Used book sales are a common occurrence in most cities. Often, donations are requested months in advance and the books trickle in steadily with a few books here and, more rarely, a larger drop off by a particularly zealous donor. The generous contributors almost always share the same sentiment no matter the amount of their patronage, “Thank you for taking these!” or “So nice to purge some books!”
The sale day arrives and the piles of orphaned books sit neatly stacked ready for a new home. Yet, among the rows and rows of spines one question arises: Where are the classics? Not simply the classic-classics but the modern-classics, too. A few customers will happen upon a lucky find but, generally, one does not cross a masterpiece at a used book sale. Books such as To Kill A Mocking Bird, A Wrinkle In Time, Little Women, and, even the first books of the Harry Potter series are a scarcity. Authors famous for their works such as Lewis, Tolkien, Twain, Austen, Dickens, and the like rarely make an appearance on these occasions and if they do are often tossed because of their dog-eared condition.
Yet, some titles (and none will be named) reappear numerous times; the same book sitting beside multiples of itself on the book sale table. Ironically, these titles have also appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. For this reason, they will be purchased again, carried home with excitement, and read voraciously … but only once. Some months down the road another book sale will find them sitting on a table beside their twins.
Several questions arise from this phenomenon of orphaned books: What makes people so happy to purge books they once enjoyed? Why there exists a dearth of classics at used book sales? And, why is it that the same books dropped carelessly into donation bins are purchased at the sale only to be re-donated later time and again?
The same answer pertains to each query. True classics, the stories that dwell in a reader’s heart long after the book is given a special place on the bookshelf, are kept, treasured, and passed down from generation to generation.
These observations are not meant to say that every book at a used book sale is not a classic or that the classics never end up at a sale. The rule of thumb persists, however, that the books orphaned on the sale tables were not cherished enough to be counted as members of a household.
To my fellow writers, though we occasionally fail despite our best efforts, may we strive to write stories which speak to the depths of souls, imagine characters one can call friend, and leave an indelible impression on the hearts of our readers. May it be that our books are never orphaned but find forever-homes, highly revered and their pages caressed more than once.