10 Books to Buy Secondhand: What I Learned from Working in a Used Book Store

Avalanche. That was only word I could use to describe the cascade of children’s books falling around my feet. We simply had too many of them. Too many picture books, board books, and touch-and-feel books, all discarded by parents after being used for only a couple of years. I walked away from the children’s aisle to catch my breath and gather the strength to return to the challenge of organizing them.

This was a few weeks ago at the maze of a used book store I work at, located in an old shopping center that I have grown to love in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The store is called Wonder Book. Avalanches aside, the job has been fantastic.

And working there has opened my eyes to the massive number of discarded books in the world. Used book stores are goldmines for seriously valuable treasures.

Here is my list of 10 Books You Should Never, Ever Buy New (Unless You Enjoy Wasting Money).

Save your dough and search for a local used book store near you. We exist, you just have to look a little harder to find us.

Children’s and Young Adult Books

Need a copy of Goodnight Moon? How about Where the Sidewalk Ends? Or any Dr. Seuss book you can imagine? We got ’em. And oh my god, the Nancy Drew collection is wild. Plus, they cost about $3.00 each, rather than $10.00 to $15.00 new.

Classic Fiction Books

I can’t count the number of hardcover, beautiful copies of Jane Eyre that come through our doors. And War and Peace. And Don Quixote. Best of all, you’ll get them for half the price as a new version, and they come with a history. That old book smell is free.

Science and Technology Books

We recently expanded this section because we get so many books about climate change, astronomy, chemistry, and computer science. If you’re looking for Stephen Hawking or an autobiography of Neil Armstrong, I can almost guarantee you’ll find it at a used book store.

Fantasy or Science Fiction Books

Our section of fantasy and science fiction section—hardcover and paperback—includes all the favorites. Isaac Asimov out the wazoo. Philip K. Dick until you’re sick of looking at him. Heinlein. Wells. Le Guin. You name them, we have them. Plus, used book stores often have sales, so if you come on the right day, you can buy two books, get two free. Think of all the over-priced salads you can buy with those savings.

Transportation & Automotive Books

Trains, planes, and automobiles—you would not believe how many books we have on these subjects. And people love them. People come in asking specifically for the boats section, and I happily show them the way. If you need a cool coffee table book with a classic car or a steam engine on the cover, come our way. We have the book for you.

Sports Books

Ditto with sports books. Football, baseball, hockey all get their own sections. Do not buy these new or you are throwing your money down the toilet. Same goes for hunting, fishing, or mountaineering.

Travel Books

Are you heading to London anytime soon? Or somewhere in China? Or maybe taking a road trip across the U.S.A.? Please come and take some of our numerous travel guide books. We also have a bin full of maps that cost about $2.00 each.

Romance Novels

A Nora Roberts paperback bought new on Amazon costs at least $7.00. At our store, we have shelves and shelves devoted to these for only around $3.00 each. And we also have frequent buy two, get two free sales. All the romance!

Dictionaries and Thesauruses

A lot of people sell these to us, so we have quite the collection. If you ever need a relatively recent dictionary or thesaurus, please don’t buy it new. Check out your local used book store. It might not have the new words “bougie” or “stan,” but I think you’ll manage.

Religious Texts

So many Bibles. And Korans. And Torahs. And Buddhist writings and religious inspiration books and prayer books. Just. So. Many. Do not buy these new.

Since I started working at a used book store, I have determined to buy nothing new again. Perhaps that’s unrealistic, but the other day, I spent some time browsing a thrift store in an adjacent shopping center. When I realized I could have purchased a perfectly fine used filing cabinet for $10 rather than the new one I had bought for $75 (and I hadn’t even considered looking secondhand), I wanted to cry.

Forget new stuff. Buy used.

Until next time,

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