Guilt Strikes After A Trip to Half-Price Books

Monday, August 30, 2010
Last week, I wrote about the perception of writing being a passive profession. When I was down in the Twin Cities on my last days off, it occurred to me that writing is also a guilty profession. No matter what you’re doing, from working on a project to buying books, there always seems to be something imperfect about our “writer-ly” approaches. It seems being a “writer” involves carrying around a little bag of neuroses and misconceptions at all times.

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a fan of bookstores. (Honestly, would you trust me as an English major if I wasn’t? Although to be fair, I generally mistrust anyone who’s not a bookstore fan, regardless of their educational background. . . . ) I may have problems maintaining an appropriate wardrobe, but I have no problem buying books and I resist parting with any of my books, even when I’m fairly sure I’ll never look at some of them again. I have yet to move my books out of my parents’ house (we don’t have the room for them) and sometimes I like to go up to my childhood bedroom to admire all the pretty, multicolored volumes lining my bookshelves, and spilling into the “overflow” shelving of my floor. It’s only when I think of how I’ve bought so many of my books that I start feeling those little twinges of guilt in my belly.

As an aspiring novelist, there’s that teeny little part of me that tells me, really, I should only be buying the hardcover, full-priced versions of the books I want to read. After all, if I have a book published, do I want people to wait until they can buy my book for a penny on Amazon or grab a severely discounted copy at Half-Price Books? Publishing a book in this day and age is no guarantee of fame and it’s certainly no guarantee for fortune. E-books have publishers turned all topsy-turvy and there have been some rather startling reports on just how little money is made when you have a moderately successful book published. Indeed, the monetary success of Harry Potter was an anomaly.  (And remember, how none of us waited until the Harry Potter cost a penny: we all “pre-bought” the latest hardcover version before its release date.)

So how do I explain my presence in Half-Price Books last Wednesday? They say in America you vote with your wallet, which really means I should be strolling through independent books stores and not box stores that start with a “B.” I’ll bet you anything that the big box stores aren’t going to be the ones gambling on a first release from an unknown author if I’m published.

Yet as a voracious reader and someone on the cusp of middle class, I simply don’t have the budget to buy all the books I want to read in a year at full price. And living 55 miles outside of town, I just haven’t gotten the whole library thing work very well for me lately.

So the cheaply bought books accumulate on my shelves. Guilty as I may feel about how I got the books, there’s always one saving grace: at least I’m still reading.


  1. I've actually contemplated taking the train to Chicago to go to the nearest HPB. I know *exactly* what you're talking about!

  2. Don't feel guilty shopping at HPB!!! They treat their employees AMAZZZZINGGG (full healthcare, life insurance, splendid vacation days and 401k... not to mention they hire tattooed and pierced folk/don't discriminate), work towards preventing book bans, donate millions of books to schools and have their own publishing/distro company! Yea, it doesn't help an author to buy the books secondhand, but it helps the environment and the general culture of books and media! (I work there, so I am exceptionally biased ;) ) Most of our employees are writers, artists and musicians.


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