• Thu. May 30th, 2024

The magic of secondhand books

ByTee Tolmar

Nov 10, 2023
woman holding book open with animated tree and hot air balloon floating out of it

As with all things secondhand, sustainability is a key factor, and with book production processes emitting over 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, how could anyone deny the environmental case for secondhand books? The issue most people have is that secondhand bookstores are not an equivalent alternative to their first-hand counterparts. With less organisation and searchability, as well as fewer recently published works, they simply do not provide the same service.

On the one hand, I would argue that there are secondhand bookshops that mirror the organised nature of book shops like Waterstones. Armchair Books in Edinburgh, for instance, arranges its books alphabetically with multiple copies of popular publications, whilst World of Books offers a huge and easily searchable online library of secondhand literature  — think Depop, but books! The latter of these also stocks a surprising range of recent books, although I think it’s important to note that advocacy for secondhand shopping should not be mutually exclusive to buying something first hand!

On the other hand, so much of the magic of secondhand bookstores lies in the fact that you can’t just search for something specific. You browse, and rifle and, more often than not, leave with a hidden gem.

Many of the books in secondhand bookstores are in great condition, but — as someone who blasphemously cracks the spines of almost all my books — I also find beauty in wear and tear. Flaws hold memories. Maybe a book is crumpled because it travelled the world in a backpack. Its thumbed through pages mean it was read often, its rain-soaked pages suggest that its owner got caught in the sudden summer rain. ‘Happy Birthday’ messages and heartfelt recommendations tell stories of romance and friendship, of human connection through literature.

Underlined sections and notes in the margins always make me feel like I’ve somehow found a new friend or stumbled upon a private book club meeting within the pages. It feels like a time capsule of sorts, like my cheesy YA fiction is no longer just transporting me to another mythical universe, but to the bedroom of the girl who read it before me. It feels special that we share an experience in this way, both of us laughing at the same dialogue and crying at the same betrayal. Isn’t it beautiful to think that someone else might have been as profoundly moved by the same text as me? We share something that transcends time and place, and I can’t help thinking that those dog-eared pages are the truest sign of love. 

Books Are Magic” by kbetart is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0