In Praise of Second-Hand Books

   The Rotary Club is holding its annual second-hand book sale, 27,000 volumes are up for grabs, and I am a bit grumpy today because I’m missing it.   A snowstorm descended upon us about the same time the venue opened at 8:30 and as every book lover knows, the best ones go fast.  Normally I’m content to stay inside on such a blustery day, but I’m regretting the bargains I am surely missing, at one or two dollars a book.   But no use crying over lost volumes.   I have resigned myself to going on Sunday, when the remainders are five dollars a bag, but the selection poorer.   Last year I went both Friday and Sunday – the stuff-a-bag day was to stock up on travel/photography/coffee-table books for my mother, the artist AMc, to use for inspiration for her paintings now that she is too old to travel.  (She has an extensive collection of over-sized volumes of Canadian scenery if anyone wants to know what Canada looks like).   We also have a second-hand book store in town, but the hours are erratic and the prices higher, nor have I had much luck with garage sale castoffs, which tend to be mostly romance or paperbacks or both.    Admittedly book sales are always hit and miss, but other people’s discards can turn out to be treasures.   

                 The beauty of book sales is you never know what you might find.  Last year’s haul included a Loonyspoons Low Fat cookbook, (which I had always wanted but have not used),  a medical manual of Cardiopulmonary Emergencies, (my dysfunctional heart valve will need repairing some day and I might want more info than WebMd can provide, also not opened),  a thesaurus, (somewhat obsolete but the online version has limitations), a slim volume of pioneer Christmas stories with a pretty cover and a red ribbon, (because I’m a sucker for a book with a ribbon), two novels, The Lake House by Kate Morton (already read but might re-gift, I like to share good books), and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (not read, but I enjoyed her latest), Victoria – A Shop of One’s Own, (I collect old Victoria books as well as the decorating magazines),  a calendar day-book of art by Maud Lewis, 

(a Nova Scotia folk artist whose life was recently portrayed in the movie Maudie, because my mother’s paintings have been compared to hers), and an apprentice textbook from U of Toronto 1934 (which I found fascinating because it was full of old chemical formulas and my profession has evolved way beyond how to sterilize bottles), plus three quotation books which turned out to be absolute duds, (I would really like Bartlett’s Book of Quotations, as it would be useful for the blog).

         Book sales are good for travel books if you are an armchair travel like myself.   I scooped up a travel guide to Provence and two books on Italy,  one of which I had already read, Elements of Italy, and the other,A Month in Italy, because it’s my dream someday.   If you can’t go yourself you can enjoy reading about someone else’s adventures and avoid the jet lag and lost luggage, and in the case of Italy, the weight gain.   Speaking of good food, there always seems to be a profusion of cookbooks at book sales, as well as diet fads from years past.  The children’s books always go quickly I am happy to see.  It’s nice to see parents starting a library, and the book-on-every-bed Christmas project is such a good idea to inspire early readers.   

            Last year I came across a young adult book, Robin Kane, The Candle Shop Mystery, which I did not buy because I have the exact same copy in my basement.   What were the chances of that happening, as I don’t remember that series being as popular as Trixie Belden, which I also still possess. 

          I always got a book for Christmas, usually a Trixie Belden, the Nancy Drew-like girl detective of the 1960’s, (here she is searching for dead bodies),

otherwise we went to the library.   I still get the majority of my books from the library, as I read so much it would be prohibitively expensive to buy them all, and our local library is excellent at ordering in anything you might request, plus the librarians there are all such lovely helpful people.   Generally, I only buy what I would re-read, but this year as one of my New Year’s resolutions I decided to start to add to my library again, which is currently three shelves in the basement and den, (see decluttering blog Jan), but only those books which I truly love and would re-read.   When I end up in a nursing home some day I want to be surrounded by my favorites, and not dependent on some volunteer lady bringing around a cart full of Harlequin paperbacks.   

          Now, I haven’t actually opened any of those books I bought last year, (some may end up being recycled), but it gives me comfort to know they are there if I am desperate for something to read.  I once spent a week on Turks and Caicos with a selection of bad books and no store in sight, only a strip mall with one lonely souvenir shop, this was before the island was developed and long before e-readers, which are wonderful for travel, but I would much rather hold a book in my hand.   I am such an avid reader, that I always want to have something in reserve or I get antsy.   What if nothing comes in from the library – it’s either feast or famine – although sometimes having too many books out can be a strange form of retirement stress.   That stack on your bedside table can start to feel like pressure when they are all non-renewable best sellers, and if you return them unread there are sixty-five people ahead of you again.   Buying them solves that problem, as you can read at your own leisurely pace. 

        It’s amazing the weird and wonderful things you can find at book sales, ancient volumes from estates, such as yellowed cloth-worn sets of Poe or Kipling, or outdated encyclopedias.  Did people really read such wordy tombs?  Does anyone want them now and what do they do with them when they don’t sell?  Although it can be interesting to see what people were reading a hundred years ago and to read the inscriptions inside the books.   I have a few old books from the farm attic, but many more got thrown out in the moving process.

farm attic books

A Trapper’s Son was a gift to Lillie from Grandfather, Birthday Sept 14, 1900. L.M. Hewitt is written inside the flyleaf, as well as my aunt’s name at a later date.   I have no idea who Lillie was but I googled and The Trapper’s Son, A Tale of North America, was published in 1873 and deals with the conversion to Christianity of a boy brought up in the wilderness.   My ancestors were Christian folk, so any religious book was a keeper.   Opening A Chestnut Burr, was inscribed to a Miss Lori Dody, and was published in 1874.   Surprisingly there were two reviews of this book on Goodreads, the first one, a female, said, “A deeply Christian story with a thoroughly delightful ending.  There’s a good bit of romance and outdoors.”  The other reviewer, a man, said, don’t bother.   The romance factor must have far outweighed the outdoors part.   I couldn’t find anything on The Recluse of Rambouillet, (pub.1896), but it appears to be a translation from French about castles and kings.  As my grandmother’s name is inscribed inside, Dec 1899, 3rd prize, 4th class, it was probably some kind of school prize.   Poe’s Tales, (Xmas 1904, from Henry), can join it’s many brethren on E-Bay, but it is nice to know that books were welcome Christmas presents back then too.   Some day I may tackle them, but they seem like relics from some long ago world, full of purple prose as L.M. Montgomery called such grandiose language.   Opening sentence from Poe, “The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis.  We appreciate them only in their effects.  We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment.”   Perhaps there there is something to be said for being concise, what would Poe think of Twitter’s 140k limit and texting.   Times change and so do tastes.  

             Books can be a portal to another universe, especially if the one you are currently in is snowy and white.    I’m going to read now…happy hunting!

 P.S. What is your favorite book sale find?  

Quote on Reading: “Reading is one of the few things you do alone that makes you feel less alone, it’s a solitary activity that connects you to others.”  (even in the middle of a snowstorm)  Will Schwalbe – Books for Living, author of The End of Your Life Bookclub.  

PS.  This years treasures included, 

The Christmas book jumped out early, whispering, buy me, I will come in handy for next year, the beloved Bartlett’s only revealed itself late in the hunt in a discarded bin under a table, and the Little Women collector’s edition 1994 caught my attention, because even though I still have my childhood copy, it had a ribbon and such pretty illustrations. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14 thoughts on “In Praise of Second-Hand Books

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Thanks Pam. I just finished reading The Lightkeepers Daughters – it was set on an island in northern Lake Superior and the book was so good I felt like I was actually there for a few hours! It’s by a Canadian author from Thunder Bay.

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  1. ellendiamondblogblog says:

    My grandfather owned a bookstore here in NYC that actually became quite well-known in its time, and visiting their house was always a chance to peruse their books behind the glass pull-up windows of the bookcase. My favorite, and I still have it, was “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” Another was called “The Gadfly.” Have just started a new mystery by a male author (I usually prefer females these days) called “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.” So far, liking it a lot.

    Lastly, I spent a month in Italy by myself at the tender age of 71. It was wonderful. Don’t give up on that dream. I’m now a follower of your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ellendiamondblogblog says:

    Any ideas about the best way to do that? It was a many-sided experience that would go on for quite a while! Maybe I need to wait until I learn how to post photos. Then I can use them to break the tale up into segments revolving around the photos. It *was* quite a month!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      It would be a great idea, but yes break it up into shorter topics. I’ve been told my blogs are too long, many people only want short. To add media, click on My Site and then scroll down on the left hand side to Add Media. You can upload your photos there, it is quite easy. Then when you are writing your blog, on the far Left Hand side of the menu click on the Plus icon right under your TITLE and you can add your media into the post from there. I am currently following a blog by a young girl who moved to Paris, and many people find that kind of blog interesting, esp if they can’t travel themselves.

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  3. ellendiamondblogblog says:

    Wow – thanks so much. Reading this blog over, your love of books is contagious! There’s a monthly used-book sale in the basement of a library I pass near. It’s always nicely crowded and the volunteers are sweet… “I’m sure we can find you a shopping bag, dear, just wait right over there by the non-fiction corner and if you want to look around while you’re there, I’ll find you.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Yes I admit I am a book addict…it’s worse since I have retired and have more time to read. I wonder if you volunteer at the book sale if you are able to get the best selection? I may try that next year!

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