We live in an age of soaring e-book sales. More and more readers are dumping their heavy hardcovers for a Kindle stocked with digital downloads. There are a lot of advantages to e-books, advantages I can’t deny despite my sentimental attitude toward paper books. They aren’t made of trees from our depleted forests; they can be carried in a slim e-reader that weighs the same even with thousands of books loaded in; they allow you to read Fifty Shades of Grey on the subway without anyone shooting you odd, judgmental glances.
But personally, I have a hard time giving in to a world without physical books. And here’s one important reason why: Once a real paper book is out there, it can go anywhere, and be found by anyone. One book can keep on giving long after it has parted ways with its first owner. A book doesn’t have to be at the top of any digital best-seller lists or recommended by an algorithm listing books bought by other people who read The Hunger Games to catch my eye in a discount book bin. Maybe without seeing that juicy-looking title The Cove sitting on my parents’ shelf, I’d never have read my first thriller (and, as it happens, my first, ahem, romantic subplot).
Without paper books, how will we find reading material in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or tucked into a giveaway box at a yard sale? See our parents’ notations in the margins of their dog-eared favorite novels? Here are 8 awesome places to stumble across new reading possibilities -- places where e-books rarely can be found.
Other people’s bookshelves
Though my parents were generous about library trips and bookstore treats, it wasn’t uncommon for me to find myself at loose ends, reading-wise, as a youngster. How fortunate, then, that our den was literally walled with books -- and not just dishy beach reads like The Cove. I stole books ranging from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence to Joseph Heller from those shelves over the years -- novels I would never, at that age at least, have bothered to search for at the library. Now that I’m hundreds of miles from home, my boyfriend’s shelf is a more convenient source of new material. If your friends and family are less obsessive about having the pages of their books bent than I am (I’m working on this neurosis, I swear), they might be a great source for your next read.
Okay, yes, this is an obvious one. But how many of us think to visit a used bookstore when Amazon or Barnes & Noble are so much more omnipresent and well-marketed? Plus, you might show up and fail to find a copy of the one book you were looking for. But if you’re open to reading a book that isn’t the one you were looking for, there’s nothing like an afternoon combing through shelves filled with a motley assortment of weathered volumes to find something that looks fascinating -- and that costs just a few dollars. As a bonus, you can “recycle” by bringing in boxes of your own less-treasured books to sell, thus clearing space on your overburdened bookshelves and making a little money to spend on more faded paperbacks from the 1970s.
I was at a Goodwill with a high school buddy to find weird T-shirts and floor-length skirts to wear “ironically” when I noticed something -- not everything in the store was a discarded item of clothing. There was a whole bookshelf at the back of my local thrift store that sold many books for as little as a quarter. My friend and I immediately purchased two absurd historical romances to read aloud to each other as we drove around town, and I have to admit, I ended up reading my entire story and enjoying every ridiculous historically anachronistic moment. In years since, I’ve often perused the dollar romance shelves at my neighborhood thrift stores, and found a surprising variety of fiction available for next to nothing -- from straight genre to Shakespeare to last year’s bestsellers.
Okay, okay, so e-books can often be found at libraries. But walking through the stacks and seeing the titles librarians have chosen to highlight was always the most effective method for me. I might have regretted it as I teetered to the checkout line with a pile of mystery novels or a new YA series, but I’ve never been able to find good stuff so easily via Amazon suggestions. You don’t have to pay a dime to try out a new book that you’re not sure you’ll love enough to keep, which means you can keep taking risks on new genres and authors without wasting money on a dud. Plus, some libraries sell their extra copies of once-popular books for cheap -- a great way to catch up on the hits of the previous decade.
Books are heavy and annoying to move, so pre-move sales often include boxes of discarded volumes. I got rid of many of my own beloved children’s books during a high school-era move (I still miss you, Thoroughbred series and Nancy Drew collection). And they’re are usually dirt cheap, with plenty of gems tucked in amongst the diet books from 1987 and the bizarre novelizations of hit films like Clueless. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s always fun to get a peek at the collection another family has amassed -- two biographies of Theodore Roosevelt AND the entire Shopaholic series? What wide-ranging tastes!
Your own bookshelf
Much like “shopping in your closet,” this option depends on how extensive your personal collection is. But I find giving a second chance to The Lord of the Flies, years after the high school class where you found it so dull, often pays off. Most of us have some books lying around we read while we were too young to enjoy them, or books we loved but have mostly forgotten by now. There’s no shame in revisiting an old favorite, and one of the joys of keeping full bookshelves is the experience of having an old favorite catch your eye, inspiring a reread. Or maybe you’re even lucky enough to have untouched volumes, given to you by your well-intentioned parents for your birthday, sitting on your nightstand -- and maybe you’d love them once you actually started reading them.
If you live in a metropolis like New York City, read on, because city dwellers are even more efficient at redistributing their unwanted books. Here are two more awesome places to stumble across great books if you live in New York:
Sidewalk used book vendors
New York has plenty of normal used bookstores -- you know, the kind that are housed in buildings with doors. But if you’re in the right neighborhood, you’ll often find yourself walking right past a folding table covered with rows of paperbacks. It may seem odd to buy a book right off the street, but the eclectic selections and low prices make this option worth considering. And unlike a bootleg DVD or a knockoff phone, you can figure out whether the book is “working” just by flipping through it before forking over your cash.
Other people’s front stoops
I live in Brooklyn, which is the mecca of front stoop book giveaways. My first year in the city, I used to come back from every walk around the neighborhood with two or three novels tucked under my arm, plucked from boxes on stoops marked “PLEASE TAKE.” As with yard sales, you’ll run into some odd books, but that’s all part of the fun of sorting through. I realize not every NYC neighborhood is this rich in free books, but it’s always worth keeping an eye out. You never know what you might stumble across.
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