Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book sale hangover

The highlights of this year's haul

Ah, yet again I am left with only the warm afterglow of a Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale. (I believe I called it the "giant" book sale in my post the other day, but it is, in fact, only "big"—though the fact that it's held in a warehouse jam-packed with books might make me modestly suggest that my choice of adjective is more appropriate.) Of course, Andy and I were right there at the "members' preview" on Tuesday afternoon and evening (sounds so exclusive, doesn't it?!). And if it wasn't the most successful book sale ever in terms of quantity of books purchased, it was certainly a very successful one in terms of a few quite enticing finds.

A geek with a granny cart

In fact, one of the most exciting finds of the night—and by far the most expensive at a whopping $7—occurred before the book sale even started. Although the Big Book Sale only takes place twice a year (now I have to wait until April for the next installment!), the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library also operate two bookshops all year round, one of which, conveniently enough, is right next to the warehouse where the sale takes place. Andy and I always arrive at least an hour early to get in line (probably a ridiculous thing to do, we always say, because honestly how much can a difference of about one or two minutes—the time it takes the whole line to file into the sale when the doors finally open—make in the quality of your book finds?—but hey, it's a tradition and it's always fun to people-watch all the other book geeks in line while we wait—plus, in this particular case, it is highly probable that one of the books I found, as the very first person to peruse one of the hardcover fiction tables, would have vanished in another minute or two—see below for details)—anyway, because of this early arrival, I had plenty of time to browse a little in the shop while Andy guarded our place in line.

An utterly superfluous view of the Bay from our place in line

Ordinarily, I don't find much of overwhelming interest in the little shops. They're very pleasant, and they're a great source for inexpensive mysteries or on the off chance that I'm actually looking for something fairly recent and fairly popular, but they don't usually hold the kinds of treasures I'm looking for. And they certainly don't contain books by British women writers from my time period that—even with a list of 1100 such authors and more than 300 more queued up waiting to go into the next update (assuming it's ever finished)—I have yet to hear of. 


But, there's an exception to every rule.


Imagine my surprise to happen across a book called The Cat and the Medal, by Mollie Carpenter Hales, in a Methuen edition from 1938. I thought to myself, "No, I'm sure she's American or Canadian. That's all I ever find in these shops. She couldn't be one of 'my' authors." I even passed the book by at first, returned to the line, and asked Andy to look her up on his phone, but he couldn't find any informative results at all. I almost left it at that, but then I decided I had to go back for it. Even if the jacket flap description left me slightly ambivalent about it:



(My eventual acquisition of the book was only made more certain because the listing of other Methuen "current titles" on the back of the book included Winifred Watson's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, surely a promising omen if there ever was one. And don't think I'm not planning to investigate those other intriguing and hitherto unknown women listed alongside Watson and Pearl Buck...)


Happily, when I got home and tracked Hales down, I discovered that she was indeed unquestionably British, so I have inadvertently added yet another new writer to the overwhelming update beneath the weight of which I am currently staggering.  I'll have to report back on whether the book was worth the $7 or not…


So, now I was warmed up and ready for some serious shopping.  When the doors finally opened, I headed straight for the hardcover fiction tables, which were surprisingly unpopulated for the first 15 minutes or so. I even managed, as I mentioned above, to have one of the tables to myself for a couple of minutes. Which was lucky indeed, because one of my very first finds was an E. M. Delafield I had never even heard of—Ladies and Gentleman in Victorian Fiction, published in 1937 by the Woolves at Hogarth Press (though mine is the American edition), and subtitled "A Human Record of the Victorian Domestic Scene." It's a compilation of scenes from Victorian novels designed to give an idea of day-to-day life in the mid to late 19th century, linked and interspersed with commentary by Delafield. It's also a big, lovely book with thick pages, reader-friendly font, and a binding that could probably survive a Zombie apocalypse—they definitely don't publish books this way anymore! I've already started it, and it's making perfect bedtime reading.


Surely Delafield's book would have been snatched up in just a few minutes if I hadn't got there first. And I rather doubt if the pristine Viking edition of Sylvia Townsend Warner's Selected Stories would have stuck around for long either…


Or even the slightly less pristine copy of Warner's late collection Swans on an Autumn River (1966). Looks like I'll finally be exploring Warner's short fiction!


And Vita Sackville-West's Pepita (1937), about the author's wayward mother, is not that hard to find, but it's another big, juicy, Zombie-proof book to look forward to.


These book sales have been an excellent source of nice hardcover editions of some more popular authors too—books that are by no means hard to find, but that it's lovely to have in hardcover with more or less nice-looking dust jackets. I'm thrilled to finally be able to replace my battered old paperback of one of my favorites postwar novels, Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows (1955), with a beautiful hardcover.


And that seems to have set me on a Rumer Godden buying spree, as I soon added a story collection I'd never seen—Gone: A Thread of Stories (1968)—and her late novel, The Diddakoi (1972), to my cart as well.



I've often had good luck tracking Margery Sharp titles, though this year's new edition to my library—1948's The Foolish Gentlewoman—is sadly naked of its dust jacket.


And a nice Elizabeth Goudge hardcover is always a lovely thing, and usually all that I see are multiple copies of Green Dolphin Country, so I snapped up the new-looking copy of Gentian Hill (1949) without hesitation.


I'm always happy to find a book by an author from my list that I know next to nothing about. Pamela Wynne was clearly a prolific romance novelist, and I suspect from what little I've read about some of her early work that she may be a bit too "Me Tarzan, You Jane" for my taste, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, for $3 I couldn't resist adding her 1931 effort, The Last Days of September, to my collection (I just hope the heroine's name doesn't turn out to be September). Whether it will be a permanent addition, or a temporary one, remains to be seen.


I've written before about how I always send poor Andy off on a wild goose chase at these sales, providing him a list of authors who are high-priority—and even more highly unlikely to be found—including D. E. Stevenson, Winifred Peck, Richmal Crompton, Pamela Frankau, and the like. Unsurprisingly, he struck out this year (though why oh why did I not include Elizabeth Goudge or Rumer Godden on his list, as I have previously, which would have allowed him the satisfaction of finding those beautiful books?!). 


But, happily Andy's search was redeemed when he went off to the mystery tables with a separate list (imagine the life that Andy leads at these sales—uninterested in books himself, but patiently dodging shopping carts and too-avid, practically drooling book fiends on an almost always fruitless quest for the books I yearn for, typed out on multiple lists with occasional scrawled afterthoughts—there should be some sort of medal for that). At any rate, snatching an absolutely perfect first U.S. edition of Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder surely helped to make the evening not seem like a total bust for him, and added a lot of excitement for me. It's not valuable or anything—first editions of Dame Agatha, by the end of her life were given staggering print runs—but it's a really beautiful, reader-friendly edition to replace the battered, yellowed, brittle paperback I bought when I was about 11 years old. 


Andy also managed to find a more or less complete set of the nice-ish Bantam hardcovers with faux-leathery covers. They're not my absolute favorite edition, but I had also made a list of some of the Agatha that I had only in really terrible, grungy copies, and Andy grabbed new copies of each of them. At $1 each for mysteries, I could hardly complain!

Later, when I was perusing the mystery section myself, I had to finally grab my first ever P. D. James title (shown above with the Agathas). And then I just happened to notice, in one of the boxes secreted underneath one table, a flash of color that somehow seemed familiar. It triggered some kind of recollection, and when I pursued it, I discovered not one, not two, not even three or four, but five only slightly worn Sourcebooks editions of Georgette Heyer mysteries. Now, having never actually read a Heyer mystery yet, I suppose I was taking a bit of a risk (especially since two more are already on my TBR shelves), but how could I possibly resist?


Similarly, how could I resist a perfect Gladys Mitchell hardcover, even if it's one of her late novels that are not considered her best?


I've been meaning to check out a Margaret Lane title from the 1930s, when she published her first books (and won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse in 1935 for the first, Faith, Hope, No Charity). But it was her 1968 title, The Day of the Feast, which was available on Tuesday night for a buck. It's set in Morocco, where Lane lived in later years.


Margaret Lane, from the back cover of
The Day of the Feat

Oh, and why did I keep imagining, delusionally, that I might find a Girls Gone By title or two at this sale? It would have been as unexpected as a breaking news story about Lindsay Lohan becoming a nun, but I kept imagining it anyway. Well, it never happened. But, just as I was ready to give up on the fiction tables, I happened across this:


So it's almost a Girls Gone By book, except that this publisher, Retro Press, is distinctly no frills—no charming introduction or background on the author or the various editions of the book, nor even any acknowledgement of the book's original publication date. Hmmm. Does anyone know anything about Retro Press? They appear to have also published some other similar titles, but I have no idea whether they could be abridged or in any other way problematic, and a quick Google search was of little help.

And finally, I always manage to come across some strays—titles that have nothing really to do with the blog, but which are interesting for other reasons. I do love humorous American works from the mid-century, and one I've been meaning to read for a while is Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1957).


I always love Emily Kimbrough's humorous travel books, and have added one more to the collection. And demonstrating yet again how today's bestsellers are tomorrow's obscurities is Frances Gray Patton's Good Morning, Miss Dove, published in 1954, selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and made into a film with Jennifer Jones in 1955. Looking at reviews of it, I think it might be a bit on the sentimental side for me, but I can always donate it back to the library.

The strays

And finally, I've always meant to read a Peter DeVries novel. He wrote humorous, perhaps ridiculous, novels about the sexual revolution and its impacts on suburban American life. Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, from 1983, is perhaps a bit later than his prime, and it would be more fun to read about the swinging 70s in suburbia, but I'm keeping an open mind.

So what do you think? A successful Big Book Sale? 

Now, where on earth am I going to put them all??? 

31 comments:

  1. Very successful, I'd say! I don't know Retro Press, must look them up. Where are you going to put them all? As I've just had a little splurge myself, I've been asking the same question as I look at my very full tbr shelves. I think we need to wish each other luck!

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    1. See below link to a blog discussing Retro Press, Lyn. I think we each need to build on a new library wing to our abodes, but this will be challenging for me, at least, since we live on the ninth floor. Good luck with yours!

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  2. I am very pleased for you.COR!!! about 25 books?A great haul.
    The only missing "safe bet" is Elizabeth Cadell.

    Tina B

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    1. It is odd, Tina, usually there are at least one or two Cadells, but none this time that I saw.

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  3. Well Done Scott.The Sylvia T.W. stories are honestly the best i have read.I have an old Virago "selected story" compilation.And i am not even a big story fan.I must read some Goudge novels especially SCENT OF WATER.All those lovely hardbacks are a joy to see.Thanks for sharing it .
    Tina

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    1. I think the Virago edition may have been the paperback reprint of this Viking hardcover. Not certain, though. Glad to know that I have lots to look forward to with the stories.

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  4. PS THE CAT AND THE MEDAL 1938 is not on Amazon Uk books or EBAY so your readers need not bother looking.So please review this books soon Scott.

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    1. It does seem to be extremely obscure. Amazing that it turned up in a book shop in San Francisco--too bad books can't tell you all the places they've been!

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  5. I don't know Retro Press, but the pic you show has a definite 'family resemblance' to the Children's Press editions of Jane Shaw [and EJO!] which makes me a little suspicious that it could be abridged...
    Great haul, though :)

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    1. Thanks, Ruth. See below in Kaggsy's and Jerri's comments for a link to a blog that discusses Retro Press. According to that blog, these are unabridged editions. They did two Jane Shaw titles and one W. E. Eastways, as well as Frances Cowen's Secret of Grange Farm (and some boys' stories as well). I'm embarrassed to say that I just ordered the other Shaw book and the Eastways book. As if I didn't have enough to read!

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  6. What a haul! It really doesn't seem fair that old British books (with dustwrappers!) should be easier to find in San Francisco than they are here. For once, though, I have to say that the US edition of Gentian Hill is not as pretty as the UK one.

    I've come across the Retro Press occasionally when searching for something on Amazon. They seem to have reprinted a few of the Children's Press and Seagull titles published by Collins. Crooks Tour, which you have there, was originally a CP book. They've gone for the older cover, which is nice.

    We could all do with someone like Andy to help us out at book sales.

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    1. I don't know, though, I always read bloggers in England talking about the books they picked up at a thrift store for a pound or two each and I turn green with envy, so maybe it all evens out and is just the luck of the draw? I do think this is the best year I've add in terms of most books having dustwrappers.

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  7. Lovely post and pictures. I've always thought of The Diddakoi as a children's novel - will be interested to hear what you think of it.

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    1. I think you might be right, but with Godden it's always hard to tell. So many of her books are about children but not really aimed at children. I'll be sure to report on it--eventually!

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  8. What amazing finds! I'm not sure I would have the stamina or the restraint for this big a sale - I could see a nervous breakdown coming on.

    This might help re Retro Press:

    http://wichwoodvillage.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Retro%20Press

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    1. Well, stamina is hard enough, but restraint? What's that? I do certainly feel very jumpy by the end of two or three hours of such an overwhelming array of books. Thank you for the link too--happy to see from that blogger that the titles seem to be unabridged. So I've just ordered two more! Restraint?

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  9. What a great book sale! I am a Heyer fan, although her mysteries are the ones of hers I like best, but they are also great views of life at that time in England. And I also saw the Emily Kimbrough, I pick up any of her books I happen to find. I especially enjoy the one where she and her friends are in a canal boat in England.

    Enjoy your treasures!

    Jerri

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    1. Okay, I feel better now, Jerri. If you, as well as several other people I know, are all fans of Heyer's mysteries, then I don't feel so bad for having accumulated seven of them without having sampled even one. I can have a Heyer spree soon!

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  10. Good lord, where to put them all indeed.

    Good Morning Miss Dove. Oh, I'd say definitely sentimental side. But heartwarming. It's a Wonderful Life revisited. Oddly, just two days ago, I was sitting around Emerg waiting for results (It's okay, I'm fine, false alarm), thinking. Just thinking. And I started thinking about Good Morning Miss Dove (the movie), for the first time in, oh 40+ years. (She too had requested to be taken to hospital in the middle of her day; these things connect.) Going over the various scenes and characters and their development from children to adults, their lives influenced by Miss Dove. I reviewed quite a bit of it, having not much else to do, surprised how much I remembered.

    So anyway, enjoy. See the movie, too.

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    1. So glad to hear you're okay, Susan. Surely there was just a bit of a psychic experience going on too, for you to be thinking of Good Morning Miss Dove around the very time that I had acquired a copy and was researching to figure out what on earth I had bought? I was afraid I might find it cloying and annoying, but if you enjoyed it, I likely will too. And you'll probably sense when I'm reading it!

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  11. And I want to add that you got some fantastic covers! Crooks Tour, and some of the other books I would probably have bought just for the DJ art!

    Looking more closely at the Heyer mysteries, Footsteps in the Dark was Heyer's first "modern" mystery. Some readers think it rather silly, but I enjoy that part. I read it playing it in my mind sort of like an old time movie (think Arsenic and Old Lace).

    Jerri

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    1. Well, I love Arsenic and Old Lace, so surely I will enjoy Footsteps silly or not. Thanks, Jerri.

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  12. Did you find this blog about Jane Shaw, author of Crooks Tour?

    http://wichwoodvillage.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-introduction-to-jane-shaw.html

    The blogger seems to know a lot about Jane Shaw and some stuff about Retro Press also.

    Jerri

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    1. Thanks for tracking this down. Kaggsy shared this blog above too (but you couldn't have known, as I just got around to publishing all the comments). Retro Press did some interesting stuff, but it's unclear whether they're still publishing anything or if it was just a flurry of reprints in 2008.

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  13. Linday Lohan is becoming a nun? WOW! I had no idea. Seriously, congratulations. Tom P.S. And just where did ONE of those Heyer titles come FROM??????? You promised I would get the credit!

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    1. Let's see now, where did I get that other Heyer from?! I'm drawing a blank... :-) Of course you'll get acknowledgement when I actually write about it, Tom. This was just a passing reference.

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  14. I have the very same edition of An Episode of Sparrows...isn't it just the best story, Scott?! What a clever man you are to take a granny cart with you...we call them Jolly Carts, a better suited name for something to carry so many fabulous books. Oh, as for that E M Delafield...you lucky thing!

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    1. Jolly cart is definitely a better name, and makes me feel like less of a geek! I keep eyeing Episode of Sparrows on my shelf. A re-read can't be far behind!

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  15. Bundle buggy, when I was a girl. I still call them that, though have no idea what others call them, if anything. Shopping cart, perhaps. Something unpoetic, no doubt.

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  16. I am (nearly!) speechless with envy - what wonderful books. I think I will need to find myself some Jane Shaw now, as the covers are magnificently appealing. I also want a cart!

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    1. I read just a bit of the Jane Shaw, Vicki, and am finding it charming and fun. And I have a note that Call Me Madam had recommended Shaw, so that's additional support for the idea!

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