Used books have many virtues. They’re good for the environment, being the ultimate primary duo of the triad “reduce, reuse, recycle.” They feel like handling the wisdom of the ages itself with their brittle pages and scuffed covers. These books didn’t have a quiet life just sitting on the shelf. I understand and respect that. Still, when classifying such books for sale, I often find myself at odds with the sellers’ descriptions. I wrote earlier of a book that had been listed as “very good” having two pages stuck together by a wad of gum. What if what I needed to read was beneath that gum? And no, not all books are available electronically online. Copyright still exists. You see, I once toyed with the idea, while trying to live as an adjunct professor, of selling used books. There are accepted standards for poor, acceptable, fair, good, very good, and like new.
A recent “good purchase” arrived battered and a bit too well loved for my liking. “Good,” however, indicates that a book is readable—the underlining shouldn’t obscure text, and God help us, there should be no gum. This one, however, had several ripped pages. That’s not good. Then I came across a page where the corner had obviously been dog-eared only to eventually fall off before it reached me, carrying the page numbers with it. Writing in books I understand, but bending down pages ought to be a crime. Further along, another dog-eared missing bit took some text with it. That part, at least wasn’t readable. This puts us in “poor” territory, in fact. Then I came to the page that was two-thirds missing, apparently ripped out from top to bottom leaving only a tonsure of text. Who rated this book?
Those who buy used books can be tough customers, I realize. Sometimes they are forced to be. A used book in good condition, by definition, is missing no pages. Technically I suppose that’s true—a stub of the page is there. I suspect the real problem, however, is that the seller doesn’t take the loving time with each and every book that s/he should. Books are meant to be read, yes. They convey knowledge. And once you buy one (this was, however, ex libris, and from a university library, no less) you are free to bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate. Perhaps someone preowned this poor orphan of a tome once it left the library, and if so they were a cruel owner. If not, libraries, it appears, should be making more aggressive use of fines. But mostly, sellers should spend some time getting to know their books.