A Toast to J.K. Rowling

Here at HPB, we are huge fans of J.K. Rowling and her ever-popular Harry Potter series.
In honor of her birthday, we celebrate in true muggle fashion with a glass of Butterbeer.
Butterbeer is a deliciously frothy drink of sweet butterscotch and cream.
Here’s what you will need to make your own:


1 cup – ice cream
1 cup – crushed ice
1- 12 oz – bottle of cream soda or club soda
1/2 cup – butterscotch ice cream topping
Whipped cream and cinnamon for topping (optional)

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.
Top with whipped cream and cinnamon.


Stop by our stores or online, pick-up the whole Harry Potter collection and curl up with a nice cup of Butterbeer.


So let’s hear it, what is your favorite Harry Potter treat?

– Stephanie (muggle crafter)

The Birth of Half Price Books

In 1972, we opened our first store in a converted laundromat in Dallas, Texas. Co-founders Ken Gjemre and Pat Anderson stocked the store with more than 2,000 books from their personal libraries.

In 1999, Ken wrote, “The thing I am most proud of is Half Price Books. It was way more than a business — it embodied everything one could ask for in an enterprise. It had the benefit of continuity; we did it every day. Every day we made a whole bunch of people happy; we did good work every single day. In many ways it was a ‘waste not’ kind of operation, much as my father had always personified.”


“Both Pat and I were bibliophiles,” Ken wrote. “I had a personal library of 5,000 books and Pat read a book a day or more. The thought of having a bookstore excited us both.” 



“People started buying up the books as fast as I could get them on the shelves,” Ken wrote. “Half Price Books opened on a Thursday with $140 in the bank, and by the end of that weekend, we had done enough business to pay our employees. By August, we had already begun planning our second location as our first was already too small.”  

Now that we’ve heard from Ken, let’s hear from Pat, in her own words:   

 Here’s to 40 more. Happy birthday, HPB 🙂 

— Kristen D. 

Meet the Bibliomaniac: Sharon Anderson Wright

For this month’s “Meet the Bibliomaniac” feature, we thought there would be no better way to celebrate Half Price Books’ 40th birthday than to talk with the head bibliomaniac – Sharon Anderson Wright!

Name: Sharon Anderson Wright

Job Title: President and CEO

When did you join the HPB team? I joined in 1972 to help prepare for the opening of our first store on Lovers Lane. 

Tell us about your family’s involvement in the company.  When my mom (Pat Anderson) and Ken Gjemre were opening the first store, my sisters Ellen (17), Mary (15) and I (13) all helped build it. The store was so small and my sisters and I were in school, so we just worked when we could. Pat and Ken devoted all their time to the store. They loved the place. Pat spent most of her time in the store while Ken sought out crazy merchandise from all over the world and drummed up publicity.

Ellen graduated from high school and moved to Austin to go to college at the University of Texas. Then Mary graduated and followed her there the next year. Ken’s son had opened the store on Lavaca where Mary and Ellen worked while they were in school.

Ellen married her coworker, Tom O’Neal, and they moved to San Antonio and opened store 10. Just like us, their kids, Brady and Emily, grew up in the stores with both parents working there. Brady and Emily continue to become more involved in the operation of the company.

Mary escaped to Colorado and is not involved in the operations of the company.

What jobs have you held while working at HPB?  We all did everything. We built Half Price Books ourselves from the ground up. At the first store I made mobiles for the category signs. I sorted paperbacks, painted walls, built shelves, set up sections, took out the trash and fixed the toilets and phones. We made flyers and put them on cars around the neighborhood. I bought and priced everything printed or recorded. I focused on the Nostalgia/Collectable items then attended trade shows and ordered new merchandise from publishers.

When I first started, I continued to work any time I could get a ride to the store. When I graduated from high school, we found a location in Richardson. We spent a month getting it together and opened in July with me as the manager. My dog, Dylan, and I were the only employees from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week. On my days off, they sent someone from another store.

Dylan guarded the counter and growled at people if they came behind it while I was out shelving books. I managed there for two or three years before I went part time to take classes at the local college. During that time, I worked at our store on McKinney Ave. They fired Dylan because growling at customers wasn’t as useful in a larger store!

I was the assistant manager when we moved our Flagship store to its fourth location on Mockingbird Lane. I became the store manager when we moved it to Northwest Highway. While managing that store, I became the district manager over the other Dallas stores. Eventually I gave up the manager’s job to be the general manager of all the stores – I think I still have that job. When my mom died I was given the job of President and CEO.

What has been your favorite part about working here for 40 years? I love our inventory. I like the people I work with and the fact that we can continue to run the company the way we choose. I am proud of what we do – promoting literacy, helping the environment and donating books to people that need them.

What is your all-time favorite book? I don’t have one. It changes depending on where I am in my life at the time.

Anything else to add? Keep reading books, they are good for you.


Thanks, Sharon!

Did any of you shop in the original location on Lovers Lane?  Share your favorite HPB memories in the comments!

— Emily

Chicagoland Bibliomaniacs compete for Olympic gold

BW the Bookworm isn’t the only bibliomaniac with the Olympic spirit.

For three years in a row, our Chicago employees held the HPB Olympics at the Elk Grove Village Forest Preserve.  This last Olympics, which took place in 2010, included roughly 35 participants from our seven stores and regional distribution center.  For the second time, we had a couple of participants from outside the district who were brave enough to come down to compete.  The events were fun and the competition was as tough as it has ever been.

Our first event was the Hot Dog Eating Contest, and it turned into a border war.  There were two employees from the Countryside store, Sean F. and Nick H., who were representing the Chicago district.  Kory and Gene were representing the Wisconsin district, aka The Beer, Brat, and Cheese District.  The event started off with a bang- or should I say a choke?  Sean F. bit off more than he could chew on his first hot dog and had what they call in the competitive eating world a “reversal.”  Hot Dogs 1, Sean 0.  That left just Nick, Gene and Kory.  Nick realized early on that he had no intention of winning (“I still wanna like hot dogs”) and actually took the time to put on various condiments (watch out for those hot peppers!).  He still finished respectively with 8 hot dogs eaten in 15 minutes.  That left Kory and Gene to battle it out.  It came down to a tight finish, but Kory “I’m so competitive I would enter a CD eating contest” Kosmicki won with 11 hot dogs and a bite to set the new record!  Gene finished with 10 hot dogs.

The next event was Speed Pricing.  This is always one of the more exciting events, as paperbacks and price guns are always flying.  The goal is to price 10 paperbacks front and back as quickly as you can.  Aaron P. from our Niles store started it off well with a solid time of 10.2 seconds.  A few competitors came and went before Janelle S. from came in with a very fast time of 9.3 seconds.  That looked like it was going to hold until Tom “Too Quick” Schaber from Bloomingdale, with paperbacks flying everywhere, came in with a new record time- 7.8 seconds!  He stated that the key to winning the event was to “not care about the product, just get it out.”  Indeed.

Our third event was the Recycling Toss.  Here the participants attempt to toss a paperback into a garbage can that goes farther back after each round.  This event ended up being very close.  It started out hot, with numerous people advancing, but quickly slowed down.  As we got down to the last three participants, we actually had to start bringing the can closer again so that someone could make it in.  However, they soon regained their rhythm. Erich L. from Countryside, a previous winner in this event, ended up in third place.  Kevin Moore from Niles and Chicago District Trainer Jake S. battled it out for first.  Kevin rimmed out, and the event was won by Jake “If only the Cubs could throw this well” Sikora with a throw of 15’1”.

The fourth event was the Large Dictionary Shot Put aka “the event that Jake gets too worked up about.”  The event did have a little controversy, as we instituted a rule where you could not go over the line for your throw to count (see photo).  This event came down to three participants and was tight to the finish.  Countryside bibliomaniac Nick “Last year I was a ringer, now I just collect rings” Hollinger defended his title on his last throw.  Gene took second, and Ben H. took third.

One of the perennial favorite events, the Record Toss, was our second to last event.  We had the most participants in any event for this one, and it was a good one.  There were numerous people battling for the title, and I almost had my head taken off by a record at one point.  (It would have been worth it.)  Defending champion Sean “Yeah I puked but I’m a baaaddd mofo when it comes to tossing records” Forston had a bit of pressure on him on his final throw to keep his title.  He did not disappoint as he set a new record throw of 150’ 2”.  Very impressive.  The silver went to Chicago district wanna-be Kory K. and the bronze went to Ben H. from Countryside.

We thought that we were done, but it was soon clear that we weren’t.  Palatine bibliomaniac Tim Pallanch had arrived with an event that actually was closely related to working in a bookstore (who would have thought of that?!?!?).  He had taken the time to cut out author pictures of about 60 titles to see who could get the most correct (example: Dennis Rodman’s Birthday suit, JD Robb vs. Nora Roberts).  Suddenly people who had no interest in making fools of themselves throwing or eating things were interested.  The competition was pretty fierce, but Eddie “What Me, Worry?” Boyle from Niles took the crown of ‘Book Nerd’ with 24 people correct.  Gene “The Jeweler” Lass took his third silver medal, and Ben “Penny Bank” Huizenga took this third bronze.

The Medal Count:

                                     G         S          B          T

Countryside                 2          0          5          7

Beer, Brat, Cheese      1          4          0          5

Niles                            1          1          1          3

Bloomingdale               1          0          0          1

Regional Dist. Cntr.      1          0          0          1

Highland Park               0          1          0          1         

All in all, a good time was had by all and we did enjoy having our friends to the north come down to compete with the best.  As always, we still challenge all others to have their own Olympics, or to come to compete in ours.  The crown still don’t move! Okay, maybe it moved a little bit…           

— Kent H., Chicago District Manager

BW the Olympian Bookworm

Because reading a lot of books totally translates to mad athletic skills:











Major shout-out to Stephen Danby, Customer Service Representative, for being a CHAMP in triple-digit heat 🙂 USA! USA! Who’s excited?

— Kristen D.  

Thinking of Taking Your Own Unlikely Pilgrimage?

Before taking your own pilgrimage, read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and take some notes.

Harold Fry has recently retired and is living in a small village in England with his nagging wife, Maureen. One day, he gets a letter from an old coworker, Queenie, who tells him that she’s dying of cancer. Harold immediately decides to write her back. But what exactly is he supposed to say in this letter? Harold isn’t quite sure, but he writes a short one anyways. While walking down the street to post the letter, a chance encounter convinces Harold that he must walk to Queenie and give her his letter in person. So, that’s exactly what Harold does. Right then and there, without his cell phone and wearing his yacht shoes, Harold decides to walk 600 miles across England to Queenie. Through meeting stranger after stranger, Harold begins to examine his life and come to grips with who he really is.  

My Items To Note While Taking a Pilgrimage (Learned from Harold Fry)

1. Wear proper shoes

2. Bring sunscreen

3. Don’t try to carry too many things

4. Forget your cell phone

5. Become reliant on the goodness of strangers

The only fault I could find in this book is that Harold Fry is not real and I desperately want him to be. Harold Fry is one of the characters that stays with you for a long time after closing the pages of the book. Be prepared with a box of tissues for the end of the story!

If you’re more of a non-fiction reader, check out some of these books about real people taking their own pilgrimage of sorts before heading out on your own.


Any recommendations?

— Kristen B.

Top 22 Books to Give for Birthdays

It is no mystery that Half Price Books is celebrating its 40th birthday this year — the big day is next Friday, actually! Since we have both BOOKS and BIRTHDAYS on the brain these days, we thought it would be fun to put the two together and round-up some recommendations specifically for a few hard-to-shop-for birthday boys and girls in our lives. 

 (Of course, HPB gift cards always make great gifts too, for the treasure-hunting loved one whose favorite activities include browsing HPB bookshelves.)  

For the sleuth little sister who loves chemistry, fingerprints, ballistics and magnifying glasses:  


For the macabre grandpa who shows a little too much enthusiasm for cats, opera, poisons and morgues:


For the aunt who likes everything in its place, including her stripes and her polka dots:


For the boy scout little brother who hopes that book smarts will save him from that bear over there:


For the college sophomore cousin who has just rediscovered fairy tales and fables in World Lit:


For the decorator uncle who loves books so much he has to have them on his walls too:


Any loved ones in your life you’d like book recommendations for? Let us know — we’ll be happy to help out 🙂 In the meantime, have you signed our birthday card on Twitter yet? You’ll be entered to win a $40 gift card! 

— Kristen D.  

Batman: Actors Through the Decades

One of the most anticipated movies of the summer has to be The Dark Knight Rises, which will be the final installment in the Batman franchise for director Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight Rises will pick up where The Dark Knight (2008) left off. Batman, played by Christian Bale, has been branded a criminal, and will rise to protect Gotham City from public enemy number one, Bane.

I can’t wait to see this film, as I expect nothing less than greatness. For even though these are “super hero” movies, they have been really well made with good, intriguing stories, rather than just being an extravaganza of explosions and special effects. Not only are the stories good, but the actors in the latest Batman franchise have delivered some pretty great performances. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously in 2009.

Which brings me around to another topic. Having grown up watching Adam West and Burt Ward in Batman (1966) after school with my brother, I realized there have been some pretty famous actors who have played the caped crusader. Can you name them all?

(Answers: Top row left to right; Val Kilmer, Robert Lowrey, Christian Bale, Adam West. Bottom row left to right: Lewis Wilson, Michael Keaton, George Clooney.)

While you’re comparing Batman to Batman, check out this infographic by Ben Moore on the history of bat-suits from comic books, television and feature films.

Now, let’s all go to the movies! — Jim

What in the World? (World Music Round-Up)

I think it’s a shame that more fine, upstanding, music-loving Americans don’t listen to much music made across the oceans (except, of course, music from the UK—yeah! yeah! yeah!).  There’s a lot of wonderful stuff being played and sung around the globe at any given time, and it should be heard—if not as musical staples, then as an interlude to break up the Taylor and the Kanye, the Boss and the King.  Here are a few of my favorites, worth looking into, if you haven’t already.

Cesaria Evora
Cape Verde, an island off of the African west coast; it was once a colony of Portugal, so Ms. Evora sings in Portuguese.   
Why it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand what she’s singing:
Cesaria Evora (who performed barefoot) had such a rich and silky tone that you could listen to her voice all day, even if someone told you she was singing absolute gibberish.
Where to start:
The late singer’s albums (she died in December 2011) have been remarkably consistent in sound and quality since the ‘90sCafé Atlantico (1999) is my favorite, alternately gorgeous and joyous.  For gorgeous, try “Paraiso di Atlantico”; for joyous, try “Carnaval de Sao Vicente.”

Where to go from there: Another silky-toned singer of Portuguese is Brazilian male vocalist Caetano Veloso.  Try “Sampa.”  For something just as beautiful, but a little more pensive, check out “De Cara a la Pared” by the late, great Lhasa de Sela, who sings in Spanish, French and English. 

Taraf de Haidouks
Why it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand what they’re singing:
These twelve “gypsy” musicians and singers make so much music, usually frenetic but occasionally sublimely melancholy, that you’ll be carried away by the emotional energy.  You can imagine the flowing, spilling liquor and the clapping and singing as the violins and cimbaloms do their stuff.

Where to start:
The 1999 album Taraf de Haidouks is a whirlwind of pleasure, and the 2001 follow-up, Band of Gypsies, is just as good.  Standout songs are “Dumbala Dumba” and “Spune, Spune, Mos Batrin.”  A fine instrumental performance captured on video is this one.


Where to go from there: There are quite a few other Balkan artists that make music in a similar vein, predating Taraf de Haidouks, like “God of the Cimbalom” Toni Iordache (“Ca la Breaza”), or following in their footsteps, like the Hungarian rock/jazz band Besh O Drom (“Csavas”).

The desert of northern Mali.  (Tinariwen means “deserts.”)

Why it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand what they’re singing: It’s the hypnotic rhythm that’s the key to their music, and the call-and-response vocals.  Perfect for going into a trance while working on your arts-‘n’-crafts or repainting the kitchen—or, even better, for your iPod while you’re hiking in the Mojave.

Where to start: The former rebel nomads got just a tad more westernized on their 2011 album Tassili, which features guest artists from the U.S.  The song “Tenere Taqqim Tossam” even has a chorus sung in English by TV on the Radio members Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.

Where to go from there: Ali Farka Toure, also from Mali, does guitar-based music that sounds like African-style Delta blues.  Try “Soko.”  Or, for some raw, earthy singing and ululation, check out West Saharan Mariem Hassan’s “Yasar Geidu.”

Paolo Conte
Italy, where he’s been a big star since the early ‘80s

Why it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand what he’s singing: Mr. Conte’s voice suits his music—an amalgam of smoky night club, cabaret and Italian bistro—wonderfully, but you couldn’t say that he’s a great singer.  It’s charitable to say his vocals are gruff.  They fit right into the idiosyncratic arrangements of piano, horns, accordion, guitar and vibes.
Where to start:
I discovered him on his “breakthrough” album, The Best of Paolo Conte (1996).  It collects many of his best songs—and it includes English translations of his atmospheric lyrics.  One of his best-known songs is “Via con me.”

Where to go from there: Since there really is no one very much like Paolo Conte out there, I’d suggest: more Paolo Conte!  Aguaplano, Tournee 2 and Reveries are all favorites of mine.

These artists are all immensely popular in their own countries, and among world music-lovers.  If any are new to you, give them a try and broaden your musical horizons.

Do you have favorite music-makers from faraway lands?  Let me know—I’m always looking for more to listen to.

— Steve

And the Survey Says… (Happy Anniversary, Family Feud!)

In honor of the Family Feud turning 36, we’re playing our own version with our HPB family. Are you ready to play?

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we’ve surveyed 3,000 HPB bibliomaniacs to compile various Top 40 lists, and the top five answers from some of our most popular ones are on the board. Let’s play!

What book should be required reading in all schools?

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

2. Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austin

3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley


What sentimental love song do you call your own?

At Last, performed by Etta James

In Your Eyes, performed by Peter Gabriel

Unchained Melody, performed by the Righteous Brothers

Let’s Stay Together, performed by All Green

God Only Knows, performed by the Beach Boys


What book should every child read (or have read to them)?

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Skippyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein

Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney


What book could you just not put down?

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card


What comic book hero do you cheer for?

Captain America

Wonder Woman





What book makes you LOL?

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Lamb, by Christopher Moore

Good Omens, by Meil Gaiman & Terry Prachett

You can find these books, music and more at your local HPB.  Don’t forget to continue to check out our “Favorite 40” lists each month as we continue to celebrate 40 years of loving books, and please sign our virtual birthday card to wish us a “Happy 40th.” It has been our pleasure to bring you the books and music you love, and we will continue to do so!

Are there any Top 40 lists you’d like to see us compile?

— Julie