The other day I was driving a friend around in my car when my book slid out from under the passenger’s seat where it had fallen. I cringed inwardly as my friend picked up my book, took in the front cover, read the back cover, skimmed the front page and nonchalantly put it back in the backseat. It was one of my favourite Marian Keyes’ book (technically every Marian Keyes book is my favourite book if I’m being completely honest) but I felt a flash of embarrassment as he was holding it. It was old, the pages were slightly yellow and dog-eared and to top it off, there was a careless “$8.00” scribbled on the top left corner of the book; a clear relic of a readers’ flea market.
Despite secondhand books getting a fairly good rep in the reading community, there’s still a lot of confusion about why book collectors would prefer old books over new ones. Some people insist that nothing beats the crispy white scent that overcomes one’s senses when stepping into a bookstore. Others regale charming tales of hunting down Tumblr-worthy vintage bookstores and buying a year’s supply of classic hardbacks. Me, I’m a little bit of both. I like to pride myself on not being too pretentious so it’s no surprise that I find myself settled somewhere down the comfy grey area. In fact, the only form of equality that isn’t up for debate is the love that I have for both brand new and used books.
With a tendency of being possessive over my personal belongings, I wholly embrace the idea of being able to purchase something straight from the store and take it with me to the grave (figuratively of course). But whenever I see a pre-loved book nestling in its rack, it feels as though the hands of my mind reach out to it and an overwhelming need to be the saviour of this abandoned book washes over me. It feels like I’ve never wanted to give a loving home to something as much before in my life.
So why did I feel a tinge of embarrassment at having someone else see my beat up book? Was it the superficial side of me which judged myself for owning something that someone else has already taken the best years of? I questioned my way of thinking and chided myself for being shallow.
Just because a book has been read over and over again, it doesn’t mean its value has been compromised and its capacity to convey stories and knowledge reduced in any way. For some, the endurance of a book against its circumstances, despite being passed around from owner to owner and having to weather against the effects of nature is exactly what adds to the appeal of it. As admirers of pre-loved books, we should be proud of being able to see past the surface value of things and giving great pieces of work a second, third or fourth chance to tell their stories and re-educate.