Why I Buy Old Books

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So it is no secret to people who have lived with me recently that I like going to thrift stores and one of the things that I buy often is books. Currently I own more books than I have room to reasonably store, there is also a handful of titles that I own multiple copies of, and I know as well as anyone that I will probably never read every book I own, in fact there are some that I really have no interest in reading. So the question is why? I'm sure this hobby can puzzle many.

Judging Books by their Covers

One reason to buy old books is so that I can collect and preserve art, but I'm not necessarily talking about the literature here the cover of a book is what is often quite interesting. I recently watched a YouTube video that examined the cover art of horror novels from today and from the golden age of paperbacks. At the beginning of the video the presenter put eight covers of books that had been published in the past year or so and asked the viewers to determine whether or not they could tell which ones were horror novels based on their covers. It was impossible because all the covers looked the same, they were formatted the same way that inspirational quotes on Pintrest are, none of them had any unique character. Contrast this with the horror covers from paperbacks of the past and it is a different story, most covers gave the reader some sort of idea what was inside, some even conveyed some sort of emotion, but most importantly they were all interesting to look at.

I've come to notice the same thing in my favorite genre, science fiction. The most recently published science fiction books I have on my shelf is the Pathfinder trilogy by Orson Scott Card. I'd highly recommend the first book it tells two stories set thousands of years apart in an intriguing way, is set in an interesting world, and has well thought out lore, but the cover is just blue fog. I'm not saying that in any sort of figurative sense, I mean that all that is on the cover is the author, title, a generic dagger and blue fog and the sequels really only change color.

Contrast this with another older trilogy on my shelf, the Cluster trilogy by Piers Anthony. The cover to the first book features a blue woman in a Victorian era dress, a green man in what looks to be Roman era armor riding a chariot pulled by a dragon, and then on the back there is a smirking triceratops. The cover for the second book has a pink woman dumping water out of an intricate vase, a man sized insect wearing gold, and men in spacesuits walking to repair a breach in their ship. The third shows a blue man wearing gold clothing looking out into a cave whose ceiling is covered in stalagmites with a serpent-like dragon slithering up to meet his gaze. Admittedly I haven't read any of these three books, maybe they're terrible maybe not, regardless I still enjoy owning them because of their unique covers. Sometimes I like to just take them out and look at them, I do this with a lot of books that I own.

In my opinion the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" should only be used as a metaphor. When it comes to judging people, we should all strive to fulfil Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream and judge them by the content of their character rather than their skin color. But when it comes to books I'd much rather own a copy of Dune with deep orange and blue cover art than any bland reprints that you could get on Amazon.

Happy Surprises

Of course a cover is not what gives a book its value, I grew up reading and will continue to read, and buying old books has exposed me to books I wouldn't have otherwise known about. Here are a few stories of me discovering new things:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by, Robert Heinlein

I bought this book because for a quite a long time I had wanted to read Starship Troopers but I could never find a copy of it (in fact to this day I have never seen a used one). This book had a rather uninteresting cover, wasn't in the best shape and was a bit smelly, the only reason I bought it was that it was written by the guy who had written Starship Troopers. I had never read any Heinlein but I started reading this one soon after I brought it home. To my delight The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was incredibly interesting and has become one of my favorite books. Heinlein imagined a future where there is an AI that runs on vacuum tubes, cities on the moon, and a scientifically plausible catapult that launches things through space without considering the possibility of phones being unhooked from landlines. He crafted a society that works with no taxes and a story of revolution that mimics that of the Americans gaining independence while giving commentary on the important danger of bloated bureaucracy. This was a book that got me back into reading.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

At the time I of course knew that Asimov was one of the greatest science fiction writers, I was of course familiar with the three rules of robotics that he had come up with, but I had never read anything of his. I picked up a hardcover volume containing the entire Foundation trilogy without knowing that it is regarded by many to be among the best science fiction of all time. Soon after I learned that fact but Foundation sat on my shelf months longer before I ever picked it up still not expecting much. Boy were my expectations blown out of the water, I could hardly put the book down. No movie can replicate the tension, shock, and awe I felt reading that book. I don't want to spoil it too much here but I think I may write a reaction to the whole trilogy here once I have read the whole thing. We think the best of science fiction is in the movies, but no film can come close to what the greatest authors in the genre have accomplished.

The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer

Here is a book that I just had to buy. I enjoy the Simpsons more than the average person and I quite enjoy random non-fiction books. This book is a collection of essays with titles such as, "Lisa and American Anti-intellectualism", "The Simpsons, Hyper-Irony, and the Meaning of Life", and "Enjoying the so called 'Iced Cream': Mr. Burns, Satan, and Happiness" written by various philosophy experts. While I can't say that I remember much of what I read from this book terribly well I love the fact that it exists, if I possessed a highly specialized degree in a field like this these are the essays I would want to write, ones that may not introduce any groundbreaking ideas in incomprehensible jargon, but ones that actual people may enjoy reading and will learn something from. When I got this book I instantly wanted to know if there was more like it and I was happy to find out that this was among the first of dozens. I recently picked up Green Lantern and Philosophy and can't wait to open that up and then search for even more of these books.


I hate writing conclusions I've made most the points I wanted to I don't need to reiterate them.