The Paperback Problem

My mother-in-law can read a long book in a very short time. She reads so voraciously that we are constantly raiding those Little Free Libraries. I have personally made a pirate raid on every single one within two miles of my house

Because, THIS antiquarian does not want to pay full retail for new books.

I am like a vampire when I visit a book store. I hiss at the prices of new titles. I do antiquarian mathematics: If one is paying $30 for a new book, then why do they not spend $100 for the first edition of the same book?

I mean, they are only about one third away from being a collector. A part of me goes down on my knees on the beach of despair and howls, “Damn you, apes!” Why are you throwing $30 away on a title that has been out for two years?

Well, I decided to just chill out about it. After two plus years of lockdown, my family and friends could use a break from pet peeves. I try to live by my new mantra:

Don’t press your luck, they are already sick of you.

Until one day, I visited a used book store. Naturally, I was with my mother-in-law. While she was filling her Trader Joe’s bag with books, I spied a very shiny selection of Penguin Classics. You know…the black ones with the logo on the spine like a cigar band.

Remember them from college? All the hits. The Hawthornes and Brontes and Hardys. The paperbacks were almost square and firm and the pages…soft and off-white. I either sold them after I read them or left them on the stairs when I moved but I have never forgotten them.

titled book lot

And, to give Penguin Classics credit, most of the titles published within the last twenty years, are still readable. The books are still flexible and the acid free pages, still as soft as the day you forgot them in your dorm’s laundry room.

And so, at this used bookstore, I felt the legacy of my past stupidity and decided to reinvest in these classic paperback titles. It would be nice to have a small library of these in my home for my family. If they have lasted this long, surely my they will wait for my 10-year-old to reach High School.

The bookstore clerk almost dropped his iPhone when I shrieked.

“You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!”

What had originally been a $12 copy of “The Scarlet Letter” was now an $8 dollar copy. What had been a $14 copy of “Jane Eyre” was now a $10 copy. The paperbacks were over five years old. A five-year-old paperback had less attrition than a Tobias Smollett first edition!

With my family out of earshot on the sidewalk, I quietly questioned the very young bookseller. Although he was in no position to argue the prices, he was sympathetic.

“Yeah, those are the prices. I know…you’d think they would be like a dollar but…” he shrugged, made a click with the roof of his mouth and produced a weak smile.

So, I continue to raid the little Free Libraries. I never thought that used paperback classics could be in the same racket as antiquarian books.

Seriously, does Charlotte Bronte still need the money?

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