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Thursday, December 04, 2008

The best kept secrets in books (for readers)

I've been a constant reader since I first learned to read. My idea of a good time has always been to curl up with a good book, and the next best thing is finding books to read. When I was around 8 years old, my parents allowed me to take the bus to the public library, where I would check out the limit allowed to children. Eventually I outgrew children's books and wouldn't have been permitted to enter the adult stacks, but my father was a friend of the head librarian. I had access to adult books and could check out as many as I wished. An early favorite was The Count of Monte Cristo, which I'd read twice by the time I was in eighth grade. I'm hopelessly addicted to books and reading.

Years ago, I belonged to the Book-of-the-Month Club, until hardcover books became so expensive. It seemed a frivolous expense to buy a book that would be read once. When our children were still living at home, I used the library, but got out of the habit as quality paperback books became available. Then the prices escalated on those. I stopped buying books, other than Half Price Books or recently released art books for my personal reference library. I found they piled up relentlessly. I had an Amazon bookstore for awhile, but the return on my investment of time and my limited storage space made that effort unprofitable.

So, back to the library. We're fortunate to have an exceptional library two miles from my house. The Woodbourne/Centerville Public Library is nationally ranked, and its books and services are fantastic. I love going there, both in person and online. I can request a new book and they'll order it for their collection, with me at the top of the reserve list. I can reserve a bestseller, request an unusual book from Interlibrary Loan, or simply ask a question of a reference librarian. The only problem with using the library are finding the time to get there and remembering to return the books in three weeks. Once in awhile I find myself without a stack of library books to read.

So I have now built a stack of purchased books that I raid when I don't have library books on hand. Here's my secret: I go to Half-Price Books and head to the back of the store, where the clearance books are marked down to $1.00 and $2.00. You would not believe the number, quality and variety of books on sale there. Some are even keepers. Yesterday I found a wonderful book on the art of the Freddy the Detective books I loved as a child. The book was released at $40.00; I bought it (a new book) for $2.00. I spent almost an hour working my way through three 7-foot stacks of non-fiction and selected 11 books, which cost me $13.48.

Half Price Bookstores are found throughout 15 states. I don't know if they all have clearance corners, but I'll bet they do. When I was teaching in Dallas, a student took me to the flagship store, where the area dedicated to art books is about the size of your average independent bookstore.

When I've finished reading my clearance books will I take them to Hithergreen Center for their library or garage sale. Sometimes I take them to my Curves, which maintains shelves of read-and-return books. And a few end up in my overstuffed bookcases to be reread.

So now I have my security blanket of books to get me through the winter (or at least until next week). Maybe I'll go to the library this afternoon and see what's new. I think my addiction is worse when the weather grows cold and I can cozy up with a lap blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and a good new-old-used-fiction-memoir or art book.

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