Books on a budget

By Cameron Mcallister

I have an expensive habit that I can’t seem to break: reading. Cookbooks, textbooks, reference books, classics, plays, poetry anthologies, I’ve got them all. And, unfortunately, books cost money. Out of a sense of self-preservation I’ve been forced to find and refine methods I will now share to reduce the financial burden of reading, which involved picking the brains of my reader-friends, scouring the internet, and a lot of trial and error. (Ironically, I didn’t find any of these tips in a book).

Let’s start with the obvious: the library. Library membership for Durham County Council libraries entitles you to a vast horde of books covering all 40 of County Durham’s libraries. As a member, you can also buy withdrawn surplus library books online, with lists of withdrawn books being updated monthly. There’s quite a lot of Adult Non-Fiction (read: Victorian railway history), but there’s likely to be the occasional treasure.

Perhaps the best way to read cheaply is not to read at all – rather to listen

Perhaps the best way to read cheaply is not to read at all – rather to listen. Many local libraries (including those in Durham) are linked to free apps like BorrowBox, which allows you to listen to a regularly updated selection of hundreds of free audiobooks. I prefer to read on paper, so I use BorrowBox solely for the audiobooks, but there are also eBooks. The BorrowBox app can be downloaded on Apple, Android and Kindle Fire devices.

In terms of apps, there’s also Libby which also allows you to borrow eBooks and audiobooks, as well as magazines. Linked to a Durham County Council Library account, the selection is heavy on magazines and graphic novels, nicely complementary to what’s available on BorrowBox. I like New Scientist and New Philosopher magazines, the latter of which I discovered on Libby.

In reading for free, copyright (or at least copyright expiry) is also your friend. Websites like Project Gutenberg host tens of thousands of books which can be read online or downloaded in eReader-friendly formats, with Project Gutenberg having a particular focus on works for which the US copyright has expired.

1st January is Public Domain Day, the day copyright terms expire and books enter the public domain. Many significant works have joined the public domain in recent years: in 2021, The Great Gatsby; Winnie-the-Pooh in 2022 (hence the low budget Winnie-the-Pooh slasher film, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey); and in 2023 Virginia Woolfe’s To The Lighthouse (among many others).

If you, like me, prefer ideally to read physical books, there’s of course nothing better than charity shops

If you, like me, prefer ideally to read physical books, there’s of course nothing better than charity shops. There is, of course, the Elvet Bridge Oxfam that specialises in books and music. I, however, tend to find more books on the smaller shelves of North Road’s charity shops, like Age UK and the British Heart Foundation.

I also like the relationship you can build with a book’s previous readers. These can be formed via forgotten bookmarks, shopping lists or notes left in the book, or by the books that have been donated at a particular shop – to the person that donated multiple Kazuo Ishiguro books to the North Road British Heart Foundation last summer that I hastily nabbed: thank you, A Pale View of Hills was stunning.

If you’re looking for something more specific that you can’t rely on finding in a charity shop, try manifesting it. Otherwise, try online. AbeBooks is very cheap, but is a subsidiary of Amazon, and charges for delivery which can offset the apparent cheapness. Personally, I like Wob, the company formerly known as World of Books. Wob offers free delivery and is a Certified B Corporation which means that they, according to the Wob website, “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance”.

There’s one final piece of advice I have for reading on a budget, but you may not want to hear it, look away now anyone with TBRs that could themselves be short novels: read the books you already own. Stay away from Waterstones, avoid Saddler Street entirely if you must. Don’t even think about watching a book haul. Maybe you’ll find out that one of the classics on your bookshelf you’ve been shamefully avoiding eye contact with turns out to be a classic for a reason.

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One thought on “Books on a budget

  • I also wondered about the cost of textbooks, I found information on this topic here . Textbooks often contain specialized content written by experts in their field. Authors and publishers invest time and resources in creating high-quality, up-to-date content, which can contribute to higher costs.


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