Sunday, September 19, 2010

How I Buy Books

First, an experiment:

Does a picture of my kitten, Stringer Bell appear there? If so, I'll post more pictures in the future.

Now, on to books. I buy them a lot. I got this from my father, who always talked about collecting beautiful and rare books, and having a supply of unread ones against a rainy day. Or a sunny day, both are good for reading. In the days before my budget, it was not at all unusual for me to buy 2-3 books a week, every week. Even since the budget, I still buy 3 or 4 a month. Some months more, like last April when I bought over 30.

Obviously used books make up the bulk of these purchases. Unlike my father I like paperbacks and am less concerned with the look of a book. Although I certainly do appreciate beautiful hardcovers, I don't generally buy them because he has so many and is generous about lending them to me, as long as I am very, very careful with them. I buy books to carry in my purse and read in the lunch room or on the bus.

Used bookstores are where I stock up on writers like Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Robertson Davies, Graham Greene and other old reliables. Writers that I know I'll enjoy whatever they have to have to offer me. I don't need to read the back cover or check out a review. I'll get something out of it, anyway.

My number one favourite books to read can now only be found in used book stores. These are the Penguin paperbacks that were published in the 1970s. This has less to do with the content and more to do with the construction, although there are so many authors published this way. Lots of Hemmingways, Waughs, Conrads and others, as well as shorter classics. By shorter I here mean less than four hundred pages. Unlike modern paperback binders, the Penguins of this era were not so foolish as to try to construct a 1000 page novel that will not fall apart upon second reading. These paperbacks have the most wonderful paper. It's not stark white, but a very light cream and the feel of the paper is incredibly soft and just a bit thick, the print leaving a visible indent. I believe it is impossible to get a papercut from one of these. These may be a result of aging, but the effects remain the same. They have a simple illustration on the front cover, a blurb and a couple of reviews on the back (both covers are cream-coloured as well). The spine is orange with white type, not unlike the blogger template, now that I think about it. These become illegible after multiple readings, but the binding always holds together. Probably why there are so many of them still around after 40 years.

For larger classics I look for hardcovers from the 40s, 50s and 60s. These are often very small, just about 4 or 5 inches tall, so they fit perfectly in my hand. They usually have tiny print, which is a downside but a reasonable compromise to have a book of reasonable size. More than once I've had to limit my reading of a book that was too heavy to hold in one hand. My hands are small and peculiarly weak. This is something I'm working on. These are especially good for writers like George Elliot and Charles Dickens, and other behemoths of their type.

As for new books, there are no shortage of these either. Boyfriend and I usually go to Chapters at least a couple of times a month just for something to do. We get fancy coffees and wander the stacks, making mental lists. It's hard to resist the bargain section, which has been a good source for reference books like "Grandma's Household hints" and an illustrated book of Saints. You can sometimes find leftover hardcovers of books that have just come out as paperbacks. I got Lisa Moore's "Alligator" for $5 this way.

Which reminds me of a rant I'd like to have. This concerns paperbacks priced $17-$25. This is unreasonable. I understand that they generally higher quality, but the purpose of a paperback is to provide a cheaper option for a book. Hardcovers coming in at $40 in unreasonable too, but that's a bit less crazy. I will not pay that much.

So for recent books I look to other sources. Primarily and, to a lesser extent, Costco. Yes, you heard that right, I buy books at costco. The selection is small, and generally only current or recent bestsellers, but they're generally about 40% off the cover price.

Mostly, though, I use I also get my cds and dvds there. You can generally count on 20%-30% off, and shipping is free with a $35 purchase. I've also started using for further discounts on amazon. (swagbucks is kind of hard to explain, but if you do start using it, tell them thestuckduck sent you). This is where I go for Nick Hornby, Tom Robbins, Muriel Bradbery, Allan Bradley, cookbooks and other more recent books. Most of the same editions that go for $25 at Chapters can be had at $14, which is much better. I also do nearly all my Christmas shopping here, because I can do it in 15 minutes from my couch. It helps to already know what you're getting everyone.

So that's it, that's all my advice and bookbuying. I am also a big proponent of book-lending and book sharing, and any other means of bringing a book into your life.

1 comment:

  1. I love Penguin paperbacks, too!

    Hey, I came over to your blog when I saw your comment at Small Notebook about being a professional archivist. Can I ask how you get to be a professional archivist? What degree do you have? I am wanting to go back to school, and that job interests me. I'm seriously doing some searching here, so thought I'd ask your story! You can email me at zahn8 (at) yahoo (dot) com if that works, otherwise I'll try and get back to see your reply. Thanks so much!