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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Books at Thrift Stores: Episode 1

I have been buying books at thrift stores for many years now. I came to the game late. When I was in graduate school, I went to the Salvation Army. Their store was in a damp basement. There I saw Danna, the owner of a recently-opened used book store. She must have had 50 books on the counter (they were 2 for a nickel). When she saw me, she said, “Oh, I hardly ever come here. This is the first time I’ve found any books. Usually, they don’t have any good books.”

Needless to say, I became a regular. As far as I could tell, we were the only people who bought books there. I bought some for me and the rest to trade for credit at the other used bookstore. I’m sure Danna was relieved when I moved.

It’s harder to find good books now because many people sell them on-line. If you ever go to a book sale and see people waving a cell phone over a book, you can be sure they are subscribing to “Scoutpal.” The isbn number links to Amazon and tells the person what the book is going for. Last time I went to a Friends of the Library Sale, I was the only person of 11 customers who did not have one of these.

I wish the people who run the sales would get one of these. The resellers only buy those books that can be sold. The library retains all the books that the resellers might have taken a chance on in the years before Scoutpal.

In fact, you don’t even have to know how to read to benefit from one of these. You can just scan or key in the numbers. I see teenagers in Goodwill methodically using Scoutpal on every book, including the tomes of John Grisham. I always want to tell them that they would save a lot of time if they would just eliminate the Grishams, which make up the bulk of books in any thrift store. My guess is that a parent is sending off a teenager to help with the family income.

So while it’s hard to find good academic books (my favorites!), or cookbooks, there is an overabundance of good fiction and children’s books. These have very little resale value, so it is easy to get that Oprah book you missed, any best seller of recent vintage, or wonderful Scholastic books for kids of all ages.

Just a few I’ve gotten recently:

“The Paradox of Choice”: I read a library copy a while ago. The premise is that too much choice does not increase happiness. My son read my library copy. He is going to give this book, which looks unread, as a gift to a friend who has too many choices.

“Girl, Interrupted”: I had this book years ago and probably traded it in at a used bookstore. My daughter saw the film of this book when we were in Florida. I told her I would get her a copy of the book. Second day back, there it was!

“Beasts of No Nation”: My son will be taking a course on African fiction. This is on the reading list. A very lucky find.

Total cost: 60 cents.

Dear readers: What books have you found at thrifts? What do you do with them when you are done? Anything you're looking for?


The Fabric Bolt said...

My best find was "Steal This Book." I found it at a community center used book table for $0.10. I sold it on amazon for $25.00. I sure do wish I would find more like that!

Logan Leger said...

The new Amazon application for the iPhone has similar functionalities as Scoutpal. You simply snap a photo of the barcode with the iPhone and the app finds it on Amazon and displays the price. I use it everywhere--definitely worth it.

I haven't found much at thrift stores, but in terms of books, I did save over $200 buying my college textbooks on Amazon instead of the college bookstore.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Fabric: Wow! A great find.

@Logan: Great that you've done so well on Amazon. I can't wait to try out an iphone...probably the distant future for me.

Homebody said...

I'm commenting months after the OP, but just had to share. I love scouring thrifts for books! Sometimes I find real treasures. Just yesterday, I found a signed edition of a popular YA title!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Homebody--Thanks for stopping by. I love YA fiction, read a lot with my kids.