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by Nikki Tranter

13 Aug 2008


Last Thursday, a fellow book addict and I embarked on a book buying adventure to rival all others. We’ve travelled far and wide to hit secondhand stores before, but this was the first time we’d gone with our tax rebate cheques in hand. It seemed like free money, and neither of us minded in the least haphazardly spending as much of it as necessary on any and all books that grabbed our attention. Who says the government can’t be kind and generous sometimes?

There’s really no greater thrill than entering a secondhand bookstore with near-unlimited funds. Everything’s priced at or below $8.00, so it’s just too easy to fill your arms and go back for more. I loaded myself up with a travel-handy Walt Whitman collection, Christopher Reeve’s last book, and a battered copy of Jewel’s poetry. I picked up books by Carrie Fisher and Delia Ephron, Larry McMurtry and Oliver Sacks, I found a book on JFK, Jr.’s life and death, and I finally nabbed a copy of Charlotte Gray – a book I always see at secondhand stores yet am normally never in the right mood to buy. I went slightly nutty, overwhelmed by the musty book-smell, and the excitement of the old folks behind each and every secondhand store counter ready to talk my ear off about how busy I’ll be doing so much reading.

My favourite experience on the trip, however, was at the Book Inn. It’s a little shop, crammed with books, overseen by ladies who sit behind their counter-like table and knit all day long. One of the ladies was telling the other one that she’d picked up a book on assassinations and had been held rapt by its stories, especially those on political figures and celebrities who “were assassinated and survived”, like Ronald Reagan and George Harrison. The book had only cost her $4.95 at the supermarket.

But that’s not the experience I’m talking about. While browsing the Book Inn, I stumbled across the rattiest, dustiest copy of P.D. James’ The Children of Men for just one dollar. I took one look, put it in my pile, and continued shopping. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what I’d done. See, I already own Children of Men, which I bought brand new early last year. I rarely buy books new, especially paperbacks for $20.00, like this one. I had to, though, because every single secondhand shop I’d visited in the months prior did not carry a single copy of the book. I scoured them, too. The big secondhand stores, right down to the crazy little ones near the bowling alley that mostly sell clothes from the 1960s and copper pots.

No one had Children of Men, and I was getting desperate. I wanted to see the movie, but I couldn’t without reading the book first. My partner cracked and saw the movie without me. And then I cracked. I was in Melbourne with my mum, it was the last copy left on the shelf, marked down from $24.95, it was shiny, and I thought, bugger it, I’ve got no choice. It was right in front of me. It was then or never.

So, a year and half later, when I saw that elusive book exactly as I’d wanted it for the price I’d really wanted to pay, I had to grab it. On principle. I don’t need two copies of Children of Men, but I look at my new ratty edition and think only one thing: Mission accomplished.

by Lara Killian

21 Jul 2008


One thing I love to keep an eye out for in the summer is a good book sale. Not only do brick-and-mortar bookstores tend to put out more sale items in sunny weather to get window shoppers to pause in their strolling, many libraries choose this time to raise funds and shed excess inventory or donations.

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image credit: austinevan

After the cold months of shopping online for books, the tactile experience of picking up books and flipping through them at random, weighing the heft of them in your hand, finding a hidden gem at the bottom of a pile—there’s nothing like it in the Internet book-selling world. Not all book sales are created equal. Last week I went to two library book sales in my county; these events often take place around the US Independence Day holiday, the first long weekend in July. I hit the first book sale late in the day, and as it was clear that the porch of the library contained many tables piled high with books and there was also a gazebo filled with children’s books, plus a separate tent with hardcovers on the lawn, I hoped to find some good deals. I was stunned to find that the library wanted $2.50 for a used hardcover and $1.00 for trashy romance and sci-fi paperbacks.At a yard sale I would expect to find the latter for a quarter. I should mention this public library is one town over, in a very touristy area, but I wondered as I wandered, does everything have to be expensive here? I quickly gravitated to the $1.50 ‘large paperback’ table and tarp-covered fringe piles, as these were for the most part recent releases, and in good condition—like airport reads that were enjoyed once on the journey and donated upon their temporary owner’s return. With three copies of Snow Falling on Cedars in plain view, it was even possible to be choosey about the condition of some books, which made the buck fifty a little easier to swallow. I ended up with quite a good pile and was glad I had enough cash with me to bring them home. I was delighted to pick up a copy of Carl Honoré‘s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed (2005). I swooped upon a copy of A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990) which looks as though it has never been opened—I always look at the spine of a paperback to see if it has been ‘broken.’ A hardcover copy of Byatt’s book was located on another table, but it was in poor shape and cost almost twice as much, so I stayed with the paperback version. A pristine copy of Umberto Eco’s In the Name of the Rose flew into my hands (with an uncreased spine as well), and for a bit of fun, The Sex Lives of Cannibals (2004) by J. Maarten Troost. All in all, I think I came home with about a dozen books, and all the money goes to the upkeep of the public library, so there’s a sense of supporting that venerable institution as well. A few days later I stumbled upon another book sale of sorts, or the remnants of it. My local public library had a sale going on in the beginning of July and once the piles had been picked over, they moved the remnants to the side of the lawn closest to the parking lot, covered the lot with several tarps, and left it all outside for anyone to take whatever they wanted, gratis. Granted, there didn’t seem to be much left that was worth hanging on to (the library no longer wanted to store these leftovers, so ultimately the majority of these titles were destined for recycling). Naturally I couldn’t resist checking things over, just in case. A respectable copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s The General in His Labyrinth (1991) turned up, and a paperback copy of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs (1988) that I couldn’t allow to be consigned to pulp. A beautiful navy blue copy of Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, embossed with gilt, also joined my small pile of rescued books. Now if only I could find time to read each of my new treasures. Have you found any good summer book sales this year? Keep your eyes open, and let me know what you find.
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