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A guide to Halifax’s second-hand bookstores 

Words imperfect: Halifax’s second-hand bookstores hold the secrets to student budget specials and course-required texts, if you know where to look.

Back Pages

1526 Queen Street, 423-4750

A wee bookstore on busy Queen Street, its little storefront hides a large selection of non-fiction and fiction titles. The owner was away on vacation for a good chunk of August, but the nice lady at the counter said the shop carries, in addition to its history and literature, textbooks for some math, astrology and chemistry courses. You can call to find out if your textbook's in, or walk to the central downtown location and see for yourself---you'll likely find more than what you were looking for.

Buy the Book and More Ltd.

1 Flamingo Drive, 445-5003

This gem of a second-hand bookstore is minutes away from Mount Saint Vincent University (on the 80 bus route for those coming from downtown). If you're searching for used textbooks, it's one of the few second-hand stores that sells them. Mike Lewis, who shares ownership of the store with his daughter, says he sees students saving up to 75 percent when buying used textbooks. "Just last week, a girl saved $300," he says. Lewis explains that each year universities pick new editions of books for courses, when often the only difference between editions is a revamped index. "Go to a place like mine, buy that book"---the older one---"find another one"---the newer one---"and re-index the one you bought," he suggests as an alternative. If it means buying that $130 Introductory Biology II text for $30, spending time bussing to Birdland---the neighbourhood near the school---and re-indexing a book sounds like time well spent, and money well saved.

The Last Word Bookstore

2160 Windsor Street, 423-2932

In a recent National Post article, Joel Plaskett named The Last Word his favourite bookstore for hardboiled crime fiction. The small but well-established store on Windsor has been selling books for 14 years. Owner Wayne Greene says he mostly sees Foundation Year Programme students from the University of King's College at this time of year, since he carries literature and philosophy---the major genres that span FYP's 50ish-book-long reading list. He adds that his everyday top-sellers are usually Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, while his student bestsellers tend toward German philosophers such as Hegel, Kant and Nietzsche. Greene's student rush comes first in May, and then in late August and early September, so if you're planning on raiding his store, you'd better get there quickly.

John W. Doull Bookseller

1684 Barrington Street, 429-1652

When asked what books he specializes in, John Doull questions back: "Have you been to our store?" It's a fair enough response, as Doull's 22-year-old, second-hand bookstore houses thousands of books, stacked on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (or simply stacked floor to ceiling). With two floors and a labelled map of each book's hiding place, it's nearly impossible to sum up this book lover's dream in a few words. You won't find textbooks here, but there's a good bet you'll find every other author on your list. Doull explains he normally gets two types of customers: those who come in the summer and September to fulfill their course list, and the bibliophiles who return during the year to expand their personal reading. While he caters more to the latter, you should give this shop more than a quick once-over while fulfilling school---or personal---reading lists.

Schooner Books Ltd.

5378 Inglis Street, 423-4750

Neatly laid out on the first floor of a house on Inglis in the south end, this second-hand bookshop is just a few blocks down the hill from Saint Mary's University. That being said, owner John Townsend says he's been seeing fewer students lately, despite carrying the same type of content each year. Schooner Books specializes in literature (Canadian and otherwise) and history, meaning FYP and history students add up to Townsend's most frequent customers. His most popular items? "American classics, and some Canadiana, though Canadiana's never been as strong," says Townsend.

The Jade W

5233 Prince Street, 423-5233

John Doull describes this two-year-old new- and-used bookshop as a spin-off from John W. Doull Bookseller. Owned by Sydney Hansen, the "brick and mortar" shop opened in June of 2007, and Hansen says she normally sees students popping by in May or June when they're looking for a break from course reading. When students are filling their reading lists, though, The Jade W serves specific areas. "Probably the strongest are the literature sections, women's studies and probably some of the environmental texts as well," says Hansen. She does carry textbooks, but they're new and not used---they can be ordered within a week of visiting if they're not on the shelves already. The Jade W also carries a special FYP section amongst the new books, though used FYP course books can be found in the second-hand nook as well.

Trident Booksellers and Cafe

1256 Hollis Street, 423-7100

Step off the beaten path of Barrington Street in the south end for about a block, and you'll find this cozy second-hand bookstore and cafe. Trident owner Janet Shotwell says she mostly sees students who need to take a break from their mandatory reading lists, as she doesn't carry many course list books (although she does carry some environmental books, and a few used for FYP). "The reason we don't buy books for courses is because professors state specific editions, and there's no way to do that business," explains Shotwell. With home-roasted and certified fair trade coffee, 56 different types of tea and free wifi for laptop users, it isn't hard to believe this is where students go to get away. Note that if you're looking for romance, true crime, hardcover mystery or fiction novels, you'll have to look elsewhere: none are carried at Trident.

Dartmouth Book Exchange

1187 Cole Harbour Road, 435-1207

This 10-year-old shop in Dartmouth doesn't carry textbooks, but it does help first-year law students with their Canadian true crime story requirement. Co-owner Amy McIsaac says she normally sees law students come October, and the literature and history students in late August. The Exchange specializes in fiction, and McIsaac finds herself helping students sourcing Canadian authors frequently. While she can't guarantee that students' reading list requirements will exist on her shelves, she certainly tries to help as much as she can.

Dust Jacket Books and Treasures

1505 Barrington Street, 492-0666

This not-too-dusty bookstore is where you go for local history, military and bestselling novels. Almost hidden in the basement of the Maritime Centre, it takes a few twists and turns to find, but it's worth a browse once you get there. Owner Chris Cooper says he normally has a hectic August filled with students looking to check off their reading lists, with Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson being the most popular men on the shelves.

The Book Rack

644 Portland Street, Dartmouth, 434-7333

The Book Rack's owner David Roberts says his store is where students go when they're looking for a book to complete a specific project. In terms of popularity, it's everything that's been made a movie, and any books that that person wrote," says Roberts. My Sister's Keeper author Jodi Picoult is the hot topic these days, as is Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes. "All the paranormal stuff is difficult to keep in," he adds. If you're looking for popular fiction or vampire lore, The Book Rack has you stocked.

The handy (but more expensive) university stores

After listing all these second-hand bookstores, it's important to note that some university bookstores do carry used texts---it's just normally cheaper if you can find them in a second-hand shop instead.

The Dalhousie University Bookstore (Student Union Building, 6136 University Avenue, 494-2460), the Mount Saint Vincent Bookstore (Rosaria Centre, Room 304, 457-6157) and the Saint Mary's University Bookstore (O'Donnell Hennessy Student Centre, 5916 Inglis Street, 420-5562) all sell used books, marked with a yellow "used" sticker and placed within the assortment of new books on the shelves.

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Art Supply Store (1874 Hollis Street, 494-8176) does not sell used books, and neither does the King's Co-op Bookstore (6350 Coburg, 422-1271 x261).

If you're looking to get rid of some textbooks, Dal normally has a buyback program set up every Friday at the bookstore (call ahead to make sure it's on for the week), and the SMU bookstore is holding its buyback program from August 31 to September 4. The Mount's buyback program normally only occurs during exam period. Just remember that you'll probably only get 10 percent of what you originally paid for the text---Kijiji or your university's online classifieds section is usually a better option.

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