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Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The Seattle Public Library Sale is held twice a year in a hangar in what was once a local naval base.  It's a three day event with the price of books declining as the event wears on, but most anyone in the book biz lines up outside the place before opening.  It's like the Christmas sale at Wal-mart, except book sellers are too polite to trample workers fighting their way to the items for sale.  We've been attending this sale for many years and we see regulars of the other stores sitting on the curb huddled around their stacked boxes they will fill as the huge hangar door slides open.  A grungy lot, generally, old guys in hats and beards clutching cloth bags, the motley crew of used book stores in the University District and here on Capitol Hill, Russian families, the legions of Central Americans who pick for the conveyor & warehouse on-line retailers who buy only because the electronic device they carry tells them to, often not even knowing the title.  When the appointed hour ticks to being close the line outside the place -- often many blocks long -- tightens up as people get up, put away their coffee thermos, clean up their donuts or bagels and cream cheese and shuffle toward the big doors.  An excitement ripples through the line as the people in back don't know the doors haven't actually parted.  We do "grabbing exercises:" thrusting our arms out and back in counted form whilst limbering and exercising our grabbing muscles, standing in horse pose as a mock team spirit hurrah before setting forth.  Once the line begins to move in earnest it speeds as it approaches the entrance, when people whip past carrying their cargo of empty boxes and dash to their favorite section.  The room is laid out by general category.  Within the first 15 minutes the aisles build with bodies pouring through the books on the tables and then moving to the boxed books on the floor until it is difficult to move your now filled box through the bodies, now becoming close and often full of the odors of stress and excitement and pastries gone south.  The aisles get clogged with baby strollers and shoppers with huge backpacks and people butt-to-butt scavenging under opposite tables, spreading their finds on the floor.  Having been to many such events by this time I've noticed several book sale archetypes.  Firstly, and most dangerous/annoying is the strapping young tech book buyer.  This type only wants late model texts and technical books he can sell for real money, often to students and profs, who are used to paying the grossly inflated prices of the latest editions.  He is exclusively male, and often slightly overweight, pale but determined, smart but narrowly focused and single-mindedly rapacious.  He will approach a box, whether someone else may be dawdling through it or not, with both hands and lunge into it as if it were filled with so many bricks he is winning a prize to be the quickest to remove.  For his prey can be easily spotted: shiny covers, square corners, large and 500+ pages, no d.j., bright graphics.  Anything else is flotsam.  Once a box is looted of anything meeting his criteria he quickly leaves the now tousled box and goes to tear open another, elbows and arms flailing ahead of the methodical scanning of the large Central American families/teams.  Next there is the Homeless guy who buys only for retail stores.  This is a frugal business because as everyone knows, stores pay hardly anything for books, often only offering trade for the books they take in, but this buyer looks for only the late, bright and perfect, though it may be a novel or non-fiction.  Ex-library books hold no interest for him, and he is nearly as driven as the tech-book buyer, but because the margins are lower, not quite as insane, desheveled, wearing a cast-off jacket from the late 80's and worn tennis shoes.   Then there is the mean, mumbling beer-bellied older guy in fatigues, who knows all about the business and deeply resents being in competition with anyone who's been engaged in the trade for less than 37 & 1/2 years.  This type does not move that quickly and when asked anything is willing to pontificate at length, but with a scornful bluster and a dismissive frown towards all who deign to get in the way of his front side protrusion.  He mumbles because what he has to say is important, even if all the fools of the world refuse to listen.  There is the skinny high cheek boned crazy Chinese man with terrible breath.  He searches only for copies of Sweet Valley High that he has yet to collect.  He wields a cane, more to gesticulate and point with than for support, and has a long hand-written list of the eighty or so S.W.H. he has collected , crossed with a wavy line through those that his grand daughter (supposedly) is now reading.  His breath smells like six root canals festering with detritus as he expounds at length in very broken English on the completion of his list.  He likes encyclopedia sets too.  Such sales attract a wide audience, to be sure, and this list can go one for a long long time, but these are a few of my favorites.



  1. Ah, yes, Sean! The library sales are always happy memories of finding choice used books.