Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bookfinding: a personal history

How I have found books through the years:

Growing up:
Library - Avid patron, both school and public library. If I liked a book, I would check it out over and over again.
Scholastic book clubs - Ordered after reading the little descriptions and looking at the covers. I LOVED those newsletters that we ordered from; the synopses were an art in themselves. I invented my own little newsletters with imaginary books, based on the Scholastic ones.
Bookstores - Usually I didn't buy a book until I'd already read it in the library many times. I would make an exception for authors whose other books I already knew and liked. For example, anything by Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, Paul Zindel, Paula Danziger, Marilyn Sachs, I would snap up without having read it first. Occasionally I would take a chance on a new author. I only bought paperbacks.
Parents' bookshelves - This is how I came to read a first-aid manual, Shelley Berman's Cleans and Dirtys, Saroyan's Look at us ..., a 1970s poetry book with a psychedelic cover (which I now own), my mother's nursing-school textbooks, the John Jakes bicentennial series, and various other assorted titles.
Gifts - This is how I got a good portion of the Nancy Drew series, the Five Little Peppers, a 16-volume series of classics, and Grimm's fairy tales. Most of these were hardcovers.

Early adulthood:
Library - As always.
Bookstores - As an adult, I discovered used bookstores. Philadelphia still has several, but at the time I first moved here, was especially rich in them. I rarely lived more than a couple of blocks from a used bookstore. During my time in Atlanta, the Oxford Too was a weekly habit. I often discovered authors in used bookstores, because it was easy to take a chance on a new author for a quarter or a dollar. Then I would start buying that author's newer books new (this is how I discovered Nora Ephron and Calvin Trillin, just to name a couple).
I also patronized first-run bookstores. In those days we had Doubleday, Encore, Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, as well as the independents. Then Borders came, and its first Philadelphia location was unbelievable. So many books! So much room! Indie or chain, I rarely left a bookstore without buying something.
Free shelves - For a while, I lived in a building with a "take a book, leave a book" library. A great way to find out-of-print books B.I. (Before the Internet).
Gifts - Again, people usually would buy fancier books for me than I would buy for myself. Hardcovers. My parents even gave me a collection of the Brontes' work with leather covers and gilt edges.

Library - The theme continues.
Internet - I now find out about most of the books I want to read online. I read many writers' and readers' social media sites, and I am always seeing recommendations and reviews. Before the internet, I rarely read book reviews. I didn't have too many other friends who read as much as I did, so I didn't get recommendations either. Now, I get so many recommendations from my online bookloving friends that I keep a running list next to my computer.
Bookstores - Sadly, the closest bookstore to my house closed a year ago. The joys of browsing in brick-and-mortar stores are rarer for me, but I appreciate them all the more now. There are still wonderful stores out there.
Also, I do buy books online--especially out-of-print books. I buy very few ebooks, usually only if the book isn't available in print. I don't have an e-reader but use an e-reader app on my computer.
One thing that's different now is that I buy far more hardcovers and new books than I used to. As an author, I know how important that can be to supporting the authors and stores I love. But I'll still buy paperbacks and used books, too.
Book fairs and book festivals - I never went to these before I was an author; I'm not sure I really knew they existed. Now I'm delighted to have discovered so many live book events.
Free shelves - My train station has one of those "take a book, leave a book" cases, and so does my workplace.
Gifts - This is where I get books I've specifically asked for, as well as books I might not have heard of on my own.

How have your bookfinding habits changed over time?


  1. As a kid, there was no money for books, not even used ones, despite both my parents (indeed, my whole family) being avid readers. So the public library was our lifeline. We went every week without fail and all stocked up with new books to read. I also borrowed from the school library of course, but thank goodness for public libraries! Ours had two big branches close to us, so we never ran out of books. I can't imagine what my life would be like without the love of reading that public libraries helped foster.

    As a consequence, actually OWNING books seemed the height of luxury, and once I started earning my own money, I spent a lot on books. Mainly I bought authors I was already following. Sometimes authors my favourite authors had blurbed. Brand new books that I got to keep and reread whenever I liked! It was heaven. I stopped going to libraries because now I could afford my own books and that felt like such a treat after having none for so long. My husband is also a keen reader (and collector) and our combined library takes up a whole big room in our house.

    Now, like you, I get a lot of recommendations from the internet. if I read a book and don't want to reread it, I donate it to the library so someone else can.

    1. I've been donating a lot of books, too, trying to hang on to the ones I love the most.

  2. I loved that you read a book, and then bought it! That's a great strategy for spending well. :-)

    1. Once upon a time, I couldn't afford to make any mistakes with my book-buying. Nowadays, I can't afford the room to keep books I don't love. But I can take more chances now.