Some tips on thrifting for books

For a long time, I avoided the book section in thrift stores.  Whenever I go thrifting, I have a specific set of areas that I’ll explore but I always thought the book section was too time-consuming and overwhelming so I would avoid it.  Lately though, I’ve reconsidered and have had some serious luck thrifting books.  It definitely takes some digging and some practice, but there’s gold in dem dar shelves if you take the time to look!  So, against my better judgment, I’m sharing my best tips for making the book section manageable at your local thrift store.  Don’t take all the good finds on me!

  • First of all, I think it’s important to know what you’re looking for.  Are you a person who loves history books?  Adult fiction?  Steamy bodice-rippers?  Kids books?  I find it’s best to have a plan – divide and conquer.  For me, I am generally looking for modern books that I don’t feel like buying at full price, vintage books with interesting covers, vintage paranormal books, movie novelizations, and books I loved as a child.  This means I basically scour all the sections except for children’s board books, romance, spirituality/religion, and cooking.
  • Know your sections.  Things are not always what they seem – remember that in thrift stores the items are stocked by regular staff, so they may not always know where to put things.  I always make sure I check the “Vintage and collectibles” section or the “Classics” section.  Not only are there often some really interesting covers in there, but sometimes they put more modern authors like J.G. Ballard or random trade paperback books that don’t really fit in with the pocket sized paperbacks.
  • I like to look for movie novelizations, which can be all over the place.  Even if you’re not interested in science fiction, it’s good to give it a glance and see what’s hiding in there.
  • Always check the books that have been turned so the spine faces in.  I don’t know if people do this to hide books or just out of laziness, but sometimes the books have the spines facing in adding an element of mystery to the hunt.
  • The humour section can have some good memoirs of comedians in it, but I find it more likely to find them in the non-fiction or biography section.  The humour section is where bathroom books go to die.
  • Get your scan on!  I am typically not looking for a specific book, except in the kids section where I’m scouring for Encyclopedia Brown books.  Rather than spending too much time examining each book, I have gotten pretty good at just scanning along the rows and looking for certain key words.  I’m pretty good at recognizing books by font/colour, but I think it’s a skill you acquire.  Just scan back and forth so things aren’t so overwhelming.
  • Check things out.  Because I like to find books with interesting vintage covers, I tend to pull out anything with an older looking spine just to check it out.  Yes, I judge books by their covers.
  • Look all the way at the bottom – they usually put hardcovers towards the bottom to balance the weight, so that’s where you can come across really great first editions of things.
  • Make sure the section isn’t broken up – sometimes you think a section is done because you reached the bottom of the shelf, but it actually continues at the top.
  • Keep a list.  There are certain series that I collect, so I have the titles all written in a little notebook in my purse so I can check it quickly to avoid duplicates.
  • Make use of the deals – Talize and Value Village are buy 4 get the 5th free, so it’s always worth it to keep browsing!



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