reading, Uncategorized

The one-two-three-dollar library sales, heaven on earth!

images.jpgEvery year my husband and I have the same discussion. Do we really need more books? The house is full of books. Books that, mostly, haven’t been read. That we mean to read. Or, rather, to get to. We’re reading all the time.

We bought them because they looked interesting. We sure didn’t buy them to decorate our space. (Some idiot, years ago, suggested to a friend of mine that this is a big reason for buying books!) They’re, mostly, tattered, covers long gone, spines often unreadable.

Books are a drug. Is the urge to acquire a disease or a character flaw? Why, no bookshelf footage left, books piled on tables, under tables, in corners, why do we return to the well? Here’s why: I might find something extraordinary. Period color. A bit of history that I’ve seen nowhere else. A stunning style.

The sales are exciting. It’s a treasure hunt. We pay the five-dollar first-day fee. I head left, to the fiction. I gravitate to ‘literature’, the amount of which, sadly, is less every year. The holders of troves of long out of print, odd and obscure are passing. Here’s my tip: do not ignore the books with crumbling, illegible spines. They are often little known authors telling out-of-style tales in prose that will turn you green with envy. Those moldie-oldies could write.

Another plus of the dollar buys: I highlight to my heart’s content, with no qualms about ruining something. I draw stars and arrows, even circle passages. I can flip through that book on Oliver Goldsmith and find what I need fairly easily. I don’t have to laboriously transcribe into a word doc. I mark useful info up but good, facts, dates, quotes, description. For data, I look to biographies. For artful description, to vintage fiction. Charles Reade is a favorite. Never heard of him? I’m not surprised.

From Wikipedia: Reade fell out of fashion by the turn of the century—”it is unusual to meet anyone who has voluntarily read him,” wrote George Orwell—but during the 19th century Reade was one of England’s most popular novelists. He was not highly regarded by critics. The following assessment is typical:

“Mr. Reade is unsurpassed in the second class of English novelists, but he does not belong to the front rank. His success has been great in its way, but it is for an age and not for time.”

Orwell summed up Reade’s attraction as “the charm of useless knowledge.” Reade possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively narrative gift allowed him to cram into his novels. Can anyone who has read my work come away wondering why I am so enamored of him?

At those sales you find nearly anything you want except for the very latest best-sellers. Wait a year, you’ll find them by the dozens. Therefore, I see no compelling reason to buy anything but e-books. The exception for me is period research, when I’ve been sufficiently beguiled by a mention of a particular work. I have purchased a pricy work on Early Modern French Theater for a specific tidbit of information that I couldn’t find on the web. But, you never know what else you’ll stumble on. Also, I have that huge, eighteenth century work on Astrology. Dense, and then some. I’ll pull what I can out of it, then mangle the hell out of it. For Sly, of course.

I tell my stories again and again, have you heard this one? If so, I apologize for being tiresome. In a circa-fifties interview in Evergreen Review, Dorothy Parker said, “I am the only person you’ll meet who has read all of Charles Reade.” She had to have loved him for his style. His plots are atrocious Victorian treacle. I salivate over his way with words, and his impulse to cross every t and dot every i. The man is fun, damn it!

I share a curious literary enthusiasm with . . . whoa! Dorothy Parker! I call that a feather in my cap.

What will I be looking for tomorrow? Like I said, it’s a treasure hunt. All I know for sure is, anything by Charles Reade.


Book sale wrap-up:

I bought a dozen works of fiction, by Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Johnson, George Meredith, and lesser lights. I found no Charles Reade, not even his most famous work, the one I’ve owned for twenty years, the only one I’ve ever seen for sale: The Cloister and The Hearth.

More importantly, I snagged a dozen compilations of essays and letters, explaining and commenting on life, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whatever I found of delightful pontificating, I grabbed for you-know-who. The cashier made a bit of a to-do over an unpriced three-book set of essays. She couldn’t let them go for the two dollars a pop that most of the others cost. These might be valuable, said she, I have to check with a higher-up. I told my husband as we awaited her return: Yeah, like anybody but me wants a set of ‘Select British Essayists’ (copyright 1878). They ought to give it to me just to be rid of it.

At these events I browse, looking for a flavor to the prose that puts a smile on my face, a personality that promises to mesh with, and enrich, my own entrenched (but elastic, I can work in almost anything) style, and for pronouncements that will stuff comfortably into the mouth of a know-it-all cat. Here’s a sample of what caught my eye today:

Homilies and Recreations (copyright 1906)

Representative Men by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Characters of Theophrastus (newly translated and edited, 1927)

Wanderings and Excursions by J. Ramsey MacDonald, 1925

C’mon, where ya gonna find this kind of stuff nowadays, but for the library sales? Something in this vein of recent origin, well, the voice of today is not the sensibility of yesteryear. I revel in a nice bit of vintage pomposity, generally, more preachy than what goes now, and I try to echo it in my screwball epic starring a full-of-himself, scholarly-inclined feline.


13 thoughts on “The one-two-three-dollar library sales, heaven on earth!

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Huzzah!! This is vintage Mimi Speike ! 🙂 !
    You make me want to break into the library tonight & look for books they never dust.

    The out-of-print books on my shelves include Haji Baba of Ispahan, the Easton Press World Atlas & a Rubaiyat illustrated by Willy Pogany. Yup, it’s the pictures in old books that I love. They offer views of not just another time but of wholly different worlds. I’m with you, Mimi. Old books are an experience unlike any other.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    Thanks, guys. Yes, I have groomed this to a fare-thee-well, as a (re)introduction for an old friend from college whom I have reconnected with on Facebook. I haven’t seen/spoken to her since 1980. We were once very close, but grew apart. She joined the God Squad, got religion with a vengeance, you both know what direction I took.

    I have posted this article on Facebook. She is interested in reading Sly, so I am trying to hook her before I confess to the Virgin Mary joke, which may freak her out. (End of renewed friendship.) But she does have a marvelous sense of humor, that may carry the day.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    Enjoyed your post immensely.
    My wife and I frequent the small town library book sales in our area and I have found a few gems. We are not book hoarders on your scale, sometimes I wish I had smuggled in a big bag of my books and put them on the sale tales for others to read.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. atthysgage says:

    Great post, Mimi. I haven’t been to a booksale of this type in years. We have one decent used bookstore in town, but it’s rather overpriced and predictable. It’s rare to find anything really surprising.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      We lived for many years in a city with one fantastic used bookstore with used books from floor to ceiling along the walls and in standing shelves, books in the basement, and more books upstairs. The store had everything. Literature in several languages, natural and hard sciences, history, government, law, religion, philosophy, sports, hobbies and crafts. I went to look for an illustrated history on tall ships, a gift for a brother-in-law in the Navy and I had about a dozen different titles to choose from. The long time owner kept his prices low. Fans of old books loved the place. If Mimi had found this place while passing through town, she would have stopped and rented an apartment.

      The owner eventually sold the store, and the new owners raised the prices. We moved away, and I don’t know what happened to the store. I can’t find it in any directory anymore.

      Liked by 5 people

      • GD Deckard says:

        Know what you mean, Perry. We’ve enjoyed the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and the Antiquarian in Omaha. Google says the Denver store is still there, but not the Antiquarian in Omaha.
        Times change, but old books should always be treasured.


  5. mimispeike says:

    It occurs to me that I could have made up that Evergreen/Dorothy Parker story and who would ever find out? (I didn’t. I remember that quote word for word, though I read it six or seven years ago. That’s how much an impression it made on me.)

    Supposedly genuine quotes. Another tool in my comic tool kit. I’m going to make good use of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m making a point of trying to have no unread books in the house. I must be down to less than 30 now, some that I’ve had for decades. I recently read an 1820 edition of The Vicar of Wakefield – I can’t even remember where it came from. The story was a hoot. Unfortunately the book itself fell apart in my hands.

    Liked by 3 people

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