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Doesn't need to be pristine but I do like my books to be faily neat and tidy. When I buy at the second hand store, I pass up the books with tattered covers, spills and those that look like they took a bath. But when I am in a store with new books, I confess to digging to the bottom of the pile for one without bent pages too.


It depends on the book--like you, if it is a new book I expect it to be in pristine condition. If it is too ragged I will put it back. I also will dig through the pile for the nicest copy. I try hard to keep my own copies as nice as I can. However, I am getting much better at buying used copies and not minding so much if they are raggedy--still that's generally only with out of print books. I don't mind if a book has 'personality' as long as it isn't too scary looking! :)


I dig to the bottom of the pile too. It's really annoying if new books are damaged in anyway, but I did buy a damaged copy of Les Miserables because there were only two left and both were tatty. I suppose that's what happens if we all go for the best copies. I mentioned its condition at the checkout and was given a discount! I do buy tatty secondhand books but only if I really want a particular book and it's out of print. How do you manage to read a book and leave it looking pristine? I can't read a paperback without creasing the spine!


I like the covers to be attractive, but prefer them to start out a bit tatty because it makes me nervous when they're all clean and shiny. I'm afraid to touch them, and I think books should have your fingerprints all over them. That's why I don't buy new books. I have no qualms about cracking spines or getting the corners fuzzy, since I prefer books to look well loved. I do not, however, buy books that look like they're going to fall apart after a couple of reads.


As a bookseller what amazes (and horrifies) me is the casual way people treat books they haven't bought yet - cracking the spines and creasing the covers then putting them back on the shelf. I too like my books pristine when I buy them. From the other perspective we do get people who really don't seem to care what state the book's in and will pay for a tatty abused copy that I wouldn't buy even secondhand!

Ruth Marler

I mainly buy secondhand books but I would always pick up the newest looking one, except if I preferred the cover on a slightly tattier version, especially if there is a Virago version on hand. But what about smell and colour? If it smells of smoke I will probably leave it on the shelf. If it's falling apart I wouldn't buy it either.


I'm with you on this one. If I'm going to buy a book it has to be in pristine condition. I only buy second hand ones if they are in good condition. I know I'm being picky but I can't help it.


I too like a clean copy when buying new, but for secondhand, I can relax the standard a little. I suppose it depends how much I want the book/how hard it is to find a copy.
I really would like to know your technique in reading a paperback and leave it looking new - maybe I shouldn't read in bed, which doesn't help.
As for notebooks, I have a lovely pile of unused ones - but I am reluctant to spoil their pristine condition with anything unworthy, so it will be some time before they are written in!

adele geras

I too dig deep for a perfect copy of a new book. And I don't have really grotty copies from 2nd hand shops either. But this is not as bad as our younger daughter who once traipsed me all around town for a copy of THe Power and the Glory with one particular cover. No other edition would do.. that was for A level and she's more flexible now but I do like a nice clean book I must admit. I also love proof copies, mainly because I am getting in ahead of others but my husband would rather wait for the REAL BOOK!


I dig deep in the 3 for 2 piles as well and never take the top copy. I once watched a woman writing a note on a piece of paper and using a brand new hard back book off the tabel to rest on. She then put it back and walked off and when I checked could read her shopping list beautifully indented on the shiny cover....

Second hand books are a different matter of course and I quite like the musty smell that shows a book has been tucked away in a forgotten corner for a long time but if it is too dirty and mucky I won't buy unless it is something I am really looking for.

Never fails to amaze me how people treat books. I used to work in the library system and things I have found in books range from a squashed jam sandwich to a slice of bacon. There were other things I will not mention..


I am with Lindsay here -- if I really want to read a book I don't care what state it is in. Of course if there is a choice I will get the cleaner tidier one, and I would not buy one if it reeked of smoke, certainly. But I like Anna's point about them being well-loved.

Sheila Dunn

I read somewhere that you should have three copies of each book, one to lend, one to read and one to keep in the bookcase. I also read books without breaking the spine, unfortunately my husband doesn't and I hate to read one after him, I would keep them away from him if I could. I never lend books any more, just too upsetting.


Oh goody! People from my planet! I too dig for the pristine copy and those stickers that they put on books give me the vapours.


I can appreciate a brand new book like anyone else and I love turning the pages of an Everyman's Library hardback (the pages are lovely), but so long as a book is unabridged and legible, I have no problems reading it in the form of a tattered old paperback. It is the text itself that is sacred.

Some people seem to have a fear of the "filth" of second-hand books that amounts to paranoia, which always reminds me of the over-sanitisation which is supposed to have somewhat weakened the immune systems of modern-day children.


If I am going to buy a new book, I want it to be pristine - and I read carefully enough that it will stay that way for the first couple of readings, as long as I only read it at home - but I read on the bus, in queues, wherever I am, so most end up looking rather worn.

But I also love extremely battered ancient Penguins that look as if they went to war (some probably did). And I'll put up with quite a lot if a secondhand modern paperback is cheap enough - partly because I used to volunteer in an Oxfam shop and my manager taught me how to 'refresh' grimy books with a babywipe or a touch of surgical spirit. A lot of the grot is surface only. Besides, I couldn't keep up with my reading speed if I bought everything new.

Dark Puss

Obviously for a new anything it makes sense to seek the best copy. For second-hand I do care to some extent about the state, but in particular I do not want an annotated text. I don't much like low-grade paper that is turning yellow either. A question that I think Cornflower did not cover, nor her respondents so far, is new copy of current published version versus more typographically pleasing but second-hand earlier edition - which would you chose?


I prefer pristine, but I don't mind, battered and yellowed. What I really don't like is a Richard and Judy sticker.

If that makes me a book snob then so be it!


I also prefer a nice looking book, and search through for the nicest copy. I make some effort to keep my own books looking nice and have been disappointed by their appearance at times after lending them out.

Oh, pristine please! It's not so much the look of a tatty secondhand book, it's the smell that upsets me. I'd rather pay more for a cleaner copy. I also go the bottom of the books pile to find the perfect copy. It's like going to the back of the fridge at the supermarket when buying yoghurt. It makes perfect sense.

Simon T

I'm another pile-digger - but I'm also more likely to buy a book in a secondhand shop if it has a friendly, used, battered, hopeful look...


I like a new book as much as the next person, but I love quotes and often underline things of significance in my texts (a uni student habit that's hard to break.) Obviously there are exceptions- hardbacks etc. but as most of my books are generally paperbacks, sourced secondhand or picked up cheaply from book stores, I don't mind the condition too much. That said, I do get upset when someone else returns my books in a battered condition!

Simon S

Complete pile digger with new books, I wont buy a new book if it isnt pristine I dont think you should when your paying good money. As for second hand I am slightly less fussy, I HATE cracked spines and even on massive books i wont let the spine crack, I also hate folded pages am bit funny like that. However there is one exception to the rule and that is a copy of The Secret History I bought which is so battered and tatty with loving overreading I couldnt help myself.

Now if we are talking book covers and editions, well thats a whole different kettle of fish!


I think the well-loved books are the nicest ones. So if I'm buying a new book, I don't want the one that's been crumpled or dropped or stepped on. But if I'm buying a second-hand one, I like to think it was owned by someone else who loved it before me. The saddest thing ever is books whose pages haven't even been cut.

I do completely agree with Dark Puss about annotations, though. People who write in books should be sentenced to several years of hard labour. And people who write in library books should be hanged. (Or something like that. There is a reason I am not in charge of drafting legislation.)

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