Due to the storm, the crowd was much sparser than it normally is. Those of us intrepid souls who braved the weather waited patiently in sodden shoes for the magic doors to open. Some were equipped with suitcases on wheels; some carried mail bins stamped "Property of the U.S. Postal Service - Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law." (Apparently for some, prison is a small price to pay.) There were canvas bags, and grocery bags, and tote bags, and a Red-Flyer wagon. As always, there was also an anticipatory air of excitement wafting over the crowd diminished in size, perhaps, but not in enthusiasm. Here, with dripping umbrellas and hair frizzed with humidity, stood the hard core believers. I accepted my fall off the wagon and mentally plotted my course, the well-known map of the room branded by now in my brain. (One might think that frenzy reigns when we are finally admitted, but that never happens - no matter the size of the crowd. People are quiet, polite and respectful. Like religious pilgrims in a cathedral, I guess.)
My first stop on these outings is always "Cookbooks." I opened a Bon Appetite "Hors d'oeuvres" volume and it fell open to "Slovenian Mushroom Turnovers." I took it as a sign. My father was a first generation American whose family came from Slovenia at the beginning of the 20th century. My mother is also a first generation American whose family came from Slovenia. Since he was from Chicago and she was from Jump Off Joe, Washington, it was an impossibility that they should ever meet, get married, and have three second generation American Slovenians. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. In my teen years, my father was always casting a jaundiced eye at anyone who might want to date one of his daughters. Woe be it that the young man in question should be of some ethnicity other than Slovenian. Our argument that the only Slovenians known to exist in our milieu were relatives simply fell on his deaf ears. I put the "Slovenian Mushroom Turnovers" into my bag. With that, the games had begun.
It took about two hours to go through the tables of books; I was determined to be selective. I was particularly happy to find State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, a novel in which a medical researcher at a pharmaceutical company is sent into the Amazon jungle to investigate the death of her lab partner who had been dispatched to Brazil to unearth news of the elusive Dr. Annick Swenson. Swenson is a scientist working for the same company and is attempting to develop a miracle fertility drug. I have not read Bel Canto, but heard so many positive things about it I figured it this one would be worth the dollar.
I could not believe my luck when I spotted The Ghost Road by Pat Barker which won the Booker Prize in 1995. Oddly, I had just read a synopsis of the book the prior week when I was plotting out my future reading plan and this book had been on my list for some time. It is the last book of a trilogy, but the reviews I have read seem to agree that it could stand alone, so it went into the bag.
Clifton Fadiman is quoted as saying that in his opinion The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout was the best of all the Nero Wolfe stories. Which, if true, would also make it one of the best detective novels period. Not everyone agreed when it was first published, however:
"Have always enjoyed your Nero and Archie, but I read your story in the April issue of Argosy. Goodbye." ~ John Wayne (to Rex Stout)Uh-oh. I take it "the Duke" didn't like it very much but I suspect that had more to do with politics than with the quality of the writing. We are decades away from the J. Edgar Hoover era so I probably won't have the same visceral reaction. Anyway, I found a 1965 first edition, inscribed with the owner's name in lovely penmanship and dated. I could not pass it up.
Lingering in the detective genre for awhile... Margery Allingham was an English writer of whodunits - my favorites involving that intrepid detective Albert Campion - whom I "discovered" just a few years ago. I love the Felony & Mayhem editions of her work and have four of them: Miracle Mile, Crime At Black Dudley, Flowers For The Judge, and Dancers In Mourning. Because it wasn't a F&M edition - with its distinctive covers - I almost missed seeing The Tiger In The Smoke. Not caring whether it would blend in on the bookshelf with its neighbors, I eagerly grabbed it. I understand Albert Campion takes a bit of a back seat to the villain and serial killer, Jack Havoc - who sounds like the answer to the question, "What's in a name?"
Another title on my bucket-list of books is A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. Found it, had to have it, put it in the bag (which was growing very heavy at this point).
I have recently become a fan of Louise Penny and the Armand Gamache series, so I bagged A Trick Of The Light. I enjoyed The Beautiful Mystery so much after renting it from the library that I ordered How The Light Gets In, her newest, from Barnes & Noble which arrived in the mail just the other day. Anne Perry is also a new-ish author for me, and a favorite of a friend whose taste in books can be trusted without question. I've enjoyed the ones I've read. I spotted a copy of Half Moon Street in a box on the floor beneath a table squeezed next to a wall - which is why one should always wear yoga pants to a Big Book Sale.
Well, I made my way along the miles of spines. Selected a few more. Fourteen books - fourteen dollars. All hardbound and all in nearly pristine condition. Some Philippa Gregory, a Daphne DuMaurier, Jacqueline Winspear. I picked up, put down, picked up, put down and walked away from Fannie Flagg, Charles Todd, Anita Shreve, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Amitov Ghosh and a volume of poetry by Ted Hughes. Could not find any Ishiguro or Hilary Mantel. Said not this time to Daniel Silva and Jasper Fforde (although that one hurt) and Barbara Kingsolver. Barely glanced over at Cornwall and DeMille. Ignored James Patterson altogether. By the time I got to the audio books, only cassettes remained.
But, you know, the experience wasn't all about finding treasures for myself - it never is. I loved seeing all the Moms pushing strollers. Hearing: "Yes, you can pick out any books you like," and seeing kids staking out their claims to stacks and stacks, in some cases carrying loads that were nearly as large as they were. I watched the very old gentleman whose wife sat by a big window, in a wheelchair, as he brought one title and then another to her - his slender hands patting her on her shoulder as she paged through them, one by one, and then place the "keepers" in her lap. I wanted to hug them both. Teachers standing near the Children's and YA sections complained about the slim pickings offered by the Board of Education and took it upon themselves to buy books for their classrooms. ("There's no variety in what we have. How can I interest them in reading with what I'm given?" Response: "Well, that's why I'm here too.") At the "Large Print" section, I heard one lady say to another, "Anything by so-and-so is going to be good!" And the reply, "Oh, well, then you go ahead and take it." "No, no. I want you to have it. Go ahead. You won't be sorry." "Thank you." Books just bring out the best in people it seems.
A person can become crazed with the offerings found at The Big Book Sale. There is truly always something for everyone. And the books are so inexpensive it is difficult to exert self-control. The big challenge is reminding oneself that one has to have room for these books to take up residence. I have run out of shelving, so something must be done and soon. Perhaps I will re-donate the ones I finish reading, but that's "iffy." I can't even seem to part with the books I end up hating. I guess it is like any type of collecting.
If I do not buy another book in my lifetime - and if I live to be ancient - I will never run out of something to read. I will surely run out of time before I run out of books. Which, like a nice fat nest egg, brings with it a certain feeling of security. I do not envy my children the task of disposing of it all when I go to that great library in the clouds. I suspect they would rather I was a collector of precious gemstones - or Qualcomm stock...don't we all, kids.