Today, the Friends of the San Francisco Library held their annual booksale. This event takes place in an enormous warehouse near the wharf and benefits our City library. Basically, the sale is composed of thousands and thousands of donated books from readers like you and me; publishers who donate close-outs or overages; plus CDs, DVDs and videos. The prices range from $1 to $5, with large picture books topping out at $12.
To an addict like me, it's like walking into a chaotic piece of heaven. Every year I flock to this event -- and shave 3 hours off my work day, which I have to make up later -- and every year I end up going into some kind of book frenzy. This year was no exception.
I got there at 12:00, determined to just browse, buy a few books (yeah, right, who am I kidding?) and then get some lunch. I told myself, as I told myself last year and the year before: "You have too many books. About 10 years of future reading piled up around your desk, your bedside, in huge plastic bins in the garage. Get only what you need."
Which, naturally, ends up being everything. I ostensibly go to find rare, out-of-print books for my research and I always find a few. But as soon as I walk in and see those looong tables stretching the length of a small football field, piled with books, and boxes underneath each table, to boot, something in me snaps.
I become a freak.
I lose all sense of self as I careen to the first table, my eyes racing over spines, my hands itching to start lunging, grasping, and tossing volumes into the small shopping carts which the sale so conveniently provides. The tables are organized according to general categories: Mystery- Hardcover, Mystery-Paperback, Fiction-Hardcover, Biography, History, etc. But there are hidden little miscategorized gems that one must find, and so I must go through every table, every box, because who knows if that historical novel I've been reluctant to shell out $25.95 for is here, stashed somewhere. As I rummage through the boxes and then go over the tables, dipping and rising like an ecstatic stork, I forget the time, the book dust that eventually coats my hands, the hundreds of other equally mesmerized and oblivious bibliophiles all around me.
By the time I'm done, I'm lightheaded with hunger, faint with fatigue, and my shopping cart is almost too heavy to push. Then comes the hard part: I've returned to my physical body and the Scrooge vies with the bon vivant who says, "Screw it. It's an average of $2 a book. Who cares if you'll ever read it?" But I can be disciplined and so I sit on the ground and empty my cart, organizing my selections in three piles: Must Buy; Maybe; and What was I thinking? The Must Buy ends up being the smallest, and after I shift those dubious volumes back and forth ("Will I ever read this Regency-era thriller featuring an intrepid bird charmer?") I put the Must Buys back into the cart, return the What was I thinkings? to their tables and then stare longingly at the Maybes until one of the cheerful, inoculated-against-the addiction Friends of the Library comes up and says, "Can I put these books back, sir?"
Avoiding the mournful pit inside me, I nod heavily and proceed to the cash register. $44 later, I emerge into blinding day light with two paper bags filled with 13 volumes (among my gems this year: Conyers Read's two-volume set on Elizabeth I and William Cecil; and a pristine copy of Mary Luke's "The Ivy Crown"). I realize I haven't eaten yet and I rush to the car. I avoid all thoughts of what I left behind (though I've been known to lose sleep over it, and return the next day to find and buy them). I focus on the fact that I must get lunch and get back to work. For the next few days, I'm very content with my new acquisitions.
Until find out about a newly published book I must have.