Posted by: Sally Ingraham | October 29, 2009

…vast flocks of variegated feather…

A friend of mine recently asked me (and herself, since she is just as guilty) how I could continue to excuse my frequent purchase of books (even at the easily justified price of 25 cents each) when in the very same building there were housed a huge amount of FREE books? (Thank goodness the library book sale ended a few days ago…!)

I didn’t have a good answer. Thanks to Susan at pages turned, however, I now understand my delight in and nonsensical need for those used books. She posted this amazingly insightful quote:

Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.
–Virginia Woolf


The cool thing about this is that I often buy books, read them, and then pass them along or re-donate them when I am weeding my collection, so they truly are roaming, wild books, un-domesticatable. This idea pleases me very much. 🙂

Thank you Susan, and Virginia. I’ll happily let these ‘vast flocks’ keep on falling into my arms.
Used Books
(This fabulous photo is by Brian Lincoln.)


  1. I love libraries, but I also feel the need to own books.

    Plus, those of us who can afford to buy books need to support authors and publishers with our purchases. Otherwise it will be wall-to-wall self help and Dan Brown.

  2. Yes! We make ourselves happy by surrounding ourselves with things that make us happy. It helps to know a favourite book will be there forever, no matter what. Library books are one-night stands. Owned books are husbands (or wives).

    Also, I do the same.. passing on books when weeding out the shelves (which I often do).

  3. Thomas – OMG what a horrible thought!! Makes me want to rush out and “support authors and publishers” right this minute. 🙂

    Claire – “One-night stands” indeed. Funny thought. 🙂

  4. For me, reading a library book never feels the same as reading one that is my own! I really love second-hand books though, especially when I encounter evidence of their previous journeys – sometimes an inscription to someone else, or a postcard or photograph as an erstwhile bookmark. I guess I’m the same way about books as I am about puppies – while I could buy a dog from a breeder, I’d much rather rescue one from a shelter! And I also give away and replenish the literary wilderness with books when I am done with them (not so with dogs though! Those are with me for life!).

  5. I don’t mind library books except that if I really enjoy a book I hate to have to give it back yet I feel silly going out and buying it after already reading it!

    Second-hand books I love because they have a history to them, somebody somewhere has already relished reading that book (I hope?!)

    Interesting post. And Virginia’s quote is fantastic! I’m looking forwqard to reading her books in January or February..(?)

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