The following paragraph is taken from the book Biblioholism: the Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe:
The book world was also intense in those days [mid-1800s to early 1900s]. Fights
occasionally broke out in bookstore aisles. When the English translation of The Devil on Two Sticks came out, the books were gobbled up insatiably, to the point that, when two noblemen entered a shop where one copy of the book remained, the lords drew swords. Only the intervention of the bookseller with a borrowed copy of the casus bellus precluded the letting of blood. When John Morley’s Life of Gladstone came out in 1903, the chaotic scene in the Macmillan offices made the run on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire look like a couple of tykes arguing over who gets The Cat in the Hat at the neighborhood bookmobile. Today, the only place one experiences this sort of intensity is at the martial arts exhibitions that are euphemistically called “Friends of the Library” sales (pp. 117-118).
Ah yes, the “Friends of the Library” book sale. It’s one of my two favorite days of the year – the other being Groundhog Day. The annual sale of the Friends of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library begins this Friday evening – 6pm to 9pm, Friends members only, but memberships are sold at the door if you don’t have one and you really don’t want to wait till Saturday – and is open to the “general public” most of the day Saturday, and a few hours on Sunday afternoon. I’m a bit envious of those towns that have two sales each year (usually fall and spring), while TSCPL only has one, in September. But oh, what a sale it is!
I love how Raabe compares these sales to “martial arts exhibitions.” I’ve never seen fighting at the local sale, but speaking only for myself, the “sort of intensity” he mentions is not necessarily an overstatement. I start working on my “wishlist” of potential purchases several days before the sale – this year’s list is already in progress. Approaching the Expocentre close to when the sale opens, I feel a wonderful excitement, a sense of possibility, and rather than going all the way to the end of the line, I wait a couple minutes for people to go into the Hall, and the line to shorten, and then I get at the end when it’s closer to me.
Once I’m in there, I’ve got my list in my hand, and I’m ALL BUSINESS. I always see at least one person I know, usually a few – either members of my book group, no surprise there, or people from work. But there’s no time for chatting – I limit conversation to maybe 30 seconds, and even during that time, I’m scanning whatever table I happened to stop near, my eyeballs doing some combination of gymnastics and sprints across the spines, catching titles and authors as they go. I make my way through at least half of the inventory – there being some categories and topics that don’t interest me – and I stay for at least two hours, becoming warm, tired, a bit frantic to find one or two titles that really MUST be there somewhere! I check my list frequently, move books set on top of the piles to see what’s underneath, skim through boxes under the tables for books that haven’t been laid out yet, and periodically assess what I’ve picked up to see if there are any I’ve since decided not to buy. Example: often the third or fourth book I pick up will be deemed “not worthy” once I’ve found an eighth or ninth book (one that was actually on my list), and especially if that third or fourth book costs maybe three dollars, when most of my choices are two dollars or less. There’s impulse buying, yes, but also time to consider which books and how many to buy on impulse.
I already own over 300 books that I haven’t read, according to my LibraryThing catalog. You might be thinking, Does she really need to go to this sale and buy another ten, fifteen, twenty books, most of which will remain unread by the time next year’s sale rolls around? But I wouldn’t think such a thing – not go to the sale?!?!? I love the sale!!! It’s the kind of thing where I think to myself in mid-May, “Only four more months till the library book sale!” I can’t not go to the sale. And, they also have DVDs, videos, and CDs, and the past couple years, Jeff goes in with me and looks at kids’ books and movies, and we have a list of items that Stacy and Grandma want us to look for, and a book or DVD might be included with the Christmas gifts if it’s in good condition. And you can’t beat the prices! Yeah, you bet I’m going. If you see me there, you can say hello if you want to, and I appreciate it, but if I’m distracted – I will be distracted – please understand, it’s nothing personal, I’m just a woman on a mission, building my life’s library.