Shabby Books & Replacement Copies

Some of my old books are so excessively seedy that, along with old newspaper and New Yorkers, they should be recycled.   The question? Do these books deserve replacement? Or should I hang on to the old copies?

Take Margaret Drabble’s The Waterfall.  The one on the left (below) was my first copy, and it survived two reads.  That’s Drabble on the cover:  several in this series have photos of Drabble as cover art.   A few years ago, I bought a second reading copy for $1 at the Planned Parenthood book sale.  To be honest, this one is shabby, too, and I’m not sure it will survive another read!  (And, by the way, this is a very good but neglected novel. I posted about The Waterfall here in 2013.)

How about Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd?  The new movie has spoiled it for me temporarily, alas, because  I keep picturing Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel! And that just doesn’t work in a book.  Below is the  battered Signet edition, either mine or my husband’s, because we had many duplicates.  When it became disgracefully worn, I bought this Heritage Press edition with illustrations, and also a very cheap Modern Library hardback, which can knock around in my bike pannier without damage.   I do dislike the TV-series tie-in dust jacket, but this hardcover will last.  And I can take off the dust jacket.

One of my favorite novels is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The Norton was my first “grown-up” edition of Wuthering Heights.  I bought it used, and though it is still readable, it has been read in the bathtub a few times too many. And so when I found the illustrated Heritage Press edition at a used bookstore, I had to have it.  It is a sturdy  book, with lovely illustrations, and has survived many reads!

Here are some pix of books that have seen better days.

This 1956 edition of Horace:  The Complete Works lasted four generations.  My husband and I both used it in our Horace classes (different years).  But, as you can see, the 21st-century has been too much for it.

My Modern Library paperback of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady finally fell apart. The Heritage Press edition (left) is oversized and too hefty for a comfortable read, so I bought this mint-condition 1983 Modern Library hardback (right),  from a local dealer, who delivered it to my house.  Now that’s good service.

I can’t enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford because the spine is cocked!  Should I read it?  The pages of My Lady Ludlow and Other Stories show some signs of wear, but the Oxford is still readable.  Go figure!

When, if ever, do you replace your books?And if you buy used, what condition do you look for:  Like New, Very Good, Good, or Acceptable?  (I often find that “acceptable” is the same as “nightmarish.”)

16 thoughts on “Shabby Books & Replacement Copies

  1. I end up replacing them when there is no possible way I can read the old copies. Although I still keep the original copies even after I get the new copies. I just put the originals up as keepsakes.

    I try to get used books in anyway i can get them. I just know that as soon as i get them i will take care of them really well so if they weren’t treated well before they will be with me. I try not to discriminate against any of the books. Each book tells a story in how they were treated anyway and that can be interesting in itself.


  2. With severely limited storage space, I recycle most of the books that I read. I buy second hand and then donate to library sales so that someone can read third hand. Still, seeing pictures of your venerable collection stirs memories of books which used to be. When buying, I do not buy “acceptable” and only buy “good” if I really want it and the price is right. Never buy a book which feels icky in the hand or which smells bad.


    • Space matters. And I’m with you on the “good” rating. And that’s what is wrong with some of my old books, the “icky” feeling which they certainly did not have when I bought them.


  3. I just bought the Heritage Far from the Madding Crowd too – I really like those editions and they are often so inexpensive. I hate it when they make huge oversized editions of novels though. Too hard to hold and read (I’m not usually sitting in my leather armchair with a side table while reading). Very Good is what I usually look for in used books, sometimes Good but Acceptable only if I’m desperate.


  4. I have quite a number of aging books. Not because I bought them aging but because they’ve aged. Jim and I started “building” a library (though we didn’t think about it) more than 50 years ago. I do have a big library so they are not noticeable.

    I don’t re-bind except in rare cases, as it’s tremendously expensive. What have I re-bound: a book I’ve been using since age 12. I write with it: my thesaurus. Also a super fat French dictionary, Larousse, some famous edition. It would be fallen apart but for re-binding. I looked into re-binding the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911, after which the whole set of books utterly changed in outlook and what was told about) but it was prohibitively expensive. They are rotting little by little. i don’t know if there is a facsimile, but surmise it would be also very expensive.

    I can replace and throw a broken book out — no one wants it. When we read Far from the Madding Crowd this summer on Trollope19thCStudies, the copy pictured here went up into my attic and I bought a good copy of the new Norton edition — with good relevant essays and other materials at the back. I will buy other editions of novels I love and study to get different introductions, notes, apparatuses or translations.


    • I’ve never been to a bookbinder, but for reference books that would definitely be worth it. I envy you your 11th edition of Britannica! We give away a lot of books to the Planned Parenthood book sale, but some books cannot be saved and end up literally with the recycling.


  5. Apropos of very little but I was going through some old theatre programmes the other day and discovered that in the my first Royal Shakespeare Company production, the 1962 ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Margaret Drabble played a fairy. Who knew?


  6. I have just this issue and it’s exacerbated by the fact that I often prefer a version with bigger typeface/pages nowadays as some of my older classics are just so small!! But I have trouble getting rid of the older copies which have sentimental value – which is probably why the house is bulging with books…


    • It is difficult to discard a first copy of Jane Eyre or The Hobbit, and I haven’t been able to do it. Yes, I need bigger print, too.

      On Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 1:38 PM, mirabile dictu wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m ruthless with paperbacks, and that’s pretty much all I buy these days. I read them and then they go to The Book Trader, where I get store credit to get more books. I’ll never get rid of my library of hardbacks, mostly quite old and all classics. I will also never get rid of a book of Beatles music for piano. My first dog, Sinya, an Afghan hound, chewed the cover off.


    • Hardcovers last so much longer! I love paperbacks, but some are not built to last. I would keep that Beatles music, too.

      On Sun, Sep 24, 2017 at 8:41 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:



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