Shopping, Style and Beauty

A Broke-Ass Book Buying Guide

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FACT: Owning books makes you look smarter and more attractive to the opposite sex.

Obviously public libraries are great. They’re free, they have an endless supply of books, and they generally don’t care if you’re a little late with the returns. But certainly there have been times in your life, as you find yourself careening towards grown-up-ness, when you feel like a modest collection of books is something that you should have and perhaps can even make a little space for in your apartment. In these cases, no matter how hard we try to subvert consumerism (or whatever) by bartering, trading, buying used, there will always be a few must-have items that you just can’t get a hold of for less than retail price. If you absolutely must have a fresh copy of The Girl who Kicked the Flaming Dragon Beehive Tattoo in hardcover then you’re probably shit out of luck trying to get that for anything less than an absurd $24.99 price tag.

On the other hand, if you’re just trying to fill out your collection of Paul Auster novels because you stopped reading back in college then there are some strategies you can employ to fill your bookshelf and impress your literary peers without spending too much paper.

1. The Library is Still Your Friend – Even though they’re still a little upset that you held on to that copy of The Name of the Rose for a couple weeks too long (come on, it’s pretty dense), they definitely won’t mind if you end up buying something from them. Most libraries clear out parts of their catalog at least yearly, and some even run little side operations where they have a constant stock they’re trying to move. Here in San Francisco, for example, the Main Branch has a little shop with everything nicely organized and costing roughly the same as used bookstore prices. There’s not a huge stock, but on my first pass I found two or three books I’d been meaning to pick up. (PRO-TIP: This is also a good place to check for travel books before a vacation.)

2. Coupon Clipping – Not actual coupon clipping, but pretty much every major bookseller these days has some sort of discount email they send out weekly. This may seem like an annoying email to get if you only occasionally buy books, but once you realize that every week is literally the same deal and no one will ever actually ask you for a paper coupon then you can just delete those things immediately. Just tell the nice lady at the checkout that you’re in the club and she’ll probably knock 30% off the price. (Although, sometimes around the holidays the discounts aren’t quite as good.)

3. The Last Resort Amazon Search – When you know you won’t be able to find a classic or popular book on sale anywhere, it’s tempting to just jump on Amazon and go nuts. But he book I want inevitably costs just slightly less than the amount I need to spend to get free shipping, so I end up browsing around and buying a few useless kitchen gadgets or something just to hit the minimum. What you really want is the Amazon Marketplace, where you can find some great stuff for under $5 bucks and you’re probably supporting a small-town bookstore owner who will pull it off the shelf and mail it directly to you in a lovingly sealed and padded envelope. Not that I would ever cut in to Stu’s sales, but you can get his guide to San Francisco for $5.20 used on the Marketplace. [PRO-TIP: If you’re still a student you can get a FREE Amazon Prime membership for a year through Amazon Student, which means you can get FREE 2-Day shipping all year so you won’t actually have to hit the minimum.]

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Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew is an East Coast transplant from Virginia hamming it up in San Francisco without any intention of leaving. Having worked every typical job from Bike Shop Employee to Bartender to Ad Agency Hotshot, to Dotcom Layoff he now busts his ass covering the "weird things to do" beat for gracious local audiences at and rallies the Western Addy/Lower Haight/Panhandle neighborhoods into action at His work was published in a real, paper magazine one time. One day he might even figure out how to make money from it.


  1. theSquirrelfish
    August 2, 2010 at 10:05 am is also a good alternative to amazon. Nonprofit, carbon neutral shipping for 5 cents in the usa. Great for academic books, good for literature, only ok for genre fiction.

  2. […] to help the independently-owned bookstores of the world (as pointed out by Broke-Ass contributor Andrew Dalton).  It’s certainly better than shopping at Walmart.  Plus, I’ve heard that […]

  3. December 8, 2011 at 9:21 am

    […] to help the independently-owned bookstores of the world (as pointed out by Broke-Ass contributor Andrew Dalton).  It’s certainly better than shopping at Walmart.  Plus, I’ve heard that […]