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Summer Book Sales

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Monday, Jul 21, 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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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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