Cheap Books, and Lots of Them

Warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of large quantities of books at cheap prices.

I volunteered at my county library’s annual book sale today and helped unbox books and arrange them on tables. Before you commend me for my civic-mindedness, remember the Big Perk here: first dibs on the books (500,000 under one roof, according to the newspaper) before they go on sale to the public.

I’ve been to this sale before, but always as a customer and always on the weekend, after the best books had been grabbed by the early birds. By contrast, the scene today was almost pornographic: a former discount department store lined front to back, side to side, with tables of books, many of them very lightly read. Volunteers got to grab paperbacks for 50 cents (including trade paperbacks) and hardbacks for two bucks.

I get the shivers just remembering it.

I didn’t find anything truly obscure (no $700 Hale books here, I’m afraid), but I did find a lot of things on my wish list. Among others, I brought home several of Alison Weir’s biographies, five Jean Plaidys, a copy of Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats that appeared never to have been read, a copy of Jane Dunn’s Elizabeth and Mary that also looked pristine, and a copy of Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter that will probably take me years before I get around to reading it but nonetheless is adding a certain respectability to my shelf tonight.

I’m due to go back Friday, but I’m seriously tempted to go back tomorrow. (Did I mention I get to wear a sexy orange T-shirt with VOLUNTEER on it?)

It was rather funny to see what tables people gravitated to. General Fiction (including historical fiction, which, alas, does not have its own table) attracted a great many unpackers, as did the Juvenile, History, and Biography tables. When I left in the early afternoon, the Horror tables hadn’t been touched yet (evidently too scary an experience). Strangely, the Romance tables also had yet to be unpacked. Maybe the romance readers showed up in the afternoon, after a morning of luxuriating in their king-size beds.

Some more thoughts:

I personally unpacked six copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography, and there were another dozen or so on the Presidents table the last time I looked. Most of them were pristine ex-library copies, suggesting that whoever decided that each branch needed multiple copies needs to reconsider the next time a President writes a book.

The books were sorted before they were sent over for unpacking. The sorters were evidently of two minds about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Of the dozen or so copies I noticed, half were in fiction, the other half in biography. (There wasn’t a special table for Rip-Offs.) You can get a copy for 50 cents if you really want one, but this is one I’d save for Bag or Box day (Sunday), where you can get it even cheaper.

Speaking of memoirs, there were a lot of them (presumably genuine) on the Biography table. In fact, it seems that everyone in whom I’m not the least bit interested has written one.

Finally, almost every fifth book I unpacked for the Biography table had something to do with Princess Diana. This made me think either (1) there cannot possibly be anything left to say about Princess Diana or (2) I should get cracking and try to find something to say about Princess Diana.

6 thoughts on “Cheap Books, and Lots of Them”

  1. I too volunteer at our Friends of the Library booksale. Unfortunately, the unpackers are only allowed to take a few books before the sale officially opens.
    Since we’ve run out of room at our house for more books, I don’t hit the opening night as much. Instead I work the last day of the sale, when books are $1 a box (as many books as you can fit). By then most of the books have been sold, so it’s possible to find little gems that were buried under the plethora of popular fiction and self-help books.

    A department store filled? Wow. Our library system just uses its auditorium. But the Oklahoma City Metropolitan system used to rent out the “Made in Oklahoma” building at the fairgrounds…talk about visual overload.

  2. This experience sounds better (and healthier) than having free run in a bakery!

    I agree about memoir overload. Too often I’ve been on a line in a bookstore or Starbucks and I overhear some college student saying to her friend, “I’m working on my memoirs?” It’s all too much.

  3. elena maria vidal

    I read Stella Tillyard’s “Aristocrats” and found it an interesting portrait of the English nobility in the 18th century. I think people think it is going to be a novel and it’s not. They were practically giving it away at the bookstore, but I liked it.

  4. Droooolllll…

    I love used book sales. I was at one this past summer, and it was a lot like the one you describe, right down to the overabundance of biographical titles on current British royalty. I did manage to pick up a nice book, Henry VIII and His Court by Neville Williams, which included a bunch of full colored Tudor portraits, so the bio table wasn’t a total loss.

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Nessili, this was in an old Super K-Mart store, with some of the old K-Mart signs still there. I bet when the sale opens, some hopeful people will be heading toward the Layaway sign!

    Gata, a college student working on her memoirs is truly frightening!

    Elena, I’m looking forward to Aristocrats. I saw the PBS series years ago, and I re-encountered Sarah Lenox and her hedgehog a while back in a Jean Plaidy novel.

    Gabriele, you gotta pick those jumper colors more carefully!

    Diedre, the Henry VIII book sounds nice!

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