Website Review: Thriftbooks


Screen capture of homepage, accessed 3/28/19

I generally am an advocate of brick and mortar bookstores, as you may know from following this blog. Where possible, I like to buy new books, which helps support these stores and also the authors, who don’t receive royalties on used books, and rarely on remaindered ones. Brick and mortar stores may not always offer the best bargains, but they enrich the fabric of a community and provide employment and local taxes.

At the same time, buying new books can be expensive. Three hardbacks may cost $100 or more at today’s prices. The book has to be one I want to keep to justify that price. Mass market paperbacks are still generally under $10, and quality paperbacks $15-20 or more, but even those prices add up quickly. Used booksellers can often help take a bite out of this cost, but remember that neither publisher nor author are benefiting from your purchase. One upside–you are recycling!

The other issue is that there are often particular editions you might look for to complete a set, or there are books that are out of print. Here, online booksellers such as AbeBooks or Alibris are good alternatives to that mammoth online bookseller. Recently at the Bob on Books Facebook Page (you are welcome to like us!) I asked people about their experiences of buying used books online and discovered I must be the last person on the planet not to know about Thriftbooks. One person wrote, “Thriftbooks is the bees knees.” With such an enthusiastic endorsement, I could not fail to take a look.

Here’s what I found. The homepage to the website works well to connect one to all the features on the site. There is a search bar that allows you to search by title, author, or ISBN. I found that entering the first part of the author’s name brought up a list that allowed me to search the author’s book quickly. One of the things you will notice is that you are not buying from other booksellers through the site but through Thriftbooks itself. (Thriftbooks also sells through Amazon.)

Just below that is a drop down menu bar that allows you to search by categories, kid’s, young adult, fiction, and collectibles. There is also information about special offers, their phone app (which I haven’t looked at yet), their blog, and information about the company. They’ve expanded from a single warehouse in Washington state in 2004 to warehouses in ten states. They purchase books from charities, which helps the charities, recycle books through sales or sending them to recycling plants, and support various literacy programs, schools, and correctional facility libraries.

They have a sliding banner that features their Thriftbooks deals (an additional 10% off 100,000 titles), a bonus currently on offer for their Reading Rewards program, a feature on women’s books, and a chance to vote in their “novel knockout” program. Below this are featured their bestsellers (all selling from $3.79), trending books, and popular books eligible for their Thriftbooks discount. Between the trending books and the Thriftbook deals is a green bar with links to your orders, your current number of points in your Reading Rewards, and a link to Thriftbook deals.

If you go to the page for any category, you see best sellers, new arrivals, and Thriftbook deals for that category. Under Collectibles, you can see New Arrivals, First Editions, and Signed Books. When you click on a book, you are taken to a page for that book offering various price options for the book depending on hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, and audio and prices by condition. There is also a link to view all the editions of the book.

It is easy to set up an account, which involves providing your name, email, and a password. Click on the Reading Reward link in your profile to enroll in the Reading Rewards program. It allows you to earn points for each dollar you spend (as well as periodic bonuses depending on how many books you read). When you earn 500 points, you get a free book. Starting out, you get 8 points for each dollar. When you spend more than $150 in a year, you graduate to “Literati,” where you earn 10 points.

So I did try out ordering. I ordered a few James Lee Burke books, and the next couple books in the Wheel of Time series that I haven’t read. It was pretty standard for most websites: shopping cart, provide shipping info, and credit card or Paypal. Standard shipping is free with orders over $15 (within the U.S.). It is supposed to take 4 to 8 business days. We’ll see how it goes. I received an immediate order confirmation via email, as well as a 15% discount coupon code for my next order.

If you want to try them out, here is a link to a free book offer (yes, I do get a free book if you order!). So depending on your budget and book buying needs, you might give them a try.

Summing it all up:

Strengths: Inventory, low prices, rewards program, collectibles, overall ease of navigation and use, and the social responsibility of the company.

Downsides: Not the place to find newly released books. These are used books in most cases. It does not connect you to or support brick and mortar booksellers, used or new, nor authors.

Bookstore Review: Amaranth Books

Amaranth BooksBookstores can be like old friends. I had a chance to visit one of those while in Evanston, Illinois this weekend. A number of years ago I was at meetings in Evanston and found a wonderful used and rare bookstore called Amaranth Books. C.S. Lewis lover that I am, I found a reasonably priced copy of Allegory of Love. So, when I had a break between morning and evening speaking engagements, I looked up bookstores near where I was staying and discovered it was .3 miles away, just a short walk.

One of my first impressions walking in was of a store neatly organized that optimized display, an extensive selection and ease of moving through the store’s three main aisles, lined with books on each side. Just inside the entry are a good selection of $1 and $2 books. I was tempted by several but limited myself to a biography of Cotton Mather, reflecting my interest in American religious history.

The store also features an extensive selection of used classical CDs, tempting me with another of my loves. I found a recording of Adolphus Hailstork music. Our choral group has sung some of his music and I was delighted to actually find something recorded by him.

Amaranth interiorThe store’s website indicates that they buy and sell children’s literature, classical CDs and DVDs, cultural books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and rare books. Given the location near Northwestern University, one gets the feel that its appeal is to an educated, literate clientele. In the fiction section there were a number of first editions. I was impressed to find the full Oxford English Dictionary in what looked like mint condition as well as the Grove Dictionary of Opera (four volumes) which I’d not seen a copy of before. I was particularly impressed that the books I looked at were in good condition and, I thought, reasonably priced.

The owner, Joe Warnick, has been in this location for 24 years. Like many booksellers, much of his business is done online and you can search their selection through AbeBooks website. Because he specializes in used and rare books he also buys collections, preferring to work within a 20 mile radius of the store (much of greater Chicago).

Like nearly all booksellers I’ve talked with, he spoke of the challenges of bookselling in the rapidly changing environment we are in–knowing what to buy and stock, how to promote, how to connect with customers. What impressed me, however, was the fine selection and display of books (as well as CDs and DVDs) he achieves in his space without the clutter, dust, disorganization, and indiscriminate attention to book condition one sees in many stores. My only regret was not getting back to see this “old friend” sooner.

Contact information and hours:

Amaranth Books, 828 Davis Street, Evanston, Illinois 60201

Phone: 847-328-2939  Email:

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 – 5:30, Sunday 1-5 (their website indicates that they are closed Sunday, but often in from 1-5–best to call first!)

Bookstore Review: Paperback Exchange

IMG_2361We are taking some time off this week and love exploring some of the smaller towns around Columbus. On Tuesday, we were in Lancaster, Ohio and discovered a wonderful used paperback store right on the corner of N. Columbus and W. Main in the heart of downtown Lancaster. The Paperback Exchange has been in downtown Lancaster for about a dozen years but just moved to their current location in March. They were previously in a couple other downtown locations, one of which they vacated after a fire in the building and the building was torn down.

IMG_2359We found the store well and neatly laid out with large sections for current fiction, adventure and mystery stories, romance novels, science fiction, and a section of children’s books in the front of the store. The store has smaller sections of more “serious” religious literature, history and classical literature. They also feature a selection of cards, candles, and other gifts and sundries. True to its name, you can also receive store credit for many books and some other media. Consult with the store for its current policy on book and media credit.



The sign outside the Paperback Exchange is reminiscent of the old Long’s Bookstore sign that now adorns the outside of the Barnes and Noble Store at Ohio State The Paperback Exchange sign came from a store in North Carolina. When you walk into the store, you will be greeted by one of two very friendly bookstore cats, either Dickens or Webster, or perhaps both. We only met Dickens on our visit.



What impressed me about the owner, Leanne McClellan, is that she has not only created a welcoming space with a great selection of the books most people are reading that sell for very reasonable prices. She also is a proponent of downtown Lancaster and was one of the pioneers in the revitalization of the downtown. Lancaster now has several new eateries including Table 1, Ale House 1890, Signatures Restaurant and Sports Bar, as well as a Glass Blowing Museum, Art and Clay, which is a walk-in ceramics studio, and Blank Slate Artisans where you can buy handcrafted items from local artists and more. Destination Downtown Lancaster is a great resource for planning a visit but once you are there, Leanne can give you an up to the minute account of the good things going on in downtown Lancaster!

So, if it is the latest fiction, a good beach read, or the latest James Patterson thriller, the Paperback Exchange is a great place to go for books at half price or less, as well as an update on the latest attractions of downtown Lancaster. Also, look for the Paperback Exchange at the upcoming Lancaster Festival, July 23 to August 1.

Paperback Exchange is located at 201 W. Main St., Lancaster, OH 43130. Their phone is 740-654-5856.

A Different Best-Seller List

seven-habits-highly-coveyI’m a sucker for a book list–any book list. I’m always curious about what others find interesting enough to read. Best-seller lists tell me about what lots of people are interested in reading. That doesn’t mean I run out to buy the book, but rather that it gives me some ideas, when I talk to readers, what they might be reading. For lists that include “backlist” books, I’m always interested to find out how many of these books I’ve read, and the “holes” in the list give me ideas for things I might want to pick up some day.

AbeBooks, an Amazon company specializing in used, rare, and out of print books, came out with an interesting list recently that combines “book list” and “best-seller” list. It was their list of the 100 bestselling used books since 2000. The surprise for me was that at the top of the list was Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. They had an interesting explanation of why this came in ahead of more significant literary works like To Kill a Mockingbird (number 2) or one of my favorites that I did buy at a used bookstore, East of Eden (at number 44). They said, “This is a book that many people want to read, but no one wants to keep.”

Actually, that is an interesting statement, because to some degree, this must be true of every book on this list, because these all are used books. For various reasons, the original purchasers didn’t want to keep them, but others want to read them. Truthfully, there are a number on the list I would agree to this being true: Khaled Hosseini’s books, The Five Languages of Love by Chapman, One Hundred Years of Solitude, to name a few. I’m glad I read them, but had no desire to read them again or have them hanging around.

There are some I’ve read that I wouldn’t part with (my heirs might or probably will however!): East of Eden, and anything by Hemingway would be on the list as well as C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. And there are some I’d never touch, including the recent novels of Stieg Larsson and Eat, Pray, Love. (Sorry if that offends anybody–books are like ice cream and everyone has their own taste).

Then there were some I would like to read or re-read someday. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby are up on myu list of re-reads. Believe it or not, I’ve never made it through Gone with the Wind and given my love of all things Civil War, I probably should some day. Freakonomics and The Tipping Point are on one of my TBR piles. I’ll probably re-sell them as soon as I read them (if I do).

One of the most interesting things this reflects is the whole world of used bookselling. The truth is that probably over two-thirds of the books I read are used, or from a used bookstore. The new books I get, I almost always buy at significant discount or get free. I think one of the commandments in my universe is “thou shalt not pay full price for a book”. This means that the person who wants to read a book but not keep it is one of my best friends!

So, are you curious how many of the books on the AbeBooks list are ones I’ve read? To make this fun, I will invite you to guess, and post the answer on Friday.