Monday, October 17, 2011

Book sale aftermath: Fuller shelves, emptier wallet

Are you familiar with haul videos? I am, although I'm not sure why. All I know is that somehow, by this time this New York Times piece was published, I was already familiar with the format. Anyway, haul videos usually involve a preteen girl showing off some large purchase of makeup, usually totaling hundreds of dollars. All that happens is that some girl goes through her shopping bag, pulling out each item and waving it at the laptop's webcam, and telling you why she bought it.

Alice and I went to the Open Books warehouse sale this weekend and bought a big box of books (which we then schlepped back to her apartment -- no better argument for ebooks), and I was sort of tempted to make you a haul video. Such is my whimsical mind. However, haul videos are really annoying, basically impossible to sit through, and also I'm not sure I'm ready for my face and voice to be on the internet, although I'm sure my "100 years of British architecture" poster would be a great backdrop. So I'll just give you the run-down verbal-style.

Book sales can be hit-or-miss for me. As much as I like looking through heaps of books as a general rule, sometimes it's just not fun or worth it. Exhibit A is the Newberry Library book sale, possibly/probably the biggest in the Chicago area. It's enormous; it's crowded; there are swarms of dealers; the books are individually priced; and I almost always leave empty handed or with one or two things I didn't want and paid too much for. It's taken me a few years but I'm totally ok with giving this one a pass now, sadly.

The Open Books sale, on the other hand, was delightful. It was crowded, but a fraction of the size of the Newberry, so nowhere near as overwhelming. Having volunteered right there in the warehouse twice (two times) now
I know that the books come from many sources and get a quick sort before they go out. The Newberry books also come from all over, but their philosophy is that as long as it's not moldy everything goes out for sale, in perpetuity. Open Books also gets new or like-new books from publishers, schools, and even Orpah.
Lots of TV references in my book blog today.
But there's one very simple, slightly counter-intuitive thing that makes it especially great, and that's the fact that the books are only sorted into "kids" and "adults". Oh sure, the oversize and coffee table books are pulled aside, but otherwise the fiction and non-fiction, new and used, mingle tantalizingly together. One of the warehouse leaders told me on Friday that they do this because they think it makes people look more carefully. Also because if you put, say, all the cookbooks together, then people are more likely to think "which of these is the best", whereas if they come across a French cookbook in amongst all the novels they might just take it because it sounds good without wondering if there's something newer or with more pictures. Anyway, it's genius, and Alice had to talk me out of the place. I could have kept looking forever.

I bought a lot of enormous novels. The Children's Book (AS Byatt) has been on my list since I read Possession for the first time earlier this summer. I liked Possession because it suddenly made my dissertation research seem 1,000 times more interesting and exciting. I also picked up The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) because it's kind of a famous book, right? and it's a historical novel about the Middle Ages and building a cathedral and that's all up my alley. Rounding out the enormous novel stack is a fancy Penguin double edition of A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations (Dickens). These latter two (or three, since the Dickens is a twofer) are direct from Harpo Studios with their "Oprah's Book Club" logo on the cover.
Parks and Recreation, "Born and Raised" - go watch it

I bought Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) when Alice pointed it out - it still has the $14 price sticker on the back, and I paid $15 for 16 books today, so that feels good already. And I bought The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday because even though all of Alexander McCall Smith's Scottish books are basically the same, I am still entertained by them. And hey, the guy has churned out a heck of a lot of books, so who can blame him if they blend together a little.

The only non-fiction book I bought was Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns (Cheryl Reed); you'll see why this one caught my eye with the post tomorrow.

I also bought kids' books for friends' children, which was so much fun. I love kids' books. Two notable buys were The Jolly Postman and Caps for Sale, both big favorites of mine as a small one. The Jolly Postman is fantastic, and has hilarious pull-out letters delivered to various fairytale characters. It's also very British, since the main character is a bicycling postman who has a cup of tea at each stop. As soon as I got home from the sale I got myself a cup of milk and some Oreos and read it again, and I think this one would have to be included on any list of books that have influenced my life. Caps for Sale is a bedtime classic, and while I remember it from Reading Rainbow, my mom remembers it from Captain Kangaroo. Those crazy monkeys! I hope the kids enjoy these as much as I do (although of course I wouldn't be offended if they didn't. Like the ancient Romans I know that the newer generation always has worse taste than my own).

Nothing like a big stack o' books to start off the week!


  1. *claps happily* And look at that, I originally typed 'caps.' The post has influenced me!

    Man, we rocked that sale. By which I mean we didn't get shoved too much and managed to get some truly decent books.

    Also, I want to be a member of Joan's Book Club. But only if she sends out a DVD talking about each book. I would totally pay membership dues for that.

    Also good on you for not telling everyone I made you carry the box most of the way to my apartment.

  2. Nicely done! Getting a big box-o-books for just a few bucks is always a great day! Now to make room on the shelves for all of the new residents. ;-)

    I loved Byatt's "The Children's Book"! It was fabulous from start to finish. Enjoy! Cheers! Chris