Tag Archives: old books

Bargain Basements, Backlists and All

Our bookstore now has a bargain basement. Considering that we’re a second-hand bookshop in the first place (heh heh) it’s pretty cheap.  From now on, the books on the floor under any bookshelf are $1.

I was talking with another bookstore owner, Ann at Over the Moon, in Crozet, VA, about the difference between a second-hand and new books shop. We agreed that for a new shop, books get a brief period of handselling, a window of advertising opportunity via publishers and publicists, and then, if they haven’t done their duty, syanara. Maybe a year, maybe two. In a second-hand book store, people come looking for things they liked twenty years ago, titles they want to own in hardback, or a cheap, low-investment airplane read.

Completely different approach. “Backlist” becomes “bargain classic.” It’s one of the things Jack and I love about running a read-it-again (or get a chance to read it for the first time, two generations later): offering people access.

It comes back to that flash-in-the-pan bright star versus the long, steady light of those who, if not quite classics, are telling human stories that are timeless enough to endure. Diane Johnson. E.L. Doctorow. Delderfield. Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, Larry McMurtry. James Michener.

Oh lordy, the Micheners. I still remember my dad’s comment: “Any novel that starts with the volcano that formed the island on which the main characters conduct their business might be called thorough.”

Although American/British/Irish literature classes in future centuries may or may not study every single one of these lads and ladettes, they are part of the eternal library of humanity. And people may not make movies or write theses about them all, but they’ve influenced the way people think, commented on the way society runs.

Old books never die; they just get tape on their covers and dust on their spines, and they go into the bargain basement. Where smart people find them, and their ideas and stories live again, and again, and again, interesting and enduring.

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Filed under book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Your Old Book is not *%#^%$ Valuable, OK?

People come into the shop on a fairly regular basis, clutching a single tome wrapped in plastic. They have the hopeful idea that this will purchase their retirement on a small private island.

Sorry, but here are the seven most common reasons we see on why your book might cover lunch at Applebee’s but no more:old books

7. It’s a paperback. Trust us on this one; by the time a paperback is old enough to be antique, it’s too battered to be pretty. Planned obsolescence in the binding glue, or something like that.

6. You have the book club edition. Jack and I got very excited in the early days, finding we had an old hardback of Laura Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement, which goes for $600 in a first edition. We had the sturdy, ubiquitous one instead. It’s like the difference between an Aston Martin and an MGB GT; both are pretty, both are cool, but only one is hard to find.

5. It has worm holes. Yes, even if the worm is dead, even if the cover still has its gilt lettering and hand-sewn edges intact, those holes aren’t adding character, they’re subtracting value. Ask any Science Fiction fan: worm holes are bad news.

4. It has Reader’s Digest in the title. Just stop it, ok? We don’t want to buy it and neither does anyone else on the planet.

3. Something has chewed the corners. Dog-eared, maybe; dog-chewed, nyet. And no, we don’t want to hear what got it, or how. Just leave quietly without touching anything. Thanks.

2. The author is still alive. I once mentioned to my agent Pamela, just before visiting her in NYC, that in the used business, a dead author’s work tends to be worth exponentially more than that of a live one. After a brief pause, she asked in honeyed tones, “Do you like Ferris wheels, dear?”

1. It’s part of an encyclopedia set. Unless it’s pre-1800s (we’ve seen one in six years) make a book angel out of it and be happy.

So your book is probably not valuable in terms of money, but let’s not forget it’s still a wisdom house, a snapshot of words between covers that–barring dogs and old glue–hold them in one place, and through time. It may not be worth money, but it’s still valuable. Enjoy it; display its pretty cover; read it, turning the pages gently (and possibly wearing gloves). It’s yours to discover.

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