Books, glorious books. And you can pick most of them up for a bargain price at Wob, too.

Wob, Two, Three, It’s Second-Hand Books for Me

Loads of language books? Check. Great prices and free postage? Check. Social conscience? Check. All reasons why Wob (formerly World of Books) is my latest second-hand bookseller of choice.

As you might know, I’ve become a bit of a second-hand book fiend of late. I’m positively gobbling them up. It’s a combination of the great value and the nostalgia for me. For a couple of pounds, I can get great resources that take me right back to those analogue days when I first got hooked on languages. And sometimes, the oldies really are the goodies!

Wob You Lookin’ At?

The thing is, when you’re looking through pages and pages of second-hand book listings with stock photos, it’s hard to gauge their quality. To help with this, most market sites, like eBay, AbeBooks and Amazon Marketplace, use a set of fairly standard quality descriptors: like new, very good, good, acceptable / well-read and such like. As you can’t look at the book before you buy it, you’re relying on the honesty of the seller here.

This is the main reason I like Wob so much. Out of all the sellers I’ve bought from, their descriptions have tended to be the most honest and reliable of all. Unsurprisingly, great quality control is a point they drive home in their marketing, and it certainly seems to differentiate them from other sellers. As a result, it’s a pleasure to wait for books in the post that won’t require too much aggressive DIY book restoration!

Daylight Wobbery? Far From It!

It goes without saying that price is always a big plus point when buying second-hand. Like most used book outlets these days, Wob appears to use dynamic pricing software to set those price tags. This gauges all sorts of things, like supply, demand, click interest and so on, adjusting prices accordingly in real time. For that reason, if you have your eye on a book, it’s a good idea to favourite it, then check back regularly to see if you can grab it at a more bargainous price.

There’s another trick to leap on a best price, too. Wob, like many other eCommerce sites, also sells via other channels, notably eBay and AbeBooks. It’s always worth looking up the same book on those alternative storefronts before buying, as the prices can be quite different. Whether that’s due to completely different dynamic pricing algorithms or whatever, I’m not sure. But it does mean that site-hopping for a bargain pays dividends.

A wee, timely tip: they do quite a nice 5% off two books offer on their eBay store at the moment.

We Only Have Wob Planet

Last, but certainly not least, Wob also makes environmental concerns a central thrust of its business ethos. The company is a certified member of the B Corp movement, a benchmark for sustainability in commerce. Arguably all second-hand booksellers are environmentally responsible in similar ways, at least in terms of encouraging reuse, and minimising over-consumption and waste, but it’s nice to see it celebrated!

So there you have it. So many reasons to say three cheers for Wob. And so many excuses to buy lots more books (as if I needed them).

 

Books for restoring!

Restoring Books at Home

If you hadn’t noticed from my recent blogging fervour, restoring second hand language books is my latest hobby obsession. There’s something beautiful about rescuing discarded treasures from forgotten bookshelves, and making them useful again. Plus, they’re dead cheap. It’s a hobby that can easily become addictive thanks to the bargains to be had.

That said, if you want a smart, tidy bookshelf, some of those books will need a little tender loving care. When first faced with slightly grubby, neglected and bashed about titles, my first thought was: how on earth do you clean a book? I mean, plain old soap and water isn’t going to help matters here; nobody wants to read a damp Teach Yourself.

Thankfully, paper-friendly clean-up isn’t too hard at all, and you may well have many of the tools at home already. Here are some of the best methods I’ve found for brushing up my ever-increasing hoard of yesteryear’s language learning resources.

By way of disclaimer, I’m no expert – just a book lover who has Googled this stuff endlessly over the past couple of months! If you’ve come across different advice or have other book-restoring tips, please let me know in the comments.

That’s the Spirit!

My number one, can’t-do-without item for sprucing up tatty books is surgical spirit. It’s excellent for cleaning glossy-cover paperbacks for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s not caustic, like bleach-based or similar solutions
  2. It evaporates quickly, so doesn’t drench and damage pages
  3. It has strong antibacterial properties

For covers, I dampen a kitchen towel with some spirit and wipe outwards from the middle of the covers to the edges. Always be careful not to scuff or over-dampen the card edge. Done well, this can make glossy colour picture covers positively pop.

Teach Yourself Polish book cover

Teach Yourself Polish, 1993 – now with added shine

For book edges, you can apply some spiritual cleaning by switching to a dab technique. Moisten your cloth or towel, and simply pat the sides of the book down slightly, taking care not to rub too vigorously.

Boots do a 500ml bottle of surgical spirit for just over a fiver, and it lasts for ages.

Fighting Foxes

Foxing – those little brown spots on the sides of books – used to give me the heebie-jeebies. I assumed they were organic marks, like mould, which might spread to other books.

Fortunately, foxing is almost always completely harmless. It’s generally the result of reactions between paper chemicals and air, amongst other things, more or less akin to rust on metal. Granted, they’re not the most aesthetically pleasing, so you wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to improve the appearance of foxed books.

I’ve had great results by gently filing away fox marks with a nail file (also a great remedy for yellowing book edges). Note that it does take some time and requires some care, being a destructive process, if only mildly so. For good measure, I dab the filed edge with a cloth slightly moistened with surgical spirit afterwards.

Book restoring - fox marks on an old book

Foxing – before filing

Book restoring : after filing fox marks away

Foxing – after filing

Getting Things Straight

Perhaps one of the most common types of damage you’ll come across is page creasing and dog ears. It’s tempting to go straight for these with you hands to try and uncurl them, but this can cause even more damage and breakage if the crease is old and worn in, or the paper is thin.

Instead, get yourself an egg-cup of warm water and a cotton bud. Dampen the bud slightly, and use it to tease out the dog-ear and roll it flat. It’s a much gentler way to get things straightened out.

If you’ve had to do a lot of de-creasing, you might also find it helpful to press your book back into shape. You can use boards (like flower-pressing boards, for example) and a vice for this, but it’s much simpler to leave it under a bigger, heavier book for a day or two.

Holding Your Nose

If there’s one rogue smell you notice most on a second hand book, it’s the dreaded smoky house. I’ve had a couple of books that quite obviously spent a lot of time around tobacco, and if that’s not your thing, it can be quite off-putting.

Luckily, you may well have the magic treatment in your kitchen cupboards already. Bicarbonate of soda or baking powder work an absolute treat on smelly items. Seal the book with a spoonful of powder in a freezer bag, and leave it for 2-4 weeks. It’s honestly astonishing how effectively it minimises odours.

Cover Up

After all that hard work making your old books beautiful, you want to keep them that way. And plastic book jackets are the way to go! They’re available at loads of places online, as well as major bookshops – I’ve been picking them up for around 60p each at Blackwells.

They come in a range of sizes to fit standard book dimensions. As you work with more and more books, you will become geekily acquainted with those measurements. Say “Teach Yourself” to me, and I’ll fire back 198 millimetres! like a shot. (Told you I was becoming obsessed.)

Plastic book covers

Plastic paperback covers

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat…

Unfortunately, there are bigger nasties than a bit of foxing and yellowing. Sadly, some books end up in much worse states than these techniques can remedy. But all is not lost, and a bit of Googling throws up all sorts of heavy-duty book rescue tips.

This post – pictures not for the squeamish! – shares a particularly impressive restoration story about a cache of roach-soiled tomes. And if you can stomach taking on truly filthy material as a restoration project, innovative cleaning techniques range from putting a book in the oven on a low heat to treat infestations, to using fancy UV-C sterilisation boxes. Thankfully, the big eBay book sellers don’t sell anything quite so unsettling, and I’ve never had to turn to these extreme techniques. I’ll think I’ll stick with standard scuffs, dust and dog ears, personally.

But it’s good to know that even the most unfortunate volumes can be saved!

Greek flag. The Flag of Greece. Photo by Michael Faes, FreeImages.com

Your Greek Learning Library – for Just Over a Fiver!

If you walk into any high street bookshop, language learning can seem like an expensive business. Brand new, shiny textbooks are a not inconsiderable purchase for many, requiring careful deliberation. Modern Greek is no exception. A glance at off-the-shelf prices for some popular titles includes an eye-watering £34.99 (TY Complete Greek) and £42.99 (Colloquial Greek).

But brand new doesn’t necessarily mean better.

You might have followed my recent efforts to recreate the bookshop shelves of my youth. Buying (and in some cases, buying back) those old language learning titles made me realise something: there are some fantastic, used language learning books out there. Some are out-of-print; some of them are simply earlier versions of the same, expensive, new resources. True, a few references and social contexts might have been updated. But chapter for chapter, they’re often almost exactly the same.

And the best thing? They’re all cheap as chips.

Greek on the Cheap

So which three used book treasures should be at the top of your Greek learning list? There are quite a few to choose from, but here are some tried-and-tested favourites to set you on your way. They’re titles I’ve used – and am using – myself, and they’re all extremely effective in different ways.

At the time of writing, all of them were available for £2-4, including postage, on eBay.

COLLOQUIAL GREEK (N.WATTS)

Routledge Colloquial, the mainstay of many a serious language learner, still feature this excellent title by Niki Watts. However, the 1990s edition of the book, available for a snip at eBay, is just as solid a resource as the current print. What’s more, the dialogue audio is available for free on the Routledge website – and many of the dialogues are identical between the editions. Even where things differ, that’s a good opportunity for you to use your nascent Greek powers to make sense of it all on the fly!

TEACH YOURSELF Modern GREEK (S.A.SOFRONIOU)

The old version of Teach Yourself Greek saw reprints well into the 1980s, and is a traditional language manual with a much more old-fashioned, grammar-based approach than Colloquial Greek. However, that step-by-step route is methodically perfect for building up a sound knowledge of morphology and syntax, helped by the fact that the book is arranged into short, easily digestible chapters. Use it side by side with a more modern, communicative course book, and you’re hitting the language from all sides. I know iTalki teachers who still swear by this book!

Hugo’s GREEK IN THREE MONTHS (Z.Tofallis)

Like the Colloquial and Teach Yourself titles, there are alternative incarnations of Hugo’s Greek in Three Months. I recommend the older version for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the second edition was completely rewritten by Niki Watts, author of the Colloquial title, and it’s nice to have a variety of different educators on your bookshelf. Secondly, that older title is a little gem, containing some lovely list sections on colloquial and idiomatic Greek, and a unique taster of modern Greek literature in the appendices.

Brushing up old books – quick tips

Here’s the rub: shiny, new books can be attractive for that very reason. There’s nothing quite like getting an untouched, pristine copy of a language learning book in your hands. Used book are just that, and when they drop onto your doormat, they sometimes turn out to be quite obviously so.

But don’t let it put you off! It’s quite easy and inexpensive to spruce up tatty old books. As a self-confessed germaphobe and long-time OCDer, there are some techniques that clean and sanitise enough to satisfy even me (and I’m a right fusspot). There’s enough material there for a whole article, and I’ll most likely write one soon, but in the meantime, here are some quick tips:

  • use surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) and a soft cloth to gently buff glossy book covers – this brings a real shine back to them, and the alcohol both evaporates quickly (not saturating the book) and has antibacterial properties
  • moisten cotton buds to tease out dog-eared pages gently, rather than ripping / breaking delicate damaged paper with your fingers
  • carefully sand the page edges of books with a nail file to lighten yellowing and remove small marks like foxing
  • leave books to flatten between boards topped with heavy items (like other books!)
  • deal with any ‘old book’ odour by leaving the book in a plastic bag with a spoon of bicarbonate of soda for a week or two (or longer)
  • invest in some plastic dust jackets to cover your books in – after you’ve given them a loving makeover, these will protect them for even longer!

There’s a real Zen about giving old books some TLC in this way. It’s both very chilled and extremely satisfying – especially when you marvel proudly at your learning stash, realising that you saved yourself pounds and pounds in the process.