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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Six, in which the Books are bountiful

On Thursday and Friday your Bibliothecary roamed over five hundred miles across Fields of Opportunities in search of books.

The great middle west of America is beautiful land to travel. No flat expanse of land this, like in Wyoming, but undulating and parceled, so though nothing rises higher than a church steeple, neither can one see for miles in every direction. Brown now and March bare, spring will soon turn the entire landscape green and abundant.

A quick check of wesellusedbooks.com gave us a couple of stops along the route to our ultimate destination, and with a leisurely schedule such digressions were welcome. So into a university town we followed our Google map, and without a specific address we circled twice until at last we came upon The Haunted Bookshop. The name reminded us of Christopher Morley, and the appearance reminded us vaguely of Norman Bates' house. Outside on a bench on the porch sat a box labeled "Free to a good home" in which were a few unwanted books. And on the door hung the sign indicating the store was "Closed" on Thursdays.

Back on the road to the next stop, a little town two miles off the interstate, where the old highway used to run, apparently built because the railway also passed there--not very large, but with its own Opera House, so it must have seen some days of glory. Again without an address we turned down one of the two main roads and found the little shop with a big blue awning proclaiming "Slightly Read Books." The interior was dark, the door was locked, but through the windows there were books to be seen. Without any other sign we couldn't tell if it was also closed on Thursdays, or moving to a new location, or out of business.

On to the big city we proceeded. To the next book store we had an address and Google directions. This makes finding something only marginally easier when the major expressway is undergoing construction and one of the streets we must travel is cut in half, when the map is to city instead of street scale, and when the twists and turns disorient the driver. Eventually we found the large old building that housed "Well Read Books." Outside stood the bearded proprietor watching with amusement our parking travails.

We were warmly welcomed and given a verbal description of the layout of the store: ten or twelve rooms on two floors in an old house, and very little organization. The store had the general appearance of having been shaken by an earthquake. Books were everywhere, on the shelves, as well as on the floor, and on top of other books, with just as many in and out of boxes stacked in the corners and along the walls and in front of the shelves and in the middle of the rooms. While we browsed, two other people came in and sat down in the front room to chat with the proprietor. We did not make much of an effort at finding anything, just scanned the books until something caught our eye. Appeared one title by Christopher Morley, and an old edition of Micah Clarke, by Conan Doyle. The proprietor knocked off a few dollars, and when we handed him our notes, he pulled change from his wallet and encouraged us to come back again.

Now to cross the big city was required, and in a generally eastward direction we proceeded, which led us directly downtown. Business was just beginning to end for the early finishers, so traffic was not horrendous. And one glorious reward for our wanderings rose up in the distance. Between the valley of buildings, at the end of the long road, towering atop a hill high above the rest of the city gleamed a golden dome crowning the stately edifice of the capitol building, accessed in front by an expanse of fifty or so steps. The view is as grand as any created by modern man, and definitely worth a detour if it does not appear in one's directions.

The ultimate destination for our trip could not have bore any greater contrast to the last store. Held within a huge building at the state fairgrounds, this was clean, organized, spacious, well-staffed, and designed for the ease of every book-fancier, from the casual reader of Nora Roberts, to the seasoned hunter of rare tomes, to the harvester of mass quantities. A line of people that stretched around to the rear of the building seemed reduced to but a few browsers once inside the huge space. Rules were announced, among which hording was prohibited and books left unattended in stacks with names or blankets or anything else on them were immediately reshelved. A special holding area was prepared and fully staffed if one could not carry all the books one wanted, and these were considered purchased--there would be no sorting through them at a later date. Books were individually priced, fully categorized, and with approximately 300,000 available, there was sure to be something to fit every interest.

We have previously described the feeling of overwhelming desire that seizes us at sales such as this. The number of beautiful and interesting books is simply staggering, and there comes a point when we must sigh and realise we may want them all, but we can never have them all. And really, if we did have them all, would there be any excitement over the sales to come? Though we may have spent too much money at this sale, we certainly left behind far more wonderful books than we acquired. If you weren't there this weekend, you missed out on some great books.

Among the treasures we did amass were seven new titles about Shackleton and his explorations, numerous volumes about the American Revolution, a few books by Christopher Morley, and several plates and prints of troubadours, medieval illumination, and ancient maps. One book turned out, upon further research, to be scarce, and priced by other dealers at around one hundred dollars. When we had picked it up at the sale, the price had appeared to be one dollar fifty, written as 150. However, learning of the relative scarcity of the title, suddenly we wondered if we had in fact paid one hundred fifty dollars. Following an uneasy afternoon of impending buyer's remorse, we were able to retreive our receipts, and were relieved to find no book had been rung up for 150.00. A handy profit is now hoped for.

The sale ended after 9:00pm, and a long drive home was before us. As soon as we joined the interstate, the snow began to fly. Driving at night into swirling snow feels like flying through outer space on the Millenium Falcon, and can be mesmerizing. So after about ninety minutes we joined the truck drivers at the rest stop and curled up in the book-filled car for some sleep. When we woke ready to resume the drive, dawn was fast approaching. Since the sky was filled with clouds, there was no sunrise to speak of, but the morning light revealed a landscape of fields covered with a thin layer of snow, white and clean.

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