Booking through ThursdayAll other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical speciman, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?

I have been having a not-so-secret love affair with used books for years.  As a child, my mother would take me to a local used  bookstore where I would dig out old hardback classics from the turn of the century.  I loved finding letters and postcards, reading dedications on the covers, and – in one memorable classic – discovering exotic flowers artistically pressed between the pages.  I love books with tangible history, and that’s something easy to see in used books.

Does that count as the physicality of the book?  To me, the marks left behind by previous owners make the book that much more special.  I felt a wonderful bond with the former owner of my copy of Chocolat by Joanne Harris when I saw chocolate stains on the corners of the pages.  Perhaps not the most hygienic of tells to leave behind, but certainly an appropriate one!

Speaking of hygiene, I have seen used books that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.  “Used” does not have to mean “disgusting”, but sometimes it really does.  So, in that respect, I do prefer pristine new books.  They have a wonderful, oh-so-distinguishing smell to them – one whiff and I am in love.  And there is nothing better than cracking the spine of a new paperback, leaving behind your own mark on a novel.

But above all, what sets used books apart is the search. There’s nothing better than digging through dusty piles of books to find a copy of a book you’d always meant to read. Or discovering a first edition Tolkien on the bottom shelf of a charity store. The process of purchasing new books is rather like internet dating, while buying a used book feels like fate. Sure, you could find your soulmate through either one, but there will always be something special about the book that found you.  

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