Part of the appeal of book shopping in op shops is the element of chance involved. One day, you might stumble on a pristine copy of the newish release you’ve been dying to read, but the next you might find just a few battered copies of The Thornbirds.
However, during my relatively regular visits to local op shops, I have noticed that it is possible to predict some of the books that will appear on the shelves, and that others will not.
One book that readers are almost certain to encounter on the shelves of a used bookstore or op shop is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, famous not just for being a bestseller, but also for being the book most often donated to charity shops in the US (and I would hazard a guess, Australia, too).
According to a survey of donations to Oxfam charity stores, other books that are most often donated included thrillers and crime novels by Ian Rankin and James Patterson. I was surprised to see that Alexander McCall Smith shared the fourth position with John Grisham
Unfortunately, books like Brown’s are unlikely to be sold again any time soon as there are so few people who haven’t already read them. The authors who sold the most at Oxfam stores included Stieg Larsson and JK Rowling.
While there might be ample opportunities to pick up these books at op shops, there are others that are impossible to find. After reading and loving Sofie Laguna’s The Choke, I’ve wanted to buy my own copy for my bookshelf as I know I’ll want to reread it and to lend it to friends. However, I have never found it on the shelves of any local secondhand bookstores or market stalls.
Perhaps it was not popular enough for it to be passed or sold on. Or did everyone else love it so much that they refuse to give it away – there’s no way I would give away my copy if I had one.
Some other books that I never see on secondhand bookstore shelves include The Rosie Project series and the recent bestseller, Boy Swallows Universe. I wonder whether these novels are so beloved by readers that no one wants to give them away, or if it is too soon, and in a few years copies will crowd the shelves.
Sometimes, the reason for books to be given away or held onto are obvious. On Reddit, users sniggered at the books that appeared on the list, describing as: “generally crappy books that were hugely popular at one time.” Another summed up the list: “The most-donated booklist reminds me of discarded fast-food wrappers. it was yummy for a moment but I’m left with something there is no need to keep with me.”
One of the drivers of discarded books might be that particular literary trend has arisen and then faded – like the popularity of a certain kind of spiritualism represented by The Alchemist or the particular attitude to life represented by Eat, Pray, Love.
I have also noticed that books that have been adapted to the big screen have a strong presence in op shops: it is not uncommon to find The Life of Pi, and on my most recent visit to an op shop, I saw four copies of Atonement sitting on the shelf. The Dressmaker is another book that is often available secondhand, and I own my own charity shop copy.
Those who expected a certain type of book after watching the movie might have been disappointed. This disappointment might also be behind the regular appearance of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. When Frey’s novel was outed as being an unreliable memoir, did those who owned the book feel disappointed that they had been conned?
The reasons for the appearance of certain books on the shelves is obvious, after their useful to their owners has passed: the reason for the donation of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Save Our Sleep seem obvious, while cookbooks might have become less useful with the advent of online recipe websites. I imagine dietary fads might lead to certain works becoming less attractive as time goes on and their claims are debunked. Or perhaps those using the books concede and choose to buy a book of dessert recipes instead.
Whatever the reason a book has been donated, I am grateful that it has. I struggle to give any books away, regardless of whether I have loved them, hated them, or did not finish them. I see them as markers of certain periods of my life, when they were the background to whatever was happening at that time. Like travel photographs, they are records of where I have been and I love to gaze upon them on my bookshelves, triggering memories of days past.
But I’m glad that in op shops or used bookstores, pre-loved books are given the opportunity to be re-loved, and wading through a pile of Dan Browns (which I have read and enjoyed) to find that elusive literary bestseller just makes the discovery even sweeter.