It does my soul good to attend a used book sale. I recently attended one while on a visit to Ithaca. Everyone was wearing a mask. Even though it was May, it was quite cold and rainy, and due to the limited number of people permitted in the space, there was a line that took about half an hour to endure. This did not deter people and it was this that most lifted my spirits—these people were devoted to books. At times when the media gets me down, informing me that book culture is dying and that all people want are their devices and their distractions, seeing proof of the love of books is restorative. The used book sale is a place of discovery.
Although it’s easy to nip over to Amazon (or better, Bookshop.org) and order your book, especially during a pandemic, there are things you only find by being where the books are. I keep an extensive reading list with me. Before I go into a sale venue I promise myself I’ll stick to my list. But what a facile promise it turns out to be—how can you make such a vow without knowing what you might find? Books you’ve never seen or imagined before? That’s the discovery aspect that sweetens the in-person experience. And although I still find crowds scary, I tend to trust people who like books. Besides, the books I tend to read aren’t always in the most popular sections.
The Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library book sale has a dedicated building with permanent shelving. While wandering is fine, maps are also available. I’m occasionally ribbed for having too many books. One of the reasons I dread any move is knowing the movers’ inevitable comments about the fact. People who love books are made to feel somehow inferior for it. Fans of Kindle or other such readers extol the virtues of having lots of books that take up no space. Such books, however, are limited to those converted to electronic form. The many thousands of books published before the invention of the ebook, many of them out of print and mostly forgotten, can only be found in libraries, used bookstores, and sales like this. (Google books hasn’t found everything yet.) It was cold and rainy outside. In here there were silent companions that speak loudly. Books, as my daughter said, are like snacks for the mind. And sometimes you just don’t know what you’re in the mood for until you go to the kitchen and browse. It can warm your soul.