Notes on used books, notes in used books

I'm a big proponent of the rights of authors to profit from the sale of their work, but I'm also a fan of the first-sale doctrine that lets me give away, lend or sell my copy of that work once I legally acquire it.  So, while I am mindful that when I buy a used book (or borrow one) I'm not contributing to author royalties, I support used bookstores for several reasons:

  • they make more books available to more people who are price-sensitive
  • they are the only way to get books that are out of print
  • sometimes, you find something interesting in a used book that you would never find in a new one: an inscription or notes, or a bookmark or some other ephemera

That last one, by the way, is something that future generations of digital book buyers will probably never know they're missing.  See my recent posts on Kindle-related stuff for more on ebooks and intellectual property.  But it's also worth noting that Google books, by scanning books, sometimes preserves this old stuff.  Check out page 8 of Google's scan of a 1905 edition of Wuthering Heights for a taste.

Anyway... I popped in to my local used book emporium, Rodney's Bookstore, this week seeking a copy of Wuthering Heights for book club. (My desire to contribute to author royalties and publisher revenues diminishes with the deadness of the author.)  I found three paperback copies in totally different editions and varying conditions, priced from $1.90 to $4.80.

One was a standard-issue trade paperback, part of some classic series.  It was in very good condition and the most expensive of the lot.

Next up, a Kaplan SAT Score-Raising Classic edition, billed on the Harlequin Romance inspired cover as "The Classic Novel with 763 SAT Vocabulary Words Identified and Defined!" The definitions were on the facing page to the text, swelling this edition to over 600 pages.  The bold SAT words might be a little distracting, but this one was well-proportioned and a relative bargain at $3.80.

Finally, the highbrow edition.  A St. Martin's Press press trade paperback with a heavy paper cover, boasting the 1847 text and essays from "five contemporary critical perspectives" namely, psychoanalytic, feminist, deconstruction, Marxist, and cultural criticism.  Wow.  The downside, marked in pencil on the flyleaf, "$1.90 AS IS ROUGH" It was beat up, but appeared complete and had no highlighting or underlining, which are generally deal-breakers for me when buying a book.

Each edition certainly had its merits, but until I got my purchase home, I didn't know the extent.  Here's something you probably won't ever see in your Kindle.

...it was all for a good reason...

PS I also bought the Kaplan edition, just for laughs, and just in case I need to look up a word.  What does "Wuthering" mean anyway?

4 Responses

  1. Great post - I can't agree more. I love finding things in used books. I once found a super trippy letter in an old paperback Kerouac. (I should scan and post that sometime) Also, I love "diminishes with the deadness of the author".
  2. Rose's Lime
    Check out the bathroom (they have one!) at Lorem Ipsum. It's wallpapered with found items from used books.
    • I will have to check that out. And the bathrooms at Hungry Mother are wallpapered with the pages of an old cookbook!
  3. I once got a copy of Cortazar's Blow Up & Other Stories home and read to the 7th page or so to find the words "FAG BOOK" angrily scrawled across the top.

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