Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Praise of Book Sales

Thanks to the Buena Vista County Historical Society, I have 15 more books on the To Read shelf in my office -- and I only spent $7.50. 

I attend the group’s annual book sale every year – not only because I like a good buy (hardcovers were $1 each; softcovers, 3 for $1; magazines, 6 for 25 cents) but because it encourages me to explore a variety of themes, writing styles and voices which, in turn, exposes me to new ideas and forces me to think.

I have long lists of books I want to read and books I should read. Some of the suggestions are from friends in my neighborhood and in cyberspace, others from book clubs, and university English and writing programs. I’m quick to add titles to my Want To Read list when someone I admire raves about it and when award winners are announced. My Should Read list grows when I realize my teenagers are reading something  I should have read in high school or college, but didn’t.

The problem with my lists is this:  I seldom purchase any of the books and therefore, they’re not readily available when I’m in the mood to read them.

I used to buy lots of books online but I’m more discriminating now, after several disappointing reads of impulse buys. The decision to purchase is further complicated by the Kindle I received last Christmas. Now, I must also decide whether I want “to have and to hold” or to store it on a device that fits in my purse.  And bookstores? I love ‘em when I have time to browse, but too often, I’m overwhelmed by the number of alphabetized shelves, even if I walk in with a specific purpose, author, or title in mind.

So instead of purchasing, I search the public library and online book exchanges. I pat myself on the back for my savvy consumerism, but to be honest, I’m simply a reluctant buyer.

Owning a book constitutes a commitment to read it – so my decision to purchase ends up being based on the amount of effort I’m willing to invest in locating the material and the amount of time I can dedicate to reading it.

That’s why the historical society’s book sale is always on my calendar.

There are no bright lights, no marketing displays, no enticing aromas, no distractions to entice me away from the task at hand. Books are displayed spine up on the tables – and there’s only one table for each genre. There’s no alphabetization, so titles and authors’ names seem to pop and sparkle, even on the books whose spines are marred by use.

Each table holds the possibility of treasure; the excitement is in discovering it.

And I almost always found a treasure or two: best sellers I didn’t read at the height of their popularity, vintage books that have been purged from a library’s or an individual’s shelves, novels by debut novelists I hadn’t yet decided to take a risk on. This year, I found a few of each.

But I also found a pot of gold: You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt. I had added it to my Want To Read list last fall, determined that I wanted to own it, but just hadn’t gotten around to doing so. (She wrote this philosophy about life in 1960, at age 76. Much of it is drawn on responses to her My Day reader letters, the newspaper column she wrote from 1935 to 1962. The six-day-a-week column was nationally syndicated, and at its height appeared in 90 papers and to an audience of more than 4,000,000.)

No one else in my family will think You Learn by Living a treasure--and I won’t be fighting to read some of the books they’ll each choose–but that’s the beauty of having a To Read shelf that’s filled with variety.

I, for one, am looking forward to the next rainy afternoon. 
What counts, in the long run, is not what you read; it is what you sift through your own mind; it is the ideas and impressions that are aroused in you by your reading. It is the ideas stirred in your own mind, the ideas which are a reflection of your own thinking, which make you an interesting person.
                                                                                                Eleanor Roosevelt