On Saturday morning we were up at dawn to drive to Liverpool, New York for their annual Friends of the Library book sale. This is usually one of the region’s better book sales, boasting around 100,000 books in the huge parking garage under the library. Most often their “Specials Section” where they set aside better books at a higher price actually does contain a good variety of books that are collectible. This year, however, we were a little disappointed. The specials area didn’t have very much that was unique or “special”, and some of the items just didn’t belong there and seemed overpriced. There were several Heritage Press reprints, and a jacketless later printing of The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter was priced at $20.00, which could be found at a similar or lower price on-line. We ferreted out better quality and more desirable books in the regular area of the book sale where hardcovers were priced at $1.50 (I’m not complaining — it’s just that the folks at this sale usually do a better job of sorting out some of their more desirable books.)
The sale was well attended, with the line of people winding well around the block by the 9:00am opening. This is a good thing; people still love books!! We saw quite a few other booksellers, but there were also a lot of individuals and families from the community who were enthusiastic enough to wait in line an hour before opening.
When looking at thousands of books at a large sale, many of the books one sees are common; there are lots of book club editions, ex-library copies, and once-popular titles you come across time and time again. A good buyer is discriminating and gathers books with a good level of discernment, inspecting for condition, edition, missing or torn pages, etc. At the end of a sale I am seeing a blur of titles (if I am seeing at all) and I often think I haven’t succeeded in finding much, or that my bag must be full of dross. But when we get home and unpack, I realize that we really have managed to sort the wheat from the chaff; it only seemed like it had been a vast wasteland of nondescript books because we looked at so many thousands of books which didn’t make the cut.
It’s hard work, but it’s worth it, for we always bring home titles that we know will please our customers at Old Scrolls Book Shop. High quality out-of-print books in collectible quality condition are becoming harder to find at F.O.L. book sales, but if you are methodical and patient, you can still do well at some of them. This is what a customer is paying for when they purchase a book at fair market value at a used, rare and out-of-print book store — all the time and effort that goes into the continuing search for worthy books to keep in inventory, not to mention the overhead and other costs associated with running a book shop. Standing in line early in the morning (sometimes in the rain) is just a small part of it. Still –and I will happily say it –it’s a bookseller’s life for me!!