Thursday, February 11, 2010


Lately i've been devouring books by Jim Thompson and Kobo Abe (again) and in doing so, got thinking about how I never find, neither here in the UBC or elsewhere, certain authors (like the two above) used. Authors like Murakami, Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor will every once in a blue moon trickle in but for the most part, seem to never come in. Even an author like Steig Larsson, who's books are selling at a phenomenal clip upstairs, are never seen downstairs, used. People just don't bring them in. Why is this? Do people buy certain books but never read them? Do people read books, fall in love, and then refuse to part ways? Are certain books traded amongst friends? Can we base the greatness of an author on whether or not you can find their books used? We have a lot of Charles Frazier and Jonathan Franzen used. Are they more awesome then, say, George Saunders (well...)?

The Flannery O'Connor one really astounds me as she's still taught in every English class and still sells well new upstairs...

I am thinking about doing some investigative work on this. I might make up a list of authors and then go around to various used book stores and see what I can find. Just a thought. Who's in?


Dan said...

I think this is a pretty interesting phenomenon and I'm curious to see what you find.

It's funny that you mention Stieg Larsson, because I actually found my used copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the Booksmith's UBC! I haven't seen another down there since, and that was part of the reason why I snatched it up.

I'll be on the look out for O'Conner stuff, that one's a real head-scratcher.

Bookseller Bill said...

I think there are two separate phenomena at play here. There are some authors people are loathe to give up - the O'Connors, Carvers, and Murakamis. In my experience, I would add to that list some genre authors - Terry Pratchett and Donald Westlake/Richard Stark. (I mention Westlake because I've just started reading him and can't find him anywhere, and people never bring him in to the store to trade.) There are a bunch of authors we have trouble keeping in stock; we rarely have people trade in Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc.

I think Larsson is more a 'flavor of the month.' People are, as you said, buying his books like hotcakes; a few years down the road, when they decide they need to clear out some space on the shelf, they'll come in droves attempting to trade his books. This happened with Dan Brown (never saw used copies of Da Vinci Code for the longest time) and Rowling. It happened with Tolkien when the films were being released; they were quite scarce, and then a year or so after RotK was in theaters, Tolkien books (many with movie tie-in covers) showed up everywhere.

Evan P said...

I think one of the reasons with Carver and O'Conner, at least, is that if you're buying a collection of their stories, you've probably already read a few of them, and you're buying the book so that you can turn back to them or dig deeper into their work, not so that you can see what they're like. Hence, more reason to hold onto the books after you're done. Murakami, on the other hand, seems to have this real cult-following that just devours his books and then locks them away for eternity. I'm not sure what it is, but all my attempts to find him in used bookstores--in AZ, NY, and now MA--have met with failure (note: the fact that I've tried so often probably places me in that strange cult-following).