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Back Porch Book Chat: Virginia Lee Rogers (Bookseller and Homeschool Mom)

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Join us as we chat with book lovers like ourselves about a topic we all love! Our first guest is Virginia Lee Rogers, a homeschooling mom of 5 and seller of used books on Instagram at The Jolly Reader; check out her bio after the interview for more details.

Welcome, Virginia Lee, to our virtual back porch for a casual conversation about our favorite topic: books! Before we begin, tell us what iced beverage you’d like as we sit in our rocking chairs on this summer day: Sweet tea? Lemonade? La Croix? Ice water?

Sweet tea. Summer, winter, spring and fall. I am happy to share with others.

Virginia Lee, you’re a homeschool mom with a side gig dealing in used books. Tell us first how you like to use books as part of your family culture—both in the official “homeschool” sense as well as ordinary life outside of school.

Well, first and foremost, we like to use books for the sheer delight of reading and being changed by the ideas contained within. For our family this can be through reading aloud and discussion. Sometimes heated debate (we have a loud family. Smile). We enjoy audio books on a long drive, and we each have individual reading of our own. Recently, as I get more older children, we’ve had to begin purchasing multiple copies of the same book. It turns out some of us have a hard time waiting for others of us to finish books so they can have their turn. Cough. Mom might be the worst at this.

To be more specific, we start our day with time in the Word together. If it’s a late day for Dad, he reads a Bible passage at the table during breakfast, and then the whole family prays, asks questions, discusses or shares other passages it reminds us of. If it’s an early day, the kids come to my room and we read the Word separately (littles snuggle Mom in bed), and then we share a favorite verse or thought from our readings. This is new for us, and I’m loving it! We have more older kids than younger children for the first time in our family, so this has opened the door for some different reading opportunities like this.

Basically reading for us is about relationship. Relationship with our Lord, with each other, and of course with the ideas and thoughts contained within the stories, poetry, history and so on that we are reading. Charlotte Mason said that books with living ideas can sustain the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul. She called this diet of ideas, the living progeny of living minds. I’ve always loved thinking of reading in this light. “Today children we are going to visit with the living progeny of living minds.” Reading is wonderfully enjoyable, but it should sustain us and change us. Thankfully there are books of every sort and reading level that do this. We start with the Word and then our TBR piles overflow from there.

What books has your family particularly enjoyed this past year?

My husband: The Bible, Foundations by RC Sproul, Tremendous Triffles by GK Chesterton

13 Year Old Son: A History of England by Arnold Forster, Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar, Wandering Nature by Jim Arnosky, Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery,* Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling [Betsy’s note: *Anne of Green Gables isn’t just for girls! My boys loved it, too.]

10 Year Old Daughter: Ashtown Burial Series by ND Wilson, Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter, the first few books in the Harry Potter Series, The Golden Key (this is a vintage book of poetry, scripture, and quotes)

8 Year Old Daughter: The Little Bo Series by Julie Andrews Edwards, anything Thornton W. Burgess, Pagoo by Holling C Holling

6 Year Old Son: Trumpet of the Swan by EB White, Aesop Fables, The Biggest Bear by Lynn Ward

2 Year Old Daughter: Poems of Early Childhood from the Childcraft Series copyright date 1949, Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone, Prayers for a Small Child by Eloise Wilkin

Mom: JC Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on John, Dune Boy by Edwin Way Teale, Beowulf (I read Seamus Heaney’s translation, but now I’m reading Raffle’s and then Tolkien’s), Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Whimsey novels, PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series, Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

Great line-up! Some of those have been beloved in my house, too (warm fuzzies for The Biggest Bear!).

It should come as no surprise that we here at Redeemed Reader buy a lot of books. We buy them as gifts, to stock our personal shelves, because we plan to review them, and to use with the children in our lives. And we know that our readers do the same. None of us are opposed to used books, either—I’ve even bought some from YOU! Tell us how you got started buying/selling used books and how you use Instagram to do so.

I got started selling used books because our family had a very expensive car repair to make. I went through our personal collection and sold many of those on Instagram. That went so well, I realized I could keep helping supplement our income. But honestly, the thing I was most excited about, was I now had an excuse to keep buying the books I loved, but already owned. I could buy them when I saw them in the wild and they could go to a new home. Do you know how hard it is to pass up AA Milne on a thrift store shelf just because each of your children already owns their own set?!

Hmm…. You’re clearly more organized than I am. I cannot tell you how many times Megan and I have discussed the need to purge books on our shelves, but we decide that we really DO need multiple versions of, say, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales because they are all illustrated by different illustrators. Or, we simply snatched up favorites at a library sale, forgetting the same edition already lurked at home somewhere.

So, what tips do you have for our readers in tracking down used books? Favorite websites for buying used books? Tips for stalking thrift stores and library sales?

The most inexpensive place to find used gems are Estate Sales and Thrift Stores. This takes more time, but pays bigger dividends in excitement when you run across out of print titles. If you have a local thrift store, find out who normally shelves their books and let them know you’re interested in any older books they may get in. For a couple of years the young man who stocked our local thrift store’s book shelves would see me and bring the older books waiting to be shelved from the back. It was lovely to get first crack at them.

Bookfinder.com is a great online resource. It looks at used online sites from America and England, including Amazon, Ebay, Abe, Albris, etc. Etsy seems like a strange place to find used books, people think of it as more of a craft site, but I have found some pretty hard to find titles there in books being sold for “decor.”

Library sales are a used book lover’s best friend. Arrive early to get in the front of the line, bring a wagon with many grocery sacks, and an older child to be your pack horse. Pay them for their time in books.

Keep a book list on your phone. This helps with overwhelm when you are in a place that literally has thousands of books like some used book stores do. It also helps when you have littles who are talking or singing or making general merriment that can distract you from putting intelligible thoughts together in your head.

One of my very favorite places to buy used books is Instagram. Molly from @Dibbleanddash and her sister Becky from @Lamplighterlane are responsible for a huge part of our library. Molly was also generous with her time and advice when I started selling books on IG.

What advice would you give our readers when they’re trying to decide between a newer copy of a classic or an older edition? When is it worth waiting on a particular copy and when would a newer edition serve just as well?

I think this is probably a personal decision. There is something to be said for the feel and smell of a vintage book in your hands. Many newer books do not use the same quality paper, have the same beautiful binding and covers, or decorated end pages. Older books paid more attention to these kind of lovely details.

Some illustrators of classics are only found in older editions. There may be 100’s of Little Women reprints, but to get the illustrator you want, you may need to buy the older edition. For example, in my two year old’s list of favorites above I mentioned a volume from the Childcraft series. There are many newer editions of this series, but they are not equally created. I waited a long time to find the 1949-1954 set. The illustrators in this edition are Eloise Wilkin, Milo Winter, Roger Duvoison, Leonard Weisgard, etc. The newer editions have computer generated illustrations or cartoon style type drawings. And an even bigger reason to not buy the newer version is the highly edited or updated content.

It may sound like I always purchase the older edition, and I often do, but for some things, like Shakespeare, I prefer the newer editions. Folger Shakespeare editions are wonderful and get much more use in our house than the out of print Shakespeare editions on our shelves. When it comes to translations newer editions are often the way I go. The Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf is hard to beat, we highly enjoyed Fagle’s translation of the Illiad, and this upcoming year my oldest and I will be reading Dante, and I purchased Anthony Esolen’s translation on the recommendation of a friend.

You and I both enjoy reading books that are long out of print (I like to think of those as OOPS: out of print specials). Thankfully, in our new digital era, lots of companies are producing print-on-demand (POD) versions of some of these older books. I’ve bought some of these POD versions and been very pleased; others have minimal margins, tiny font, and none of the original illustrations. Can you recommend particular publishers that you think are doing nice work here? Are there sources that are particularly good for finding and buying really old books?

I am very picky when it comes to these reprinted gems because of exactly what you described above. Yesterday’s Classics and Riverbend Press are my go to publishers in this area. Yesterday’s Classics are paperbacks and include all original illustrations and have crisp, clear font and margins. Their selection is large and their prices are very affordable. Riverbend Press prints beautiful hardcovers with hand sewn bindings and high quality paper. They also include all original illustrations and are very affordable for the high quality books they publish. Their market is the Charlotte Mason community, so the titles they have reprinted reflect this.

I will echo those recommendations! I linked to the Yesterday’s Press website, but their editions are also available through amazon. I’ve bought from both of those publishers.

Any last words of advice for us as we begin our summer adventures? I know I’m not the only who considers a trip to the local used book store part of being a good tourist!

Searching out and buying used books is fun, but the most important thing about books is to read them. As *Petunia the Goose found out, “It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing. I must put it in my mind and in my heart. And to do that I must learn to read.” So my summer adventures advice is tuck a book in your car and purse. That way you’re never without. Visit the used bookstores wherever you may go. I agree, used bookstore shopping is part of being a good tourist. Most importantly though, don’t over schedule your summer plans. Instead, under schedule, and use your extra time to read outside under your favorite shade tree. (*Petunia Series by Roger Duvoison)

I love the Petunia series! Excellent advice all around. Thank you so much, Virginia Lee! I personally have bought several books from Virginia Lee, so, readers, if you’re on Instagram, make sure you check out The Jolly Reader and get on her list.

Virginia Lee Rogers lives in Northern Colorado. She has been married to Cale for nineteen years, and they have five children ages 14, 11, 9, 6, and 3. She is learning alongside her family using the philosophies and methods of Charlotte Mason, striving to be faithful in the daily, and trying to remember that her job is to spread the feast and pray, trusting Christ to bring in the harvest. Amidst the joyful chaos of her family you will find her drinking sweet tea, slowly reading through multiple books, and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Virginia Lee is a curator for Charlotte Mason In Real Life, runs an Instagram bookstore at The Jolly Reader, and shares her many blessings at vlcjrogers.

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