Some writers don’t like used books. I would not have the gall to be so hypocritical, as I love them myself, and I’m actually rather charmed when I see my own books secondhand. Used books don’t do the writer any good—no royalties filter back from them. It’s much better for the writer if you buy new copies to give your friends. But once the book’s out of print, they’re all there is, and anyway they’re a great way for people to try a new writer at little risk, and a great way of introducing your friends to one.
In my post on Desolation Road, Argent mentioned that it was a book they bought whenever they saw it, to give to other people. I do this too, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad to see it back in print, and in such a nice edition. There’s a specific set of books I do this with. They’re good, they’re out of print and hard to find, they’re the kind of thing I think my friends will appreciate, and I stumble upon them in secondhand bookshops. It’s not a case of “Oh look, X, I think Y will like that,” though I certainly do that, too. And it’s not a case of searching for copies online—it’s picking them up when I see them in the certain knowledge that somebody will want them. Ian McDonald scores high on this, there are three of his books Emmet and I always grab and give away—Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, and Sacrifice of Fools.
The number one book in this category for us though has to be Walter Jon Williams Aristoi, a strange and wonderful book that pushes the edges of science fiction. It’s about nanotech and better living through splitting your personality. It’s a thoughtful interesting book with a moustache-twirling villain. It came out in 1992 and I was already a big Williams fan and rushed to buy it, and it thereafter sank without trace. I think between us Emmet and I must have given away dozens of copies we’ve found secondhand.
Then there’s John M. Ford, a brilliant writer whose work remains persistently hard to find. His urban fantasy The Last Hot Time is in print and his World Fantasy Award winning masterpiece The Dragon Waiting is in print in the UK. His other books remain elusive, and we tend to grab them when we see them.
Edward Whittemore used to come into this category. The Sinai Tapestry is one of those books everyone wants and doesn’t know it—it’s impossible to describe. I’ll re-read it fairly soon and do a proper post on it. Anyway, we always used to buy it if we saw it, but now Old Earth Books have put all of Whittemore back into print so I can recommend him in good conscience. They’ve also got out a couple of Howard Waldrop collections. Waldrop, in case you don’t know, is one of the absolutely best short story writers in SF. When Emmet lived in Cork, and Waldrop was unobtainable, there was a particular bookshop there called Vibes and Scribes that always seemed to have secondhand Waldrop—never a huge pile, always one or two, different ones. We had no idea where they came from, we used to joke that Cork was the Waldrop Capital of Ireland, or even the world, but we’d always buy them and pass them on.
Similarly back in print and so off this list is Pamela Dean’s Secret Country trilogy.
Still very much on it are John James Votan and Not For All the Gold in Ireland, Peter Dickinson’s out-of-print mysteries, the Anthony Price books that are a good place to start the series, Rumer Godden’s China Court, and Candas Jane Dorsay’s Black Wine.
So, how about you? Do you do this? And if so, what books do you always snap up to share?
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.