to it. However, I do own entire series-worth of books that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet but am so convinced that I’ll love it that I own all of or most of the series before I’ve even read any of it.

Lydia: The It's Complicated

My approach to book acquisition has changed over the years. It's gone from only-buy-new-books-always from a physical bookstore to a combination. Now I buy new online, buy secondhand books in stores, and (shockingly) get ebooks from the library. In general though, I do prefer print books. If I'm waiting for a book in a series to come out, I'll usually splurge on a new copy. As I discover how many other ways to get books there are out there for low or no cost, it's easier to save those purchases for books I know I'll want to own indefinitely. I only just discovered McKay's secondhand book warehouse myself, and I was instantly awe-struck by the new possibilities. Seriously, it impressed me. I walked out with 6 secondhand books (Water for Elephants for 75 cents!!) and suddenly I think there might be hope for building up my bookshelf. Plus, you can't beat the feeling of giving something a new life again. I read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up a few years ago. While I scoffed at some of her principles (emptying your purse every night and finding everything again in the morning to put back in it is a recipe for disaster), I took her "if it doesn't spark joy, get rid of it" talk to heart. Therefore, when I finished it, I donated it to Goodwill. And I donated a few other books I either didn't like or had no intention of ever reading. Generally, if I really like the book, I will keep it indefinitely for re-reading. I also like to have some to loan out to friends and family (only those I can trust to actually read it and return it). If I didn't like the book, or it was really trendy and is now outdated, I typically donate it with my next Goodwill run. It's usually clear to me when I want to keep a book, so I don't feel conflicted about giving secondhand books away. It just frees up space on my shelf for more books I love. I keep a couple of books that I've had for years and never read. These are ones that I really have confidence that I will tackle. You know, when I get in the right mood. So, maybe one of these days I'll feel that way about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that I bought many years ago and never even cracked the cover....or did I donate that book too? BRB while I go check my bookshelf.

Goldie: The Shameless Hoarder

I am a shameless book hoarder. It’s true. I buy them in hardcover, paperback, and audio – at Indies, yard sales, B&N, secondhand book stores (I ❤ McKay’s), and airport stalls. I borrow from friends and always have at least 4 or 5 from the library in my possession. Last week I drove 6 hours round trip to an IKEA just to buy another Billy bookcase. And by Monday it was already full. It’s a problem.
secondhand books book lover debate Shelf #1...
I mainly read print books because there’s some inexplicable joy from holding, dog-earing, and smelling those magic pages. But, I do adore the convenience and variety of being able to read and travel with several e-books or digital audiobooks. Gone are the days where packing for family vacations meant my Beauty & the Beast carry-on was 90% heavy books (sorry Dad!). A gal needs choices, you know? Plus, digital reading means if I’m stuck in the checkout line at Target or waiting for a takeout order after work, I always have a story within reach.
secondhand books book lover debate Shelf #2...
After I finish reading a book I own, I absolutely keep it. No question. Joey doesn’t share food! And Goldie doesn’t share books! I cherish the books I really loved so I can re-read them again and again (I re-read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus every November and The Great Gatsby at least once a year). If I own a book that I didn’t so much love, someone I know someday might, and I keep it for that opportunity. It’s fun to wait for the moment to present itself when I can give a "just because" gift. That prevents feeling even the slightest pang of regret for the departed book.
secondhand books book lover debate Shelf #3...
Full disclosure, I also have stacks and stacks of books I’d categorize as ‘someday’ reads. These are the books I KNOW I'll love because the genre is my sweet spot and the description is enticing. Or, the cover is gorgeous but keep downgrading in my ever-changing queue of ‘Want to Reads’. Whoever said “I was born with a reading list I will never finish” couldn’t have been more accurate. Sometimes that fact is daunting, tbh. But, there’s delight in knowing I can “shop” my own burgeoning shelves to find something new. Yet there's still the surprise of discovering a gem nestled in the stalls of a bookshop. I think that’s part of the fun of being a book nerd (OK, hoarder). No matter how many books you know, love, own, and read…there’s always room for one more. Am I right?
secondhand books book lover debate ...and Shelf #4
So there you have it! We have lots of opinions - but we want to know yours!

Do you embrace secondhand books? Comment below and tell us about your book collections!

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