Megan Swaim explores the fun and frugal benefits of shopping for used books.
I have always been a bookworm. As a kid I read anything I could get my hands on - mysteries, fairy tales, poetry, even encyclopedias and atlases. Growing up in the Beauty and the Beast era, I dreamed of my future house and the library it would have (complete, of course, with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a sliding ladder). When I was younger I frequently took my babysitting and paper route money to the bookstore. Reading and rereading my favorite books until they looked and felt as beloved as the stories inside.
But then in real-grownup-life, especially after kids, buying new books became something of a luxury. Of course I still loved books, but I loved food and shelter more. So we became frequent flyers at the library, borrowing stacks of books at a time, returning them and then borrowing them again later. But as my kids grew and as my oldest started learning to read, I wanted to have a few well-stocked shelves at home for them to grab a book and settle in for an adventure.
I remember the first time I went to a used book store. I was visiting Buffalo, NY, and happened across a cute local bookstore. I had time to kill and it called to me. While exploring the mountains of books, I randomly picked up a book and on impulse added it to my stack. For such a low price, it was worth the risk of exploring a new genre and author. What did I have to lose? It ended up being one of my very favorite books of all time. It was only after finishing it that I discovered the little stickers on the back cover, like passport stamps, keeping track of this book’s journey. It was an award-winning Australian novel, originally sold in England, then again in Ireland, where it somehow made its journey across the pond and landed in New York, where I picked it up and took it back home to Indiana. And it’s lived in 3 more states on my bookshelf. What an exciting life it’s had.
And so began my love affair with used, or pre-loved, books. In the years since I’ve scoured used book stores, garage sales, little neighborhood lending libraries and online book sellers. I’m often on the hunt for very specific editions of books that I want to read to my kids, or holding out for a classic in great condition. And when a new book comes home, one of my favorite things to do is explore the pages, looking for handwritten notes and dedications, bookstore stickers, library stamps, or even old library check-out cards. Each one has a little story to tell. And then we add it to our shelves and become a part of its story.
We try to have read-aloud and personal reading time every day, and I try to have lots of books on hand for our homeschool. In the process of stocking our shelves, I was introduced to one of my favorite online booksellers, Better World Books. It has an incredible story: it began with a couple of buddies at Notre Dame who had an idea to sell old books and textbooks that had been abandoned on campus, and has become an incredible company that funds literacy programs around the world and makes real social and environmental impact by saving books from landfills and getting the into the hands of readers all over the globe. (To date, they’ve donated over 26 million books and raised close to 30 million dollars for literacy programs. And every time I buy a book, they give a book to someone in need...and they’ve done this with over 300 million books.)
Buying pre-loved books has become my favorite way to bring new books into our lives and build a library for our kids. I’ve been able to do it slowly and make our small book budget really stretch. It’s also been a great way to share books that we’re ready to pass on to someone else. When we drop a book off at a little lending library or put it in one of Better World Books’ Drop Boxes, I try to imagine where it’ll find its next home and the family that will crack open the spine. Because you just never know!
About the Author
Megan Swaim is an Indiana girl on an east coast adventure. A former high school youth minister, she now gets to minister full-time to her three young daughters and her husband Josh. Megan spends her days homeschooling at the kitchen table, drinking iced coffee, and exploring coastal Virginia.