In Which I Indulge My Greatest Weakness, and Call it Volunteer Work

November has become one of my favorite months, because it’s then that I volunteer for the county public library’s annual book sale. My job? I unpack boxes of books and set them on tables. My reward? Getting to pick out books before they go on sale to the public. Here’s what I got today for less than $30:

Sir Francis Walsingham by Derek Wilson (NF)
Madame de Pompadour by Evelynne Lever (NF)
Devil’s Brood by Sharon Penman (I had a ARC, but this was a spanking new hardback)
George III by Christopher Hibbert (NF)
Charles II: His Life and Times by Antonia Fraser (big coffee table size book)
Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey
Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (I didn’t like it much, but I wanted a copy anyway)
The Life of Sir Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd (NF)
Too Great a Lady by Amanda Elyot
Branwell [Bronte] by Douglas Martin
Thomas Becket by Richard Winston (NF)
Henry V by Desmond Seward (NF)
The Private Life of Henry VIII by N. Brysson Morrison (NF)
Henry II by W. L. Warren (NF)
The Last Wife of Henry VII by Caroly Erickson (I did like parts of it)
A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith (I liked her second novel better, but I wanted it for my Wars of the Roses library)
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A. Murphy

Plus five other books for my family. And believe it or not, I actually put some back without buying them.

I do have to say I earned my goodies, for unpacking those books is actually hard work; I was standing on my feet for most of the day, which is quite a change from my usual daily activity of plopping myself in front of the computer all day. And the boxes of books themselves can be quite heavy, even if one is only pushing them around instead of trying to lift them. I’m quite sore tonight, as a matter of fact. (I know; you don’t feel the least bit sorry for me.)

The boxes of books have already been sorted by genre (loosely) when they arrive at the sale site, so on the first day, we unpackers pretty much go to whichever table we please–i.e., where our genre of choice resides. There’s always a bit of a rush for General Fiction, which includes historical fiction. History and Biography are also popular, as is the Juvenile section, but my Juvenile days are past.

This year I arrived a little late, so I just got one long table done in the General Fiction section before the tables were completed. I should have moved right on to Biography, but instead I went to Romance, since there were rows and rows of romance tables and no one working at them. Now, I’ve no doubt there are some wonderful stories between all of those covers with barechested, hunky men and ravishingly beautiful women, but it sure makes for some bleak unpacking. That, and the only person nearby was blabbing away on her cell phone, so I couldn’t even unpack and think my own thoughts in peace. Instead, I had to listen to this woman call her office and deal with some minor crisis in what was either (a) an attempt to remind everyone there how utterly indispensable she was or (b) an attempt to get called back to the office so she wouldn’t have to unpack any more romance novels herself. Anyway, I must confess after about three boxloads of paperback romances and listening to Ms. Junior Executive, I bailed and took myself over to Biography, where I got much of the haul above.

Lots of volunteers bring their children to this event–some, I suppose, are home-schooled, while the teenagers must get some sort of service hours for volunteering for these type of events. Anyway, I was working across from a mother-daughter duo who, to put it mildly, did not seem to be getting into the spirit of things. The mother was doing most of the unpacking, while the teenage daughter was lounging around looking pretty and occasionally moving a trade paperback a fraction to the left or right. Anyway, as all of this bibliomania was making me slightly extroverted, I asked the duo if there was any particular topic they were looking for. They said, “No,” with rather a puzzled air, as though the notion was an entirely strange one to them. Then, obviously purely out of politeness, they asked me if there was something I was looking for, and I naturally said that I was looking for anything to do with Great Britain before the nineteenth century. They looked disturbed by this, as if I’d expressed an interest in setting up a pornography table, and said that perhaps I could find what I was looking for over at English literature. I said, “No, um, I mean biographies having to do with that period.” At which point this scintillating conversation came to an end. Geez. (I should have told them about my own novels and really scared them.)

As always, it was amusing to see that several copies of The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George had ended up in Biography, along with The Memoirs of Cleopatra. Bill Clinton’s My Life was in abundance over in the Biography section (most of the books being deaccessioned library holdings), but none of President-elect Obama’s books were in evidence. Since the library probably ordered scads of them after the election, they will probably turn up at next year’s sale.

Once everything was unpacked (let me tell you, I can sling around those Thriller/Adventure hardbacks with the best of them), I indulged myself in the pleasant pastime of browsing the tables. Over in General Fiction, there was an abundance of Philippa Gregory (I had a choice between the original Other Boleyn Girl cover and the movie tie-in cover, and naturally chose the pre-movie cover) and Diana Gabaldon, especially her most recent novel, which the library had bought in abundance and was now selling the excess. The last sale, as I recall, was a good one for Bernard Cornwall fans, as there were a lot of his books there, but I didn’t see many this time. There was quite a bit of Victoria Holt, but not much of Jean Plaidy. I was quite surprised to see an almost pristine copy of Devil’s Brood by Sharon Penman. It had a dinged corner, so I suspect it was donated by a bookstore. I was toying with buying Margaret George’s Helen of Troy, but from what I’ve read about it I’m not sure it would appeal to me. Maybe my resistance will be weaker tomorrow.

For I will be back tomorrow; the unpacking’s over, but as books get bought, tables need to be consolidated and books moved around. Some more boxes of books might even have arrived overnight, who knows?

11 thoughts on “In Which I Indulge My Greatest Weakness, and Call it Volunteer Work”

  1. Holy Moley what a haul! Where can I get a gig like that? I would be especially excited by the books about Walshingham and Becket.

    I like the cover art on your new book btw. 🙂

  2. Lynn Irwin Stewart

    I’m wondering if there’s anything going on like that around my area because, if there’s one thing I need, it’s more books!! Seriously, I used to volunteer at my daughter’s middle school library — before she moved on to high school — and I really miss it. Maybe I should see if I could do anything at one of the public libraries. I actually love to shelve books!

  3. Great reward! I’m sure the box you used to carry them all home was one you didn’t mind lugging around.

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, all! And I got another dozen on Tuesday.

    I could be wrong, but I believe that the books that aren’t sold are destroyed. This isn’t as grim as it sounds, because Sunday is $2bag and $5 box day, and what’s left after that are the dregs–1994college guides, children’s books with half their pages torn out, and so forth.

  5. Fantastic haul of books! RE The Last Wife of Henry VII by Caroly Erickson – do you mean Henry VIII? and f so, she must mean Catherine Parr – never heard of this book. When was it pubished?

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