Friday, April 3, 2015

Book sale madness (well, sort of)


Those who have been reading this blog for more than six months or so have already heard—probably ad nauseum—about the twice-yearly Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale. And if you're new to the blog, you can see past posts about my compulsive book-buying at these events (and on other occasions) by clicking on "Shopping for Obscurity" in the left-hand column.

Geek with ramshackle granny cart

It's taken me a few days to get around to posting about this spring's iteration of the sale, which took place this past Tuesday, but here it is at last, in all of its…er…glory?

Well, no. Definitely not glory. This was perhaps the most disappointing of the book sales I've attended—at least 12 or so in all. But it was a fun time nevertheless.

This year's sale started with all the anticipation and excitement of previous occasions—and with the requisite pic of me with my increasingly bedraggled granny cart waiting in the enormous line outside of the Fort Mason Center and enjoying dramatic views of the Bay. When it was finally time to go in, I was eagerly expecting those first exciting finds. Very often, the best finds of all are those snatched in the first couple of minutes of looking, before anyone else has gotten to the tables and picked things over.

So imagine my surprise when, a few minutes in, I had reached the end of the first table of hardcover fiction, eyes scanning frenetically, and placed in my cart exactly…zero…books. I had a terrible sinking feeling. At first, I thought perhaps I had just happened onto a table particularly weighted with publishers' recent drivel (of course, anything published after 1970 or so risks being classed as "recent"—and probably as "drivel"—for me). So I moved to another table where I thought I spied more older titles.

Ultimately, there were some worthwhile finds—even a couple of rather exciting ones—but it remains true that there have never been fewer finds to really get my blood pumping. Are readers suddenly holding onto their middlebrow fiction rather than donating them to the library? Has the middlebrow become the latest trend, so that organizers grabbed up the best titles to sell in their shops or online, rather than allowing them to be sold off for cheap? Is there a vast conspiracy to prevent me from finding exciting books to jam onto already overcrowded shelves? (And if so, could Andy be behind it?!?!)

Whatever the case, it was a bit of an anti-climax. But I've grumbled enough now and will instead focus on the positive:


Surely, surely, surely the copy I found of Helen MacInnes' classic thriller Assignment in Brittany couldn't really be a first edition? But it's intriguing, because it has its price printed on the dustjacket, unlike most book club editions, and the copyright page clearly states "First Edition." But I'm skeptical. Of course, it would only be the American First, not the original British edition, but still…


Similarly old and enticing was the charming old Penguin edition of Margery Allingham's Police at the Funeral—one of Andy's best finds. I love the caption, "Family hatred in pre-war Cambridge." Though this copy seems to have come from the 1960s, I assume the caption dates from the first Penguin edition in 1940. It's hard to imagine the necessity of specifying that a book is set "pre-war" unless a war is actually in progress.


Much more recent in vintage, but absolutely adorable, is the little hardcover reprint of Daisy Ashford's The Young Visitors which Andy picked up because he thought it "looked like my kind of thing." I've always meant to read it, but e-book versions are never as irresistible as a nicely-designed physical copy. It was a huge success when first published and had a considerable afterlife of reprints and stage and film adaptations, so some of you may have read it?

There were only four more books by authors on my Overwhelming List. I was pleased to find, when I foraged into the biography and memoir section, Eleanor Smith's Life's a Circus, and somehow or other this was the first of my new acquisitions that I started reading. I was never sure I would like Smith's fiction—her novels, including Red Wagon, Ballerina, and Flamenco, always sounded perhaps a little on the melodramatic side for my tastes—but I have to say, light and fluffy as it is, I'm having trouble putting Circus down. You might hear more about it in the weeks to come…

I also picked up novels by two other authors I've been hesitant to approach. Ethel Mannin was a popular writer in her day, but I wasn't sure I'd enjoy her work either. Now, with my acquisition of Late Have I Loved Thee, published shortly after WWII, I'll have a chance to find out. And somehow The Woman in the Sea, a thriller by Shelley Smith, also found its way into my cart. I have in my notes that she's the author of psychological mysteries, which may or may not be my cup of tea, but we'll see how it goes.


And finally, how could I resist a nice hardcover omnibus of the first three Fairacre novels by Dora Saint (aka Miss Read)? Now I can get rid of those battered old paperbacks!


A case of mistaken identity resulted in my acquisition of The London Venture by Michael Arlen, who is still best known for his bestseller The Green Hat. I tried and failed to read The Green Hat a few years back, so I probably wouldn't have grabbed The London Venture if it wasn't for the fact that my befuddled brain was mistaking Michael Arlen for Denis Mackail. I thought I'd found another title by the author of Greenery Street, but alas. Perhaps all that "green" was the source of my confusion?

Apart from these, Andy found a new Patricia Moyes to add to my growing collection and an Agatha Christie "companion" for me, and I happened across a nice original edition of Christie's Passenger to Frankfurt (the only one of her novels I've never been able to finish, but perhaps this lovely copy will inspire a fresh attempt). I picked up two novels by Thomas Bernhard, a very very dark Austrian avant-garde writer whom I find interesting despite the fact that he's the antithesis of virtually everything else I read, and a charming hardcover of Donald Windham's early gay-themed novel Two People, which I've always meant to get around to.

And that's about it, believe it or not. Rather an anticlimactic post, to go with an anticlimactic sale. But while I have your attention, I'm also going to share some other, non-booksale acquisitions.


Last week, I happened to have a Groupon to use at Green Apple Books here in SF, so we went to do some enjoyable browsing. Now, Green Apple usually doesn't have a great deal to offer me in terms of middlebrow fiction—they focus more on trendy current fiction or canonical classics. But I was shocked by what I found in my browsing. Perhaps someone at Green Apple has been reading my blog? Or, more likely, perhaps someone there has started keeping an eye on Persephone's author list. Surely the most unlikely Green Apple find I've ever made was the wonderful Norah Hoult's final novel, Two Girls in the Big Smoke, in a pristine copy complete with dustjacket, and for a few measly bucks! I'm sure you'll hear more about that one here eventually.


I'm not sure if it's more or less shocking that I also found a lovely hardcover of Winifred Peck's Unseen Array on the shelves—another book I would never have imagined at Green Apple. I already have a copy of that one, but it was comforting to see it there waiting for another reader to unearth it. Slightly less shocking—especially if someone at Green Apple has been reading their Persephone—was finding the Persephone edition of Diana Athill's Midsummer Night in the Workhouse.  Along with Thea Holme's The Carlyles at Home, which something inspired me to acquire recently too, this should instigate a nice return to reading Persephone after a few months (inadvertently) away from them.


Let's see, then there was a recent trip to another great SF bookstore, Aardvark Books, as a result of which a lovely hardcover of Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages is now making its home on my shelves.


A "want" I created on Abe Books a few months ago finally paid off recently, and now a really lovely, if slightly bedraggled, copy of Gwendoline Courtney's Torley Grange rests on my TBR shelves as well.

A very helpful blog reader, Jane, recently recommended Elizabeth Fair for inclusion on my Overwhelming List. She'll be added with my next update, but in the meantime the info Jane found about her was so irresistible that I've already acquired a rather weathered copy of her second novel, All One Summer (aka Landscape in Sunlight).


And finally, Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings recently emailed me and said she'd come across a Rita Coatts book at a thrift shop and couldn't resist picking it up to try to find it a good home. She thought of me, and I was delighted to accept her offer. A week or two later, The School on the Island arrived to become one of the loveliest girls' school books ever to grace my shelves. Thanks again for this lovely surprise, Karen! In return, I offered to keep my eyes peeled at the book sale for any of Karen's most coveted book wishes. Alas, I am bummed out that I was unable to find any of them for her. Grrrrrr.

So, while the book sale itself was a bit of a disappointment, my recent independent book shopping has helped to even out the scales. And now, having spent only about a third of the money I always budget for the book sale, I have some extra funds for future book acquisitions!

23 comments:

  1. I'm sorry the book sale was a bit of a disappointment but you've managed to console yourself with other book buying experiences which is lovely! I'll look forward to seeing what you spend the rest of your book sale money on. Thank you for mentioning Margaret Kennedy's Where Stands a Winged Sentry (WWII memoir) a few weeks ago. I borrowed it from Open Library & loved it. Now I just have to read more of her fiction.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the Kennedy book, Lyn. I've just been reading it and hope to get round to posting about it soon.

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  2. The sale does sound a bit of a let-down - but at least you have spare cash for searching elsewhere! And I'm so glad the Rita Coatts has found a nice new home - I like to match up books with readers! :)

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    1. The book looks so nice on my shelves, Karen. Thanks again!

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  3. You have just made me buy a copy of The Chronicles of Fairacre. I am such a sucker for a pretty cover.

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    1. It is a very nice book, Sue, and I've always meant to read more of Miss Read. Hope you enjoy it!

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  4. *gulp* you call that a disappointing sale? I wish we had anything like it here. I love Helen MacInnes, she was a good thriller writer who went out of fashion with the end (supposed) of the cold war. Margery Allingham is possibly my fave writer of detective fiction. By coincidence, the Drama channel here is repeating an old Campion series (starring Peter Davison) and Police at the Funeral is the current offering. I should think most of your readers know The Young Visiters and that you will soon join the fan club.

    That copy of School on an Island is probably the same edition I have. Mine was published in 1949 and due to post-war paper saving, it has a wrapper for a different book printed on the back. Have you checked yours?

    I love that pic of you with the trolley. You have a look of slightly anxious anticipation!

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    1. You're right, I guess it's all a matter of perspective. This sale was disappointing by comparison to other of these sales, but it's still a pretty good haul, I suppose.

      I did run to look at the Coatts dustjacket, but alas, it seems this copy is a 1952 reprint. No double wrapper here. But it's still such a lovely little book.

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  5. Oh Scott, I love vicariously book shopping with you. I get to feel the thrill of the hunt and find, with spending money or finding room for them in the stacks.

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    1. WITHOUT spending money....

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    2. I think I simply must win the lottery, Susan, so we can have a house with a full-size library. Doesn't need to be a large lottery, but I don't see any alternative!

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  6. More of my favourites! I read Miss Read as a child - so gently written, but with an underlying wryness. I need to spend some serious time going through your blog ...

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    1. Thank you, Sarah, glad you're being reminded of old favorites. And unlike many of the authors I write about here, Miss Read's books are still pretty readily available.

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  7. Curious about the Life Among the Savages so went on Amazon to look and it said 1997, thought - that's not your era - but now find it's originally 1953, I'm adding to my wish list as it sounds interesting. I think you had a good haul from your book sale. car boot sale season has started here so I shall be book hunting. Car boot sales are a bit like your yard sales except that people take their cars full of treasures or junk to one place in a field on a sunday morning.

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    1. Jackson is a very interesting writer, Sue. Spooky stories on one end of the spectrum and humorous family memoirs on the other, but I love both (even if she is American).

      I have heard about boot sales before. Wish I could sample a few and see what treasures I could unearth. Good luck!

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  8. It was nice to run into/meet you at the sale, Scott. I'm pretty sure I had that Arlen in my hand at one point, but I, too, was defeated by The Green Hat, and I put it back. And Two Girls in the Big Smoke? Pretty sure I sold that to Green Apple before I moved last year. When I get my books back from Stockholm, we should a swap! :)

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    1. Oh, I meant to mention running into you in my post, Lisa! Amazing that you were able to pick me out. I'm not sure I would have noticed Queen Elizabeth herself with all those books around (unless she were blocking my view)!

      So funny that the Hoult book may have come from you. We should definitely see what we could swap and cut out the middleman!

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  9. Dear Scott,

    Yours is absolutely the most wonderful blog I have ever had the good fortune to find. I was an instant subscriber. Where else could I find so many kindred spirits?

    It's a cold and snowy day here (first since Winter of 2013) in Nevada City, CA, but our power is still on so I am enjoying being able to read every word you and your commenters have written about the books by women authors of this era.

    The paper book covers on your blog almost bring me to tears because they bring back so many memories of my girlhood and happy days spent in our small town library. Thank you so much for including them in a large enough size so we can see every detail.

    I was gobsmacked to know that so many still read with fondness the (mostly) British books of the era you and I are keen on. I have several of these authors' books on my shelves and reread them often. Most were found at used book stores across the country, far and few between in our area these days, alas.

    Thank you all so much.

    Linda

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Linda, and I'm so glad you found the blog and are enjoying it! I hope you'll comment whenever you like.

      I have to admit I'm a little envious of your snowy weather--especially since it sounds like it doesn't happen often enough for it to be too much of a drag. What better than a cold snowy day for curling up with a good book? I hope your power stayed on!

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  10. The Carlyles at Home is one of my favourite Persephone titles! I toured the house a few years ago but if you search The Londonist podcast online...they recently aired their tour. A lovely way to experience the house without the cost of air fare!

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    1. That's great to know, Darlene. I've been intrigued by the book for a couple of years, and I'm not sure what inspired me to finally buy a copy, but I'm glad to know I have a lot to look forward to. I'll definitely check out the podcast too!

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  11. Bloggers killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

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  12. I am surprised the organisers sell rare books so cheaply.You have been very lucky in the past.

    Jackie.

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