Library book sales are one of the highlights of my summer. These sales typically have scads of quality books at super prices and the money I pay goes to support a local library. What’s not to love? I can, and have, spent hours rummaging on tables and through boxes full of books. In addition to browsing through books, I take great pleasure in watching others do the same. In fact, after reading a recent, delightful post by Mary Lou Shuster about being a book pusher, I now think I may be a bit of a book voyeur. I listen in to others talking about books. I watch them caress the spines of their favorites, lovingly riffle through pages and reminisce with a gleam in their eye. I get a thrill hearing the titles tumble longingly off their lips…you get the picture.
At any rate, this weekend our local library held their much touted and anticipated sale. The sale began at 10 am and at 9:45 there was already a long line of excited readers waiting outside the door. What a heartening sight: a warm, sunny summer morning and people were lining up to buy books and read! The air buzzed with conversation, anticipation and a lovely, positive energy. Random comments floated my way.
“I have to stop buying books. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy anymore bookshelves. I thought that would help, but now the books are all over my furniture!”
“I buy trade paper backs so I can resell them. I have a circuit of used book stores and I rotate through them. That way I make more money to buy more books!”
“I hate people from California. I really do.”
Finally, the doors opened, the crowd surged forward (gently and politely—this is, after all, a literary group) and into the building.The jr. high school auditorium was filled with table after table of books, labeled generally with such titles as “Children’s” “Travel” “Poetry”. Under each table are more and more boxes of books in reserve, patiently waiting to fill in empty spaces as books on tables are selected and removed. Smiling volunteers in blue aprons moved purposefully through the crowd, organizing, assisting, and rearranging. I scarcely knew where to look first and let the motion of the crowd move me. I meandered through the aisles, no real agenda in mind, pausing here and there, waiting my turn to move into the more popular tables. Watching and listening, breathing in books—alone and yet connected to this bookish community.
Eventually I worked my way through the crowds to one of the fiction sections. I leisurely turned over book after book. I considered enticing new titles and works by favored authors and added a few to my bag. I smiled with delight when spying old favorites, as though a beloved friend had unexpectedly appeared, and touched them gently, acknowledging our connection. Again and again I ruthlessly repressed my strong, strong inclination to reorganize books and reunite duplicates and series books. Each year I find it fascinating to discover which books I will see repeatedly. In past years I have seen copy after copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, A Thousand Splendid Suns and Memoirs of a Geisha. This year I saw multiple copies of Cutting for Stone, Water for Elephants, Olive Kitteridge. Who knows what next year will bring.
After I finished at that table, I moved into an adjacent room. Eager to dive into yet another selection of fiction, I nipped in to an open spot at a table beside an older woman. As we browsed, she suddenly reached to a book at the back of the table before us. “Oh, this is one of my favorites,” she whispered, for her ears only, as her fingers gently brushed the spine of John Irving’s Cider House Rules. I had heard similar words slipping unsummoned from my lips and from others time and again as I rummaged through the stacks today. She glanced up shyly, noticing me by her side. “I loved it, too,” I said. We smiled, confederates in books, and continued our search—for new treasures and old favorites.