Why I Buy Books Second Hand (#SecondHandSeptember)

buying books second hand post

Hey Pals,

As it is secondhand September, I wanted to use this as a chance to discuss my recent reading TBR piles and book hauls, which mostly (if not entirely) include nothing but white cis straight writers who are relatively mainstream, or at least were when the books were originally published. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve had a slowly growing collection of books that are made up of mainly secondhand books I’ve picked up whilst charity shopping or browsing Amazon with a gift certificate. Shopping in real life, it’s near impossible picking up anything classed as diverse, I think the closest I could have gotten was when Love, Simon came out I started seeing the books in charity shops.

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There can be an issue of consumerism within the book community and I am not the first person to talk about this at all! There are a couple of livestreams I’ve saved that I plan on watching but haven’t had the chance yet. But haul posts on instagram, bookblogs and booktube are pretty popular and bring in an audience, possibly of people who can’t afford to spend this much money on books. I have also seen friends on twitter mention about the price difference between Europe/U.S to places in Asia, where new titles take longer to be delivered but also cost a lot more to buy brand new. I see a lot of books in the UK tend to be anywhere from £7-£20 depending on if it’s hardback, includes images, etc. which is a lot to me, as someone who does not have a regular income, but this is even higher in other locations around the world, which lends to people buying ebook versions instead (but I’ve also seen some new ebooks also cost a lot, like close to the cost of a physical book which I find weird and would like to learn more about…).

The struggle with second hand shopping is that you are limited to what’s currently available either in the store on online. It can be hard to have a list of books you are looking for when second hand shopping, because they aren’t often readily available. I shop for books in a variety of ways, I used to use Amazon but I am trying to venture away from doing this (as you know) besides that, I often browse charity shop bookshelves if I’m out, and have started browsing the possibilities of Facebook marketplace/groups and have grabbed a few cheap or free books that way too. I think it’s probably easier to search for specific books through apps like depop, as a lot of people do sell their old books there and some indie bookshops have set up pages, but other than that, it can be hard to find what you are looking for quickly and easily.

I decided to speak to a few people about their book buying habits and why they mainly buy second hand, curious to see if other people have similar experiences and reasons as myself. I spoke to a few people who all had a range of book buying needs and wants: mystical fiction, thriller/crime, historical fiction, YA fantasy, course textbooks, poetry, essays, LGBT+ writing.

Overall, it was agreed that buying second hand can be difficult when you have specific tastes that maybe don’t fit the donors who give their books away, especially shopping in store. Nicole said, “I do find that a lot of used book stores do have an older selection and not too many new works to choose from. I currently live on Long Island and it’s difficult to get thrifted books in person so I buy online, but I spend a decent amount of time in NYC where access to used books is a little easier.” I definitely found shopping second hand was easier when I lived in Greater London, so I think there’s a correlation between shopping in cities vs. more suburban or rural areas and the kinds of items that are donated. I would assume more diverse books and more textbooks in areas near universities. Many students often have to quickly dispose of large sums of items before moving home or to their next residence, so donating to local charity shops is likely the easiest way to do this. Plus, the richer the area the more likely you’ll find some expensive finds for cheap.

Jae said, “I can usually find a lot of books in [the] genres that I read except for my lesbian fiction, but John Grisham and Michael Crichton are two old man writers so I can easily find them and their books. And sometimes you just have to wait around for the right book to come in.” Obviously you can get lucky by finding rare and diverse books on occasion but it helps if you actually enjoy reading the genres that come in the most. I find nonfiction is pretty common in most charity shops in the UK and nearly all of my nonfiction books were bought second hand.

Sarah said, “I mostly end up buying them online. Trying to buy second-hand in my area is more like occasionally finding a good novel amongst twenty-thousand copies of Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts. They are definitely not diverse in person very often. There’s one booth of a flea market I used to love going to because they had copies of some of my favorite series, but then those sold out and now the booth is the same as the rest. I bought the majority of my books for school second hand. Thrift Books (website) was my savior. I could spend so much less on books each semester because of it. It’s hard to find textbooks on there, but sometimes you can get lucky with them as well. I also would always check Ebay and the used portion of Amazon before buying any of them. I think I only ever bought one book brand new, and it had come out just months prior and was used in all my classes. I still use it in my current classes.” I don’t know if this is a thing in the UK or if I just completely missed it due to not really needing textbooks, but it seems like buying second hand books and textbooks is a lot easier to do in the U.S? I personally don’t know of many places you can shop online for books second hand. Something I’d not really thought about until writing this, and I have realised Oxfam do actually sell books online as well as having dedicated charity shops for books. I used to buy all my books through Amazon’s second hand options when I was in university because it was fast, cheap and convenient. I wish I had thought about it and knew what I know now about the company… but I don’t know of anything quite like Thrift Books. If there’s a UK version, please let me know.

One similarity among everyone I spoke to about enjoying buying second hand was the life in the books. The idea that people had read the book before and sometimes finding handwritten notes. Nicole explained it as “I like the idea of a used book because I like knowing someone had it before me and I envision what that person’s story is. Like a story of a story.” Jae said something similar, “I also really enjoy that a lot of people have put their mark on a book and I like the story that tells too. Why did they dogmark this page? Or look here’s a note in this book. I live for that shit.” Sarah actually said they are someone who makes notes, “I’m someone who writes notes in the margins and dog-ears the pages, and I’m less willing to do those things that are natural for me in new books. Plus, buying them used means I might be buying from another note-taker, and those are always wonderful to get to see where we agree and disagree. I also really love buying books that were once library books. Ones that have received so much love in their lifetimes that they deserve to have a little bit of rest without being loved any less. I will go out of my way and spend a bit more on a copy once used in a library if it’s available.”

It seems like buying books second hand is more than just a budgeting issue and actually involves a lot of emotions to the books and the pasts attached to them. I recently opened a book I’ve had for a while, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, and found a note written in the front that seemed to be from one partner to another and even though I may not enjoy the book (it’s too early to say) I atleast got to see this short sweet message written on the first page. I also enjoy passing on a book to someone I know as a gift and think they might enjoy or learn something from. Like my travelling book by James Baldwin, or From Baghdad With Love. The idea that the book will continue to be read even after I’m done with it is why I enjoy physical books, but I’m more likely to do this with second hand books than brand new.

Being able to buy new and diverse books is a privilege not everyone can afford. It can be hard to strike a balance between indulging in your hobby of reading in a sustainable and affordable way vs. a more diverse way that supports under-represented writers and their stories. Neither is better or worse for any reason, it’s not all black or white, good or bad. It just sucks we can’t have it all really, but a mix is healthy! Check out my birthday book haul for 80% second hand books.

In our world, consumerism is a huge problem generally, not just within the book community. I’ve been trying to really narrow down the items I own, especially books, which is why my reading has been less diverse than I want. I have so many books sitting and collecting dust, I want to at least try reading them and if they aren’t for me, then pass them on to someone else in some way. I see people feel a pressure to be up to date with the newest releases and always being ahead of the industry with reviews, but when books come out, they’re out forever. Are we never going to read an old book again, unless they are classics? Of course we are, and we should! So if you are someone who feels a pressure to buy new books all the time, try reading the books you already have first… I know many of us are guilty of this.

Thank you to the people who chatted with me! Check them out in their socials.

Jae (she/they), Sarah (they/them), and Nicole (she/her)

Read your books, kids!

~ Artie

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5 thoughts on “Why I Buy Books Second Hand (#SecondHandSeptember)

  1. Oh we love diving into second hand bookshops and charity shops and car boot sales. I don’t know how we would keep large boy in books otherwise, combined with the library of course. There’s no good looking for something specific (large boy wants Delia Smith’s Cakes book) but sometimes we stumble on new discoveries that are just wonderful.

  2. Sometimes you just have to buy a book new to access it and there’s nothing wrong with that 🤷🏻 but always like having a look around which is why I’ve collected so many over time hahah

  3. Oh yeah we wouldn’t have got thru lockdown with a sane 8yr old without kindle unlimited! He gets quite upset if he finishes a book and doesn’t know that he’s got something new to start. He doesn’t know that the new, signed Cressida Cowell is arriving for him in the next couple of days.

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