The Case for Reading Middle-Aged Books

I’m going to tell you all the advantages I’ve found for reading books years after everyone else, but don’t be fooled: I almost never read new books primarily because I’m too cheap to buy them. When I do find myself with some extra cash for a book, I have my own process for deciding what to buy. It’s almost never something I haven’t read before. Somewhere around 85% of what I read comes from the library, and my library puts a cap on how many books I can put on hold at once. There is no way I’m giving up one of those precious hold spots for something with a 200-person waiting list! Although the habit of reading books just past their prime started as a way to save money, it’s one I’ve kept even as our income has gone up. Here’s why:

Middle-aged books are easier (and cheaper) to find. New books are easy to find at the bookstore, but next-to-impossible to snag at the library. Really old books can be difficult if they haven’t been reprinted recently. The middle-aged books that were hugely popular in the past ten years, however, are easy for me to find at the library with no wait or in paperback at the bookstore. Sure, the wait for A Man Called Ove is insane right now, but all but one of my library’s copies of The Night Circus are in stock at this very moment.

I always have something great to read. Since I’m still working through books my friends loved a decade ago, my list of books to read gets longer and longer as new books come out. Someday, I might bemoan my enormous list of books to read, but not today. I love opening Goodreads and seeing hundreds of titles waiting. If I can’t find a certain book in stock today, my chances are really good with the next one on the list.

I can’t remember any spoilers. I have a fantastically terrible memory for plots of books I’ve already read, let alone plot summaries of books I’d like to read. That said, knowing there’s an unreliable narrator in Girl on the Train has completely turned me off to reading it (right now). I love a good plot twist, but not if I’m spending the entire book looking for it. Reading books a few years after their prime means I might remember who recommended the book to me but not what they said.

There are often more books by the author. If the book I just finished is part of a series, there’s a good chance the next book is out already. If it’s not, there’s still the bulk of the author’s work to read right away. I read my very first Kate Morton book a couple years ago, even though she’s been publishing books for almost a decade. It’s always a pleasant surprise to find a stack of similar books waiting when I finish something good.

Although I can’t resist checking out the new release lists, I love going back through reading recommendations years after the fact too. The thing is, I know I’m not alone. When we read The Glass Castle in book club last year, half the women (including me) had never read it and the other half were shocked to hear it.


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