Books Are the Bomb: Where to Get Them

Photo: CarlKeyes

The pursuit of knowledge is happening in bookstores near you everyday. Bookshelves teem with the latest and greatest tomes on current events, super tech trends, and funky travel tales. Fantastical stories summon you into the book-lined halls and keep you there for hours at a time. But these bastions of intellectual thought and information aren’t so friendly to your wallet. In fact, a quick trip to the nearest book shop can set you back more than a few bucks. But there are ways to stock your shelves without paying retail.

Hit Up Your Local Library

Aside from letting you check out hundreds of books for free, the local library is the best deal around for buying books. For a single dollar or just a few more, you can stock up on great stories, fill your own bookshelves, and give your budget a break. The same is true of thrift stores. In fact, I just stumbled in to a thrift store in Jackson Hole where all of the books cost no more than $2 or $3 dollars hard and soft cover. I picked up five of them for around $8. Not a bad deal for a day’s wander through town.

Stroll Through Used Bookstores

Another easy place to stock up is a used bookstore. Finding the best one, however, can be a challenge. Some offer dismal exchange rates or only a small set of books. Meander through a few shops to find the one that works for you. For instance, I went through several different ones in San Francisco’s East Bay looking for the one with the best prices and the largest selection of books. It took a few months for me to unearth Gray Wolf Books, easily one of the best and biggest in the area. Worth the trip no matter what part of the Bay area you live in. If you’re a little farther north, check out Powell’s, a local favorite in Portland with some of the best coffee around.

Check Out the Bargain Tables

Big stores like Borders Books and Barnes & Noble are ideal places for checking out the latest books and seeing which ones you like so you can buy them later (for less). These spots also host some of the best new book bargains, especially those of the glossy coffee table variety. Plus, if you sign up for their memberships, you’ll get some sweet coupons that will help cut down on book costs. Sometimes you can use the coupons on existing sale items and really rack up the savings. Swing through here at least a few times a year to see what’s out there and to jazz up your space with some good-looking books.

Surf the Online Sales

Amazon is the first online spot that comes to mind. This bookstore behemoth stocks everything you need in books. To really get the most out of it, you have to check out the latest bargain books. These gems come at a price reduced by up to 70% in any given week. You can find similar deals at Barnes and Noble’s Sales Annex. For the hardy shopper, one who’s willing to bargain online, eBay is a good place to look. And Craigslist is worth a whizz through on your way to creating a stellar book collection.

Set Up a Super Book Swap

Easy to arrange and simple to execute, this master swap involves you and your buddies hanging out and exchanging books over drinks or dinner. Invite your neighbors, friends, acquaintances. If time is short, you can just swap on the go and keep passing around books as you go. This tactic is especially sweet if you’ve traversed overseas and run out of books in your own language. Hit Craigslist, network with your expat buddies and comb through regular expat hangouts. You’re sure to find your fellow readers, the ones who are dying for a new infusion of literature in their native language. If you widen out your groups enough, you can end up swapping with friends of friends of friends who happen to have a book you’d like to read and vice versa. Book exchanges are also great ways to make new friends.

Find It on the Street

Among my favorite ways to get books is to find one sitting on the street. I’ve found new books, best sellers, and philosophical analyses just sitting on the street corners and curbs in urban areas, usually adorned with a sign that says “free.” Take that sign at its face value and pick a few good books on your way to coffee or to meet friends for dinner. It’s fun, it’s spontaneous, and it’ll make your day. It always makes mine.

Now you’re on your way to creating the book collection of your dreams. Enjoy!

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Guest's picture

We use It is awesome and includes hardbacks as well as paperbacks.

Guest's picture

i too am a fan of it's a great idea and you can exchange your books for ones you want to read.

Guest's picture

Jackson Hole is one of the best towns - their thrift stores are great and their Library is AMAZING!!!!!

I can't say enough good things about it - maybe I shouldn't say anymore - I don't want a whole heard of people going there and ruining it!!

Guest's picture

also check out it's another great site where you can get a raback (random act of bookcrossing kindness), sign up to be a part of a book ring or book ray, or just leave a book in a random place for someone else to find. LOVE IT!

Guest's picture

I've used Paperbackswap before but prefer Bookmooch -- in part because it's international.

Guest's picture

Paperbackswap is only limited to the US.

Bookmooch is international. You can choose to accept or reject any mooch. Every good you send gets you points, then you use them to mooch books you want.

Guest's picture

I get a lot of my books from thrift shops - $1.50 is a LOT for a book for me! Then I recycle them to a used bookstore for a bit of cash or trade credits. (Last time I rec'd $50 in credits...) I then buy the $.50 used books they have. Always look at the outside tables of books at bookstores & thriftshops for bargains. Also check out book exchange book shelves - there's one at the club house & another one at a community college where I take classes. That's another way to recycle your books! Library stores or sales can also be a good source. (You can donate your books to library sales, too...) Keep your eyes peeled & you will be surprised at the books you will come across. I love the unexpected - much more likely to come from a used book store than a new one. Also remember that friends with similar tastes can exchange books, too....

Guest's picture
Mr. D

I have to echo the idea of using PaperBackSwap. Besides being a great way to get books, it's got the added bonus of allowing you to trade in books you don't want, which helps you and the people that want your books!

Guest's picture

$.10 - $.50 for a softcover and $.25-$1 for a hardcover

We have four or five thrift stores in our area with lots of great books and I get almost all of my books there (or I bite the bullet and buy ebooks).

Guest's picture

Don't forget about tradebooks for the cost of postage. I personally have swapped 80+ books. It is also international, trades are happening all over the world.

Guest's picture

I would strongly reccommend

I've used it to great success, it's a good way to make sure that your collection doesn't get too massive as well.

If you're just now signing up, feel free to use me as a referral (if you refer someone, you get free books). My nickname on the site is ijeanne . At the very least, check it out!

Guest's picture

Volunteer to help out with the book sales. Our library has an ongoing sale in the library lobby and a larger quarterly book sale. The volunteers who stock the lobby shelves and help set up the quarterly book sales get first choice. Even better: the last hour of the book sale, you can fill a grocery bag for $3. Best of all: everyone who helps with takedown after the sale gets to keep whatever books that are left over for free!
It's a win-win-win. I volunteer in my community and I fill my bookshelves with great books for a song! I give books as gifts - love it when I can score a brand-new looking book for $1.00! I have also made lots of new book-loving friends.

Guest's picture

Thank you for this post. I have become particularly fond of the super book swap over the years. It has created great "over wine" conversations that have been extremely enlightening.

Guest's picture

Amazon is also an excellent resource for used books.

Many can be found for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping)

Guest's picture

Near the end of a semester often professors drop off old books, desk copies, and the like in the common areas of their departments. Sometimes these areas are public access which means free for all.

Guest's picture

We live near several small towns and I have always found that the church bazaars have great deals on books. While they might start off a bit pricey at the beginning of the day by noon they are willing to get rid of them for a $1 a bag or 10 cents each. The would rather get rid of them then have to haul them off somewhere. The mix can be very eclectic, I have been lucky enough snag 1930's children's mystery books, military books, gardening books and the classics in perfect condition for only pennies.

Guest's picture
Darris is an amazing community of book lovers! They've thought of just about everything when setting up their website. It's the site I go to more than any other. Love, love, love it!

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You can also check out - a community designed to turn the world into a library. Many people "release books into the wild" hoping that other people will pick them up (and hopefully submit a quick entry - as a guest if you want). Kind of like for books. You can also create an account to release books, or message people to arrange trades.

If you just want to look for books that have been released, check it out at:

Guest's picture

My Vote is for! ...they seem to have the most "action" & the most books available. Over 4 million right now. I also like being able to transfer extra credits to their sister sites for Music & for Movies.

Guest's picture

BookInfoLine is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox. (Very useful script. A must have if you buy 5 or more books per year.)

With BookInfoLine you can compare book prices from various book stores. Realtime, fast and accurate. Included sites: Abebooks, Alibris,, Barnesandnoble, Betterworldbooks, Biblio, Borders, Craigslist, Ebay, Ebooks, Google Books, Half, Kindle Editions, Powells, Strandbooks, Thriftbooks, Walmart. Fixed and Improved BookBurro.

If you are not familiar with Greasemonkey or FireFox I highly recommend that you:
01. Get FireFox
02. Install Greasemonkey Add-on
03. Install BookInfoLine script

You'll love FireFox and multiple Add-ons and Greasemonkey scripts for all occasions. All process would take less that 15 minutes.

Guest's picture

I'll have to use your info to let my readers know the same tips at I've never been much of a reader unless it is to serve some kind of purpose, like learning how to save and manage money better... that's just my opinion.

thanks for the research and insight. I enjoy reading your posts!

Guest's picture

The local used CD/DVD/Game store also stocks newer books. Thrift stores are a good source, I have found many of my hard cover classics there. Garage sales can also be a good source of books.

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FrugalZen and

Hamilton is the largest purveyor of remainder books in the world and I thoroughly LOVE the "Bargain Catalog" where almost everything is less than $5.00.

His website allows you to buy with a credit card but he recoups the interchange fees by how he charges for shipping....$3.95 for the first book and $1.00 for each additional....HOWEVER you can escape that by printing the order out and sending a check or money order like you would if you used one of his mailed paper catalogs where shipping is a FLAT $3.50 irregardless of how many books your order. When you print out the order form shipping reverts to the $3.50 flat fee. But no credit cards accepted by mail.

Recently I spent $125.00 and got 40 books...every type from paperbacks to hardbacks and all they have is a small mark on one end of the pages to note they are "remainders".

Now Bookfinder is a search engine that searchs all the other used and new book sites for whatever you are looking for and shows you the available volumes from cheapest to most expensive with shipping included.

A VERY good website if you are looking for something Out Of Print or Very Old.

Sasha A. Rae's picture

Thanks for all of the wonderful tips! It's amazing how many different places there are to get the goods. I'll have to check them all out, although the super book swap remains my favorite -- for the social aspect of it. You can definitely get to know someone better when you see what they like to read.

Guest's picture

Gray Wolf went out of business a few years ago. They just disappeared. Did you find them somewhere else?