Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved books. When I had no money (and our family didn’t give out allowances) I went to the local library to check out a book I was eager to read. Or, I would go to the back of my classroom at school and select one from the bookshelf – you know, the shelf nobody except the especially nerdy kids ever bothered to go near?
I started collecting books when I was around seven or eight after reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Franklin too was an earnest reader and spent all of his money he earned as a youngster working at his brother’s newspaper on books, using them to teach himself spelling, grammar, and good sentence structure.
While most of those books I collected then, such as Trumpet of the Swan and Chronicles of Narnia, are now in the large box marked “For the grandchildren” in my parents’ attic, I continued buying books when I went off to college.
It was there I began the process of amassing the large personal library I have today, which includes hundreds of books that fill up three large bookshelves, and then some. And I’m still adding to it whenever I can.
Name a classic (my definition may be somewhat different from yours), and chances are I have it tucked away somewhere.
The surprising thing is I built up this library while a poor college student and when I was working retail, yet I was able to pull it off, most of the time with the few spare dollars I had in my pocket.
For you aspiring bibliophiles out there, here are five personal tips of mine which may be of help in your quest to build your own personal library.
I do have to say, though, is that if you’re trying to buy a recently released novel or a specialized/technical book, this might be more difficult, but it is still possible. These tips work the best when attempting to collect classical literature.
Additionally, you may have to give up book condition for frugality’s sake. You’ll get a book at Barnes and Noble in magnificent condition and exquisitely formatted, but chances are you won’t be able to buy more than two of those lovely books without having to put down a bill with President Grant’s face on it – unless they’re one of the classics.
1. Online stores
During my freshman year of college I purchased around 40 books and spent less than $100 on them. The trick is to buy them not only used, but in bulk from the same seller. If you do, the seller will generally ship them together to save on transportation costs. So rather than having to pay $2.99 each for three books, they can be shipped together for the same price.
Books can also be found eBay, though the auction environment can often cause prices to inflate. I’ve purchased several books on eBay, but only because they were unavailable anywhere else. If you’re looking for a rare book, I would recommend going here, but if you’re trying to keep a handle on your spending I would suggest looking elsewhere, though your experience may be different.
2. Thrift stores
Goodwill and Value Village are examples of great stores to look for books. Though their prices have jumped recently, they’re still a relatively cheap. Most of their paperbacks run in the $1-3 range, which is a steal comparatively speaking. Hardcovers are around $5-6, though you’ll want to check individual store prices when you go in.
Often times you can find real treasures there, since unlike a book store they don’t price the book based on its print edition or age.
Once I found an $5 early edition of Dr. Zhivago, and inside there was a newspaper article from 1957 discussing the controversy the book generated when it first published in Italy, due to its anti-communist themes. I plan on getting the article laminated and taped to the interior of the book.
Another consideration is the book format, because this actually determines the price of the book. Many of the books in my library are Dover Thrift Editions; these books, designed for affordability, are extremely compact and tightly formatted. They’re cheap, but the price you pay is the readability, as it can sometimes be difficult to follow. The paragraphs tend to be elongated, which makes it harder to follow. and can slow down your reading pace. At the same time, if you can buy a Dover book for $2 instead of $20, and you’re strapped for money, it’s hard to turn down.
3. Used books stores
Stores like Half Price Books usually have a value rack in each book section with novels for one dollar. I even bought a copy of Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens’ last completed novel, for 50 cents. I walked out of my local Half Price Books many times with two bags of books, having spent only $10.
Additionally, sometimes you can find literary gems at stores, too, if you are willing to invest the time to look for them. Among my collection of old books is an 1888 edition of Les Miserables for $10. I later bought a newer version to read for $1.
These stores also have sales, so you can always check out their website to see if there’s one going on.
4. Library sales
These are another great place to go because libraries generally sell their books for a lower price. I haven’t gone to many library sales myself, but those whom I know who have always rave about some great deal they got. Check out your local library’s website or the friends of the library for any upcoming library book sales.
5. Garage sales and Craigslist
Dirt cheap and tax-free, this is the way to go during the summer or if you’re trying to get a specific book. Garage sales work because the owners are typically in a hurry to get rid of everything and therefore will have their books at bargain basement price.
The advantage of Craigslist is that you can find rarer books, like first editions, sometimes cheaper than regular books. The price often depends on the urgency of the buyer. Since it is more or less a kind of modern-day trade post, the price isn’t necessarily fixed, which gives you the ability to possibly lower it if the seller can’t find another buyer.
You can also check the “free” section of the site to see if anyone is trying to just get rid of books.
Lastly, this isn’t necessarily a tip, but you can also ask for gift cards to bookstores or specific books for birthdays, Christmas, etc.