Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New to Me: 5 Tips for Buying Books Secondhand

That adorable kitty in the foreground? One of two that call the cement floors and cushy armchairs of King's their home. This one is Atticus (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame), while his buddy, Herbert (named for Tacoma native and science fiction author Frank Herbert) was probably laying around somewhere in the back.

The other day, I had about an hour to myself while my younger sister was getting her haircut in Stadium District of Tacoma. While I bemoaned boredom and desperately tried to find something on my phone to entertain myself with, a plan was quickly put into action, when she recommended I wander down to one of my favorite places... King's Books! 

King's Books is a secondhand bookstore specializing in New, Used, and Rare titles, and it might just be one of my favorite places in the whole world. From its mismatched furniture, to wooden shelves filled to bursting with titles of all genres and authors, to the two beautiful kitties who call it home and are always happy to entertain guests, every time I step inside King's, it reminds me of the tranquility and agelessness of the art of reading.

As I wandered through the shelves, picking up titles that piqued my interest, and lovingly nestling them back in their spots when they lost it, it dawned on me that while I'd always love my trips to various bookstores, there really isn't anything that beats shopping secondhand. From exciting surprise finds to age-worn, new-to-me titles, there were so many variables that secondhand stores bring to the art of finding the perfect new book that just aren't present in your neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

So, being that by now, I can fully consider myself an expert in the Pacific Northwest's secondhand gems - from local faves like King's, to hole-in-the-walls like Magus Books in Seattle's U District, to city phenomenons like Powell's City of Books in Portland - I wanted to share a couple of my favorite tips and tricks for buying books at these unique and varied locations. 

Would you believe me if I told you that all four of these books only cost me about $11 total??? The three on the right were all on the $1 table, while the collection on the left was only $6.50. Score!

1. Get to know your secondhand bookstore.

The best thing about these kinds of stores is that, from the comfy furniture to the friendly employees, they start to feel like family. So, feel free to make yourself at home!

Do a little wandering and poking around, so that you get a feel for layout and organizational flow of the store as a whole. That way, every time you come in, you'll be able to know where your favorite collections are, and where some of the best purchases can be found.

And don't get distracted by just the shelves and titles you're used to... they're not my typical fare, but I find some of my favorite non-fiction and American history reads right in King's. It's because I know what I'm looking for, and by now, I know how to find it!

2. Go in with a game plan... but don't get too specific.

If you come in with a list of books that you're just dying to have, you're bound to walk away disappointed, if not completely empty-handed! Keep in mind what kinds of books are going to be finding their ways to secondhand stores in the first place: while you're more than likely to find your fair share of classics or tried-and-true titles, you're a lot less likely to pick out just the particular book you're looking for, or niche novels that have specific audiences.

Instead, I like to start my search with authors that I'm always on the lookout for, like Jennifer Egan or Jasper Fforde. Then, broaden it out a little: go through your favorite sections, like Science Fiction, Humor, and Memoir/Biography, and see what's hiding in there. After that, if you're still not ready to leave, then you can widen your search out to the rest of the store. Just having a loose directional plan in place will always make your shopping trip easier, and that way, you're less likely to leave thinking that there's something you've missed out on.

3. Have a dollar amount in mind.

I know, I know: they're at such a discount, no one sells this edition anymore, it has the original cover, it's less than $10. Literally, any excuse you can make for adding one more title to that pile before checkout is one I've used before.

The problem with that is, things I've gotten excited about in-store have had their luster fade in just one car ride, once I've realized that I wasn't as excited about the books themselves, as much as the deal I was getting on them.

So, to avoid overload, go into your secondhand store with a specific price point you're willing to go for. And that's not just for total bookstore purchases: know how much you're willing to spend on each book you're getting. The super-hyped paperback you've had your eye on, for less than $10? Score! The clunky hardcover you've never seen anywhere else, for $20? Okay... but make sure you really want it.

(And by the way, anything torn, stained, water-warped, or with a noticeably damaged cover is always a no-go for me, especially if it's not reflected in the price. If you really want it, it's worth buying pretty, and you can definitely find it somewhere else.)

Before you head to check out, try laying all your intended purchases out on a table or the floor, and really ask yourself, "Am I buying it because I like the book? Or am I buying it because I like the price?" Then, adjust your stack accordingly.

4. Always check the sale section!

Here's a fun fact for you: Tacoma is home to a couple cool authors, bloggers, and other readerly people, who also happen to make the same secondhand store their bookish destination, just like me! (*cough cough* Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series and the recently released Heartless *cough cough*).

Thanks to them, more than a few ARCs end up making their way to King's, and because of their value as pre-published proofs, are only ever sold from the $1 table, after their finished versions have been published. (Like the ones I grabbed on my last trip, seen in the above picture!).

But that's just King's; I don't know what other stores practice. Still, surprises like those aren't the only reason you should be checking out what's the cheapest at these special cheapy stores! Honestly, the $1 section sometimes makes for my favorite Snapchat material, from super-cringe-y chick lit picks from the early 2000s, to bizarre self-help guides, and more.

5. Take your time. 

Even if you've got a plan in place, you know the store and your price point, and you're open to flexibility, you're never going to be able to run right into your neighborhood secondhand and immediately emerge victorious with a fat stack of reading material.

These kinds of things take patience, eagle-eyes, and more than just ten minutes of your time. The best parts of secondhand stores are the art of wandering, gazing, perusing, and ruminating, really deliberating over the selections in front of you, and wondering what kind of addition they'd make to your personal library.

Take a seat. Pet a kitten. Flip through a couple of pages. Like I said before, make yourself at home.

Do you like shopping for books secondhand? Where are some of your fave secondhand destinations? Let me know, in the comments below!

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