A blog for everything bookish

Saturday 7 January 2012

How to make your book budget go further

If, like me, you have a bit of a book buying habit it’s always good to find ways to make your book budget stretch just that little bit further. With new fiction novels retailing at, on average, £6.99 per book it’s pretty easy to sink upwards of £25 per month on books, and with salaries being squeezed by pay freezes and increases in prices of necessities (food, fuel, energy) book buying can become something of a luxury. So I thought it might be useful to share a few ideas about how you can make your book budget go further. I hope you find them of some use.

1. Use the library
If you’ve got an idea of the book you want to read the library is a great way to enjoy that book without spending a penny. When you see a book that you think you might like to read, make your first port of call the local library and if they’ve got the book in stock you’re laughing. Simply make one little trip with your library card and voila! You have your book for free. Many libraries hold their library catalogue online so it’s becoming increasingly easy to search for the book you’ve got in mind, and some libraries even invite you to suggest books for them to add to their catalogue. If they get enough people wanting a book they’ll add it to their stock so it’s always worth asking if you can’t find it.

In UK now it’s fairly easy to join a library and there aren’t restrictions on you living in the area in order to use the library’s services. For me this is great as I work in Manchester but live in Lancashire, so I use both library services – if one hasn’t got the book I want the other might have so this increases the likelihood of accessing that must read book for free. And in a time when libraries are threatened with closure due to council budget cuts, increasing the use of the library makes it more secure so you’re doing a public service too.

And if you’re not sure what book you want to read the library is great too. It’s like a giant bookshop you can walk around and browse for as long as you like, but without you being tempted to buy something. Libraries also offer additional services like internet access and you can borrow music and DVDs too. It’s all good.

In terms of saving you money whilst giving you access to books the library is the best option. Just avoid the late return fines and you’re laughing.

2. Mine your friends
The great thing about having friends is being able to borrow their books. Okay, well maybe that’s not the greatest thing about having friends but it is an excellent extra benefit particularly if you share a love of books. Okay, your friends might not necessarily read the same types of books that you read, but you’d be surprised what people have in their libraries and trying something new is always good. So if in doubt, ask. I love lending books to my friends (providing they return them, of course).

3. Swap
Swapping is something you can do for free with your friends (see 2. above) or there are now websites which provide a book swapping service. It’s not a free process (although the websites themselves are generally free) but the cost of your book is usually limited to the cost of postage. This means that you can swap books fairly cheaply providing you can find someone on the site willing to swap with you.

The website I use is Read It Swap It which is a UK only swap site. Registration is free and the website is easy to use and intuitive. You simply log the books you are willing to swap into your ‘library’ (using the book’s ISBN number) and then you can browse the library and request swaps from other people. Setting up a wish list makes it easier for other people to see the kinds of books you’re looking for and once you’ve started swapping your fellow swappees will rate you on a star system out of 5 to let other read it swap it members know you’re a trustworthy swapper.

Another book swapping site I’ve heard about is Book Mooch. Book Mooch is an international site so has the advantage of carrying a larger selection of books, but works on a slightly different basis than Read it Swap it in that you earn ‘mooch points’ by sending your books to people and you use those points to ‘buy’ books from others. I haven’t used Book Mooch so I can’t say if it’s any good, but it is a well established site and looking at the reviews on the Which magazine site it sounds fairly good.

A word of advice when deciding which books you want to give away, the smaller/thinner/lighter the book is, the less it will cost in postage. If you’ve got a copy of War & Peace you don’t want in your collection, I wouldn’t recommend posting it for swapping as the postage cost alone will make it a much more expensive proposition.

4. Buy secondhand
If you have to resort to buying the book you want then it’s always worthwhile shopping around for a secondhand copy. Although the secondhand bookshop is a dying breed if you haven’t got a secondhand bookshop nearby it’s worth checking out the local charity shops as they will usually carry a stock of books. Oxfam is particularly good and in some places (for example Preston and Lancaster) they will have a dedicated Oxfam bookshop. I’ve found some real jewels in secondhand shops and prices are generally around £2.99 - £3.99 for most books.

Online offers additional options for secondhand books. Amazon marketplace enables the sale of secondhand books, as does and It’s always worth checking out the marketplace options, but it’s worth checking the seller ratings on there if you want to avoid a bad experience. I’m a fan of Abe Books, and have used Amazon extensively for book buying (my desire for books overrides my philosophical doubts on that one!).

5. E-readers
I’ve put this one last as when weighing up the value of e-readers you need to really factor in the cost of buying the device in the first place. But if you have a device already, or you really, really want one or even if you’ve just got access to a PC then electronic versions of books can be a really cheap way of getting hold of the books you want.

If a book is outside copyright then the likelihood is, unless it’s something very obscure, there will be an electronic version available for free somewhere online. Project Gutenberg is one such organisation who have made electronic versions of classic books extensively available for free and e-books are available to anyone with a PC or any device which can read pdf files. Other websites such as may make texts available to read online.

A word to the wise about downloading novels which are translated, often the freely available version will not be the best translation available and if you want the best reading experience then e-books might not be the best solution for these types of novels, but anything written in your native language, whilst not pretty, is likely to be sound and it’s worth checking them out if you’re happy reading books on screen rather than paper. It’s not really for me, but I know many people who are very happy with their e-reading devices and the availability of free, classic books is a big benefit of ownership.

Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

I think I've mentioned before my fondness for the small independent publishing house Persephone Books who produce these wonderful, very stylish, gret bound books mainly, though not exclusively, by female writers. I'm building myself a small collection and recently acquired a copy of Beth Gutcheon's Still Missing and just before Christmas I decided to give it a read.

Still Missing tells the story of Susan Selky, a university lecturer recently separated from her husband, Graham, and mother to little Alex Selky, a very confident nearly seven year old boy. One ordinary morning Alex sets out to walk the three blocks to school and never arrives. Susan discovers that he is missing only after he fails to come home from school; by then the trail is already cold.

With the assistance of her friend and the dogged assistance of Detective Menetti who is himself father to seven children, Susan searches for Alex. The novel closely follows Susan's trials and tribulations in the desperate search for her son.

The novel stays close to Susan's story, taking us through her terrible emotional journey. Her grief, her desperation. It exposes Susan's flaws and uncovers terrible secrets about her friends, her neighbours. No one is outside suspicion and the investigation causes irreparable breaks in some of Susan's closest relationships. You follow Susan's agony; the possibility of Alex's death, the seedy criminal world which is right outside her door which she hasn't seen, and never believed in. Her isolation, her guilt. The unforgiving nature of others, the quickness of those unconnected to the events (and even close friends) to judge. I won't tell you how the novel ends, that would truly spoil the story, but I will say that sitting on the train that day, as a parent of two small children myself, I shed a tear or two. Whether that's of grief or relief, well you'll have to read the book to find out.

Still Missing is an excellent novel, painful in its examination of the terrible truth of losing a child. Those who have followed the terrible story of Madeline McCann might uncover a nugget of truth in themselves by reading this book. The story is well written, the pace never waivers and neither does Gutcheon's eye for uncovering all the painful details. There is always enough unknown to keep you guessing, but just enough uncovered to keep you reading. A painful read for any parent, but a worthwhile one certainly.

Still Missing receives a tearful 8/10 Biis.

New Year, new reads

Happy New Year blog readers! I hope you had a nice book-rich Christmas and are looking forward to an exciting reading year in 2012. I've had a nice break, read some great books and am looking forward to my challenge for 2012.

So, what books did you get for Christmas? Mine were:
The Bees by Carol Anne Duffy
Runaway by Alice Munro
Selected Stories by Alice Munro
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust (book 2 of In Search of Lost Time)

These were great acquisitions for me as they support my reading goals for 2012. This year I'm aiming to go short and long; I want to read more long fiction - books with a page count of 600+ - as I feel like I'm in the right sort of place to absorb those kinds of books, but I also want to explore the short story a bit more. I'm hoping that by examining shorts a little more I'll maybe be inspired to do more short story writing myself. And then maybe some longer stuff. Maybe.

For my 'long' reading list I think I'm going to try and do one per month. I've started already, being ambitious as I am, and leapt in with the behemoth The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shibuki. Weighing in 1184 pages it's certainly a whopper, but already I'm finding it an excellent read. If I'm not in love with 'The Shining Genji' by the end of the novel, there's probably something wrong with me. Watch this space for more thoughts as I read through the book.

Other 'long' reads I'm looking at are:
A Winter's Tale - by Mark Helprin
2666 - by Robert Bolano
Anna Karenina - by Leo Tolstoy
Infinite Jest - by David Foster Wallace
In Search of Lost Time - by Marcel Proust
Ulysses - by James Joyce
The Old Curiosity Shop - by Charles Dickens
Middlemarch - by George Eliot
Kristin Lavransdatter - by Sigrid Undsert
The Magic Mountain - by Thomas Mann
Gravity's Rainbow - by Thomas Pynchon
Mickelsson's Ghost - by John Gardner

I have others (I've gone ever so slightly mad this past couple of weeks book buying) which may creep in if I find the time, though I'd like to save myself some whoppers for the rest of my life too. No good doing it all at once.

One major 'long' read which I'm also hoping to work my way through in stages this year is Don Quixote. For some reason, and I really don't get why, I have real trouble reading Don Quixote. It doesn't make a great deal of sense. I enjoy reading it, it's a good book. I love the characters. It's pretty easy to read and it's funny. But for some reason it's a real effort to pick it up and keep going. So my plan for this year is this: last year we bought a tent and we went camping quite a lot and we want to do the same this year, so I take Don Quixote as my 'camping book' and whenever we camp that's what I'll read. And that way I'll work my way through it. It's a plan anyway. I'll let you know how it goes.

For the short stories, wow there's a lot of scope! I hadn't realised there were so many excellent short story writers out there. So I have in mind that I'll read some Angela Carter (she's my favourite) but also some Cees Nooteboom, Alice Munro, Kate Chopin, Robert Coover. I've also ordered a compendium of stories called The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories which is going to take a little while to arrive but which looks really good. So I've got a lot to be going on with. Plus I've got other books too that I keep meaning to get around to: The Leopard by Leopardi being one of them, and I want to keep reading the Icelandic Sagas - I recently ordered Njal's Saga - and also reading up more about the Norse myths. So I've got my work cut out this year, but it's been fun already.

Here's to a 2012 filled with fun, inspiring and excellent reading.