As a lifelong book collector (a.k.a. nut), I have bemoaned the death of so many used book stores in recent years, not to mention chains like Borders. One of the few disappointments I experienced during my year in New York City was the scarcity of stores once so plentiful in Manhattan. I'm not knocking Ebay and Amazon.com. I have accumulated considerable customer ratings without ever selling anything online, so I am just as much to blame for the trend as anyone.
But with the birth of Kindles and the immense growth of online texts, I worry for the future of the printed word. Only a warm and loving caress can beat the security and ambiance of shelves packed with one's favorite novels, histories, and art books. And nothing has me whipping out my wallet faster than to purchase a desired hardback.
So, imagine my surprise going to my first library book sale up here in Michigan. Library book sales are big business in Western Pennsylvania, and the collector must develop sharp elbows to brush aside the hoards of dealers crowding the front of the line upon opening. But, here in Mid-Michigan, I thought that perhaps the competition might tax my resolve - and require fewer body checks - less than I was accustomed to.
I arrived my customary hour early, and saw the expected handful of dealers already waiting on the windy sidewalk. I eyed my competition, to better plan my attack on the tables of waiting titles. I chatted with the people alongside me in line. One was an older fellow looking for mysteries; the other a young mother who had once lived in Japan looking for picture books for her child's school - excellent, no competition from them! I was so engaged in conversation, that the appointed hour crept up unexpected. When I glanced back, I saw a line of people stretched as least 50 long down the sidewalk and around the corner. And, these were all people actually paying $10 for Friends of the Library memberships in order to gain access to the sale a day early.
Once inside, I went into fast scan mode. Early in a sale, taking time to actually read titles wastes valuable time, so the collector learns to look for books by appearance and keywords. For instance, as a collector of accounts of Nazi Germany, the word "quisling" caught my eye on one book - a biography of Vidkun Quisling who assisted Nazi Germany as it conquered his country of Norway...snatch.
Going upstairs, I found the specially-priced books and was shocked to see some nice modern leather-bound editions I was familiar with. I nabbed the titled I wanted and then walked away before I talked myself into books I really didn't want simply because the price was right. Literally a minute later, the dealer I had spied at the front of the line came up and cleaned out all of the titles I had left behind. You know, beating out a book dealer is not equivalent to a fine meal, or a warm hug...but it sure is close.
I left the book sale more upbeat about the future of my favorite medium. I had found some cool additions to my library. Even better, though, that finding neat books for myself is finding books for other folks. Looking through the Religion section, I found a book about Shinto temples in Japan - exactly what the young mother and I had been talking about. I found her over by the kids tables and handed her the book. Nothing beats connecting a person with just the right book.
No, the book is not quite dead yet.