December 4, 2013

[friday] column: Book sales aren't for the weak


---- — It’s the curse of every writer to be a sucker for book sales.

The book calllls to usss, we say, in our impeccable Gollum voices. Even if it’s 10 years old and missing the dust jacket. The words inside are what matter, we tell ourselves. Dust jackets are just for doodling devil’s horns on the author’s face.

You have to understand: Books are like Pringles. You can’t have just one. And once you own one, you are tempted to buy the next 1,547 that come your way.

That’s a precise statistic, by the way.

I come by my obsession legitimately. Some people’s dads collect car mechanic’s tools, ties or episodes of “M.A.S.H.” My dad collects books. My sister and I once estimated that he and my mom had around 4,000 books between them.

Most of those books were bought for a dime or a quarter at a local book sale. Some of them even came from “free books” boxes. Book lovers are suckers for stacks of free books, even if the free books aren’t actually interesting.

It’s kind of like giving away free magnets at the county fair. Nobody needs another flimsy magnet, but everybody will take one just because it’s free. Except free books don’t give you the number to call for poison control.

Once in a while, though, you find a gem. It’s that good-as-new, three-in-one volume of “The Lord of the Rings.” Yeah, I really found that once. In high school. OK, so maybe “once in a while” means “once in a decade.” And it still won’t have the dust jacket.

But I’ve found other books I really wanted. Last month, it was a paperback copy of “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding — the one where all the kids get stranded on an island and kill each other. (I promise I’m not a sadist.) Not only is it interesting, you might get credit for reading it in high school. Or even college.

That can’t be said for a lot of books in free stacks. Especially those dreaded Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Librarians and Goodwill sorters everywhere hate those books.

If I had a dime for every Reader’s Digest Condensed Books collection I found in the stacks marked “free,” I’d... Let’s be honest. I’d probably buy more books.

– Sarah Einselen

Friday editor / Are those devil’s horns on my face?