Tips from a Book Hoarder

Recently, I had an article on my Blind Date with a Book project published in The English Journal. I didn’t expect anyone to read it let alone enjoy it (hello, imposter syndrome!) but I received a lot of positive feedback and some great questions in response to the article.

One of the questions I received from other teachers was the most logistic – how do you afford all these books?

I’m not blessed with an unending bank account or a rich benefactor who believes in my noble cause. I have over the years, however, refined my methods for acquiring books and discovered new venues for works of literature that I would have never considered before. Here are my best best for acquiring new books for both my classroom and myself.

  • The Dollar Tree

Teachers love a good dollar store. Decorations, party supplies, pens and pencils – it’s always go-to shopping stop. But if you’ve been sleeping on the book section at the Dollar Tree, you’ve been missing out.

I could spend an hour or two peeking through every book in the Dollar Tree – not necessarily because there are so many, but because there is literally no organizational method to the books whatsoever. Here, you may find Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom hidden beneath a self-help book that no one found helpful. You may have to pass through several copies of Save Me, Kurt Cobain (yeah, I bought one) before you dig out a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry. There are gems to be found here, if you are willing to do a little digging.

But even if you are unsure of a book, this is the one place where it is okay to buy a book just because you like the cover. It’s a dollar! Buy that book, dammit! This method has led me to two of my favorite books: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, and Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Oh, and did I mention that Kelly Link book came signed, too? Yup. All for a dollar.

  • Goodwill/Thrift stores

We often go to used bookshops to try to find treasures, but many treasures are waiting for us in other second-hand stores. The books section at Goodwill varies from store to store – some are more organized than others – but it is always worth a good look to see what is in stock.

This is a good place to find entire sets of a books series, or extra copies of classroom novels. I often find the discarded novels of English classes gone by that some unappreciative student has donated. The pricing here can also depend on the location – the Goodwill I frequent the most sold paperbacks for a dollar, but a posher Goodwill in a more affluent neighborhood (*cough* Sarasota *cough*) charged three dollars a book. Highway robbery if you ask me. But I still bought several.

  • Library Sales

Last night I was teaching my High School Methods class, and we got on the topic of library books sales. One of the students was amazed that libraries sell books – it’s true! Libraries often hold book sales to sell books that they have chosen to take out of circulation for one reason or another. The books are cheap and plentiful, though they may be well-loved. YA Lit is a popular genre in these book sales, so you are likely to find plenty of titles that fit your student’s reading appetites.

While you are at the library, be sure to check out their YA Lit section, which will likely have a display of new and popular titles. This is a good time for you to get yourself up to date with what’s out there in the YA world that might appeal to your students.

  • National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference

Okay, this one is a long shot. But I would be leaving out my main source of YA Lit books if I didn’t mention the NCTE National Conference. Every time I have attended NCTE, I have returned with at least fifty new books from publishers, authors, and independent bookstores, many of which are signed by the author, and most of which are free.

But my motive is not purely book-related. NCTE is also the single best professional development opportunity for English teachers in the United States. The conference is not cheap, but with the help of grants and some thrifty planning, it can be affordable. There are sessions and speakers on every possible topic – millions of ideas for you to bring back to your classroom. And all this along with the magic of the exhibit hall? Totally worth it.

I hope you found these tips helpful, and I hope to see you in Baltimore, Maryland at NCTE 2019!!

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