By Hadassah Penn, Features Editor
I have a stack of library books in my bedroom. They’ve been there for weeks; I got them right before the libraries closed for quarantine. Out of all the places I can’t go right now, I think I miss the library the most. Reading can be an expensive habit, and what are we to do when the best resource for free books is inaccessible? There’s Amazon, but I try not to order books from Amazon because of its labor conditions and its harmful effect on the publishing industry. So I’ve been improvising over the past few weeks.
Here are some affordable options I’ve been loving recently:
Bookoutlet is an online store that sells really cheap books. Like, really cheap. The selection is kind of a mixed bag, but totally worth it for the prices. It’s really fun to browse for gems, and new arrivals come in all the time, so there’s always more to look at. (I’ve shopped for books during class more than a few times.)
Bookoutlet sells publisher overstock, which is what happens when the publisher prints too many copies of a book and ends up with excess inventory. The books are in either perfect or good condition, and you’ll usually find a line or dot of marker on the bottom of the book that marks it as extra stock being resold. Orders can take a few weeks to arrive, but I’ve always been satisfied once they’ve come. And I’ve never seen better prices for online book shopping. Like the library, Bookoutlet is a great way to try out books you’re not sure about without investing too much money.
Kindles, Nooks, or iPads
If you already own an e-reader, this is a great time to charge it up. I recently dug up my nook, which I bought from Barnes and Noble back in 2014. I understand e-books aren’t for everyone, but they’re cheaper than physical books, and it’s so convenient to have many books on one small, portable, backlit device. Try playing around with the font size, line spacing, and brightness to find the setting that your head and eyes are most comfortable with, and then enjoy the ease with which you can now read large hardbacks or books with embarrassing covers.
Libby and Hoopla
When I was younger, my family would take out audiobooks from the library on cassette or CD. Now, there are plenty of apps that let me do the same — chiefly, Libby and Hoopla. Both apps offer ebooks as well as audiobooks, but I generally use them for the latter. It’s totally free — all you need is a smartphone and a library card. Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed up with your library, you’re good to go. I love audiobooks because they’re either read by the author, who understands the book better than anyone, or by trained voice actors who make the story compelling and immersive. Plus, audiobooks allow me to read and do other tasks at the same time — double productivity!
If you’re new to audiobooks, here are my pro tips: you can slow down or speed up the narration to find the pace that works for you — I often listen to audiobooks on double speed or even faster, but that’s not for everyone. Play around and see what works for you. Audiobooks are great for listening during chores like dishes, laundry, and vacuuming, or leisure activities like walking, journaling, and coloring. For books that are particularly great on audio, I’d recommend Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, Circe by Madeline Miller, and the whole Harry Potter series, which I always return to for comfort.
Okay, not cheap. But important. COVID has hit the publishing industry really, really hard. If you can afford to buy full-price books, consider supporting a local independent bookstore that’s still accepting online orders. For those in the New Jersey area, I recently ordered from Inkwood Books and it was a really pleasant experience. You can Google indie bookstores in your location, or use this indie bookstore finder to see what’s near you.
Read What You Have
Finally, look at the books you already own. What’s already with you in quarantine? What have you owned for a few months or years but haven’t gotten around to yet? What’s on your family or roommates’ bookshelves that you can try out? This is a great opportunity to branch out and read what you wouldn’t generally gravitate towards. You can also revisit old favorites or see how books from your younger years held up. (Holes? Yes. Divergent? No. Chronicles of Narnia? A lot more Christian than my eight-year-old self realized.) It doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you feel good about it. Wherever you are right now, whether you need escapism, catharsis, or company, I hope these resources help.