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Monday, February 6, 2006

Chapter Ninety-One, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Weekend of Book-Hunting (Part Three)

The final location for the weekend book-hunt was laced with people early, waiting in the flurries. This was the first day of the event, which proved rewarding in the past. We adopted a strategy not used before: instead of going first to the main room, where most of the other hunters herded, we set off to another floor where awaited children’s and antique books. After that, we would scout the outer room, where the better books congregated. Finally, we would approach the main room to hunt among the leftovers.

Book sales are always popular spots for parents, because the selection of children’s books is large, the supply seemingly endless, and the prices indulgently low. Thus most of the people on the second floor stayed away from the tables of antique books, which in this case were mostly just old books. The only thing to catch our eye was a biography of sorts that appeared hand-made, by William Darius Fisher, and which proved to be one of only a few copies listed online for sale.

The better books produced better results. Immediately we began stuffing our bag, sometimes with two books in hand at once. A fellow hunter kindly let us know that one of the books we had selected was boring. We turned up a few nearly guaranteed sellers, and a few nice editions for our own collection. The highlight of the group was a title we have been desiring since reading the enthusiastic review at It’s All About the Book, The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Already we are on Chapter Ten, and enjoying it heartily.

Then, into the fray. Tables of books were arranged with about two feet of space between, making it nearly impossible for a small book-hunter with several bags to pass a large book-hunter with nothing. The crowds had not abated, and some sections of the room seemed to writhe like a feeding frenzy of hyenas. We pushed our way slowly through the field, gathering numerous decent titles. The prize was a first edition Mary Roberts Rinehart with dust jacket—a rarity. Our most treasured find was an oversized calendar featuring color reproductions of illuminated manuscripts which should make quite a literary decoration framed on the walls of the bookshop.

We returned from our weekend adventure with several bags of booty, and more money to spare than we had anticipated. The hunt complete, now comes the joys of researching the items for sale, and reading the items for us. We also donated four boxes of books at the first location, and from this new haul there will surely be more to come. So the benefits spread beyond us, the pleasures of reading increase, and already anticipation for the next hunt begins.

But wait! Midday the telephone rings with a surprise. Remember the Vermeer set on auction? Well, we had the highest bid. This is the first silent auction we have won. The books are intended for our private collection, and should go a long way to enhancing our experience of one of the finest painters.

At the first location, one of the volunteers, an elderly man with but a few hairs remaining, offered us a card listing dates of future book sales. Almost immediately he opined that we probably wouldn’t be interested, as the five boxes of books we were presently carting away ought to keep us busy perhaps until our scalp was as bare as his. We assured him we wouldn’t miss the next sale. He commented that, in that case, we must be a dealer. How sheltered must his life be. Does he have no joys, no hobbies, no lifelong pursuits? I told him there is always a good book to be found. Had we skipped the second sale of the weekend simply because we took home hundreds of books from the first, we would have missed, among others, two volumes of Christopher Morley and a fine set of art books. As well as enhancing our collection, the Vermeer books especially will serve as a memory of the weekend, like a trophy mounted on a wall, but ever alive and available to be opened and enjoyed again and again, as well as a passport to another place and time. There are always other books waiting only for us, somewhere—as the protagonist of The Shadow of the Wind notes, waiting perhaps since before we were born. It is among our necessary acts of devotion to find them.


  1. I have so enjoyed these posts, Jeff. I think I am shopping vicariously through them. What a great bunch of finds - I am particularly jealous of the Morley...

  2. You have aroused all my childhood dreams of owning a bookstore and hunting for gems among the piles. To this day, the thrill of a good books sales is magical to me. Thank you for letting us peek behind the magic curtain for a bit!