ThriftBooks or Thrift Books?

Book-lovers, rejoice! There’s a way to be constantly reading while saving money and satisfying your passion for thrifting, and it’s through a site called ThriftBooks.

A ThriftBooks warehouse in Chicago. (

If you haven’t heard of ThriftBooks before, it’s a website, founded in 2003, that sells used books, DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, video games, and audio cassettes, but its books are its focal point. According to their website, ThriftBooks is the world’s largest online independent used book seller, with over 13 million titles to choose from and ten warehouses across the United States.

The website is easy to navigate, but a little overwhelming (in a good way!) to the book junkie due to the sheer amount of books offered. You can search for whatever book you’re looking for in the search bar, or you can browse books by category. When you click on a book, you can select the format and condition you want it in. The formats offered include hardcover, paperback, library binding, mass market paperback, and audio CD, depending on their availability. The conditions range from acceptable, good, very good, like new, and new. The price changes according to the format and condition: paperback tends to be cheaper than hardcover, and mass market paperback and library binding tend to be the cheapest, with prices usually below five dollars. Likewise, books that are in good or acceptable condition tend to cost less than books that are new or like new.

Screenshot of the Thriftbooks homepage.

ThriftBooks also sells collectible books (first and signed editions), if those are your niche. Prices vary dramatically for collectibles,  however,  a first edition, signed copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling is going for $495.00, while a first edition copy of The Castle by Franz Kafka is only $20.00.

What drew me into ThriftBooks were the book covers. Embarrassing as it may be to admit, I (and many other avid readers, I bet) do judge books by their covers, and am particularly drawn to vintage and unique covers of the classics. Because ThriftBooks sells second-hand and vintage books, they offer some great, original cover art.

I decided to order 4 books from ThriftBooks: Absalom, Absalom! (hardcover, very good condition, $9.79) and As I Lay Dying (hardcover, good condition, $5.69)  both by William Faulkner, The Awakening (paperback, like new, $4.79) by Kate Chopin and Tender is the Night (paperback, good condition, $4.19) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for a total of $24.46. That was a good price, considering I ordered two hardovers, which are usually priced around $20 each. 

The ordering process was smooth; delivery was a bumpy road. Normally I wouldn’t mind slow delivery, especially because of COVID, but I suspect there were a few errors on ThriftBooks’ part. I ordered the books on December 7, with standard shipping that claimed to take 4-8 business days. I received Tender is the Night, The Awakening, and As I Lay Dying all a few days later, but Absalom, Absalom! was still missing. 

Almost a month after my order, on January 4, Absalom, Absalom! was finally delivered – but, there was a duplicate copy of Tender is the Night, same exact cover as the one I had originally received. Nonetheless, all my books had finally arrived. Then, a couple of days later, I was surprised to find another package from ThriftBooks. Inside was another duplicate, this one of Absalom, Absalom!, but it was especially odd, because my original order was hardcover, and this one was paperback. 

This was not a particularly bad problem, as ThriftBooks didn’t charge for those duplicates, but it seems to indicate some kind of disconnect on their part. Perhaps it had to do with the time of the year, and maybe they were receiving an influx of orders, but there was no reasoning for the duplicate books. Another problem is that ThriftBooks only accepts returns within 30 days of the order placement, and I received the duplicates a month later, so if they had charged me for those duplicates, I’d be out of luck.

The books themselves were in great condition. Inside Absalom, Absalom! was a small note written to someone named Danny, from the person who gave him this book, which was a delight: I love evidence of personal

The note inside “Absalom, Absalom!” (Analise Draghi)

touches within used books. One personal touch I did not like was the name “Mrs. Harker” scrawled in black Sharpie on the top edge The Awakening, which was presumably a copy from a school, but it doesn’t interfere with the book and its cover. 

The covers for both The Awakening and As I Lay Dying were not the ones I had picked out, but that was my own fault: I had failed to read, in the order description, that covers may vary, and as ThriftBooks says in their FAQ section, “we cannot guarantee you will receive the same cover image listed with the item.” 

I don’t think I’ll order from ThriftBooks again in the near future. To me, nothing beats going to a thrift store and discovering a book with an interesting cover. But if there is a particular book I’m looking for, with a particular cover, I think I’ll try out a few other used-book sites instead. I was a little disenchanted with the long wait to receive Absalom, Absalom! and the two duplicates, and although I had failed to realize that covers may vary, in my defense, that information wasn’t really clear until I had ordered the books. Try out ThriftBooks if you don’t particularly care about book covers or are fine with duplicates and long wait times, but if you’re like me, I would stick to thrifting in-person.

“Mrs. Harker” scrawled on top of “The Awakening.” (Analise Draghi)