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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Fourteen, in which a Bibliatholon is run

Who wouldn't be worn out after five book sales and three book stores in twenty-four hours?

The event began on a beautiful spring evening at the county fairgrounds. Members formed a line to the right; non-members formed a line to the left. As soon as the doors opened, the non-members handed over their entrance fee and moved quickly inside. The members inched forward as two old ladies flipped through several pages in an attempt to look up the names of each person before letting them inside. I hope the organizers rethink that backwards process before next time.

There was lots of room inside, with tables spread wide, and none of them crammed full, all of which made browsing easy. We went first to the old books, then through the fiction, then the "better" books, then art, then history, then the rest. One of our specific needs was for Civil War books, and we found several. We walked out with numerous full bags, nothing that seemed spectacular, but some that were very good. (And nothing is more rewarding than pricing those books and putting them in the "New Arrivals" section of the bookshop and having them sell right away.)

The next morning we hit the road, traveling ninety minutes to a relatively small sale. They had a preview night, so much of the best had already been shopped. A few items ended up in our bag.

Back on the road, we traveled another hour to a university town. Our directions led us nowhere, and without a detailed street-level map, we gave up the search for the sale in favor of a search for a bookstore. Here we found the shop of a book-fancier who had visited our own humble shop last year. Calm and soft-spoken, he remembered his visit, and was pleased to see us. He explained his pricing scheme: each book is dated, and after a year the price is reduced by half. The square-footage of his shop was approximately the same as ours, though his shelves were not as full as ours, perhaps thanks to his pricing methods, which probably helped move older books out. A steady stream of students must help as well. The great majority of books were reasonably priced, and we found a couple Civil War books, as well as a few books relating to our favorite explorer Ernest Shackleton. The book-fancier then gave us directions to a store he said we had to see, and off we went with our thanks and well-wishes.

One-way streets do not make finding a store without a map very easy. After a few circular minutes we figured out where we needed to be. Once again we would have to circle around and come back. Luck would have it that we turned on the same road where the book sale was, the road we had been unable to find with our directions earlier. Sometimes Saint Duckett smiles upon you. So we parked and into a grand library we went in search of more books. Here also were the Usual ScanMonsters, the regular dealers and grabbers and shovers that we encounter at so many events. This sale offered much quality, and the prices were appropriately higher than at other sales. We filled two bags, mostly with Civil War books, and set off to find the recommended bookstore.

An alley does not sound like the ideal location for a bookstore. This alley, however, is right in the downtown business district, and has large signs at the end pointing the way. This bookstore is truly a destination in itself. Enter the door where a kindly old man sits on the throne of his book palace. The first thing to notice is the beauty of the books. Perhaps three-quarters of them are old, pre-1950s, and nearly every single book has a plastic archival cover protecting it, whether or not it has a dust jacket. There are a couple shelves with books for under three dollars; otherwise, as expected, these premium books all have premium prices. The second thing to notice is the accessories which tie in to the categories of books. So, for instance, in the miltary section there are old helmets and grenades and gas masks on the shelves with and among the books. In the sports section there is an old baseball glove, old football headgear, old golf clubs. The third thing to notice is the general layout and merchandising of the store. The space is quite large, and almost all the shelves are along the perimeter walls. Few shelves are in the interior of the space, which is instead occupied by tables to display books, glass cabinets for even premiumer books, couches, a piano, a printing press, old trunks. Books are spread out on all these items, stacked on chairs, piled neatly on the floor, fanned across the tables. The difference in display is similar to the difference one finds between Wal-Mart and Bloomingdales: one has aisles and aisles of merchandise on shelves, and the other has small tables scattered around an open space with pretty displays. And that is not to say this bookshop didn't have a large quantity of books. Another browser was overheard saying next time they would bring a sleeping blanket. This was about the time a sickness overcame us, perhaps much like an alcoholic feels when he realises he can't drink everything, and yet he can't stop himself. We knew our desire for these books far surpassed our funds, and if we worked consistently and wisely and exclusively on our own collection, it would never match this one, squirreled away in an alley. A pilgrimage to a shop such as this is one of the necessary acts of devotion--a purchase is not required, though we like to support our fellow booksellers. Today we could afford one volume of Christopher Morley. We have not been to Hay, nor to the Strand, nor Mr. McMurtry's famed establishment, nor to the legendary Beggars of Azure, but we would be surprised to find another bookshop closer to heaven than this one.

So back on the road in pursuit of more (affordable) books. We have about sixty minutes to relax, let our heart and breathing resume their normal patterns, and reacclimate ourselves to reality. When we reach our next sale, we are too late--it has already closed for the day. We proceed then to the discount book store. On our list of needs is also books about mushrooms, and here we find a few. Here's a little tip when shopping the remainder book outlets: when there is a stack of the same title, look through them all. Often you will find one that is a first edition, or one that does not have a remainder mark, or one that does not have the special UPC label on the back, or one that has a lower price than the others. Hidden treasures have been known to be discovered among the remainders.

After a little sustenance, we make our way to the penultimate book sale. Perhaps, though, we would make it our last for the day. We are there just after opening and again find the Usual ScanMonsters already stuffing their bags and boxes full. The selection here is not as good as it has been in the past, and we leave with only one bag. We decide, though, that our day is not finished.

We are out the door and off for the next book sale ahead of the Usual ScanMonsters. They will all show up shortly after, but a few of them have co-conspirators already working the second sale, so as not to miss anything. But again, there is not much of quality to be had. We come out with a bag from the main room, a couple volumes from the overpriced "better" room, and another bag from the quarter bargain room of paperbacks and magazines.

The day has concluded according to plan; Saint Duckett, however, is not through with us. Driving through the business district on our way home, we spot a book shop and stop. This store opened over a year ago in the newly revitalised downtown section that is anchored by the big new library on one side and the commuter train station on the other. This shop had a nice mix of old and new, all of good quality, with some paperback pulp in the back for the benefit of the commuters. And this shop also had numerous volumes of Christopher Morley. Of course, we wanted them all, but our pockets were nearly empty. The benefactor who had accompanied us this night graciously put up the funds necessary to acquire five of the key titles, and presented them to us as a gift to mark the upcoming anniversary of our birth. This was the icing on the bibliatholon cake.

And a couple scoops of premium ice cream to wash it all down brings a wonderfully exhausting twenty-four hours to a close.


  1. **swoon** The perfect twenty-four hours.

  2. Bookman's Alley, somewhere near Sherman and Church, I think. I prefer not to do any advertising, but as I suggested, this is not so much a store as a shrine.

  3. Thanks, that is the same store I was thinking of.