The Joy of Buying Used Books

Ella Minnow Pea Contents

An old post of mine on Tumblr started making the rounds yesterday for some reason–who ever knows why something random gets attention there? But I don’t think I ever shared it here: it’s the photo of everything I pulled out of my used copy of Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters when I read it last January. Eighteen post-it notes with annotations and some pressed leaves.

Once upon a time, I only bought new–that is, unused–books, and because of the price I bought them infrequently and reread them often, some of my favorites over a dozen times over the years.

But right around the time I started my blog, my social media platform, and my side-gig career as an author, I also discovered the thrill of used book sales, especially those held at all the libraries across my county. (There are so many! It’s wonderful!) It didn’t take me long after that to discover Thriftbooks as well, so now most of the books I buy in any given year, by far, are secondhand.

This has led to some interesting finds.

  • Bookmarks. Obviously! Someone was reading these books at some point, and they left their bookmarks behind. My personal favorite was a shop bookmark from a indie bookstore in Ontario, it was a lovely shade of green, but I used it until it was tea-stained and tattered, so it’s gone now. (/sadface)
  • Improvised bookmarks. I’ve found candy wrappers and library checkout receipts and supermarket receipts and random strips of paper and subscription cards for magazines, but the best one of these (and I’m sorry I don’t have photographic evidence) was an airline boarding pass from 2003–and neither end of that long-ago journey was in my state, despite me finding the book at a local sale, rather than buying it online.
  • I found a folded page of someone’s algebra homework just inside the front cover of a used book once. So, not precisely an improvised bookmark, probably happened by mistake. At least the dog didn’t eat it.
  • Pressed leaves and flowers. It only happened one time other than Ella, and the flowers crumbled as soon as I took them out, but it still made me happy.

I still have over a hundred physical books in my TBR collection, almost all of them used, and I don’t leaf through them ahead of time, so all of them are potential adventures in mystery finds waiting to happen. And I think I will be far better in the future about taking pictures when something interesting shows up!

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