East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Used books


I love used books.
But then, I always spent hours browsing used books stalls.

textbooksI started buying  used books regularly when I realized I could get university textbooks for a fraction of the price.
A typical student’s strategy to save money.
Old monographies were a special treat – I still remember some of my teacher’s surprise at the discovery that I owned a copy of a precious monographs about stratigraphy – a gift from my mother, that had found it used for ten bucks (compared to the two hundred of the retail price).

Later, I started buying used books independently of the subject – why pay more, after all?
Before the coming of the ebook, it was the easiest way to save on reading matter – and to get a cheap sample of some new or unknown writer.
Also, and again, before the advent of ebooks, some old books could only be found second hand – on used-books stalls, or through Amazon vendors (Amazon UK is my main purveyor of used books).

Some books are really strange.
I have a used copy of an old creative writing handbook (not very good) that is filled with notes and tables from somebody’s weekly budget.
Any white page is filled with tiny penciled in notes about expenditures, interests, costs.

140And now that I think of it, the first writing handbook I ever bought was second hand – bought at a used book sales in Turin‘s Anglican church.
It was by John Braine, and I still have it hereabouts.

Then an element of gaming entered into my choice of second hand books.
There is the pleasure of the hunt, of course, but I have other quirks.

Books about Zen and eastern philosophy – I only buy them used.
It started, as usual, for practical purposes: get them cheap, buy more with less.
But there’s also something else.
103622There’s traces.
What about the glass rim halo on the cover of John Daido Loori‘s The Zen of Creativity?
What was there in that glass? Was the former owner having a drink after reading a few pages of Loori’s excellent book? Or was it something completely different?
A tin can of tuna?
And then there’s the underscored passages in Natalie Goldberg‘s Wild Mind. I can browse the book and read only those passages, and get a summary of the book – all the things somebody before me decided they wanted to take home, so to speak.

5140Q6ZHJ9L._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_I also buy exclusively used copies of those books that have fake distressed covers.
You know the kind – those books whose artwork simulates a badly worn, vintage pulp cover, with creases and bumped covers.
Those, I buy second hand – looking for books in “fair” condition, or lower.
After all, if it has to look distressed, it might as well be distressed for real, and for good.
These are usually just reading books – not reference, nothing I’d be likely to go back to.
Once read, most of my used books go into boxes – apart from those that end up on the Zen and Eastern Philosophy shelf.
With ebooks, now, the digital edition is usually cheaper, and there’s no delivery delay.
So I go for the ebook, mostly.
But used books are still the second best choice.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “Used books

  1. This reminds me of a bible in English I found in an Austrian hotel many years ago. A former occupant of the room had scribbled deranged sentences, perhaps written under the influence of some drug or alcohol, on the border of pages. It was a bit scary and I was tempted to steal the bible. But that sounded like the beginning if a horror novel, so I put it down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does indeed feel like the start of a horror story.
      Maybe I’ll get in touch to buy the rights on that idea 😉


      • I wish we had mobile phone cameras at the time, i would just photograph the scribbles and decipher them at home. Feel free to use it for a story, I’ll be glad to read it.


        • Another fun fact: the notes were not in German but in English, so I could sort of understand them. The hotel was next to an airport. I imagined the author was a drunk steward or pilot, and that has other sinister implications. I remember some mention of lizards basking in the sun (or people basking in the sun like lizards) and vague ramblings about the meaninglessness of life.


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