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!