Even though I can walk to our public library, I rarely check out books. Why? First, I’m a vicious note-taker. I fill my books with notes, underlines, quotes and thoughts. 

Second, there’s something about having books in the home — familiar, favorite books — that I find completely energizing. 

home library
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A home library provides many other benefits. It’s a huge help for writing and research. For instance, when I’m asked to speak on many topics, I can quickly scoop up several relevant books. 

And a home library declares that “This house is grounded on a love for reading and learning.” That’s a message I want to impress on our kids. There’s also the Hero Argument: Most of my writing heroes sported vast home libraries. When C.S. Lewis’ soul mate, Joy Davidman, first entered his home, she said if it wasn’t for the bookshelves, the house would collapse. 

Now, I know most people love the public library. It can save a ton of money. But you can have a solid home library, too. And the good news is that growing one isn’t as hard or expensive as you think. Here are four ways I’ve built my home library on the cheap:

1. Amazon Marketplace

I’ve probably bought about 60 percent of my books through the Amazon Marketplace (www.amazon.com/marketplace), which is the retailer’s used book service. You can get many titles for less than a dollar, and even though Amazon charges $3.99 shipping per book, the total still comes in under $5. 

2. Local used bookstores

We’re also blessed with a fantastic used bookstore within walking distance (which means, as a bibliophile, I live in perpetual occasion of sin.) I’ve made some great finds there. Most of the books are $3-$7, which often makes them cheaper than Amazon, plus you’re supporting a local business. To find stores in your area, simply Google “used bookstores” and see what turns up. 

3. Gifts

I have several book-loving friends, including authors, scholars and theologians, who are downsizing their home libraries. When they encounter a budding book lover, especially a young one, they’re usually thrilled to give their books a new home. 

You probably have friends or family members with large book collections who are looking to trim back, perhaps a parent, an aging friend or a retired teacher. With gentleness and grace, inquire about their books and, in many cases, they’ll be happy to share some with you.

4. Thrift stores

Goodwill, Salvation Army and local thrift stores usually have scores of books. You’d be surprised at what you can find. I’ve bought theology books at Goodwill for 50 cents that sell for $50 on Amazon. Because thrift store shelves are typically unorganized, you will need more patience and time. But there’s a certain thrill in the chase and it’s more than worth it when you unearth a gem. 

One more thing

While these are some ways to build your home library without breaking the bank, I’d like to add one caveat. Where possible, I try to patronize Catholic bookstores and individual authors. For instance, when we visit our local basilica I’ll buy a couple books from the gift shop even if they’re cheaper on Amazon because I think the store is valuable to our community. Likewise, I often buy books directly from self-supporting authors like Mark Shea and Father Dwight Longenecker, who support their family through writing. You might pay a little more, but you’ll be supporting and sustaining great work. 

Even with that, however, it doesn’t take much time or money to build a thriving home library. With just a few dollars and a couple hours, you can begin lining your walls with great books.