Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Praise of Used Bookstores

File:FI bookstore.JPG
This isn't McKay's. I forgot to take a photo
while I was there.

As an author, I have mixed feelings about used bookstores. I know when I buy a book there, the author is not getting any royalties. On the other hand, I view it kind of like a library—it’s an opportunity to discover new authors whose work I wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

I used to buy more books from local bookstores. But as our budget got tighter and books became much more expensive, I became more and more selective. For a while, I bought remaindered books and found books that way. But more often than not, the remaindered books were blockbuster authors or authors the bookstore hoped would be blockbuster authors and the books didn’t quite sell.

Then when we moved to Tennessee, I found an amazing used bookstore, McKays. It’s a two story warehouse of books—a real honest-to-goodness treasure trove. And I found the “bargain section,” a spot where they place novels that aren’t selling fast enough. This is where the real gems are. The books are usually under a dollar and are a mixed bag of everything from spy/legal/mystery/thrillers (which I like to read on the treadmill) to literary novels. Lots of literary novels. And I’ve discovered new authors. I won’t spend $25 on a book whose author I don’t know and love. But I’ll risk a dollar. For 25 cents, I’ll buy a book I think I probably won’t like but want to read for purposes of learning more about writing—and sometimes I fall in love.

The other day, I found a book by Geraldine Brooks. I read her novel People of the Book a couple of months ago and fell in love. If Year of Wonder is just as good, then I’ll buy her new book when it comes out. I’ll get her novel March (a retelling of Little Women), even though I’m not fond of Louisa May Alcott. Brook’s writing in POB was that good.

In a sense, used bookstores were the forerunner of Amazon’s Kindle Bargain Books. They’re an opportunity for a writer to share his/her vision and catch a new follower.

What about you? Do you buy books at used bookstores? 


  1. I adore used bookstores, always have. The thrill of finding a treasure that someone else has let go, leafing through books that have someone else's name on the flyleaf, the very smell of all those old-and-new books together ... it's magical. There is a delightful used bookstore up in my parents' neck of the woods called The Birchbark, and all the books are on shelves made of birch wood. Heaven!

    Going used book hunting is one of our absolute favorite rainy-day Saturday family activities. And even though I know I should feel guilt that no money is going to authors through these stores, I just can't bring myself to love them any less.

  2. There is a really great one in VA! The guy at the desk had a whole stack of what appeared to be 1700s era volumes.

  3. We miss MaKay's since we moved away from Chattanooga. Although, we still hit up the library sales and other used book stores. I saw some of Lurlene's books the other day and had a happy smile and memory of Cornerstone. My sister-in-law doesn't understand my desire to be surrounded by books, thankfully my mother and sister do. Cheers to you and the family.

  4. We loooove McKays, but ever since they've moved to their newer (and somewhat more distant) location, we've found more and more difficult to visit them. :\

  5. We usually use the library system for books (it spans several counties so there are thousands of titles available) as opposed to visiting used bookstores, but they're cool places.

  6. Nice color choice on the blog. It is really easy on my eyes and I have bad eyes too so that's a really big compliment lol