Micah McCrary on “A Lust for Lit: On the Romance and Appeal of the Used Book” in the March 2010 online journal Bookslut,
Why do people, especially in these times, like to buy used books over new ones? Is it price? People do tend to pinch pennies when in the middle of a recession.
Fred Bass, owner of the Strand Book Store on Broadway and 12th Street in New York, has his own opinion on why people prefer to purchase used books, stating that price is only a part of it (Strand themselves sell used books between 50 and 90 percent off the list price). “Secondly,” he adds, “because the books are very often not available at new bookstores; the only place you can buy them is at a used bookstore — such as the Strand. Also, there are those customers who enjoy thinking about the readers who held the same book before them — that the book had been loved by someone else.”
McCrary also talks with Chicago Tribune cultural critic Julia Keller, who says used books
“have a special mystery swirling around them: the mystery over who has read them before, and why. For me, a used book is a sort of launching pad for romantic speculations about the book’s past. Marginal notes are like clues in a detective story: Who went here first? What were they thinking about? What was going on in their lives? And the book itself — where has it been? One can imagine strange ports of call and mad adventures.”
And she’s completely right. There is a magic to a used book. A certain appeal. It’s about history. It’s about character. It’s about finding a book on the shelf that tells a story of its own outside of the printed pages within it. After all, whether it’s new or used, it’s the story that we buy the book for in the first place. “I think we love both,” Keller adds, “the new and the old. New books are invigorating, but old books — used books — are complicated and mysterious and compelling.”
Read the rest here.