The Best Places To Buy (And Find) Books

by Victoria Hills

Sleek and shiny paperbacks, fat new hardcovers with uncracked virgin spines, ancient Penguin Classics with yellowing pages, dogeared ex-library copies with notes scribbled in the margins — these are my Louboutin pumps and Fendi purses. Books are irresistible. That's why I've figured out the best places to buy books, otherwise I'd be insanely poor. I look at them and I need to touch them, and once I touch them I need to open them. And once I've opened a book I have to buy it. I have to.

I am, by and large, sensible about money. I am averse to collecting trinkets. I don't buy shot glasses in foreign airports. I can admire a dress in a store window without having to talk myself down from buying it. I only buy coffee out a couple of times a month. But I do have an Achilles' heel, one that's not shoes or Starbucks or iPhone apps. It is books, and I know you understand.

I make fun of friends whose closets are stuffed with unworn clothes still dangling pricetags, but really, I'm no better than them. As much as I read, about half of the books I own are still waiting for my hours. And in the meantime, I'm still prowling my city, emptying my wallet to fill another shelf... can you hear me sighing from here?

Anyway, in all of my mania, I've learned a thing or two about the best places to buy books of all types, and where to save a little money along the way. Here is where my bibliophilic bookaholic tendencies have led me, and hopefully you can pick up a few tips from my bad habits.

Thrift Shops

Price: $

What you'll find: A totally disorganized hodgepodge of well-worn paperbacks and yellowing hardcovers by everyone from Roald Dahl to Joyce Maynard. Heaps of dusty, abandoned books longing for new homes — who can resist??

Tips: Don't rush. It can be frustrating to have to read through titles one by one, but it's the only way to find anything in a thrift shop jumble.


Price: $

What you'll find: Library book sales are my favorite places to find cheap books. Recent purchases include books by Joan Didion, Jonathan Franzen, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggert, Karen Russell, and so many others. But you'll definitely find more of a breadth than depth of selection, as libraries' used book sales tend to be composed of patrons' discarded paperbacks and the hardcover bestsellers that the library bought 12 too many copies of last year.

Tips: Some libraries painstakingly organize their used book sale sections according to genre, but most just jumble all the books together and leave it to you to find the interesting titles. Bring cash or a check, and take 10 or 15 minutes to skim all the options.

Café Bookstores

Price: $

What you'll find: Snacks and a superb book selection. Because café bookstores are both small and vitally dependent on trend appeal, their selves are carefully curated and adorned with Staff Picks notes and quote cards. Wait staff offer nuanced book suggestions while preparing your coffee.

Tips: Go with the intent of reading an unfamiliar author or investigating a subject you know nothing about. These are the best places for unearthing wonderful new reading material.

Garage Sales

Price: $

What you'll find: Mostly beaten-up romance novels... but occasionally you'll discover great (and cheap!) books. Probably nothing published in the last three years, though.

Tips: Haggle! If they're having a garage sale, they're probably more interested in decluttering than in making money. Offer 50 or 75 percent of the asking price, and then negotiate from there.

Book Warehouses

Price: $$

What you'll find: Publishers' surplus stock at discounted prices (typically 20 percent or more off the original list price). An eclectic selection featuring bestsellers, out-of-print niche history books, and the hardcover editions of books that've been out in paperback for years. And everything in between.

Tips: These warehouses are often organized by publisher, instead of genre; call or check the website before you visit, and then jot down the publisher info of any books you're specifically hunting for. Also, be sure to ask about upcoming sales — the warehouse in my hometown has an annual $30/box sale, which amazingly is exactly what it sounds like: pay just $30 for a box packed full with books.


Price: $$

What you'll find: Everything. Even out-of-print books are usually available.

Tips: Read the "Condition" information for a book before you buy it. Sometimes a "Used-Good" copy will have highlighting or notes, but an "Acceptable" copy will only have light wear or a creased spine.

Chain Bookstores

Price: $$$

What you'll find: Everything. These stores are a dying breed (RIP Borders), but the ones that still survive carry board games, puzzles, mugs, and miscellaneous trinkets in addition to thousands of books in every genre.

Tips: You don't need tricks to navigate a chain bookstore. Just don't forget that bookstore-associated Starbucks usually don't accept gift card or app payments.

Independent Bookstores

Price: $$$

What you'll find: The "big books" — current and recent bestsellers, plus classics. You might have to ask a clerk to order in that recent poetry collection or the latest release from your obscure favorite author.

Tips: Most indie bookstores have great bargain book selections and/or low-priced used book sections. Ask a clerk for a schedule of upcoming talks. Because touring authors usually pick independent bookstores over the big-name chains, you might get the chance to meet your literary idol in the flesh.

Used Bookstores

Price: $$

What you'll find: Mostly older books, priced as low as a dollar but rarely more than $8 or 10. Used book stores are usually arranged by subject or genre — fantasy, mystery, travel — and almost never by author. It might take a while to find a specific book you're searching for, but used bookstores are always more about the journey than the destination: You'll likely discover some promising new books while on the hunt.

Tips: Wander. Be patient. And talk to the store clerks or owner, who typically have encyclopedic knowledge of their available inventory.

Little Free Libraries

Price: None!

What you'll find: A limited selection of books in a tiny roadside "library" that looks a lot like an open-front doghouse. The first Little Free Library was built in 2009, and since then thousands have popped up around the world, all offering free, unmonitored access to used books.

Tips: Use this map of Little Free Libraries to find one near you. If you can, bring a book or two of your own to leave behind.

Reddit Book Exchange

Price: None! (usually)

What you'll find: A subreddit dedicated to book swapping. Redditors post books they're putting up for adoption or books they're on the lookout for. If you want a book, you may be asked to cover the cost of shipping or to send a book in return. Mostly novels; minimal nonfiction.

Tips: If you see a book you want, claim it immediately or risk losing it to someone else. Offer to trade a book of your own in exchange for a book you've claimed or requested.


Price: None!

What you'll find: Thoughtful recommendations, bookish evangelizers, and quite possibly your new favorite tome.

Tips: Be precise about the type of stories you like, but also be open to trying new things. If a good friend says THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I'VE EVER READ, it's probably well worth perusing.