Friday, October 7, 2011

On buying books

I have just gotten back from my first volunteer shift at Open Books! I've mentioned Open Books here before, it's a literacy organization in Chicago that aims to raise literacy levels in disadvantaged kids. They support their programs by selling used books; there's a gorgeous physical used book store near Chicago & Franklin, but they also list books online. I'm working with this latter operation, in their warehouse. They scan their donated books to weed out the ones that will fetch a (relatively) high price online; the rejects get sorted further, with the ones that can be sold at the store going there and damaged or worthless books getting sold for pulp. I was working the scanner today, which was exciting. I'm not usually the one scanning books; I'm usually the one getting elbowed out of the way at book sales by the person scanning books.

Speaking of book sales, Chicagoans might like to note two coming up next weekend: Open Books is having one at its warehouse (1740 W Webster) October 15-16, and the University of Chicago Press is hosting "The Great Chicago Book Sale" on October 13-14, with (all?) books priced at $5.

Just as I was realizing that there are two, two book sales over payday weekend this month, I also came across this puff piece in the Daily Mail (yesss, I knoowww) titled "The books we buy to look more intelligent: How the average shelf is filled with 80 novels we have never read". There's really no need to click through and read it (you already know what it says), but all of these factors made me think about the books I buy and the books I don't buy.

I freely admit that I buy and keep books with the thought that someday they'll look really good all together on shelves. Someday, when I'm no longer a student, when I have "my own" place, I will gather up all my books from the corners of the earth and put them all in one room. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly bored, I think about how I would arrange them.

The dream of a generation

So I have been known to buy at least one volume of a series, even if I read the rest of it from the library or on Kindle. I have also bought books that I've read before, not intending to read them again, because it'll round out the collection or, indeed, make me look smart. This is pure materialism, I'm sorry to say, since I rarely, rarely ever re-read things.

The category of books I most frequently buy new is spiritual and religious books. Except for the classics, they're harder to find used or at the library. If they come from a particularly small press, they might not even be on Amazon, in which case you're buying at full cover price either at a religious bookstore or directly from the publisher or author.

The category of books I most frequently buy used is (other than fiction) academic books or books for school or research. This is first of all because academic books are so painfully expensive (go look at Oxford University Press' pricelist if you doubt that), but also because if they come already a little broken in it hides the fact that I only skimmed the intro.

If you live in Chicago and want a volunteer gig, Open Books is worth a look. Their programs with students take place during the school day, which is limiting for people with real jobs, but if you can arrange your schedule around it they'd be happy to see you -- particularly men, since a lot of the children they're working with are lacking good male role models. If you don't live in Chicago, you can shop the books they've listed for sale at Amazon here, or buy a $10 raffle ticket to support their work here.


  1. Great post! Good luck curbing your impulses for buying more books over the next month. I never have any luck with that myself ;-)

    I buy lots of books too. I am pretty good about just buying the books that I want to read and that fill obvious voids in my library. I have done a pretty decent job over the past ten years of carefully going through all of my books and culling out those that just aren't all that important to me any longer (and donating them to my local library, or giving them to friends).

    One of the greatest tools I've found for helping me to find new books that I want to acquire, and also to help me keep track of, and organize, my library is and Finally, all of you who blog about books and 'all things literary' make it much easier to hone in on potential good reads.

    Have a great weekend! Cheers! Chris


    AlTHOUGH, my time slot should be in the morning on the 15th, sooo...we should go to Open Books' sale at least. If you want to go with me.

    Also, that picture is awesome and I like this post muchly.