We pause at the door, the three of us. The space is vast–so vast that, although the lot is mightily full, and we had to search for a space to park, this building does not seem crowded. There are people,–oh, yeah, there are people,–but they are spread out, distributed, sprinkled, among the acres and acres of books.
We reconnoiter. James and Mark grab carts. James will head toward the movie section; he is backlogged, already, on books to read. He has asked his dad to hold back fifty dollars for him for this sale; he is looking forward to filling in gaps in his film collection.
James is like a runner straining at the starting gate. We set him free; he rushes off, cart-first, toward long rows of banquet tables that hold thousands and thousands of DVD’s.
Mark and I turn left, into a section labelled “Cooking and Household.” We march in step for a while, picking up books on salvage and re-purposing. We page and share and we put some back. Others make it into the cart. I find an Alexandra Stoddard. Mark slides a book on ‘plumbing your own new bathroom’ into our infant stash.
A row of knitting books arrests me. I ponder patterns for knitted critters, clever knitted foods, for sweaters and shawls and baby togs. I think of my stack of pattern books at home and reluctantly slide these back into their spaces.
I look up to discover that Mark has forged on, heading toward the history section.
I find a reproduction Hersheys 1934 cookbook and some wonderful food memoirs–Heat looks good, and I read some wonderful reviews of The Saucier’s Apprentice. A Place at the Table, American Artisanal...I scoop them up, run after Mark, dump them in the shopping cart.
Deep in a book on the Roosevelts, Mark grunts, vaguely aware of me there. I wave and turn toward the fiction tables which take up more than a quarter of this cavernous building.
Everything today is two dollars or less. We wait for this sale all year.
I pass James, who is pondering a DVD, reading the blurb, opening the case. He considers, then slowly puts it back.
I keep going, to where the fiction spreads out almost endlessly.
People pace down either side of the rows of tables, people of all sorts; it is tempting to stop looking at the books and just sit back and people-watch. There is, for instance, an intense, tightly-buttoned young couple, tiny and bespectacled; he totes the baby in a carrier. The baby is bald and round-eyed. They discuss each book: YesNoYesNoYesNo, like lumberjacks pushing a scraping saw back and forth. Some books make it into the cart she pushes; some land back on the table.
I suspect a tight budget and a shared passion for reading.
Four hefty, tattooed women with hair of various improbable shades shop exuberantly directly across from me. They are organized; they have lists and highlighters. They are filling in mystery series, stocking up on Stephen King. They high-five each time they score; there is a lot of celebration going on.
I detour around a fragile older couple, bony elbows poking from short-sleeved cotton plaid, the two of them; they browse without speaking, sorting and piling.
There are lots of ‘my-agers’ in their comfortable shoes and elastic-waists bustling through the fiction. There are pierced and kohl-rimmed youngsters ignoring the world and wading through words. Families and singles and shaved heads and flowing locks and tats and the quietly intense and the excitedly passionate–they are all here today, all ages and shades and shapes, shopping and exulting. It’s a fascinating slice of humanity.
But. I cannot let them distract me.
I am here to shop.
…some lovely light summer reading, books by Claire Cook and Anne Rivers Siddons and Lorna Landvik.
…a book by Rumer Godden, who was my mother’s favorite author. I read An Episode of Sparrows at her urging, maybe 50 years ago; I remember another darker book,–The Battle of The Villa Fiorita-– about a wife and mother who embarks on an affair with the love of her life, but is forced, finally, to go back home. That was a sad but affecting book, a book in which no happy ending was possible. It was a book that informed my growing sense of where woman operate in this world. But the way Godden paints her children was what amazed me–she makes them real and vital and essential to the story. This book, circa 1969, is called In This House of Brede, and it’s about an English woman who leaves a sturdy civil service job to join an order of nuns.
…a book called The Gathering by an author named Anne Enright. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Enright is a Dubliner. Her book’s about a sprawling Irish family pulled back together and forced to deal with the past.
…another Irish book, one by Patrick Taylor. His Irish Country Doctor series is like mind candy; I haven’t read ‘At Peace and At War,’ and I put it on my stack. The stack is getting tall and heavy.
And realize I have left Mark and the cart far, far away. I scan the crowd, looking toward the last place I saw him. Way, way, over there I spy his olive green Thurber-House T shirt, and I organize my pile of books,–biggest on the bottom, an unwieldy pyramid,– heft it, and plow Mark’s way.
I pass Jim, whose cart holds a comfortable stash of movies. I put my chin on top of my fiction and head toward Mark and the cart.
He has done well–there are several thick tomes, most dealing with World War Two, on the bottom of the cart. I add my novels, and then we drift apart again. I wonder what’s on those tables along the wall marked ‘General.’ He murmurs something I don’t quite catch, and we are propelled in new directions.
In the general section, I find a Kay Redfield Jamison book, Touched With Fire. I am reading a lot, lately, about mental illness and creativity and especially about autism, and I have seen Jamison and Oliver Sacks both recommended as required reading many, many times.
I find Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini. I read The Great Santini in college; last year, I read Conroy’s My Losing Season. I’ve been wanting to read this book, the real-life tale of the father-son relationship, ever since,and Conroy’s death not so long ago makes that goal both more poignant and somehow more urgent.
I find a pristine copy of Mary Karr’s Cherry and I find a book called The Book of Sarahs, by Catherine McKinley. It’s about an adopted biracial child’s search for identity.
I stack. As I do, my cell phone buzzes. Mark is texting. Where you is???? he quips.
I look up and just happen, out of the hundreds of people milling through this bookish paradise, to catch his eye. He is way back, way back, past all the tables. He is standing near the stage.
I head his way, cradling my ‘General’ books,weaving in and out of many dedicated shoppers bent on many different missions.
When I reach Mark and the cart, I add the memoirs and admire his finds–he’s added some juicy spy novels to his collection. He points out Jim, intently checking his movies, spreading them out on the stage. Last year, James brought home what he thought was a great find only to open the case and discover a disc from some other movie entirely. This year, he vows, he’ll be more careful.
Jim works through his stack of films, decides to put three back, and then joins us to consider next steps.
We are, we decide, done. We convoy to the rows of temporary check-out counters; a helpful crew of people get us into a fast-moving line, sort and box our goodies, get our boxes to a staging area. Mark goes to bring the car around, and, with the help of smiling workers, we get everything stashed into the trunk. We are on our way, out into the sunlight of a June day in Columbus, Ohio, in search of a place called The Rude Dog for lunch.
Jim has spent $49.00; he is triumphant over the films he’s found, which range from Criterion Collection members to original Transformers episodes. Mark is delighted to have found some Roosevelt biographies he’s never read. I am feeling a little bereft that the books I’ve scored are in the trunk. I will sit patiently through lunch; I will converse and thoughtfully taste a new place’s food and laugh at the boyos’ jokes and comment mindfully. But I will be waiting to get home, to unpack the trunk, and to go through my treasures. There are some to send, books that found me and that I know dear friends would like. The rest are there to savor, a summer’s worth of reading, light and deep and thoughtful and frothy, provoking and comforting and inspiring.
Another worthy bagging. Another bargain triumph. A most satisfying day.
Once I thought a day would come when I could look at my shelves, and say of them, say of every single book nestled there, “I have read all these.” Now I know that day will never come. There will always be another adventure; there will be gifts and gift cards, recommendations I can’t ignore, and books that leap wailing into my arms at bookstores. Books arrive in the mail; they surface on my desk at work. And once a year, they wait for me, sly and contented, knowing I head their way, at the Half-Price book sale.
There will always be a book waiting. And that, I think, is a wonderful thing.