I like books.
Always have, and always will. And what I particularly like reading about is history, especially late antiquity and early medieval, plus a fascination with the Victorian era.
And what I’ve learned about these fascinations I’ve learned by reading books. Perhaps I should have made a career out of them, and perhaps I should have followed my eight year old self when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, relied ‘An archaeologist!’.
Well kids don’t really know what they want to be, but I’d just read about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and certainly it was one of the things that lit the flame.
Unfortunately, no one in my family had had a quasi academic career, and what careers advice was available through school was worse than useless so I ended up following a fairly standard set of courses, decided I didn’t like them, tried biochemistry – not a success, tried psychology, or more accurately animal behaviour and neuropsychology and loved it, so much so that I tried doing a PhD. Well that didn’t work out but along the way I learned a lot about computing and data which I parlayed into a succession of research support roles, making me a sort of academic groupie.
But along the way I read, voraciously, and being close to universities and cities with big bookshops, my idea of an enjoyable Saturday afternoon in winter was to browse bookshops.
When I was young and poor I had a little game with myself – I’d set myself a budget for the afternoon and scour the second hand bookshops to see what I could find that was relevant. If I could find one history book I could spend the balance on a coffee, or else a mystery novel or some science fiction, and the rest went into the pot for next week’s hunt.
And of course I didn’t always stick to it, but it was fun, and of course when I could afford to buy books without having to worry too much I stopped playing the game.
All good, but then I found myself living in Canberra, which had many qualities, but a good bookshop wasn’t one of them, well not until Borders came along.
This was the early noughties, there was nothing like Amazon in Australia, and while there were a few small companies selling books online, they didn’t have the catalogues of the big international players.
This was a problem to me, as I’d just started working on a project which involved a lot of IT stuff, but I needed to know more. I also had the problem that the Australian dollar was worth bugger all internationally so buying direct from Amazon in the US or UK wasn’t really an option.
Now the thing about computing books is that they are often really expensive new, but older editions are cheap second hand as they may refer to an earlier version of software.
So I discovered the early online second hand booksellers, and bought a pile of remaindered books about text manipulation and archiving to keep myself ahead of the curve.
And I started buying some of my recreational reading the same way – not always cheaper – but certainly doing so delivered greater choice.
Then the kindle (and other e-readers) came along. Great for linear reading, great for the mystery novel you read on a long flight, and absolutely useless for anything with footnotes and references which needs something a bit more non-linear, more hypertextual.
So the mix of what I bought changed – and indeed not everything is available on the kindle, not to mention that some publishers set their kindle prices within a dollar or two of the price for the physical copy of the book making second hand or remaindered a viable option even for books you might consider ‘disposable’.
And now I’m retired and living in a rural area – no decent bookshop within miles, and even though there’s a shop than specialises in bin ends and remainders in Albury – I sometimes still go and play the book hunt game for old times’ sake – almost everything I buy is bought online from second hand vendors.
Is it the cheapest way of doing it? Probably not, but it delivers choice, unimaginable choice, and that’s certainly worth paying for …