The Best Things in Life: What Makes Cheap Books So Good?

Second-hand books are a wonderful thing. As nice as it can sometimes be to buy a brand-new book, fresh from the shop and free from all creases, crumples and chillingly unexplained stains, there’s no denying the pleasure of finding a long-sought treasure in a £1 bargain bin, or coming away with ten pre-loved books for the price of one new. It’s cold hard economics, you just can’t argue with it. (Not to mention, old books smell terrific.)

But today I found myself wondering whether that “bargain buzz” doesn’t last considerably longer than the time taken just to pay and leave the shop. Whilst clearing space on my bookshelves earlier, I couldn’t help but notice a pattern developing among the books I loved too much to part with – namely, that almost all of them had come to me dirt cheap.

The Remains of the Day set me back just £2.50 on Abebooks. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a former inmate of Oxfam Books. I stole A Wizard of Earthsea from my sister and borrowed War and Peace from a friend. In fact, there was only a handful of books I would consider favourites that I had payed full price for, and I can remember each one taking a long time to grow on me compared to its cheaper shelfmates.

On the other side of the fence are The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and A.J. Smith’s The Black Guard, both of which I paid a full £8.99 for after loving their opening pages, and both of which left me far from enamoured come the end.

Given that I buy most of my books nowadays in second-hand and charity shops, it’s hardly the most reliable data set to go on. But nevertheless, there definitely seems to be a trend in my unconditionally loving second-hand books, but struggling to even finish the ones I spend the most money on.

Now I’m no retail psychologist, but I’d suspect this is because the more you pay for something, the more you expect from it, and thus the more the book has to live up to. In other words, would I have enjoyed The Name of the Wind more if I hadn’t subconsciously held it to the lofty standards of an £8.99 price tag? Or conversely, would I have fallen so in love with To Kill a Mockingbird if its 50p car boot investment wasn’t so easy to return?

I’m curious to know if this is a common trend, or whether it’s just a coincidence and almost all of the cheap and second-hand books I’ve bought have been amazing. Does anyone else find that more of their favourite books came to them cheap or even free than at full price? Or do you find the opposite to be the case, that you’re more likely to enjoy a book if it cost you the best part of a tenner? I guess there’s only one surefire way to find out – who wants to go book shopping?

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4 thoughts on “The Best Things in Life: What Makes Cheap Books So Good?

  1. A book really has to excite me for me to pay full price for it. I’m quite happy with my half price book finds. I think there’s something to finding a much abused dog-eared book, too, though. A sense that yes, this book has been read and read and read and read and read again. That there has to be something special in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Older books often sit better in the hand, I find. I really like ones with inscriptions. I recently picked one up with a loving note to Jeannie. I had her in mind during my reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, they’re like a good pair of shoes, already worn in and ready to go! I love inscriptions too – my copy of Huckleberry Finn was given lovingly to Maurice for Christmas 1939.

      Like

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