Tag Archives: Used Books

Small Details: Mass Production As Literature

I worked in the used book business for a long time sorting books to be sold online both independently and as a contractor for a store. The store had more than 40,000 books in overstock, and I’d sit in a storage warehouse or the back of the store itself. Part of my job would be to research prices on a variety of sites. I kept a collection of interestingly damaged books. I had pictures of most of them at some point but lost them.

I remember mostly the bizarrely specific hesitations people would have over minor condition points while buying; the Mexican stand-off with the object wherein the urge to take it home is resisted. What was considered mint condition could vary wildly from book to book. The little condition blurbs put onto places like Amazon and Abebooks and varied wildly in tone and substance from seller to seller. Some sellers had clearly obsessive issues with certain defects. In their lists of defects they made the case for the refinement of their pickiness they hoped to find mirrored in the peculiar pickiness of the buyer. Detailed descriptions of books selling for a penny weren’t uncommon. It was a genealogy of individual supposedly identical copies of objects. Scanning down a page of these, Steinian repetitions occur. Read these out loud in order for the full effect:

“Harpercollins Trade Sales Dept. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Minimal damage to cover and binding. Pages show light use. Bookseller Inventory # G0061490199I3N00”

“Harper Perennial. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Light shelving wear with minimal damage to cover and bindings. Pages show minor use. Bookseller Inventory # G0061490199I3N00”

“Del Rey. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Book shows minor use. Cover and Binding have minimal wear and the pages have only minimal creases. Bookseller Inventory # G0345502078I3N00”

“Del Rey. Hardcover. Book Condition: Good. Ex-Library Book – will contain Library Markings. Only lightly used. Book has minimal wear to cover and binding. A few pages may have small creases and minimal underlining. Bookseller Inventory # G0345501748I3N10”

This is the novelized adaptation of tradio. The TV series plays on the local channel that loops the real estate listings. I’m not sure a film version has been made yet, but Mr. Show came close.


The line between an encyclopedia, a dictionary, a catalog page and traditional personals ads is a thin one, and in that line is the literary space wherein the internet creates itself. The strict rectangular geometry of the page creates the medium in which the space of “innovation” takes place.


Can’t say for sure, but I think I just did.


They were coded to be indecipherable to their writers and the folks hired to deliver them. A couple have been retrieved but they’re fragmentary.

GK Chesterton in his introduction to his book William Blake: “Napoleon said that we English were a nation of shopkeepers; if he had pursued the problem a little further he might have discovered why we are a nation of poets. Our recent slackness in poetry and in everything else is due to the fact that we are no longer a nation of shopkeepers, but merely a nation of shop-owners.”

Robert Ashley wrote “In the beginning, there were rocks. And on those rocks with harder rock, we learned to make a million bruises. To spell out things like:We Were Here and Watch Your Water. They only moved it, the idea of bruises adding up to something, from rocks to skin. A tendency toward motion pictures.”

The present moment is a haystack made of needles. Problem now is: Where do you find a big enough haystack to hide them all in?