For the Love of Secondhand Books: A Digression

It’s a perfect example of what it is, a secondhand book. It’s got other well used books on its cover, it’s on a ‘vintage’ imprint and I bought it from a secondhand  bookshop.

It is also, by the way, a perfect book. Tom Hanks says it as well as I ever could in his review quote inside the cover:

“It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across.”

Read that aloud, please, in your best dry, wry and enquiring Tom Hanks voice and I think you might both get the idea and want the book. Which you can have any day soon if I give you its catalogue number:

ISBN 9780099561545

Or perhaps you’d prefer to wait on the serendipity of discovery? Like I so often do.

As you can tell from the title up above I love secondhand books. Not because they’re often cheap or even free, from a library, but because I don’t know they’re there and because someone else has chosen them. Not specifically for me. But a fellow human has picked out that book and thought:

“I’ll give it a go.”

Which is enough for me. In all libraries I’ll go first to the Returned Books trolley and in all secondhand bookshops I’ll go in. As a naturally occurring socialist I’m interested in what others have chosen and like to feel someone else has lived in the book before me. I don’t often know what they’ve thought of it but I can usually tell from the spine whether they, or at least someone, has read to the end of it.

With all books, by the way, and for most of my life, I’ve had a 50 page rule. Which is, if I’m not engrossed by page 50 I’ll give up. ‘Stoner’ here almost failed my 50 page rule, except that for the first 74 pages nothing happened in a fascinatingly morose way. So that I wasn’t very surprised (spoiler alert) when, in the second paragraph of page 75, the entire book turned on this sentence:

“Within a month he knew that his marriage was a failure; within a year he stopped hoping that it would improve.”

See? With that John Williams, the author, sets up the rest of the book so well that now, 120 pages later, I never want the book to end and it’s joined an admittedly long list of “The Best Books I’ve Ever Read.”

But the book will end soon and when it does I won’t keep it because I don’t keep books (except for books about Liverpool). I’ll send it back into the world where it can fend for itself and some other book lover can find it and trudge through it’s opening 74 pages, secure in the knowledge that someone else loved it enough to bend the spine back all the way to the end of the story.

By then I’ll be onto the next second hand book in my personal queue. Here they are.So a digression, perhaps, from my recent post about the meaning of life, depression and making the world a better place? Maybe, but this one, this  rumination on the beauty of books and good writing, exists only because an appointment to speak about something more obviously worthy got cancelled. So I decided to spend the hour or so I’d unexpectedly been given writing these words about something I love. Bringing us back to another take on the meaning of life. Valuing the time you have at the time you get it.

That’s all from me for now. I’m off to read the last 89 pages of ‘Stoner:’

“A kind of joy came upon him, as if borne in on a summer breeze.”


Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place:

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  1. An hour well spent I would say! I love this technique of authors who spend a good bit of time (just enough) to introduce us to the ordinariness, even tediousness, of the protagonist’s life and then when something happens (such as the marriage breakdown in your example) to cause a drastic change, the story becomes complete. I haven’t read this book, by the way, but your post has got me wondering what’s going to happen next in Stoner’s life! Enjoy the rest of the book. :)

    1. Thanks. I’m fascinated by ordinary and quiet anyway, but as literary devices I’ve never seemed them used so well.

      And do get the book. I could tell you the rest of Stoner’s story now, but it’s much better if you read it!

  2. I have to order my secondhand books, from Better World Books U.K., so the choice has to be premeditated, unlike the visits to the U.K. when there is the delight of dropping in to the charity shops and coming out laden. Unfortunately I can’t bring the whole haul back with me, given the luggage restrictions, so a lot go to my mother’s friends…much to my regret as there are very few books that I have chosen for pleasure that I can bear to part with.
    So your current reading and your bookshelf have set me off on another order from BWB…

  3. Amongsl the benefits of reading secondhand books are the wonderful things you sometimes find tucked inside. Undiscovered by bookstore staff, the shopping lists, train tickets, and occasional photograph are all a special treat.

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