Books a Bazillion

In which Jack returns to writing his weekly blog post, and sighs patiently over a subject known only too well to bookslingers everywhere.

garbage-landfill Yesterday one of our cafe regulars asked if we bought books. I explained that we didn’t, but gave store credit if the trade-ins met our needs and standards.

“Oh, I can just donate them,” he said, and headed for his van.

That seemed like a clue that these weren’t going to be top of the line, but I went out to watch him struggle up the front steps with an enormous TV box–the kind I advise folk not to use, as they weigh a ton when full of books.

A better man would have helped, but I admit to you my moral failing: I knew what was coming and just didn’t care.

A quick glance established that most of his donations were older Grishams and Pattersons; to add insult to injury, they were minus their dust jackets. After explaining as gently as I could that  these were pretty much useless to us, I raked through to find eight acceptable hardbacks as well as more (useless) battered paperbacks. At this point he shrugged and said he’d got them from a friend.

(So – a friendship wall?)

This was the third time in as many days we’d had much the same experience, having to explain that we don’t take hardbacks minus their jackets, torn or stained paperbacks, romances including Danielle Steel or kids’ coloring books already colored in. It’s the law of used book shops: people don’t want to dump, so they donate. And they mean well for the most part, but a couple months of that, and customers will have a hard time differentiating your shop from a dump site.

Surveying our store the other week, with its spiraling pinwheels of shelves moving toward the center of every room, eking out the final frontiers of space, I resolved to become even more choosy about what to accept. And perhaps instigate a cull.

After all, folk are generally pretty sanguine when I explain our policy. What I hope is that people will begin to weed out themselves before bringing stuff to us, but in the meantime, I’ll stifle a sigh. And maybe help with the box next time.

Perhaps I can build a garden wall somewhere with all those jacketless Grishams and Pattersons? Wendy would like that….

18 thoughts on “Books a Bazillion

  1. There is a used book store in Venice, books that will never sell are piled up the side of the wall for insulation. Also, in a small outdoor space in the back, they have built a staircase of books you can walk up and view a canal. There are uses for useless old books, fun.

    • HA! Peggy, we actually line our children’s room walls with books we won’t sell. It is a small aluminum added-on bit to the house and gets very hot and cold. Since lining it with books it’s been more temperate in there for the kittens – and children, of course. :]

  2. Although I don’t live nearby and can never visit you, I love Big Stone Gap (the book ) and your blog. I am 91 and downsizing to enter an assisted living, smaller quarters. My apartment is lined with book shelves and I could shed tears parting with most of the books. It occurred to me that the BEST, most valuable and most used books have long lost their dust covers (book jackets), so you are passing up some gems with that rule. Just a thought. Now that I am housebound, I must resort to Amazon, but I adore book stores, little and big when there are no small ones around.

    • I know your pain and the resulting tears: I have had to abandon many of my beloved friends (books) on two separate occasions of moving a household into another. When my husband and I were married 2 and 1/2 years ago, at the ages of 73 and 74, [way too many] books were some of the things we had to give up. This spring we moved into our retirement apartment – our last move, we hope, before we are gently carried away to our final rest – and it was time again to say goodbye to some books. The good news is 1) that that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy books – in the library which is just the floor below us as well as from and 2) We love our home here in the retirement community complex. I hope you will enjoy yours, also, Isabel. I wish you well. Incidentally, a couple whom we have learned to know and love here are in their mid-90’s! – Audrey

    • Isabel, we understand that some of the no dust jacket books are gems, and we have been known to personally snag a couple here and there (and give credit) but there are very few customers as discerning as you, who will open a black book on a crowded shelf just to see what the title means. And since they can’t read the jacket blurb or the author synopsis, they won’t buy them.

      • That’s a good idea, Beth. Next time we see a good one we might do that, or just write a review on a sticky and put it inside. Faster and simpler but also effective.

  3. I have the same problem with people bringing in unsellable books. A friend of mine who owns a bookstore in Easton said he tells people to take crap sellers to Goodwill, which I’ll do next time people bring in that sort of stuff.

  4. Jack, Oh, boy. Know what you mean. Make a list and POST it on the walls: We don’t take jacketless hard covers, NO Pattersons, Grishams, etc. No Harlequins, Silhouettes (why did they choose brands so hard to spell?) Paperbacks with no covers, ripped, torn, wet, or anything reeking of the barn or cat box. No complete collections of Lighthouse by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Reader’s Digest collections (we got one from 1955 to 2000) and no fair dumping on the porch. And running away. Jan Janice Brooks-Headrick 865-429-1783 Storyteller Author Instigator SecretarySmoky Mountain Storytellers Association

  5. One of the things I dislike about secondhand bookshops, or some, is that due to a lack of space they will tend to stack books in large, teetering piles, leaning against each other like a group of inebriated young men after a night out, leaning against each other for support. You can’t access books on shelves behind the piles, and you can bet your life the one book in the pile that attracts your attention is the one right at the bottom, or worse yet, in the middle. We donate all our used books, never occurs to us to try and sell them. They go to charity shops and are always, always in good, clean condition, dustjackets if applicable are intact. If we have really tatty ones, they go into the paper recycling bin at our local recycle centre.

  6. Wendy and Jack,
    Thank you for your post!! We also endure a plethora of “I-just-cleaned-out-my-(insert)-and-look-at-what-I’ve-found.” Most customers are gracious and take their dime a dozen treasures elsewhere when told no, but a few like to argue. The most popular rude response: “Don’t you want to make money?” Overall the worst for me, being a book enthusiast and filled with respect for the physical object, is the trash bag container: Giant trash bags over-flowing with (now) bent and twisted up paperbacks. Makes me tear up every time.

    Book jackets make all the difference. No jacket: Book Fair $1. With jacket: Bookstore $8. Here in St. Louis, a local artist (Buzz Spector) uses books (and currently, book jackets) to make art for his series called Altered Books. It’s kinda neat-oh, if you’re into that kind of thing…

    Thank you for your Little Shop and your posts! I thoroughly enjoy opening my morning email and reading your words, filled with such clarity, humor and hope.

    Left Bank Books
    St. Louis, MO

    • Thanks, and Owen Meany send regards to Spike!

      We’ve done book purses and I swear every year we’re gonna do the book Christmas tree. What I really want to do is build a glass top table with book supports, but we have no place to put one and Jack has pointed out that a glass table in a public shop is a bad idea. He has a point!

      • Yes, I suppose Jack makes a wise point, but I can just see such a delightful table on your front porch………..It would have to be stored somewhere else in the winter, I suppose. But what a great idea!! Loved your shop, your cafe’, hope to drive down there again ere long.

  7. Fwiw–maybe you could pass this on–I buy, recognize, and recommend hardcover books without paper jackets. But you’ve given me an idea…why not create colorful new jackets for the good books that have lost them? Not for rubbish like Sidney Sheldon, but for books that deserve to be (or have been) republished, why not make it easier for people to find a Slightly Damaged First Edition.

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