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Exploring the Secondhand Book Life

BY SHING LIGANOR

Let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves for a moment here and admit that, for the most part of our book shopping madness, we usually buy our books brand new. I guess it’s like an instinct of sorts, when you let your feet wander into the nearest Fully Booked or National Book Store after work or during the weekend, and you unconsciously pick up the nearest (and newest) book recommendation on the shelf. Not to mention the numerous sales that pop up like mushrooms in every corner, new-book shopping is like anyone’s go-to activity. Never mind that maybe most of us have a serious case of book hoarding, there’s just something amazing about crisp, fresh pages and unbroken spines that make our hearts sing with joy. What’s more, there’s also the satisfaction of getting to own the book and having it in your personal collection, aka “bragging rights.”

I feel you. I really do.

It’s just that ever since leaving Manila (and crying over having to box my personal books and stowing them away in the attic), I’ve come to realize that borrowing and reading secondhand books may not be such a bad thing after all.

Top row: Secondhand Japanese books and novels in absolutely good condition that were only $1 each! / Bottom row: books and DVDs borrowed from the library

Re-discovering libraries

For one, the public libraries here in California are lit. I’ve been to around four different branches already, and all of them hold a diverse selection of books, ranging from children’s books to newly published YA novels and down to more serious non-fiction reference titles. During the first few months, a huge chunk of my Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent trekking to the nearest library, a tote bag in hand ready for my next comic book and DVD borrowing spree to last me the weekend.

The real game changer here though was the fact that most of the books on my to-read list were readily available to me without having to shell out a single cent!

The (not-so) secret life of books

Another event that inspired me to read secondhand books was when I got involved in a book donation center. While doing volunteer tasks, I realized for the first time that: a) books are technically non-perishable items, a.k.a. they can sit on your shelves literally forever, and b) a book’s life doesn’t stop after you’ve read all of its pages. I was stacking both old and new books together, thrilled at the idea that someday someone else was going to pick them up and learn from them, just like their previous owners once had. Beyond the discounted prices, buying secondhand gives a book another chance to circulate and get around.

Just think about it: when was the last time you dug through a pile of old books and discovered one that was so neat, you couldn’t stop raving about it? It’s that serendipitous moment that makes the search sweeter!

Switching to secondhand books

Whether you’re in it to save a few bucks or to get a thrill out of discovering hidden gems, there are still lots of ways you can do to make the switch:

1. Buy from secondhand bookstores

This is the obvious first option. There are tons of secondhand bookstores within and outside the metro that you can frequent instead of heading first to your usual haunt. Spot has a concise list of the most popular ones you can visit, but there are still a few that aren’t on this list that I’m sure are within your reach. You can also check out the Bookbed Store from time to time for pre-loved and consigned books!

2. Visit the library

If you’re still a university student, I highly suggest checking out your school’s library! Though it might take time for you to figure out which shelf holds your kind of books, I assure you there will be a few gems you’d want to take home with you.

For the non-students, I ask that you give your city library a try! If you don’t come home with any spoils, at least you’ve finally stepped foot in it. (Be honest: when was the last time you went to the library?)

If there are pop-up libraries that appear in your area (for example, The Book Stop Project), go ahead and drop by as well!

3. Do a book swap

If you have friends who are avid readers of the same genre (or not), you could surprise each other by lending (and in effect, recommending) a book from your own collection to them. I’ve done this several times with my college friends and even up till now it has never ceased to amaze me that although our personalities and tastes are somehow similar, the books we read were nothing alike.

But seriously, borrow books from your friends and remember to return them when they ask for it.

You can also twist things up a bit and participate in blind book exchanges—they’re crazy fun because you don’t exactly know what you’re getting into until you peel off the wrapping!

4. Donate or give your books away

I know most of us here at Bookbed have experienced that little dilemma wherein you can’t find any space for your new books. It’s totally alright to have your own personal collection (I admit, I’m saving some books so that I can create my own mini-library in the future), but if there are some books you can let go of, then let them go. Donate them to public libraries, give them to friends as gifts or even hide books for others to find (à la Emma Watson)! By letting your books circulate, you’re helping in spreading the love.


There might be a few drawbacks in solely buying or reading secondhand—not being able to join the bandwagon, not reading the latest installment of the series, etc.—but doing so has a greater environmental and social impact than buying brand new books. As a bonus, old book smell is a real thing. It really is. ☁

We’d love to hear about your own secondhand-books adventures, too. Share your favorite secondhand books in the comments below!
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