Books are drugs, gold, movies, paintings, teachers, windows, and whores all rolled together. Their bulk shores up the sides of our souls and gives substance to parts of the human condition that we know to be true only after we've read it.
A book's meaning and importance in our lives is only partially determined by its content. The knowledge of when you found this book, who gave it to you, what this stain is from, when the last time you saw its cover, these all provide a rich contextual pulpit from which the book can speak to you. To be a "real book", it should present itself as a unique artifact, with palpable traces of its path through the world.
There was a time when I took pleasure in the look and feel of a squeaky new hardback with blinding white pages and crisp corners just begging me to turn them. And that time was the second grade. A new book is not special. It wears its commodity status baldly, as if proud to be one of forty thousand machine-made clones, and I do not and will not take pleasure in that.
A newborn book wishes it were an ebook, that sterilized scion of publishing-as-industry, which lacks the Bookiest aspect of being book: the ability to be owned, read, and handed from one person to the next, whose chain of readers forms a kind of Jataka Tales which turns this mass produced object into a spiritually and culturally meaningful artifact.
The most magical result of having a long-lived book is the phenomenon of marginalia, where the tracks of the books passage through one or more consciousnesses are made visible in its flesh. Notes in the edges of your own books magnify their context in your life. Notes in the edges of books from used bookstores cultivate atmospheres of mystery and time-earned authoritativeness, testaments to value seen by others and clues to where you yourself may look for it.
The best way to get books is through direct transmission from the previous owner. Ideally this would be accompanied by earnest, tearful eye contact and a lingering grasp on the spine as they take one final moment, with the book suspended between the two of you, to impart just how important it is that you read this particular book.
The next best way to come into possession of books is from used bookstores. There was some fear a two decades ago that these would be ground up in the tech-driven new-consumer culture, but there has been a satisfying backlash which has left us with exactly the right number of these shops hidden in precisely the right out-of-the-way, just-where-you-need-them places in YOUR hometown. Find them and love them. They will return your love, along with bonus love if you find them without the use of the Internet.
But what if I want to buy used books from a computer interface easily manipulated from my own motorized reclining sofa? Well, there's always Amazon (or, better, AmazonSmile; you ARE using AmazonSmile aren't you?).
On any Amazon book page, underneath the big buttons to purchase the book new as a hardback, paperback, or Kindle, there are almost always tiny blue links listing how many used copies are for sale, starting at what price. The text is small, and of that "default web browser" typeface that our eyes have learned to skate over. But learn to start seeing it, and clicking on it.
From that link you go to a page showing all of the private sellers willing to sell the book used, at what price and with what shipping. I KNOW you bought Amazon Prime so that you can think you'll never pay for shipping again, but FUCK Amazon Prime. If you do some simple math, you'll usually find that your net price is less than the Prime buy-me-new-like-a-virgin price, plus you get to keep your soul by keeping a used bookseller in business, PLUS you get a book with its OWN soul.
We need to make a collective pact to do this. Fuck accurate sales numbers and fuck the publishers. If we didn't keep banging on the "please give me a completely new thing" every ten seconds, maybe we wouldn't be drowning our seas and our lives in shit, both literally and metaphorically. It's a pretty simple concept: If the thing you want already exists, don't force someone to make a brand new one for you just because you like "new things" due to some twisted American fetish for sterility.
By reducing the demand for new things, and actually USING things to the fullest extent they were intended, we can cash in some of our capitalist guilt for the satisfaction of being rational. And by preferring used books over new ones, we perpetuate the literary mystique which had always surrounded reading, up until we decided that we didn't like fun anymore that one day in 1997 and stripped it out of the culture.
Let's make this the new thing. Let's pass around books until we read them into powder. It'll be better. Trust me.