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Old Tricks

Used-Book Stores Offer Students a New Leash on Life for Dog-Eared Materials

September 06, 1998|LYNN O'DELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

School hasn't started yet in Yorba Linda, but savvy high school seniors already have been to Books Redux, a used-book store nestled between a copying center and a one-hour photo store.

They've cleaned out owner Marian Hawley's stock of "Catch-22," a novel on a required-reading list at Esperanza High School.

Buying "pre-read," smart shoppers paid $5 and saved 50% over new.

Students and their parents, who already have written checks for new school clothes, backpacks, binders, bus passes, yearbook fees, parent-teacher-student association dues and student body cards, must buy books as well.

Public school districts still provide textbooks. But when it comes to novels and other literature, students are encouraged to buy their own copies beginning in the upper elementary grades, said

Lynn Bogart, curriculum coordinator for language arts in the Irvine Unified School District.

By the time they are seniors, students in advanced English classes are handed a shopping list of required reading that, filled, would make any backpack bulge.

"I'm constantly buying books," said Debbie Gulickson of Yorba Linda, who has a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader.

Shoppers such as Gulickson are turning to Orange County's network of about 40 used-book stores, where prices are so low that sometimes a used hardcover is cheaper than a new paperback.

"As soon as a teacher gives out a reading list, we know it. We get calls from parents and kids, and they walk in here with lists," said David Hess, co-owner of the Bookman in Orange, one of the larger used-book stores with a good general stock.

Shoppers range from elementary school to college students, from public and private schools, Hess said. They are looking for paperback titles such as "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Romeo and Juliet."

They are also looking for bargains.

Mary Banner of Mr. Good Books, a used-book store in Laguna Hills, explained used-book pricing this way: "If a new-book store sells a book for $20, we sell it for $8. If it's $10, we sell it for $4. If it's a paperback, we sell it for half [the cover] price."

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Savings can add up. Consider Villa Park High School teacher Carol Mooney's reading list for advanced English. The three plays and six novels can be bought at a local Barnes and Noble for $61.15 plus tax. A thrifty student visiting three used-book stores could buy the lot and save more than two-thirds of that amount.

School officials stress that no student is required to buy books. The districts--and, in many cases, the teachers--have copies available for those who can't afford or prefer not to buy them.

Mooney's advanced students also read two novels, two plays and 20 poems over the summer, and she urges them to use siblings' books, the Internet and public and college libraries.

But many students want to own their books, Mooney said, to write in them and keep them.

Educators have encouraged "marginalia" or annotation for about five years, Bogart said; the book itself becomes a study tool.

It now starts in upper elementary school, where, not long ago, Hawley said, "you didn't mark in books, for heaven's sake."

Highlighting and making notes in margins was something you did strictly in college, she remembers.

The trend has been good for the book business. Through teachers and her "parent spy network," Hawley knows what students in her area read in a particular grade. She has received so many requests for schoolbooks that she does something unusual in the used-book business: She sells new books in her school section.

"They are the only new books in the store. There weren't many bookstores [at] this end of town, and I was getting more and more requests for new schoolbooks."

Gulickson, who began shopping at Books Redux to save money, now buys all her books there because she and her two daughters like doing business with Hawley.

"We use the store like a library. She has so many neat books, and used books are so cheap. If we need a biography, we just buy it," Gulickson said.

Shopping at such stores for school can be a problem, because most have fewer than 10 copies of a given title. Still, stores keep "wish lists" and will call a customer when a book comes in.

High technology can help. Most stores can connect to a computer network of about 3,000 dealers, who enter titles into a database.

"The odds are, somebody out there has got it. The computer has made it very accessible," said Reynolds Taney of Bookman Too in Huntington Beach.

Books also arrive over the counter as customers return to sell back or trade in purchaes. To encourage repeat business, stores typically offer much more in store credit than in cash when they take back books. Deborah Hyatt, a recent community college graduate, said she amassed $80 in store credits when she returned her books.

What are good bets for resales?

"You can never have too many copies of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' It's on everybody's book list from elementary school to high school," Hess said.

And, although it will make English teachers shudder, Cliffs Notes, those yellow-and-black striped summaries of great literature, are in great demand just before test time. There are three shelves of Cliffs Notes among the 200,000 books at the Bookman.

"I never turn down Cliffs Notes," Hess said with a chuckle. "They sell real well."

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