Why I Still Buy Books

I wandered into my city’s Salvation Army thrift store a few weeks back, looking for a piece of furniture to rehab, or some knick-knacks to repurpose. It was, as most Salvation Army stores are on any given Saturday, busy and fluorescent and musty, and women pushed buggies down rows of tank tops and denim shorts, because spring was upon us.

I’d been there about 10 minutes when I saw the sign: “Saturdays—all books buy one, get two free.”

To say I did not run to the book section would be a lie. There was a solid 20 square feet of paperbacks, at first glance mostly cookbooks or cheap romance novels. But I found some gems: a John Grisham novel, two “Star Trek” novels, “Flowers for Algernon,” a worn copy of “The Federalist Papers,” and a beautiful hardback copy of a 1960s’ Norton Anthology of British writers, among other things.

Paperbacks were $0.25 and hardbacks were $0.50, but with the discount, my total rang up $2.50. I asked the cashier if I could just pay $5 and call it even, because I felt like I was stealing.

“Why don’t you just re-donate the books when you’re done?” the cashier asked me.

I stared blankly at her, handed her the $5, and walked away.

I own hundreds of books: science fiction anthologies, Civil War nonfiction, Southern Gothic lit, memoirs, dozens of classics, every F. Scott Fitzgerald work, and a book full of blueprints of the U.S.S. Enterprise. When I move they take up three large boxes on their own. People have told me I’ll get tired of packing and unpacking, of lugging them from place to place, but I doubt that. I love those books, and they love me back.

This isn’t one of those “e-readers are terrible” posts; I have a Nook, and an iPad with the Kindle app. All of my “Harry Potter” books are e-books, and even more classic works. But there’s something different about words on paper.

I grew up in and out of libraries; Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot were some of my closest friends growing up. I learned to read the bound word, to use bookmarks your grandma gave you, to dog-ear a page so you can come back to it later, and enjoy it all over again. I like to hold my books because, at times, they have held me, and born me away to places I needed to go and see and experience. E-readers have their place; on a recent trip to the beach I was more than happy to tote my single Nook rather than lug around a dozen books. I’m grateful that technology is helping new generations learn to pick up a book, and as long as that’s happening, I don’t much care what it looks like.

All I know is that, when that book spine first cracks, I love it. When I dog-ear that first page, I love it. When the last line is followed by blank page, waiting for my own thoughts to fill it up, I love it. I will buy books forever, and I will love it.

Photo by Hillary Boles

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