The Art of Buying Used Books

The Art of Buying Used Books

Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles

by Barbara Smith

It is 11:30am and I am surrounded by a lot of people, some are home educators others just love reading. The sale doesn’t begin until 12 noon. We are discussing where the best place to start will be. Yes, it is our annual Red Cross Book Fair. There will be 60,000 books for sale – some very good books too. We go every year and come home with boxes full of books.


I like to begin at the Classics table. I might be able to pick up some Henty books for $2.00. Last year we were looking for Wilkie Collin’s books, a new author Genevieve (21) is interested in. I pick up all the books with RTS (Religious Track Society of London) on the spine. I then go to the children’s section and pick out books according to the publisher. If I already have the book at home, well, there are lots of home educators or families in our Church who would like the book. The publishers I am interested in, at the moment, are:

Victory Press

R.T.S. (Religious Tract Society)

Pickering and Inglis

Epworth Press

Lutterworth Press

Lamplighter Publishing

Landmark Books

for they have some good biographies and history books.

My impulse is to buy every biography or auto biography I come across in the whole place. These bring history alive like virtually no other kind of book. They are really “living books”, for you get to see into the lives of real people. Even the lives of unbelievers can be incredibly challenging when you read about their exploits and accomplishments as well as the conditions under which they lived and worked.

If I am not sure if a book I’m looking at is a good one, I put it through this check list:

1. Does it have a page inside the front cover showing it to have been given as a Sunday School prize?

2. Glance over the dust cover to get an idea about the book.

3. Read the dedication and notes about the author to learn something of his worldview.

4. Scan the last couple of pages of the book to see if they mention God and how He is men- tioned.

Sometimes you do end up bringing a dud book home, but at 25cents to a dollar you can afford to chuck out a couple of books.

I also look for books by the Author:

Elsie Loche – NZ author

G A Henty – Historial novels

E S Ellis – Usually about the Ameriacn Indians and the early settlers

Captain Marryat

R M Ballantyne

James Fenimore Cooper

Louise Andrews Kent

Wilkie Collins

Louisa May Alcott

Jane Austen

Capt W T Johns

Pansy Books

Elizabeth Prentiss

Johann Wyss

Daniel Defoe

RG Le Tourneau

There are lots of other good authors. These are just the ones that I am on the look out for at the moment or have just finished collecting. (We have to our knowledge every book published by Ballantyne, MacLean, Alcott and Austen.) We would love to hear about your favourite Authors and Publishsers.

Gladys Hunt’s book Honey for a Child’s Heart lists good books for your younger children to read. She also wrote with Barbara Hampton Read for Your Life – Turning Teens into Readers. The first part of this second book contains:

A Warning to parents


1. Three Cheers for a Good Book

2. Is Imagination Going Down the Tube

3. How to Read a Good Book

4. What Makes a Good Book

5. What is Happening to Books

6. Fantasy in a Real World

7. Read for Your Life

8. Feed Your Heart

9. A Word For the College Bound

The second part is divided into the following categories: Adventure, Animals, Contemporary, Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, and Tried and True, Glossary and Index. Each title has a description plus a recommendation, followed by age-group indicators: books for early teens, mid teens, late teens and good family read-aloud books.

The back cover of Read for Your Life says:

“Gladys Hunt discusses how to read a book, what makes a good book, what questions to ask, and how to discern between good, better and best. She has a way of making you want to read, while helping you to make the most of the opportunity.

“To help you choose what to read, Barbara Hampton has reviewed more than 300 books. Recommendations run the gamut from classics like A Tale of Two Cities to contemporary fiction like a Ring of Endless Light; from literary greats like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alan Paton to moderns like Katherine Paterson and Chaim Potok.”

The book contains:

– Pointers on becoming a more perceptive reader

– Tips on how to enjoy poetry, fantasy and fiction

– An annotated list of over 300 book recommendations

– Hundreds of plot synopses

– A complete index to authors and titles

(This book is available from Geneva Books, 199B Richardsons Line, R D 8, Palmerston North, Phone (06) 357-8826, email:

These books by Gladys Hunt and others like them plus several internet book lists also give you ideas of what books to buy. My favourite email book lists are:

1000 Good Books – for all levels:

100 Great Books – for secondary level:

Also the Diana Waring – History Alive books have lists of books in each chapter with recommendations on each book. URL

And Lives in Print-Good Biographies and Autobiographies

Hand that Rocks the Cradle—Good books to read aloud to children

These books and lists will keep you hunting for good second hand books for many hours at whatever Book Fair you may have locally. I will often go back several times to these big book sales as it is easy to miss a good book. The price often goes down as the sale progresses, and they’ve often got a lot of free books as well. It is an activity even home educating dads enjoy, if only because it gives them an opportunity to build another bookshelf for you!


Thanks to Wietske de Vries for her notes on Read For Your Life – Turning Teens Into Readers.

From Keystone MagazineMarch 2001, Vol. VII No. 2

Editor: Craig Smith

PO Box 9064

Palmerston North

Phone: (06) 357-4399

Fax: (06) 357-4389

Email: <>