Charity Shop Book Buying: A Guide

As I scan the shelves on my bi-weekly book hunt, I am overwhelmed with choice. But this isn’t Waterstones – this is Oxfam.

Although buying books almost exclusively in charity shops has its downfalls, there is definitely a thrill in finding a book that you’ve been after for months on a shelf, and there is happiness in finding it for a couple of quid.

This is how I get the best out of charity shop book buying:

Being prepared
Charity shops can be overwhelming places to be and can sometimes feel overly crowded or unorganised. One of the best ways to overcome this is by being prepared, notably by making a list. I keep my list in my phone notes and organised the books by the author’s surname, as I know this is the order in which they will probably appear within the shop.

Additionally, it is important to consider where within the book section you will find the books you are looking for. Many shops have their crime, history and biography books separate from their general fiction, and knowing which titles won’t be in the general section can be handy to save time.

No limit
Although it is good to be prepared and know what you’re looking for, it is also true that you shouldn’t restrict yourself too much. Various books have caught my eye due to their attractive covers, often books I’ve never heard of or wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. This is what led me to find one of my all-time favourite books, They Both Die at the End, a few years ago – the cover was simply too gorgeous to refuse (and the story to follow was equally gorgeous).

If you have the money and space to do so, picking up books not on your list can allow you to find new titles, genres, and authors. There is such a vast range of books donated to charity shops and, as costs are usually low, it can be a good way to experiment with different books.

Managing expectations
In all honesty you probably aren’t going to find the exact copy of a book you want in perfect condition when charity shopping. Part of the process is to manage your expectations and let the positives (saving money, being sustainable) outweigh the negatives (an ugly cover, a broken spine). The condition of second hand books obviously varies but I do feel there is something special about pre-loved books; knowing that they have left their print on someone else’s life before you.

I do however note that I am unlikely to find lesser known texts or more recent publications in charity shops. My own TBR list consists of a wide range of genres, authors, and publication years. I know that popular authors such as Margaret Atwood or Instagram favourites such as Beth O’Leary will crop up in different shops because of the sheer demand for their work. Thanks to the rise of Bookstagram, new titles are more frequently found in charity shops (often for a lot cheaper than retail prices).

If you’re not one for judging a book by its cover, charity shopping can save you a lot of money whilst also being a fun pastime. While my bookshelves may not look perfect and Bookstagramable, it does look sustainable, varied, and well-loved; and that is what matters most to me.

Image courtesy of Becca Tapert.

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