Charity Shop Stalwarts

I love browsing the books in Charity Shops.

It satisfies my occasional requirement for retail therapy. I can march happily home with some books under my arm having only spent a couple of quid.

It’s interesting to me, though, how some of the same books keep cropping up again and again no matter what charity shop I happen to venture into.

It’s funny, isn’t it?

Mind you, it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Everybody gets the more popular books but not everybody keeps them, thus these books end up on the Oxfam shelves more often.


It’s just I can’t help but think that there might be a more useful analysis of this phenomenon which could reveal deeply hidden patterns and teach us much about the undercurrents of the society we live in.

‘Bullshit’, I hear you cough into your fist and who am I to argue? So rather than trying to solve society's ills, let’s just look at some of these books which are charity shop stalwarts. Perhaps you can add one or two of you own to my list and then we at least will have a useful document for when the great social research finally begins…

… or not, as the case may be.

The Da Vinci Code: It’s always there, usually in multiple versions. I read this book in its entirety on a train journey to and from Dublin one day. Crass, yes, simplistic, yes but I kept flicking the pages and the chapters kept rolling one into the next. I know people who reckon this is the best read ever. Good luck to them. I don’t want to sound pretentious though, I enjoyed it on the day.

Angela’s Ashes: Frank McCourt sadly died recently. His Pulitzer Prize winning book must have sold to every household in Ireland so it’s probably no wonder that copies abound. It’s actually an excellent book in my opinion, written with a clarity that I often envy. I got the opportunity to ask Frank a question once and, thankfully, I was brave enough to ask the silliest question because as it turned out, all the theories I had read were quite wrong. “Why,” sez I, “is it called ‘Angela’s Ashes’?” The posh theorists had it that the title referred to the metaphorical ashes of the mother’s life or perhaps the ashes she received on her forehead in the church during the Ash Wednesday ceremonies.

Nah! Much more practical than that.

Frank explained that the book had originally been twice as long and ended with Angela’s Ashes being returned to Ireland for burial. When the book got spilt into two volumes (the second called ‘Tis) they kept the title for the first part even though the event it referred to didn’t turn up until the end of the second one. It’s on the charity bookshelf if you want to read it, you can count on that.

James Bond: There’s always a Bond book. Not only that there’s always one of those old Pan versions of the bond books. I always check in case there’s a first edition but that hasn’t happened yet. I did buy a first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes, the American version) in hardback in Oxfam last year but it turned out to be the fifth reprinting of the first edition so it wasn’t the goldmine I thought it was. Ah well…

Agatha Christie: They all did it you know! Never mind….

Catherine Cookson: She’s always in there. I can’t tell you anything about them, I think there are bodices and I think they get ripped. You’re on your own from there, I’m afraid.

Captain Correlli’s Mandolin: I hear it gets really quite good, if you can get into it a bit. Like beyond the first hundred pages. But I never could. I think it was actually me who gave this one to the Charity Shop, so that explains that.

Inspector Morse: There are always a few of Colin Dexter’s archetypal detective. I really like these. They are written with a lovely sense of mischief. Try one if you haven’t. They’re good.

So, can you add to my list?

All donations will be gratefully received.


Dave said...

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is excellent, but as you said, it's tough to get into it during the first 100 pages or so.

As for other books, you could add to the list:

1)The 'Flowers in the Attic' series by Virginia Andrews
2)Any book by Nick Hornby
3) Annuals, from any year, and in any genre.

E-J said...

My local Oxfam always, always has at least one copy, often two, of "Cold Mountain" and "The Time-Traveller's Wife". Maybe a local thing, or maybe an Oxfam thing? You're right about "The Da Vinci Code", though. It's certainly a book I put down knowing I would never, ever be seized with the urge to read it again ...

Bella7 said...

Jackie Collins still pops up and not surprisingly. I have only ever read one of her books. It left me stunned. It is by far the worst book I have ever read. Do you think if I had been the author any of these books would have made it into print?

Susan at Stony River said...

Always at least one Danielle Steel or two, too. I always found it odd that some Stephen Kings are always there (Misery) and others almost never are (Eyes of the Dragon for instance).

Loved this post, anyhow--I used to be in charge of the donations to our library, back when when I worked there. We always got National Geographics stacked in date order, romances that would fall open to the 'good parts' hur hur, cookbooks that had never been cracked at all and might have been gifts--and I see these at charity shops every time.

Not nearly as much fantasy and sci-fi as I'd like; those readers tend to keep their paperbacks by the thousands, while romance readers are happy to circulate them among their fellow fans.

If I were doing the degree again, so help me my thesis might be on the sociological assessment of book donations and purchase patterns! LOL

Dominic Rivron said...

The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks keeps cropping up, I find - other IBs, too.

One factor which affects what you find in an Oxfam shop is that the local second hand dealer probably goes in and cleans out the books they think they can sell.

There are vinyl stalwarts too: Tijuana Brass springs to mind.

Rachel Fox said...

Bridget bloody Jones...our charity shops are full of her!

Terry Heath said...

Here in the United States you can always find several John Grisham books. I don't only mean several of his titles, but several of each title. Also, several different cover versions for each title. Nevermind reading all of them though; just pick one and you'll have read them all.

Jim Murdoch said...

Here is Glasgow you could certainly add Ian Rankin to that list. Not sure how he fares elsewhere mind. I rarely even bother with the charity shops down the town these days. Amazon has me totally spoiled. I needed to get a book to review for Canongate for next month and all it cost me was 1p + postage and let's face it, books in charity shops these days will often cost more than that and you have nowhere near the selection. I don't mind going into a proper used book store – that's a completely different experience.

Ken Armstrong said...

Dave: Maybe I should skip the first 100 and go from there?? :)

E-J: I love both Cold Mountain and Time Traveller's Wife. I fear the new Tome Traveller movie will accentuate the mawkish aspects of the book, I hope not.

Bella7: Never read any Jackie Collins... would I say if I had? Probably not. :)

Susan: I think it's odd that Stephen King ends up there too. He doesn't deserve that. :)

Dominic: I don't know that Iain Banks book and I've read most of 'em. Is it any good?

Rachel: Not so much here. We must love 'em so much that we keep 'em close. :)

Terry: John Grisham will turn up here too. I read The Firm when it came out and thought it romped along. As you say, he's repeated the same trick quite a bit.

Jim: Ian Rankin turns up here too. Amazon ain't such a good deal for me because the postage to here mounts up spectacularly. We don't have a good secondhand bookshop in Castlebar but I was in one in Sligo the other day (bottom of the Mall) and it was Brilliant!

John | English Wilderness said...

I love looking at books in second hand book shops, at car boot sales and in charity shops. I've seen the same books so often I recognise them before I'm close enough to read the spine.

Have you noticed the weird way some shops organise their books? Alphabetic order by author's first name. Two rows deep on the shelf. In a box top edge up so you can't see the title. Sometimes I hate looking at books in charity shops!

hope said...

Sadly, we don't have many second hand book shops around here....the last one I can recall closed.

Our Library, however, has a "Friends of the Library" sale each year which is close. Some books are donated [poor John Grisham and Reader's Digest Condensed Books are stuck with the bodice ripper no-names] and some are old library books. I actually bought one on genealogy that I'd checked out so many times I think it reached for me when I walked past the shelf. :)

The biggest donation ever given to the Senior Citizens library at work was Barbara Cartland...ugh! How did one woman create so many small books filled with nothing? {I'm guessing, couldn't pay me to read one and we unloaded them as soon as possible).

Mandy said...

More to the point, I wonder what it says about me that I can never, ever find what I'm lookin for in bookshops? I've been interested to see a lot of Harry Potter books in charity shops lately - I guess they have fallen from grace!

Dominic Rivron said...

The Steep Approach to Garbadale got panned by the critics I think - not that that means anything but it didn't grip me either. I bought it at a charity sale, started to read it and then gave it to Oxfam. I keep seeing it pop up. Give me Excession any day - but that's just me.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier...far better than the movie

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking.

Dune by Frank Herbert

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Huck Finn by Mark Twain

Farhenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

these are titles I always seem to come across in used bookstores/flea markets

Margaret said...

I guess the Thrift shops in the US are slightly different than the ones in the British Isles. Here there are almost always Jackie Collins and James Pattersons.

Love to shop there for books though -- who can resist them for 5/100?

Laura Brown said...

I buy most of my books at thrift stores and second hand stores. You can find some old ones there that are not in the retail chain stores any more. But, I often end up going to the chains to pick up the odd one in a series which I can't come across.

A. said...

You have found my secrets vice. Indeed, I would have been responding to this post this morning if I hadn't spent a couple of hours in charity shops under the guise of "shopping". I can't even go past a second-hand book shop when I'm on holiday, even if I can't speak the language. You just never know....

Reese said...

I always find a lot of John Grisham and James Patterson...probably because they've both written so many books..Steve King as well.

I like Grisham, don't care for the other two..a little too dark for me lately.

Dave King said...

I think you may have overlooked the obvious. This is a phenomenon I first observed with regard to school jumble sales. Subsequently I came across it at Car Boot Sales. People buy stuff from one so that they will have something to contribute to the next one.

My suggestion would be any of the plays - or a collected - of Shakespeare.

Aerté Du Draumr said...

Recently volunteered in a charity shop that had rooms upon rooms of books in boxes...and for some reason only one book shelf.
but yeah Cathrine Cookson, Virginia Andrews 'flowers in the Attic' ,Maedbh Binchy, 'Circle of Friends'...the chick-literri (did i use that word right) were there
also hell lotta HArlon Coban., Grisham, robert ludman...
never been lucky enough to find a copy of harry Potter on a charity bookshop shelf...though i did get a weird smelling copy of The Boy thief by Anne Rice once.

Canucklehead said...

Damn - late to the party again! I think everything I was going to mention has already been said: Cold Mountain, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, John Grisham.

Anyway - I have a few more additions:

- Soduku (sp?) books: those damn number puzzle books, normally with a bit of a couple completed
- various editions of the Bible
- Farmer's Almanac (1923-present editions)
- encyclopadias (once again, sp/)
- anything that ever made Oprah's book list


Laura Brown said...

I think books that turn up at GoodWill over and over are those which everyone has read and the second hand bookstores will no longer accept due to having more than enough of them already.

On the other hand, I just love when I turn up something like a Christopher Moore book which rarely ever turn up. As a writer, I think it's sad to see the popular books turn up so many times in GoodWill. They look like fish out of water, gasping out their last desperate pleas to be taken home by someone. I, of course, ignore them. I almost never read the popular books. They seem far too spoiled to me.

Elisabeth said...

I'm awfully late to come to this posting, referred here by Jim Murdoch.

I visit our second hand bookstores as we call them here in Australia, most notably Sainsbury's.

In Sainsbury's you will always find a spare copy of Helen Garner's works, (Monkey Grip, The Children's Bach, The First Stone, Joe Cinque's Consolation) which most likely none of you folks over there (in Europe, I expect) will have heard of.

But I know, love and hate her writing very much. I study her.

And then there's my other favorite, ex pat Brit, Drusilla Modjeska. Poppy, The Orchard, Stravinsky's Lunch.

Anything from these two writers to me, is a treasure.