Monday, September 16, 2013

The Joy of Used Book Sales - A Different Way to Grow as a Poet

Today I visited a store that smelled like my favorite kind of church: a sanctuary where other people’s books wait to become my books, where I can peruse shelf after self of older books, out of print books, little known books that find their way into my appreciative hands and into my heart.

You may find this assertion unconventional, but I think an integral aspect of my growth as a poet has come from attending used book sales, scanning thrift store book shelves and reading old text books, long ago thrown away to be replaced by a newer edition.

Just last Thursday I visited my local library, not to check out a book, but to peruse the Friends of the Library shelves, the place where they sell books for a meager dime a piece.

Guess what I found?

One of the very books you read about here earlier in the week: Suzanne Vega’s collected writings in The Passionate Eye.

I also bought some other poetry collections there: Circles on the Water, by Marge Piercy and Sunday Houses, an Iowa Poetry Prize collection by Elizabeth Hughey, a poet I had never heard of before but at ten cents I figured what did I have to lose?

Today I declined to buy a collection of Elizabeth Bishop poetry for $30, but I did pick up Sandra McPherson’s   Elegies for the Hot Season.  The only reason I have ever heard of Sandra McPherson is because I read her poetry in anthology I bought at another used book sale several years before.

All my poetry education comes at the feet of such purchases. I buy poetry textbooks. I buy letters written by poets and memoirs written by poet’s children. I rarely buy first hand. I often find gems by chance.

You have probably guessed by now I am a big fan of reading poetry on a regular basis, both aloud and silently, poetry of all types.

You may be thinking, “My town is too small for used book sales.”

A couple questions: do you have yard sales in your town? Estate sales, thrift stores, schools? I can guarantee you will find poetry in these places. Best of all, you may even write poetry in these places or about these places.

Reading this you may think I’m not being very profound today, but I dare you to venture out into your library sales, your goodwill stores or a garage sale sometimes before October begins.

Buy a book or two. Begin reading.

Come to know which work you enjoy most and what other poets do you connect with the most.

Then repeat the cycle often.

Over time you will see I am in fact being very profound today.

Used book sales have a joy all their own, a joy I hope and pray you discover soon.

 -- Julie Jordan Scott


  1. I have always loved used book a kid and early bibliophile...I was amazed at how many used books I could get for the price of a new one. It's only recently I've really started growing my collection of poetry...but the concept is the same. :-)

    1. Have you discovered Bookhounds? So many people recommended it to me before I got there. I was thrilled with their "Classics" section (which included, ironically, both poetry and women's literature... go figure!) I also love the standard Library Friends' sale at the Beale. I recently connected with the president of Friends of the Library and she is letting me peruse the donations they get that would normally get tossed. As an artist/poet/writer, nearly every page I find has value... and definitely does NOT belong in the dump! Unless ofcourse the book has both fifty and grey in the title.

  2. I love library book sales and the used book stores in New York city where you can get wonderful titles for a song. I got a copy of a book about Joni Mitchell's "Blue" - a song by song analysis - for a couple bucks. So much fun to browse through the book sales. Awesome that you got the Suzanne Vega book!

    1. I also find merit in thrift stores and estate sales. I have found people who have estate sales tend to have good taste... which extends into their book collections. They just happen to have people after them who don't care about the literary things Grandma did. I even feel a sort of kinship to whomever saved the books before me... or maybe its just I love hording books I'll make any excuse?

  3. Thank you for reminding me of the other places I can buy used books. I tend to go to the same used book store again and again. I am now going to make a special trip to the library tomorrow to see what I can find. I can't wait! I am enjoying all of the poetry books everyone is suggesting this month.

    1. When a book is 50 cents or a dollar or a dime it almost doesn't matter whether or not I'll love it, ya know? I hope your library had some good stuff in it to buy. It is like any sort of thrifting: sometimes you hit pay dirt and some days it is as dry as a bone!

  4. My city has a whole street for the sunday book market. Its my heaven :)
    will visit soooon and get some poetry books !!

  5. I happened upon a local thrift store one afternoon that had an entire cart of books on the sidewalk that were labelled "FREE - take no more than three." I couldn't believe they were giving books away! I selected three that I will likely never read all the way through, but instead will use the pages as sources for found poetry.

  6. Our library has a permanent bookstore where the friends of the library sell donated books and library discards. Hardbacks are a dollar and paperbacks fifty cents, and kids books are half that. They also sell some antiques and collectables that cost a little more. I have acquired most of my personal library here over the years. Not only is the price irresistible, but the library discards are often the kind of books that cant be found anywhere else, like the time I found the complete unabridged Golden Bough for 10.00.