The scent of paper and glue and cardboard – something reminiscent of a grade school classroom – wafts toward me just after I pass the laden bake sale tables. The large room is quiet despite its 50 or so occupants. Everyone is very intent, head bowed to their subjects, like miners panning for gold. The goods are carefully organized by genre, decked out in boxes on rows and rows of tables. The prices: $2 for a hardcover, $1 for a paperback. The stock: the most recent bestsellers to Chaucer and everything in between. This is the annual library book sale, and – given that there are also red velvet cupcakes just outside the door – I am in reader heaven.
The novel section to my immediate left is stocked with goodies. I grab a few that are on my to-be-read list and feel like I won some sort of lottery. My spree continues as I work my way through business and spirituality, adventure and memoir, past cookbooks and gardening, and over to the mysteries. I dig around for a bit and then spend a nice long time at the back of the room, rooting through the classics, snapping up the ones I know I’ve missed in this reading life.
My left arm is throbbing, holding a stack of books eleven spines high. One of the volunteers offers to get me a bag, but I ask her instead if she’s seen Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’s clearly delighted to join me in the hunt, and offers to look “in the back”. No luck, but the fact that we both got our hopes up makes up for the momentary disappointment.
While making my way back through the rows one last time, I notice that the coffee table books have been wiped out. The decorators have been here before me. I’ve seen them come in and find every book with a red binding, or all the books of a certain height. It reminds me of the pre-sale night I’ve come to in years past, reserved for friends of the library. It’s mainly attended by booksellers, who fill boxes with $1 and $2 volumes that they will later stock on their actual or virtual shelves. They move maniacally, grabbing rows of books with two hands without even looking at them. They act like sellers, not readers, and they completely take the romance out of the event.
Give me instead the kids who are exclaiming to their moms about the Nancy Drew or Wimpy Kid stories they’ve just discovered, or the home cook who has stumbled on a stained and tattered Joy of Cooking. I love to compare notes with the mystery mavens who want to know if I’ve read any of a certain series, just because I’m nosing around in that section. It’s fun to talk books with strangers because the books we’re talking about are like our mutual friends.
By the time I’m ready to leave, the novel section is impassable, two bodies deep. Bags and bags of books are leaving the room, clutched in the hands of smiling readers, old and young, excited to spend the afternoon curled up with their treasures. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated.
And those red velvet cupcakes? They even had sprinkles.