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Half-Price Books

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I love Half-Price Books. Call this a glowing review for a retail experience. Tonight I dropped by one of my local Half-Price Books locations and picked up seven books for $13.70 plus tax. That’s less than $1.96 per book!

I picked up one book each from L.E. Modesitt Jr and Georges Simenon, two from Ngaio Marsh, and three from John le Carré.

The L.E. Modesitt Jr book, The Ghost of the Revelator, is the second of an alternate-history science fiction series of which I have not yet read the first. No matter, I trust Modesitt enough to know that my investment was not wasted even though it was by far the most expensive purchase, at $3.48. If it turns out that I can’t appreciate this book without having read the first, I’ll simply pay full retail for the first. I recently paid full price for two others of his books, and both were well worth it — reviews are forthcoming.

Madame Maigret’s Own Case, by Georges Simenon, is one (The first? I could not find an ordered list, and this comes first alphabetically.) in a series of 23 mystery novels featuring Chief Inspector Jules Maigret, or in this case, his wife. This particular novel was published in Paris in 1950, then translated into English in 1959. I love old British mysteries, and I hope that old French mysteries will be similarly captivating. Though the characters have appeared on the PBS television series MYSTERY!, I have unfortunately missed them there, tending to tune in only when I catch a commercial for Poirot. All of the books in this series were marked at $1.98, which is actually less than the half of the cover price of $6.00.

The last time or two I visited with my family, at least one of them was inevitably carrying a book by Ngaio Marsh. I was assured that she was a worthy successor to Agatha Christie, writing old-style mysteries. A blurb on the back cover of the paperbacks assures us that “It’s time to compare Christie to Marsh instead of the other way around.” I pay attention to the blurb only because of the last name of the author, Dilys Winn of New York Magazine. I picked up two novels of hers, more or less at random. Final Curtain was written in 1947 and False Scent was written in 1959. The pair together cost $3.50, the cover price of both.

John le Carré (really David Cornwell) was a master of his field, writing the classic spy thrillers upon which all modern spy thrillers are based. At least that’s what I’ve heard. Unfortunately, I’ve read very few of them. In fact, I’ve read only Our Game, The Russia House, and the excellent The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I think I checked out the marvelous book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy from the library, since it isn’t currently on my shelf. All were good, though I thought that The Russia House was a bit slow. I can’t explain why I haven’t pursued him more aggressively, but I’m trying to make up for that now with three purchases tonight. The thinnest and most inexpensive at $1.13 is also the second book he ever wrote, A Murder Of Quality, written in 1962. Books published in 1980 have much lower cover prices than those published today, making them a great find at Half-Price Books. For $1.63, I also picked up le Carré’s The Looking Glass War, written in 1965. This edition was published in 1981 and was, I believe, his fourth novel. Possibly his fifth book, The Naive And Sentimental Lover does not even sound like a spy novel at all, but I was intrigued by the relationships developed in Tinker, so I decided to give it a try for $1.98.

Seven books for less than fourteen dollars. Yet another reason why old books are best. Now I just have to read them all and write reviews of some of them. I should write reviews of all of them, but my track records doesn’t speak well of my commitment to reviews.

(This post also appears at W6 Daily.)

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  • Tom Johnson

    Thanks for this, Phillip! I checked out their site and found they had a store here in Phoenix, which I’ll be checking out this weekend.

  • Michelle

    I love getting cheap books, which is not that easy in Germany, because books falls under a special rule – they have to have the same price everywhere. Which really sucks.

  • Phillip Winn

    Tom (#1) – They’re based here, and I regularly visit four of them. Each has a slightly different “feel.” One has a better children’s section, the other has more mysteries, still another has a deeper science fiction collection, and so on. But they’re all good. :)

  • Daisy

    I heard that the legend De Camp (or his son or someone who inherited it) sold off his library. Tons of sci-fi books. The apple of a collector’s eye. Rumor has it that these books were bought by Half Price Books — the very same used bookstore chain that you’re chatting about. Has anyone else got the scoop? Do share.

  • Dave Nalle

    It makes some sense since DeCamp lives in Dallas now and HPB is based in Texas. I know that DeCamp has had some health and financial problems in recent years – he’s now quite old and not writing much, so selling off his books makes sense. No hard data on the sale, though. I doubt that HPB would have given him a competitive price. They’re more about volume than quality.


  • xxxxx

    Half Price Books is a scumbag company. They are only good for getting rid of material that you were intending to throw away anyway, because you save on disposal fees. They throw away most of what they buy. Go behind any Half Price Books and you can watch them dump the books they just bought in the dumpsters. Look in the bins, they are full of books, records, software, etc. They don’t allow dumpster diving, but if everyone does it, how are they going to stop us? One way is by pouring water on the books (they actually do this at some locations). Don’t give me any lip about “recycling”. Recycling is not good for the earth, and is irrelevant, but I don’t want to divert to an argument about that garbage. I understand most books are worth little and they can’t use them all, and it makes business sense to destroy the type of thing they are selling to try to keep prices higher. It’s not moral, but they feel it is in their interest. It doesn’t matter if the books become paper pulp or are put in a landfill, they are destroyed in either case. They throw out much more than they donate to charities.

    So I admitted their huge destruction of books is done because they think it helps their business, so why are they scum? Because they deceive the people selling to them by telling them that the offer amount is for “everything”, when in reality they are only keeping some and throwing a lot of your books in the bins to be destroyed. Some buyers will admit that one stack on the counter they can use, but the rest they are going to “recycle” or donate, but most Half Price Books buyers will not tell you that and people are not allowed to take back what they are going to throw away. Also Half Price Books employees go ballistic if you ask them if you can have or buy something in their trash bins. If they are just going to throw them away, why not allow someone who wants or needs them to have them? Because they are trying to protect their market. It is similar to book burning, but they do it out of greed. Half Price Books buyers are ignorant as can be. They actually throw away rare and desirable items, and put trash on their shelves. Their bins contain thousands of dollars in software they think is too old, and antique books they know nothing about. Experienced people do not sell to Half Price Books, but only use them as a disposal service. There are many online sellers who would be happy to pay you more for your media than Half Price Books will. So what needs to happen is for online sellers to stake out Half Price Books parking lots, and when ignorant people bring valuable media to sell to Half Price Books, make them an offer on the spot before they stupidly go into Half Price Books and get ripped off. More money will be made by deserving parties and Half Price Books will not be permitted to destroy as many books.