Old books! You can judge them by their shabby chic covers, because they function as objets d'art and objects of desire on a shelf no matter what stories they tell inside. Books with leather bindings, books embossed and edged in gold, books with plates and illustrations and fancy lettering inside, books that give off the subtle scent of an aged library, books with fraying ribbon markers and tactile spines. Old books are charming, comforting, and, when they aren't first edition antiques, they are usually cheap.
The stories told inside of old books can also be wonderful and so thick and rich that you can revisit them again and again, each time discovering something new or forgotten, as fans of Jane Austen and George Eliot know well. Those were stories built to last the ages.
An old book can be a roundly multi-sensory experience. I once picked up an old maiden volume by Anthony Trollope that had never been read--and I know, because I had to rustle up an antique book knife to cut apart the pages, an experience as satisfying as opening a love letter sent from a bygone time, addressed to the unlikely 21st century reader with an appreciation for cheeky 19th century literature and a mother-in-law who loves to gift funny little antique items. That novel has weight, lively illustrations, a witty tale to tell, and the light fragrance of wisdom that emanates from its soft-edged, newly sliced pages.
Old books make for unique and special gifts for all occasions. Buying used items saves resources, supports small businesses, keeps history alive, and makes a warm personal statement to the recipient. And did I mention they're usually cheap? It's the effort of the hunt that makes them valuable, not the price tag. One of my favorite-ever gifts that I've received is a set of leather-bound and illustrated volumes of Ekkehard by Joseph Victor Von Scheffel, which my husband found for me. They are shabby, old library castoffs, and I love them.
The Unitarian Universalist church where I work used to have a little used bookstore inside (now we do periodic large used book sales instead) where I have purchased many old books for under $1. It has been a treasure trove of everything from delightfully saucy romances to the most transcendent literature. The people who donate their well-loved reading material at the church are a mix of free thinkers, hippies, intellectuals, academics, spiritual seekers, scientists, and world travelers, so the selection is filtered through the minds and personal bookshelves of a smart and quirky community. One of my friends once picked up the complete works of the Marquise de Sade there. (Obviously this is not your typical church bookstore.) I once nabbed a 150-year-old illustrated antique gardening book for 75 cents.
The secret to donating or giving away a used book of your own is not to unload the junk you simply don't want because it is trash. Those volumes, including out-of-date textbooks and anything moldy, should go to the recycling center or contribute to the warmth of a wood stove fire. Books that you pass along to a new reader should be objects of beauty and/or truth that you wish to share, that you have loved or at least respected, which you would recommend with your heart and soul. Giving or donating a book that has meant something to you is to give the gift of an experience as well as a beautiful thing. And if you give directly to a friend who is interested in reading, you can extend that meaning and experience by discussing it together afterward.
It's even more interesting than discussing a TV show you've both binge-watched, I promise.
Happy reading and sharing!