Used Book Sales: Idea Mines For Writers

Over the last month or so here in Calgary there have been two monster used book sales for charity. Both of these were held in large tents. As a result of these sales I have more books on American and World history, reference, and science than ever. As an example, at the most recent sale I picked up ten hardcovers and many trade paperbacks for less than $30. At the previous sale I got around 15 hardcovers and spent only $20. What were some of the titles you are wondering? At least I hope you are curious. Well here are just a few examples,

– A Thousand Days by Theodore Sorenson
– Encyclopedia of American Prisons
– New York Times Desk Reference to Science
– Harry Truman by Margaret Truman
– Monster Book of Trivia
– FBI Agent Inside the Clinton Presidency
– Alberta Place Names
– Canadian Justice System: A Primer

I highly recommend these types of sales to writers. There are a myriad of ideas just waiting to be gleaned from the books I purchased, plus factual references for my history articles. Sure the Internet is a wonderful place to get information, but there is nothing like paging through a book, yes a real book, finding interesting tidbits and enjoying reading at the same time. For nonfiction writers like me it is a must to read in the area you’re interested in. Not only do you find out things, but you see the style used by other writers. Best of all you can get some excellent books at fantastic prices. I estimate I obtained around $400 worth of books for about $40 between the two sales. My wife thinks I’m a little crazy, but at least she knows where I am – in my home office reading used history books.

When reading a nonfiction book I do a couple of things before I actually starting reading the main part of the book,

1. Read the Table of Contents for key chapters I might want to concentrate on. An example here is the chapter in A Thousand Days on Kennedy’s time as president-elect from the general election in November 1960, until his inauguration on January 20, 1961. This to me is an interesting period in the successful candidate’s life. He knows he will president, but is not officially yet. Must be a frustrating time for many of them. Again more ideas for articles and blogs.

2. Scan the Endnotes and/or References at the back of the book. These usually give me other sources to look at and tell me where the author looked.

3. Scan the Index for key facts. For example in the Harry Truman book, I was interested on his daughter’s take on the assassination attempt of 1950. By searching the index, I found very quickly several pages related to it and more on some other threats the Secret Service had received. I was unaware of the latter. Now I have some ideas for future blogs or articles.

4. Take lots of notes.


6 Responses to Used Book Sales: Idea Mines For Writers

  1. stamperdad says:

    Thanks. So far out of the books I got I found some fascinating ideas for stories, now all I have to do is find the time to put them together in articles. But I did take notes including references to the info in the books.


  2. One of the great things about writing as a career or hobby is that nobody can tell when you’re working or having fun because you’re doing what you love to do: read and learn. Those kinds of books are priceless. I especially like older reference books to get a glimpse of times past.
    Thanks for the useful tips- note taking is essential, and you can never know too much about your profession. There’s always something new.

  3. stamperdad says:

    Thanks for the kind comments Rosemerry. Glad you enjoyed it.


  4. rosemerry says:

    I have quite a few NF books on the civil war mostly published diaries. I will definitely keep your pointers in mind as I want to start writing NF articles. Your blog is really interesting so far and I’ve only read a few posts.

  5. stamperdad says:

    Amazing how many ideas I get, but still getting one to blog on is a chore sometimes. Problem is some ideas are for longer articles.


  6. Dennis Price says:

    Thanks for the tips. I just sitting here tonight trying to get a blog spark going. Pappy

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