I spent a good hour in the tent. It was a big one, white and multi-peaked, of the sort you don't expect to exist without elephants underneath. Only instead of elephants, there were books. Tables and tables of books, containing more words than you could ever contain in your mind at one time. Reading all the books at a charity book sale was the poorly-documented thirteenth Labor of Hercules.
I'd very cleverly left my bag at home. At 28, I know myself well enough to strategize like a seasoned NFL coach facing a team of testosterone-addled refrigerators. Whatever bibliophiliac spasms overcame me at the book sale, whatever hardcover hankerings hastened my heart, I would, if not stand firm, at least be unable to make off with more than I could carry.
Unfortunately, I've been working out. And did I mention the dastardly volunteers handing out paper bags? Still, I'd left defenders in reserve, timing my visit for late afternoon. By late afternoon, as every skilled charity book sale-goer knows, the good books have long ago been snapped up and everything that remains smells of dust.
Eventually I made off with two distressingly chipper children's hardcovers I can use in therapy. (I now own more children's paraphernalia than is really seemly for someone without progeny). But in truth I would have satisfied whatever my haul. The real pleasure of book sales isn't buying. It's wandering down the street in the dwindling days of summer. It's picking walnut leaves out of your hair. It's listening to an alarmingly young grandmother tell her granddaughter she owns every V.C. Andrews novel ever written. I like to see what people buy, and even more, I like to see what people let go of.
The books are all donated. I scan the covers, trying to imagine what prompted someone to rid herself of 27 Nancy Drew novels or the complete works of Cormac McCarthy. Maybe she died, or moved, or grew up. Maybe I've been wrong about life, the universe, and everything and people DO change, swapping Fern Michaels for Barbara Taylor Bradford, cross-stitching for quilting, in a single do-si-do of the earth around the sun.
The self-help section is especially riveting. Who gave up John Gottman's Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, and why? Did the marriage achieve some unassailable water mark of success? Did it wither and die? Or did the couple merely decide Gottman had nothing germane to say regarding the Great Cat Litter Debacle of 2007?
What about Success After Sixty? Did this book propel its septuagenarian owner to fame and fortune? Or did he or she decide gardening was enough? Do the three separate copies of The Holy Bible represent three separate crises of faith or one furtive proselytizer? Who won, or regrettably lost, The Battle Against Prostate Cancer?
Used books: double the narrative bang for your buck.