In Which I Receive a Book in Deplorable Condition

Being a fan of English women’s novels, I was agog when I learned that several of Stella Gibbons’s books have been reissued as Vintage Classics editions in the UK.

And so I ordered an inexpensive copy of Stella Gibbons’ Westwood from a UK bookseller via Abebooks.

The bookseller’s description said it was in “good or better” condition.

It has no tears to the pages and no pages will be missing from the book. The spine of the book is still in great condition and the front cover is generally unmarked. It has signs of previous use but overall is in really nice, tight condition. Shipping is normally same day from our UK warehouse. We offer a money back guarantee if you are not satisfied.

Finally the book arrived. Oh, joy!  I couldn’t wait to curl up on this snowy, freezing cold winter day with Westwood.

I hoped my book in "good" condition would resemble this.

I hoped my book in “good” condition would resemble this.

It is in deplorable condition.  In fact, I’ve never seen a book in worse condition.

There are tracks and blobs of something jammy mixed with glitter on the cover.

My cousin has this suggestion:  “Perhaps it’s jism with glitter thrown on.”

Yes, it is really that gross.  Not only is the glitter disgusting, but the spine is cocked (the book is practically bent in half) and the cover is very creased.

And so I went to the bookseller’s website to figure out where this  book has been.

In 2004, ____ was founded by a group of people who loved reading and wanted to spread the love with like minded bookworms. They found that despite the sometimes pricey nature of tomes on highstreet, there were many other cheaper sources of books which were either being thrown away, were sitting around idle on dusty bookshelves or being sent directly to paper recyclers for pulping. Having experimented in one unfortunate mother’s basement (sorry Mum!) to see if these could be sold online, they found there was great demand for used books and that customers always knew a good bargain when they saw one.

I can tell you why they’re not selling on “highstreet.”

It’s very much a “Caveat Emptor” situation when you order used books online. I have had good luck with ordering books in “very good”condition, but this “good” book was a disgrace to booksellers everywhere.

P.S.  The copy of Westwood went into the trash.  And I have written demanding a refund.

I’ll let you know what happens.

The Creation and Condition of Used Books


Condtion:  Back left-hand corner and  bottom edge are curling.

My new copy of Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah was crisply enticing.  I started reading it addictively:  I have perused this beautifully-written page-turner in coffeehouses, at picnic tables, and while stir-frying vegetables. It is a bit ragged after this intense reading.  The back cover’s left-hand corner and bottom edge are curling.   It is now a “good reading copy” rather than “Like New.”

When I sold my books to used bookstores as a student–a woman needed to buy tampons!–I learned to keep my books clean and neat.  I never splayed a book open, pages down.  I never ate while reading, because I learned that chocolate and tea stains brought down the price.  The best used bookstores sell such books at reduced prices.

Because I buy many used books, I am fascinated by the descriptions of the condition of used books at Amazon.  They often depend on the bookseller’s conscience.  “Acceptable” books are  usually “unacceptable” to me.  I have been known to return a “Very Good” used book because of underlinings.

Books with curls and bent covers.

Books with curls and bent covers.

Misled by reviewers or bloggers, I buy many books that are, in the language of our household, “BP (barely passable).” I donate these to book sales, thus creating used books.  I have a problem with new books.  I find 21st-century books much worse than 20th-century books.   Although most reviewers probably try to be fair, I sometimes detect a conflict of interest, or suspect that an ass-licking reviewer is trying to get “blurbed” by the writers he or she reviews.

One learns to read between the lines of reviews.  Occasionally the reviewers just seem to be odd choices for an assignment. A mediocre novel recently got a rave in The New York Times Book Review. Then I noticed the reviewer was a science writer. Why should I be interested in a science writer’s opinion of a novel?

The problem with the publishing of so many mediocre books is that they create a mistrust of new books.

Today in The Des Moines Register, which is more or less Iowa’s state newspaper, I read a profile of Paul Ingram, a bookseller at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.  He is well-known for recommending books to customers.  He says,

It’s tougher nowadays because what they are publishing is worse. Publishers need to be conservative so they don’t want to try anything different. I have five or six zombie books come in and I hate it. I can’t bear it, yet my customers want it. I ended up buying them all because I can’t tell the difference.”

Margaret Drabble told The Telegraph in 2012,

I have had a weird feeling that I’m being dumbed down by my publishers and it’s interesting there’s an agenda of how it should be in the marketplace.”

If even Margaret Drabble feels she’s being dumbed down, we know the publishing industry is in trouble.  The used book industry flourishes, though.

Book-Buying, No Book-Buying, & Comments, No Comments

In Lydia Davis’s “Freelance” column in the TLS (April 23, 2014), she writes of her book-buying habits,

I would rather buy my books second-hand when I can, not only to take my trade to the independent dealers, but, more generally, like the grandmother in Swann’s Way, because I prefer something old to something new, when I have a choice–something worn and with character, and preferably, in the case of books, previously owned by another reader who has, if I’m lucky, identified him- or herself on a blank page of the volume.

Although I often buy new editions of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte–one cannot have too many copies of Emma or Villette–I find out-of-print hardcovers and old-fashioned Penguins equally satisfying.

As independent bookstores fail, or, that consummate sign of failure, display their shrinking stock with the covers facing out,  I seek books more often at used bookstores.  Whether I’m browsing at Jackson Street Booksellers in Omaha or Skoob in London, I find out-of-print Loebs, treasures by H. G. Wells, or, indeed, even Lydia Davis’ translation of Swann’s Way.  And, though I don’t feel like the grandmother in Swann’s Way yet, I love not only old books, “worn and with character,” but books written in the previous centuries.

At our house, used books make sense because we so often read classics and out-of-print books. If I were on Twitter, I would tweet that this is the Year of the Nineteenth-Century Woman.  (Everything I’ve read lately is either by or about a 19th-century woman.) Such is the power of social media that popular bloggers and tweeters often convince others to read along.  (Often I try to read along, but at my age it is often a reread along, so I lose interest.)

My husband never reads what anybody else reads unless it wins an award.    We have tried  in vain to organize a reading of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo;  we both agree Conrad is great.  But now it looks as though it will be Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch instead, because he has heard it is the book of the year.   I am still waiting for our discussion of Book II of Caesar’s Gallic Wars–we’re all Latinists here–which I finished in 2009.

So let’s just say if we announce we will read a certain book, we are likely to break that promise.

I’m a middlebrow Midwesterner, and my habits reflect the habits of other middlebrow Midwesterners.  In our small city, online shopping is a godsend, though I’m very confused, as many are, about the consequences of shopping at Amazon:  have I somehow brought the book down by ordering online?  Does it matter where I shop now that Amazon (or possibly Jeff Bezos) owns Abebooks, The Book Depository, GoodReads, and The Washington Post?

Whatever happened to my hipster values?

At the moment I’m not buying new books.  I’ve resolved to read the 1,000 or so unread books on my shelves.  Ha!  We’ll see.


My friend Ellen says she is sorry I no longer allow comments at my blog.

At the moment I am experimenting with being “off” social media.  Commenting, like tweeting, is  often about trying to be interesting, or mischievous, or to link readers to their own blogs.  In theory, turning off the comments means I can be grittier in my posts because I’ll worry less about reactions.  Occasionally I have found myself back-pedaling in comments, trying to be a 1950s hostess and make all my readers comfortable.

I am, however, very grateful to all the commenters who recommended things for me to do in London.  I could not have found those bookstores in guidebooks.

Taking a break form social media gives me more time to do outdoors things in the spring and summer.

I’ve got to get in shape for next week’s bike ride…