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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Library Book Sale

Each August for the last three years running we've been lucky enough to hit the annual library book sale at the Brewster Ladies' Library in Cape Cod. (Men are allowed here, too, incidentally; the institution retains its name from 1852 when a group of local women founded it.) The sale is held in the building's basement, and if you visit closer to the end of the month some books can be had for as little as 50 cents.

I try not to buy books, as a rule. Maybe a paperback guide for a trip, a new hardback by an author I know I really, really like, or a copy of something I've read so many times I want to have it on hand. But otherwise I've tried to pare down my personal library. As beguiling as it is to surround yourself with record of all the books you've known through life, a few horrendous moves with too many heavy boxes will cure you. But our first visit to the Brewster library book sale seduced me, and now I put my book-buying embargo on hold at least this one time per year.

The price is right, of course. The amount I spend ends up totalling less than several months of late fees at my local library. But more than that, the special alchemy of the library book sale has a way of throwing unexpected titles in one's path, the kinds of books you might not normally seek out in your local library (or bookstore) stacks.

First there's the inventory itself. Most of the books are donated, which makes the selection heavy on summer reading: multiple tables of mysteries and romances, and, this year, an entire section devoted solely to the works of Danielle Steele. We avoid these, mostly, though I do like to scan for an appealing mystery now and then. There are also some library discards, which tend to yield books of a higher quality or with an out-of-date novelty appeal.

Then there's the wild, catch-as-catch-can classification system. Fiction is divided into sections for "Men Writers" and "Women Writers." I stumbled across the young adult novel "Nightbirds on Nantucket" on a local-interest "Cape Cod and New England" shelf. Some books turn up in multiple sections: I think I spotted "South Beach Diet" on tables for health, nutrition, and self-help. While this laid-back cataloguing makes a targeted search more difficult, you also never know what exciting, mis-shelved title might lie waiting among incongruous fellows.

Some books we're sure we've seen in previous years. That coffee table book on Tuscany; surely it was here last August as well? Do they just hang around waiting for another chance at adoption, or are they actually purchased and re-donated the following summer, in an endless recycling of library book sale books? There's a strong case to be made there.

In some cases you can tell someone's been cleaning out the back closet, as with this peculiar gem, a 1954 book club edition, slightly water-stained, of something called "Forty Plus and Fancy Free." Written by Emily Kimbrough, it is subtitled, "The gay excursion of youthful grandmothers romping through Paris and Italy and 'doing' the Coronation." I don't know just what they "do" there, but I was certainly intrigued.

A paperback of Alice Munro's most recent short-story collection, "Runaway," was selling at a premium of $2, but I snatched it up anyway. Once home, I was dismayed to discover its previous owner had gone through the entire book with an acid-yellow highlighter, that kind of totally random highlighting that people do just to have something to do with their hands when they're bored by what they're reading. Words and phrases like "you're" and "she said," emblazoned in neon. I may have to throw that one back - I don't think I can read it this way.

Some of my favorite purchases have been guilty indulgences, things I probably wouldn't seek out at bookstore or library, but somehow, here in this dusty netherworld, we are allowed to meet. What happens at the library booksale stays at the library booksale.

A 2003 edition of Rick Steves United Kingdom, for example. Although I find Rick Steves painfully dorky, I happily settle in to watch whenever I come across his show on PBS, and some of the best tips I learned on traveling in Paris came from his guidebook, despite my 12 years of classes on French language and culture. Rick Steves went in the pile.

Another book that caught my eye was "A Life's Work." I'd read about its author, a young British writer named Rachel Cusk, and was curious about her work. But this book was a semi-humorous account of the trials and tribulations of new motherhood, and hence officially Not For Me, as I was neither pregnant nor making any immediate plans to become so. And yet I found myself very much wanting to read it, and furtively added it to my armload, hoping no one would make any comments about the soft-focus baby shoe on the cover.

If I was indulging a little, some people around me were indulging a lot. We overheard one young woman insisting to her father that she needed the audiotape of a particular book. "We already have an audio book of that one on CD," he protested. "But I might want to listen to it sometime in a car that only has a tape deck!" she retorted. The library book sale madness had her in its grip.

A slight preteen girl appeared to be browsing through every single book in the basement. Over in the "Contemporary Fiction" section (new this year) she lovingly took one book down from the shelf, turned its pages respectfully, put it back, then moved on to the next, and the next. Her progress was slow.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the books were fighting back. There was a sudden, horrifying sound of tumbling heavy objects, accompanied by a strangled, "Argggh!" Everyone froze. Silence, and then a moment later the voice called out brightly, "I'm all right! All these boxes just fell on me." And the patrons returned to their browsing.

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At 8/24/2006 6:40 PM, Blogger Silliyak said...

The Ms. does altered books with friends. Take a book you don't care about (her first was a boy scout manual) and do art projects on some pages, then pass it on to a friend who does some more. If everyone has their own, you rotate books.

At 8/25/2006 2:07 PM, Blogger Chrissa said...

What a cool idea - I love this.

At 8/25/2006 8:40 PM, Blogger Silliyak said...

First I want to clarify something. Her "first" was not a boy scout named Manual.

Second, this may be an addictive activity, she and her friends have moved onto altered boxes. This causes us to brake suddenly when spotting abandoned boxes that might be suitable.

At 8/27/2006 2:11 PM, Anonymous francofou said...

So, have you read Cusk yet?

At 8/27/2006 3:34 PM, Blogger Chrissa said...

I have, and I really liked it. I've since recommended it to several friends who struggled with the overwhelming changes during the supposed-to-be-blissful time of their children's early infancy. I noticed in reviews on Amazon that some readers were offended by the negative slant of her honesty, and I suppose at points in the book you get a sense of "well what did you have a baby for then," but personally, I found it very funny and refreshing.

Are you familiar with the book?

At 8/27/2006 8:28 PM, Blogger Silliyak said...

It wasn't me that brought up babies, but as long as you're on the subject, I got some damn fine baby pics at my place.

At 8/30/2006 9:29 AM, Anonymous francofou said...

Yes. I've read all of Cusk except the last one; I'm a big fan: A Country Life above all.
I found a Life's Work honest, touching, funny.
As a man, I sometimes had the feeling that I was invading privacy; her experience was more anxiety-producing than ours -- after the birth especially.
She is very good at pinpricking hypocrisy balloons, and her analogies are wonderful.


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