The Allure of Used Books

Cyberiantygre wants to know what, other than Lindberg's edition of the Vulgate's Preface by Saint Jerome in Middle English, could attract my attention at a public library sale, as he doesn't imagine there being much of use to a doctoral student in theology in such a setting.

I would respond, first of all, by pointing out that I never said anything about the books that I acquire in such contexts being of any particular interest or use to me qua doctoral student in theology. There's a broad eclecticism in the subject matter of books that I may find of interest, either personally or because it brings to mind someone else that I care about. I might, for example, find a book of gourmet recipes for the discerning feline at a public library sale.

Moreover, a fair number of the books I purchase hold no real interest whatsoever for me, except that I have a hunch that they might be of interest to someone else, and might be rare enough that such a person might be willing to pay me 4 to 100 times what I paid for the book. My dealer's eye is not as finely trained as my mother's, but given the substantial mark-up I am able to claim on the occasional prize pick, it's worth the gamble to spend a few dollars on books for resale.

Basically, the metaphor of promiscuity suggests that I have pretty darn low standards for what counts as an interesting book. Even at that, however, the overwhelming majority of used books that I encounter do not meet them. I hardly ever buy adult fiction (not that all adult fiction is bad; just that I don't read much of it, and it doesn't tend to hold value well on the secondary market). Non-fiction, in a variety of areas (cooking, history, psychology, reference, etc.) and children's books make up the bulk of my spending.

As to what might be of interest to a doctoral student in theology qua doctoral student in theology, I admit that whenever I hit one of these sales I bee-line to the religion section first of all. The variety and quality of selection in this area is genuinely variable. Besides the Lindberg, I've found some fine additions to my real library in the area of liturgical studies, and I do tend to find serious titles in religion, and not just sentimental or superstitious dreck. It's usually not cutting-edge stuff, but it's possible to expand one's collection of 20th-century classics.

On a year-and-a-half's experience, I rank the religion sections of the public library sales for the Triangle area as follows:

(1) Durham
(2) Chapel Hill
(3) Chatham County
(4) Wake County

Only Wake County was seriously disappointing -- their large religion section was overwhelmingly dominated by inspirational romance and Left Behind novels. Wake, however, wins the award for providing the best opportunity to try to strike up a conversation with the attractive young men who are likewise disappointed by the poverty of the religion selection. (That didn't go anywhere, but it marked the original foray into my don't-be-afraid-of-strangers program.) And I think even there I snatched up one or two titles worth having/reading. (Something by Augustine, I think, and a contemporary autobiography or two.) So the disappointment last year is not going to keep me from going back when the annual Wake sale comes around again next month. And this time, I plan on not getting hopelessly lost on the way there.

So, if the question behind the question is whether you, as a doctoral student in theology, are missing anything important by not going to every public library sale that comes along, the answer is probably "no." But I think library sales are fun anyway, and I welcome company, even if it means competition for the possibly slim pickings in the theology and religion area.


CyberianTygre said...

Oooo...I like the probing for "the question behind the question!"

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