Thursday, June 01, 2006


I went to a library sale today that was very annoying in a particular way that library sales can be annoying. It was advertised as "14,000" books, but I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number was a fifth of that. This didn't really bother me, I'm used to that sort of hype. What bothered me was the way the "Friends of the Library" busybodies had micromanaged the entire sale. A very high percentage of the books in the sale were "special" books that were all ridiculously overpriced, to the tune of $30 to $40 each in some cases. And of course, (as is typical) almost none of the market values of the books justified these prices. There was one book about the Potomac River that they wanted $30 for that turned out to be worth it; market value is $80-200.

But I wouldn't get it, on principle, just cause they irritated me so much with all their damn specials. They were sitting around the checkout table congratulating themselves with how wonderful they were at getting all the prices right, how they were on top of things, how they were telling other library Friends groups "how it should be done," how those silly lesser sales would put books in boxes on tables, can you imagine such a thing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It was irritating on many levels because the best and most attractive library sales are precisely the ones with all the books in boxes on tables; That's the appealing part of the process. If I want to go to a bookstore, I'll go to a damn bookstore.

So I was already in full irritation mode when I asked them if they were having a half-price or a bag-day sale on the last day of the sale. Irritation or no, I'd definitely grab the Potomac book for $15 if I could. "Oh yes," said the head busybody, "but only with THOSE books." And she pointed to the lesser-book area in the hallway, filled with beat-up childrens' books and worthless Readers Digest condensed books, all of which were already selling for a quarter to fifty cents each. "We WON'T be putting our main book room on sale," she said proudly. She was positively beaming. It was like she couldn't bear to be parted with it. We could buy our hearts' content of the worthless garbage, but their pride and joy, the main book room, was absolutely out of the question, you foolish commoner.

So now the irritation meter was up to eleven, so I went digging in the 25 cent junk room to see what I could see. And just like that, bing bing bing, I found three of the rarest Isaac Asimov history titles published by Houghton Mifflin in the 1960s and never reprinted: The Egyptians (market value $26-80), The Roman Republic (market value 50-200), and The Roman Empire (market value $70-250).

So I bought 'em for a quarter each, handed them a five. Now, normally, I (as those of you who know me personally know) like to keep my mouth shut. I'll buy books and just smile and thank them and be on my way.


"You know," I said, pointing to the Roman Republic book, "I've sold two of these on ebay in the last six months for $70 each." (which is perfectly true by the way--I'd gotten them both at different auctions). I wish I could have photographed her expression. It was like I had told her that her best friend had just been eaten by wolves. So then, I smiled and thanked them and took my change--she had to count it twice, she was so flustered--and was on my way.

A good day.

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