Buying books on a budget: Feeding your brain for less
I don't think there's anything wrong with having vices, as long as you can keep them under control. Obviously, blowing huge wads of cash, week in and week out, can tend to leave you jaded and broke. However, giving yourself a present from time to time is not only a good reward, but it also encourages you to work harder.
At least, that's what I keep telling myself. You see, I am a book junkie. I used to spend most of my disposable income (and even some income that wasn't disposable) on jaunts to bookstores and comic shops. If I couldn't afford a nice first edition, I'd pick up a couple of books on the remainder rack. You know, just a little something to get me through. For years, the highlight of my visits to New York was my regular runs to The Strand, a legendary bookstore on 13th and Broadway. I'd set aside a hundred bucks or so and would leave with a couple of shopping bags full of books.
Between one thing and another, I've had to learn to keep it under control. Preparing to move, I had to get rid of about half of my library, and my new apartment doesn't really have enough space for my wife and I (she's a book junkie, too) to indulge our manic bibliophilia. Besides, books have gotten really pricey! Nowadays, I'm lucky if a visit to The Strand nets me ten books for a hundred bucks, let alone the 15-20 that I used to pick up. It's getting really hard to find a good used bookstore. In fact, if Barnes and Noble's remainder rack isn't offering much, I'm pretty much up a creek without a paddle.
As with everything else, the solution is on the internet. If you find a book that you want, but can't afford to pay the bookstore prices for it, here are a couple of sites that will probably offer it for a lot less money:
Abebooks.com: Abebooks is sort of like an online flea market. Basically, thousands of bookstores put portions of their stock on the site. You, in turn, search all of the stores for the book that you want. The advanced search option enables you to organize your search based upon all sorts of fun categories, including paperback versus hardcover, first edition or later edition, signed or unsigned, and lots of others. The results are generally organized by price, although you can rearrange them based on a wide variety of criteria. I've used this site a lot of times, and have never had any problems.
Half.com: Half.com derives a large part of its stock from regular people who just want to get rid of their excess books, CDs, and movies. On the bright side, this means that their prices are often amazingly low; frankly, depending on the seller's desperation, you can often pick up books for pennies on the dollar. On the down side, these people are sometimes unreliable and tend to overrate the quality of their books. I've been both a seller and a buyer on half.com, and have sometimes had a few problems. It doesn't help that eBay bought half.com a few years back and has let it deteriorate. That having been said, however, it's still a good site, and well worth your attention.
There are others of course: my wife is partial to Powell's Books, a company based in Portland, Oregon. Their site is easy to use, well-organized, and fairly efficient. Of course, you can also try Amazon, the big hairy gorilla of online book sellers. However, in both these cases, I found that their prices were a little higher than those of Abebooks.com. Moreover, I'm easily suckered in by the grassroots appeal of dealing directly with small sellers and individuals.
Still, regardless of which retailer you use, you'll find the selection and price are far superior to what your local bookstore has to offer. Just the thing if you need to support a nasty little book habit...
Bruce Watson is a former English instructor, sometime writer, and all-around cheapskate. A co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea, his work has appeared in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, The Roanoker, The Brush Mountain Review, The Eccentric Monthly, The Best of Times, and College Daze. He currently blogs on Crankster.