I’ve fallen in love with second hand books recently. There’s only one dedicated second hand bookshop in my area, but most of the local charity shops boast at least a couple of shelves of paperbacks. While I’m still waiting for my staff discount to kick in, I’m hesitant to buy new, full price books, and I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability and whether it is responsible, both financially and environmentally, of buying and collecting books. On top of this, I do tend to damage books when I read them, by cracking the spines and making notes in the margins, so I’m really not bothered about them being in pristine condition when they come into my possession. If anything, I kind of love it when you can see that someone has loved a book, battered it by carrying it around, dogeared pages and cracked the spines.
Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon
I listened to this on audiobook when it first came out, and loved it so much that I wanted to own a paper copy. I’m always a little hesitant to buy books that I’ve listened to on audiobook or read as ebooks at full price, given that I’ve already paid for them once, so whenever I spot a favourite second hand, I tend to nab them. It’s a funny, honest, informative memoir of Bryony Gordon’s experience of OCD and depression, and the eating disorder and alopecia and drug use that her mental illness led to. I would definitely recommend it, especially if you have people in your life who are dealing with mental health issues, as I found that it gave me a lot of insight into what they might be going through (although obviously everyone’s experience is different).
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is a hugely popular, beloved book which had somehow completely passed me by until a couple of months ago, but it sounds fun and interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel by a Spanish author before, so I’m looking forward to it.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This is one of those books that was everywhere when it came out, and those are always easy to find in charity shops. It’s about a woman who keeps dying and being reborn – although presumably there is more plot going on than just that. I’m not necessarily planning on reading this in the immediate future, but I do want to read it eventually and for a pound, I could hardly say no.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Another one that I am the last person alive not to have read. That’s a theme of this haul to be honest. This is the American edition, which I actually prefer to the current British version. It also has a note in the front from someone giving it as a Christmas gift, which can be part of the fun of second hand books.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
People have been talking about Mohsin Hamid’s newest novel, Exit West, all over the place recently, which has reminded me that I have never read his Man Booker shortlisted novel. I believe that it’s written as a single sustained monologue from a young Pakistani man, telling his life story to an American tourist. The structure sounds a lot like Albert Camus’s The Fall, which I studied and loved in my final year of undergraduate.
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xialou Guo
To be honest, this wouldn’t have been of any particular interest to me, but for one detail. It’s the story of a young Chinese woman who moves to England for a year with the aim of improving her English, and falls in love with an older, British man. The detail that piqued my interest was that it is written, to begin with, in stilted, broken English, which improves as the narrator spends more time in the UK and her English improves. I love those kinds of linguistic experiments, and I’m interested to see what the effect will be.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I don’t actually know a huge amount about this book, just that it’s about a hostage situation in a South American country, that there is an opera singer involved somehow and that most of the hostages are international diplomats. This edition is the now out of print Harper Perennial edition, which had these lovely pastel foil spines and line drawings on the cover. Another thing that I love about charity shops is that sometimes you can just stumble across hard to find editions, and while I wanted this specific edition, I wasn’t going to go out of my way to find it.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I think you can even see in the photo that this copy is super, super bent out of shape – the spine is basically at a 45 degree angle from where it should be. Whoever read this book before me absolutely tore it apart, but I’m already half way through it and it’s not affecting my reading experience, so who cares? It’s a retelling of the myth of Achilles, narrated by his companion and best friend, Patroclus, who I believe does appear in Homer’s Iliad (I think it’s the Iliad, but it could be the Odyssey – my knowledge of classics is appalling), but in a minor way. Until I bought it and read the blurb properly, I didn’t realise that it’s a love story between the two characters, and so far it’s beautifully written.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I’ll be honest, I haven’t really heard many people whose taste I would say is close to mine rave about this book, and I slightly suspect it might be a bit shit. But it sounds fun and easy, and I’d like to give it a try. I’m more willing to give books I’m not totally sure about a try if I can get them cheap in a charity shop, and sometimes those can turn out to be great reads.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is my last of Adichie’s novels, and in a way I don’t want to read it because then I’ll have nothing left. It’s set during the Biafran War of the 1960’s, and is about a group of characters living through this era. I assume that this, like her other novels, will bring together the personal and the political, and I’m fully expecting to love it.
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
I know literally nothing about this book, other than that it’s about a brother and sister. Literally, that’s it, and the blurb is one of those vague, unhelpful ones. I’ve already heard good things about her upcoming novel, Tin Man, so I thought I would give her writing a try before that comes out.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
Last years Bailey’s Prize winner has been followed by a sequel in the last couple of months, which I read the blurb for without realising that it was a sequel. It sounded interesting, but I did realise that I was going to need to read The Glorious Heresies first. I’m glad I picked it up in a charity shop, because it’s been given a way less cool new cover recently, and I wanted this aggressively fluorescent orange one.