The Budget Book Stack And How It Grew

Today I went to several used bookstores, $20 in hand, to buy books for a Budget Bookstack. (This in response to Sulz, who commented that it all sounded great, but awfully expensive.)

I’m here to confess that she was sort of right, except for different reasons. The budget bookstack wasn’t so terribly expensive (it was, in fact $22, because I couldn’t resist Absalom, Absalom, at $5). The thing is, I was swept away by all those books, kind of the way you might feel at the pound, except at a used bookstore you can actually bring 40 books home, whereas if you brought forty puppies home you’d get in a lot of trouble. So yes, I’ll just tell you right now that I ended up spending $164 or some number like that, and came home with about 40 books.

A lot of people are getting bookstacks this year, is all I can say about that. Well, it’s not all, because I could also say in my defense that I recently got a raise, the first in about five years, and some of it was retroactive, and it seemed to me that this money should be pumped right back into independent bookstores, like Book Zoo, and worthy causes like the San Francisco Public Library Book Bay, both of which were the beneficiaries of my greed largess.

The budget bookstack, the one that cost only $22, contains six books. It’s for my little brother Mike, who’s eight years younger than I. Mike lives in Seattle, and he is far, far cooler than I am.

How cool, you ask? Well, he’s a computer whiz (like my sister Sue and my brother Ed) and his first big job was at Microsoft, a job that didn’t last too long because he’s a little bit of an anarchist and I’m guessing he just couldn’t resist saying what he thought about things. Whether he quit or was fired, I don’t know — but I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning this short-lived stint at Microsoft. After all, it’s sort of a badge of honor to try Microsoft’s patience, considering how much they have tried ours. After that, he ended up at Amazon in its early days and although he worked way too hard, at least there was some reward for that. Now he works at a very cool sounding startup, and I think he might be working way too hard there. Of my three brothers, he’s the one who never writes in to set the record straight. That’s because he’s working too hard.

Mike’s a quirky, smart, interesting, kind, very funny guy, and I don’t think he has enough time to choose books or read them. This is what I’m sending him:

  • Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 ($5) It was very hard for me not to keep this for myself or to spend the evening reading it rather than wrapping it. It’s all about the power of books, and Ray Bradbury’s such a fine writer.
  • Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (free, my copy) I liked this very much. There was one section where the heroes ended up in the cold, cold north that seemed odd and out of place and could have been edited, but it’s still a very good book. And it’s good for vocabulary building. That’s because Michael Chabon has never met a weird, unusual, interesting word that he hasn’t wanted to take home and tuck into a sentence. If little-used words were puppies, Chabon would be in a lot more trouble than I would be if used books were puppies. After all, where’s he going to put 6,000 or so puppies?
  • Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom. [$5] This was one of the most powerful books I read when I was in college. It’s less confusing than other Faulkner novels, has more of a story-line, and is achingly beautiful in places. Everyone should read this novel.
  • Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From [$5] This is a substantial collection of clean, bracing short stories. I read this last year, and it’s one of the few books I’ve held on to from my year’s reading, which is why I parted with $5 for another copy of it. Even if you don’t want to write like Carver (whose style is so distinct that he’s easily copied/parodied), you should read him to see how you can do a lot without saying very much.
  • Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely [$4] What fun to get to read Chandler in the winter. (Farewell My Lovely was missing when I took the picture of the books. A boy had grabbed it and was well into it before I could recover it.)
  • Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections [$3] I read this before Franzen made a bit of an idiot out of himself. I liked this novel — and would have liked it even if he hadn’t been such an idiot. I don’t know why anyone was surprised that he’d rebuff the most powerful woman in America by saying that he’d rather his book not be read by tons and tons of people. After all, if the book’s even the least bit autobiographical, it’s pretty certain that he comes from a long line of people who don’t function all that well socially. Also, the price had been reduced from $6 to $3. I wondered if that was because of the Oprah thing or if they had so many copies of it at Book Zoo that they could afford to let it go for so little. No matter, it was too good a deal to pass up.

Yes, I’ve noticed there’s not a woman among these books. In fact, half of them are by guys named Ray. I’m not worried about it. Mike’s an enlightened person, and anyway, the last bookstack I sent him (when I was in graduate school and writing a master’s thesis on coming of age stories written by wonderful African American women like June Jordan and Paule Marshall), was full of great women writers, among them Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Woolf.

Next up? My brother-in-law Randy who really, really, really hates Republicans.


33 thoughts on “The Budget Book Stack And How It Grew

  1. It’s very odd when I open up my site now — sort of like how it would feel if you woke up in the morning and discovered that somebody had moved around your furniture and put up new drapes while you were sleeping. Like Santa had been here, as a matter of fact, except just online. Oh, except I’m the one who picked out the furniture and drapes. Anyway, I’m glad you approve, dear Mandarine!

  2. yes, the new layout reads better for my poor thick-lensed-bespectacled eyes!

    at $22 it’s still pricey especially since there are few secondhand bookshops available in malaysia (the only notable one being a chain called pay less books and they only recently had a stock clearance sale, which was terribly good!).

    obviously my book stacks would have to be much thinner than yours! (but it beats forking out for a gift card at borders.)

  3. Congrats on your new domain. πŸ™‚

    That was in the days of the Windows 3.0 launch (May 1990) I was supporting Microsoft Excel on the phone those days. His book stack sounds like fun.

    Don’t forget that Mom, Dad, Doug and I also worked at the big M. πŸ™‚

  4. Your lucky brother (mostly because he gets to have you for a sister, of course). I just love, love, love this idea of a book stack, and am going to start incorporating it into my gift-giving.

  5. Dear Sulz, I was thinking as I was writing this about how there are times in one’s life when one is more often the recipient than the giver, of things like this. (Which is not to say that one musn’t try to find ways to give — but they generally have to be almost free!) I spent a lot of my life with not so much money, particularly because I had an extended studenthood — and so I valued very much those times when I was the recipient of things like these books. But now, I’ve crossed some line, on the other side of which is no more studenthood and a job I like. Now’s the time in my life when I get to be the giver. I think it’s only natural that these roles ebb and flow — what’s important is to be a gracious recipient and to remember, when you’re in the giver’s seat, to be a generous and loving giver. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

    Hi Sue — It’s odd indeed to realize how many of you guys worked at Microsoft, living as you all did in what was essentially a company town! I’m glad you like this template. It took me a while to realize I couldn’t read my own site very well.

    Thank you Nancy Ruth!

    Nils, if the state of our kitchen table is any indication, there are many friends and family left to go. We’re all a little different (or a lot different) — which makes this even more fun. And I’m glad you like that template, because your lovely site inspired me to give this a try. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, you know.

    Dorothy — Oh good, I’m so glad to hear you approve! You have such wonderful taste in books. Anyway, I’m a sucker for sort of funny stories of disfunctional families, which is why I love Richard Russo so.

    Emily, I was thrilled when my little brother was born. I was eight, and really, really tired of being the youngest, and never getting to stay up late. He saved my life.

    Hello TBM — I am having a lot of fun. I’m getting good with tissue paper too!

    Relaxed Dad — Don’t forget Ray(mond) Bradbury. It’s such a 1940s tough guy name. Am I correct that London is just bursting with good used used bookstores? I’d love to hear more about that.

  6. I also love the new look!

    I am smitten with this idea of the bookstack with your twist of it being used books. It’s too late for this year, for me, because there’s no used bookstore out on the prairie here but throughout the year I can collect books, used from amazon affiliates, for family members. I am so excited by this idea.

  7. Love the new look, BlogLily! And this post–what a pleasure to read. I enjoyed the way you characterized your brother. I loved the book annotations. And I was intrigued by the details about your master’s thesis–African American women’s literature is one of my favorite genres. I can’t wait for your next installment on bookstacks! SS

  8. Diana, The internet has turned out to be the most wonderful way to locate good used books. And this year it’s thanks to you that I’ve found BookMooch, which forms the backbone of several bookstacks. I also like the idea of collecting throughout the year, but then it’s suddenly November and I see I’ve not done a thing to further that plan!

    Hello dear SS — Thank you. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but those little notes people write about books are indeed annotations, and easy enough to write and quick to read. For the bookstack I made for my oldest son I relied heavily on a librarian’s list of fine historical fiction for children, which contained those kinds of annotations. (hooray for librarians!) By the way, the two books I focused on in my Master’s thesis were June Jordan’s His Own Where (written in the early 1970s and entirely in black english) and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones. Both books used architecture in interesting ways to meditate on how long-marginalized writers could use the tools of the dominant literary culture to tell their own stories. At least I think that’s what it was about. It’s been a while!

  9. I think I must be the only person in cyberspace not to have updated her blog look – but I can’t, it’s beyond my limited powers! Another pile of books that I would adore to find beneath the tree. How can there be so many books I haven’t read? I’d love to read a Faulkner, so that’s going straight onto my list, and I’ve never read Fahrenheit 451 either. What lucky relatives you have, BL!

  10. I just can’t stop thinking about this! Here’s another thing: you can give away as gifts books that you’ve read! There’s something about the fact that you’re giving them en masse that changes all of the rules.

    (I just purchased a series of books for my daughter, used, online. A teacher recommended these books for her and she’s been plugging away at them [they’re rather dense with history] for a long time so, tired of having to keep renewing them, I located most of them online for .01 each. Now I’m kicking myself because I could have made a book stack for Xmas…)

  11. My kids each get a book stack too. My book-buying desires are sated by children’s books! I love books and read all the time, but I live next door to a library and am consumed with guilt over buying anything for myself as a result. I even went to Pegasus with a credit (from trading some of my books there) and couldn’t buy myself anything.

    We’ll have to chat about The Corrections next time we meet up. Take care Lily!

  12. Nice selection! Your brother is a lucky guy. I saw the movie of Fahrenheit 451 and was amazed and creeped out by it.

    LOL at trying Microsoft’s patience. They surely have tried mine to the extent that I am scared of running any research simulations on Windows.

    And this is a nice theme change for Christmas! It surely gives pleasure πŸ˜‰

  13. I love the bookstack idea, but as I got to the middle of your post I was afraid you wouldn’t tell us what the books were– you know, because your brother might be reading. I’m so glad you opened the package for us. Like getting a present ourselves!

  14. Hi Kristin — My brother’s too busy working to read my posts. (I hope!)

    Hello Polaris, I like that icon, by the way. I don’t know the movie, but it sounds like the book. (windows is a little scary. I love my mac and its tidy operating system and the nice way firefox guides you through the web.)

    Julie, I’d love to do that. I’ve missed seeing you. In the new year, don’t you think? And I agree, children’s books are a good place to put what would otherwise feel like an excessive love of books. (I just went to the library and checked out some books on tape, since I’ve got to drive into the city for the next six weeks for radiation, so I feel that I’ve been a good library patron.)

    Yes, you’re absolutely right, Diana, I’m giving away tons of books and they’re in such good condition I don’t see why that should matter one bit. And you know what? The new year is a great time to present your daughter with a bunch of books. xo, L

    Lucette, he is a really good writer. It’s inspiring to read him. Plus there are all those unusual words!

    Thanks Karen. I’ll keep posting & you keep reading, okay?

  15. Here I am, stuck in the desert, 600Km away from the nearest bookstore and I am being cruelly teased with all this bookstack talk. I keep consoling myself (while admiring the new blog layout) with the thought that there are family birthdays right through the year. I also have this little phrase from Christopher Robin running wild amongst my synapses. “It’s an Un-Birthday Present”.

  16. The Bradbury looks like a contemporary edition. Very nice. I am a Carver fan and am presently reading a photo/bio by Tess Gallagher titled Carver Country. Picked it up for $1.00 brand new (b&n). Apparently there was little demand for such a product.
    Best, Q

    PS Happy Holidays!

  17. Oh Archie, you poor thing. You’re going to have to avert your eyes, because there’s more to come.

    Hi Q — oooo. I like your typewriter icon. Is that new? I love it when something I’ve been wanting, or know I’ll like is undervalued at the bookstore. You can hardly believe it and wonder if maybe they’ll see how pleased you are and mark it up by 100% just because of the look in your eyes. And happy holidays to you too. xo, L

  18. Hey Bloglilly – You’ll be sorry you asked! London is full of used bookshops and remainder stores, though nothing on the scale of Stand in NY. London style, they’re spread out – most famously on Charing Cross Road but there are a number of more curious ones in Bloomsbury. Skoob ( is famous for philosophy and general weirdness – there’s also a fab remainders/second-hand shop nearby on Judd St. Of the shops listed here (,,1398384,00.html), My Back Pages is my local – I pass it coming back from work and frequently drop in as it opens late and closes late. I could go on and on…

  19. This is a fantastic idea for my younger brother (although at 44 he is only just!)
    He is a mature student too – History of Art in his case and loves reading as much as I do. Unfortunetly my husband – despite being as cool in terms of occupation as your brother does not really read fiction so it would have to be books on his current interest ‘Sustainable energy’ not many secondhand books like that available I think!

  20. Hello U-dad: Wow. Lucky, lucky, lucky you! Thanks for the links.

    Welcome Ms. Wiz — Sorry about the weirdness of the commenting thing — if an email address is unfamiliar the blog gods hold it up for a while, but it’s not supposed to get swallowed up entirely. Good luck with that new blog. Sounds like fun!

  21. BL,

    I do love the fever that comes across me in a used book store. The best occassions are those when you tumble into a store where the buyer has a taste for book you yourself like! There is one such in Evanston, Il where I have visited a few times! The results is a quite brilliant little haul of obscure but excellent titles in the fields of history and politics!

    Your purchases though really remind me of the potential of these stores for others! Something I could do with remembering more frequently rather than the all too selfish compulsion that drive sme normally in bookstores!


  22. Yes, the avitar is new. I am glad you like it. As you know, QAZSE is the “V” at the end of your keyboard. ( Thank you for noticing, X0 πŸ™‚

  23. Yes, I’m back again. πŸ˜› Another thing that keeps growing on me about this budget bookstack is that buying used books enables me to take more risks. I’ve already got (for next year!) about eight books on a gift list at amazon that I’m thinking about for my brother while I could only think of one book to get him this year. It’s because the book I got him this year was a hardback $40 one. Even so, I really wouldn’t mind buying a stack of new books which the recipient had expressly requested but it’s the fear of buying a brand-new hardcover that will languish, unread, forever, until finally being taken to a thrift shop. Paralyzing! But when you’re talking about a $40 stack of books, the risk is spread out. Surely the person will read at least one or three, right?

    Ok, I think I’m done exclaiming about this! Thanks so much, lily. πŸ™‚

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