by Rana Asfour
I buy a lot of books. Most I manage to read, others join a ‘To Be Read’ pile that by my family’s calculations seems to be growing by the day. This somewhat money-draining ‘hobby’ leaves me at certain times with no recourse but to seek refuge where every book junkie goes for a quick fix when funds are low: the secondhand bookshop.
My love affair with these ‘establishments’ nonetheless is a complicated one. My first encounter with used books occurred when I was a student in Beirut and the experience was something as if out of a fairytale: It was a time just after the Civil War had ended which had left most buildings bullet ridden if not entirely crumbled. On a random walk one late afternoon, a turn to the right off one of East Beirut’s main roads, revealed a tiny bookstore window, battered but intact and clean. I stepped into what appeared to be a dimly lit enclave with endless rows of books, the stale musky smell of paper permeated heavily in the air and I in my young arrogance imagined as if the objects had been dormant waiting solely for me. I ran my fingers along the frayed spines sampling the possibilities, silently appointing myself queen of this realm and the bookshop owner its guardian.
However, the awe from my discovery turned slightly unfairytale-like when I sat down with one of my new acquisitions only to land upon a page marked along its margins with a whole row of tiny black dots which upon closer inspection turned out to be squashed ants. On another occasion, a suspicious smear of what looked like snot and the elaborate drawings of male genitalia defiled yet another book choice. Yet regardless of my ill-findings and seriously not squeamish, I remained a fan, and to this day count some of the books I bought in that dinghy little shop amongst my favourites.
“Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.” -- Virginia Wolf, 'Street Haunting'
As an outright bonafide book junkie and a die-hard supporter of all writers, I am not oblivious to the fact that purchasing secondhand books does nothing for authors. They will never see a penny of that money in any shape or form (except in the case when the purchasers actually pay the royalties).
To appease my guilty conscience, I have compiled an informal guide on how to feel better when it comes to purchasing used books:
1. Let’s face it. We all agree that it costs far less to shop at secondhand bookshops. So, to make myself feel slightly better, I make it a point that whenever possible (Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, New Year’s or any big occasion) I buy myself a new copy and insist that family and friends do so too because quite frankly they’re always in the habit of gifting me with books. Hoorah to that!
2. We all know that secondhand bookshops are more varied in their choices and as such they are brilliant places for readers to discover authors they might not have been aware of before. If that happens to you like it does with me, then why not read the rest of the author’s work by purchasing or downloading a new copy. That way, you get to enjoy more of your newly discovered author who down the line benefits from the sales as well. A win-win situation.
3. Even if a used book is all you can afford, you can still pay the author back for all the effort they spent creating a product you enjoyed. Here's what I do. If I like the book, I take the time before passing it along to give it a mention on my social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) I rave about it on my blog, letting family and friends know exactly why I enjoyed it, all which may encourage them or others they tell to seek a new copy or download its e-version. If I really like an author, I will often subscribe to their blog to keep up to date with all their news.