Twice recently, I was browsing the book section in a thrift store when I came across some scanners. These are book resellers. They buy books from thrift stores or yard sales, then resell them online through various online marketplaces. There are tons of websites that facilitate this - Amazon, Half, eBay. It's one of the great things about the internet that sellers of unusual and obscure things have been connected to prospective buyers. One of the downsides to shopping secondhand is the limited selection. The internet has solved this problem by creating the world's biggest flea market, with individual booths spread out all over the world. I often see the limited local selection as the hand of fate - what I find determines what I buy, rather than what I want to buy determining what I look for. But when I do want a specific thing, the global flea market does not let me down. And I can still pay secondhand prices!
Internet, schminternet, I don't like scanners. I call them that because they carry around little devices that scan barcodes and tell them how much a book costs. My cell phone can do this, but the devices that are made to do that one thing are faster and better at it. While "scanner" is the name of the tell-tale equipment of a reseller, you could call the person a scanner, too. When I am picking out books, I look at the cover, the title, the author, the reviews, maybe read a few pages. The scanner's examination of each book is only cursory. Like the electronic scanner translates an ISBN into a price, a scanner reduces a book to its market value, too.
None of that is fair at all. The only reason the scanners bother me is because they occasionally are in my way, or I am afraid that they are going to buy a book that I want (as if I didn't have too many already). I recognize that these are not valid reasons to invent derogatory nicknames for a group of people, so I invent more noble reasons for disliking them. I like to think that my reason for wanting the book is more legitimate somehow. I'm going to read it, which is what a book is for. The scanner is just going to sell it. Pah! Of course, he's going to sell it to someone who will probably read it. Not to mention the fact that after I read it, I will take it to a used book store and exchange it for store credit. Logically, my position is no better than a scanner's, but it feels like it should be.
The first time I met a scanner was at Goodwill. It was a husband and wife team. For some reason, I channelled my mother and talked to a stranger in a store.
"You guys are resellers?" I almost called them scanners. They were very friendly, so I talked to them for a while. Did you know that one way to learn about the world is to talk to people? It's true. My mother taught me that.
These people, these scanners, went to thrift stores and yard sales every weekend (just like me). They'd gotten into it because they loved books. He had a regular job, but she had quit her retail sales job at the mall to be a reseller full-time. She gave me a card for their shop. They told me about how some resellers just use the scanner to look at the price and don't care about the book at all. The man, still looking at the books while we talked, told me that he could usually find a stack of books even after another scanner has just gone through them. He pulled a book from the shelf, one called Daughters of the Conquistadores: Women of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Freaking obscure. And I decided that I was perfectly okay with what these particular people were doing. Maybe somewhere out there is someone who desperately wants to read about the role of women in sixteenth century South America, but they may not live anywhere near the Goodwill on New Market Road, nor do they know that the book is there. But! Now they can get a good price on it from this guy.
After I walked away, I heard them talking to a lady who sells dolls on eBay. She was telling them with great gusto about laws that regulate what kind of toys you can ship to Italy. The world is strange.
The second time I met a scanner was at the Durham Rescue Mission. I'm not supposed to be buying books at all, because even though I am reading a lot now, I still have stacks and stacks of books in my to-read pile(s). I've bought fewer books since I put myself on a buying diet, but there are times when you find something amazing for fifty cents. And then Josh brought home a calendar from the Rescue Mission with coupons for each month, with January's coupon offering ten free books. Pricewise, this is really only 5 free books, because the Rescue Mission has so many dang books that they are perpetually buy-one-get-one-free. But I decided that I was allowed to go redeem my coupon. It would be wasteful not to, right? Right.
As I was looking, a dude came by with a scanner. He glanced at each shelf, picked up one book and scanned it, then put it back. Then he muttered something to himself and went away. At that moment, I felt redeemed in looking askance at scanners, because clearly, that guy did not care about books. I did not try and learn about the world by talking to him. What would I want to learn from a mean old book-exploiter anyway?
But he did the same thing a few more times. Ten minutes would pass, and he would come back, glance around and leave. Like I said, there are a lot of books there, and so it was taking me a while to look through them to pick out my ten (It took me an hour to pick out fourteen before I just stopped looking, then I had to decide which four to put back). Once, when he came back, he said, "Ha, I keep running into you!" I gave a non-committal friendly chuckle, but what I wanted to point out was that I hadn't gone anywhere.
I finally got the idea that he was waiting for me to leave the book section. For whatever reason, he did not feel comfortable looking for books while I was there. It could have been that he was just not much for being in close proximity with other people. Or maybe he thought I was competition. Perhaps he could sense that I did not trust scanners and he was in fear of my wrath ("Take that! And that! I buy books to READ, you illiterate jerk!") I don't know. I have no reasonable guesses. But I did feel a kind of small pleasure, as if I had defeated him by driving him away from the books so that the actual readers could look at them. Geez, I'm petty.
I would like to make peace with the scanners, just because I'm bound to come across them from time to time and it would be nice to not feel irritable during those times. They are not my competition. They buy stuff from the secondhand market, which I wish more people would do. They probably love books, which is why they decided to become resellers. And even if they don't, they are doing the world a service by increasing the selection at the global flea market.