Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale, Fall 2013

Tuesday afternoon was the biannual event around which I build my life. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration?  

Or perhaps not…

The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale is indeed a “big” event.  It’s held in the Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center, which is large enough to resemble a warehouse and is twice a year stuffed to bursting with books that have been donated to the library.  That the Festival Pavilion is located right on San Francisco Bay with big dramatic views all around—and seems to have magical powers to make every book sale day a gorgeous, sunny, not-too-hot, not-too-cold San Francisco day—only add to the fun.

First, the preliminaries of the sale itself.

Although I did manage to take some pictures this year, I somehow forget to take any of the views, so I have swiped a couple from online.  Here’s a view of the Pavilion which shows some of its surroundings:

And here, just to shamelessly show off the gorgeousness that is San Francisco, is a view from the air—the Festival Pavilion is the left-most building jutting out onto the Bay:

We always leave work early on Book Sale day, and Andy and I arrived an hour early to get in line.  Even so, this was the line in front of us:

And as the 4:00 opening time approached, this was the line behind us:

There are a lot of excited book geeks as opening time arrives and the line starts moving:

And once inside, there are just a few (!!!) tables of books to look over:

And when it came time to check out, this is where we were in line:

FYI, the cash registers are along the entryway near the doors and windows that you can see in the distance.  In previous years, we have sometimes been even further back in line, but every year the sale is extraordinarily well-organized and has about ten checkout stations staffed with cheerful volunteers, so the line moves quickly (and sometimes we use the waiting time to find unexpected items of interest—often discarded by other shoppers in line ahead of us—so the karma all works out).

But now, on to the more important part—the book haul!

This year was a bit of a mixed bag.  For one thing, either the selection wasn't as good as usual or I exercised considerable restraint (hard to believe), as I only spent about half of my budgeted $120.  In past years, I have blown the budget and brought home as many as 60 books (with the accompanying bookcase reshuffling that such extravagance required), but this time I made it out with only 20.  Perhaps I have just developed more discerning (or more obscure) tastes!

However, I have to say that the 20 I came home were probably the best haul, qualitatively, that I've ever made.  So I won't tease you any longer—here are the highlights:

Yes, believe it or not, for the first time ever, I actually found a coveted D. E. Stevenson—an edition from the 1970s, I believe, and not one of the rarer ones, but still, her fans will know how rare it is to stumble across any of her books anywhere, let alone for a measly $3!

Below that in my pile is my second "golden age" Elizabeth Cadell (i.e. from the 1950s, when she seems to have done her most charming work), The Cuckoo in Spring, which accompanies the one I found at the spring book sale in April.  Apart from the fact that I love her novels from this period, this one has the added interest of a book plate from the Francisca Club, which turns out (as a handwritten note says—helpfully added by a previous owner beneath the book plate) to be the oldest women's club in San Francisco, and it apparently still exists, though their website is singularly uninformative.  It also has the dust cover blurbs and author photo pasted inside the cover, with a nice pic of Cadell that I hadn't seen before:

Now, I have to say here that poor Andy, who generally thinks I need psychiatric care for my book obsession, nevertheless always steadfastly accompanies me to these sales, patiently waits in line for an hour, races in alongside the frantic throngs of geeks to get to the fiction and mystery tables, and searches for a whole list of authors on my behalf.  He should quite probably be sainted for this.  Especially since it is usually a thankless task and he rarely finds more than one or two, because my tastes are so obscure.

This year, he searched diligently for over an hour and finally came back to me and reported complete failure. 

But, he said…

There was one book he had picked up just because he thought it looked like my kind of thing, even though it wasn't on the list and he wasn't sure I would be interested.  And he proceeded to pull out what was at least an early—if not a first—edition of Elizabeth von Arnim's Mr. Skeffington.  It's a lovely book in itself, but it also comes complete with an inscription by its original owner (Catherine Lavelle, of San Antonio, Texas), which says the book was purchased on May 23, 1940.  Although I am sometimes annoyed by inscriptions in used books, when they are this old—with war already raging in Europe, though the U.S. wasn't yet a formal part of itthey somehow just add to the character of the book.

So, definitely not a failure for Andy!  (Maybe I don't even need to give him lists in the future—I can just rely on him knowing "my kind of thing"!)

Also in the pile, you can see Elizabeth Goudge's autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, which should be very interesting and which, on the back, has a lovely photo of Goudge.

Near the top of the pile (and almost impossible to make out in the photo) is Monica Dickens' Man Overboard in a cute little edition from the "Companion Book Club."  It amazes me how many book clubs there were mid-century, and it's often hard to track down any information at all about them, but as it would happen, Abe Books has an informative little article on the Companion Book Club, along with an array of its other titles.

Below the Dickens book is my very first Norah Lofts.  I've never really known if I would like Lofts, because I tend to be ambivalent about historical fiction.  However, first, the book is one of those charming (albeit fragile) titles published in accord with wartime restrictions, and I couldn't resist actually owning one instead of merely getting them from Interlibrary Loan all the time.  And second, the opening line of the novel made it seem rather "up my alley": "For nearly fifty years I had performed the tasks and carried out the duties which fall to the lot of the unmarried and not-quite-independent member of a large family."

And finally, some odds and ends in the pile.  I've always meant to read Cynthia Asquith's diary, and this lovely hardcover edition with only slight wear will surely inspire me to do so.  Ditto with Eliza Fay's letters from India.  And the Ivy Compton-Burnett may actually be a first American edition and is at any rate a very nice, reader-friendly little book, so I couldn't resist.

All in all, then, even if this is a smaller-than-usual haul, I certainly can't complain about its quality.  Nor can I complain about having money left in my budget!  Instead of eenie-meenie-minie-moe, it will be Greyladies-Persephone-Amazon-Awesome Books—hmmm, who will get the money that's left?

Since this is already a long post, and since I'm out of time at the moment, I'm going to hold off on writing about a few other interesting (hopefully) tidbits from the sale.  Check back in a day or two for a bit more…


  1. Oh Scott, what a good posting. You've shared all the important things about the books, bookplates especially.

    I do like inscriptions in books. They hint at relationships and events. The edition of O. Douglas's 'Jane's Parlour' given my by Tricia when I was visiting her this month is inscribed, "An extra from Mummy, to Eileen."

    I can just picture it. Mummy came across this in the bookshop and just knew she had to get it for Eileen, even though the main present from Mummy and Daddy was already bought and wrapped.

    1. Oh, that's a nice one, Susan. I've thought of doing a post dedicated to inscriptions, bookplates, and other items found in books, but haven't gotten to it yet. My lovely copy of Mrs. Tim of the Regiment (given to me by a DESsie, but I'm ashamed to say I can't recall her name at the moment) also has at least a name and date (1940 also, I think), but I think no inscription. It made me feel connected to a previous generation of DESsies.

  2. What a wonderful haul! I've never come across any D.E. Stevenson in any North American book shop or sale, though I have had good luck in the UK. She is one of those authors (like von Arnim and Angela Thirkell) whose books I always keep an eye out for.

    It really is the most wonderful feeling to have allotted yourself a book budget and still have some left over. Have fun spending the rest!

    1. Well, Claire, the truth is I've already fantasized about how I could spend the remaining $60 so much that it would cost me $300 or so to make all the fantasies come true! But it's been a lot of fun to think about anyway.

      By the way, I have actually found a couple of DES's at Awesome Books, surprisingly enough. You never know how nice the copies will be, but the price is usually right.



NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!