Sunday, September 24, 2017

Coming clean: The Big Book Sale part 2

Before I make my traditional full confession in the form of a single rather horrifying photo, I feel I should say a couple of things to justify myself. I know there could be no group of people more understanding about compulsive book shopping than you lovely readers, but still...

Consider these factors:

1) I have always budgeted a certain, fairly generous budget for the library book sales, and I've budgeted an amount for both the spring and the fall sales. But this year, as I mentioned before, the spring sale was discontinued. In other words, my budget for this sale effectively doubled (and I still had a bit left over, believe it or not).

2) In the past few weeks, I have made a sort of resoltuion to read some of the classic works that I've just never got round to, especially with all of the reading I've done for the blog. Of course, because this is who I am, I made an extensive reading list. And what better time to stock up on books I've meant to read but haven't than when the selection and prices are this good?


3) I have, as you'll see, also recently felt a reawakened interest in contemporary fiction. Among other things, I work with several people who are avid readers, and peer pressure has its effects. So I partly had in mind sharing many of the recent books I picked up with my officemates. A decent excuse for splurging, right?

Okay, but all that said, it's still a rather shocking photo:

The whole shameful pile. Oh what have I done?!

Good heavens. I should note that I am throwing in a few other fun finds from what has been a downright orgiastic two weeks of book shopping, including my most recent visit to the library's "step sale" just a couple of blocks from my office, a visit to the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library shop across the Bay last Saturday, and a more melancholy but bargain-rich visit to our wonderful neighborhood bookshop, the Overland Book Company, which is—like so many other bookshops—closing down soon, and has marked down it's entire tantalizing inventory. But the vast majority of the books still came from the Big Book Sale itself.

Here was the weighted-down trunk of my car on Tuesday night. Of course, there was a return visit to the sale yesterday, which added considerably to the haul.

Yikes. First and foremost, several titles from the book sale directly related to this blog. I was particularly delighted to see three enticing works from the 1920s by authors I've read before, but not nearly enough. CLEMENCE DANE's The Babyons (1927), according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, "traces a curse through four generations," so we'll see how that goes, but I'm very intrigued and the cover, even without a dustjacket, is quite lovely.

I read SUSAN ERTZ's Madame Claire quite a while back and enjoyed it a lot, so I was happy to see not one but two more of her early novels looking up at me from the fiction table. According to a Time review, The Galaxy (1929) is about the "galaxy of scenes and faces and delights" recalled by an elderly woman dying in the 1920s.

My copy of The Galaxy
And a glimpse of the original dustjacket

Now East, Now West (1927), meanwhile, according to the Orlando Project, "presents a contrast between the societies of England and America."

For the first time, I came across a JON GODDEN novel (and now that I think of it, can't recall seeing a single book by her sister Rumer—the first time that's ever happened, I think, though fortunately I have virtually everything she ever wrote already). The Seven Islands (1956) is about a holy man's attempts to stop an ashram from taking over one of the islands in the Ganges because it will destroy a bird sanctuary. Kirkus called it "entrancing" and describes it as a "spiritual fable styled in the rich, ringing simplicity that accompanies wisdom beyond knowledge." Despite their slightly purple prose, I'm excited to read it.

I had never seen a photo of Rumer's sister before.
A definite family resemblance.

Last year's sale was the first time in ages that I came across any D. E. STEVENSON, but this year continued that trend, with a slightly bedraggled copy of The English Air (with a rather ghastly cover) and a rather nice one of Still Glides the Stream.

Although I've already read the book, how could I possibly have resisted this charming 1960s reprint edition of FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT's The Making of a Marchioness? I try to discourage myself from buying books I already have, but sometimes it's just not possible. And of course I had to research the "Doughty Library" series, and found an informative page here which includes a listing of some of the later titles in the series.

I've been planning to try to get PAMELA HANSFORD JOHNSON's WWII novel Winter Quarters (1944) from Interlibrary Loan for ages, so how nice is it that a copy just fell into my hands? It's about the complications that ensue when an anti-tank regiment sets up camp near a small English village. Right up my alley indeed.

I knew almost nothing about VITA SACKVILLE-WEST's The Easter Party (1953), one of her late novels, but of course I knew I needed it on my shelves. And a review of it by Mirabile Dictu here only reinforced that my instinct was correct.

My copy is naked, but here's
the original dustjacket 

Only one green Virago in the mix this time, but I'm delighted to have it, as it's another I've always meant to get round to.

Ever since our two days of Bloomsbury sightseeing last October I've been meaning to read ANGELICA GARNETT's Deceived with Kindness (1984), about her unconventional (to say the least) upbringing. So how pleased was I to just happen to notice it in the European History section, of all places (an oblique commentary/critique on the fact that, for the time being, the book could arguably belong there, but in a few years it won't???), a section I hadn't otherwise done more than glance at?

I've been meaning to get back to reading/re-reading more Muriel Spark ever since a re-read of Loitering with Intent early this year, so the acquisition of three more of her books will further that ambition. These include a lovely vintage edition of The Hothouse by the East River (1973), one of her New York novels which are so far untested waters for me.

From the Friends bookshop (in one of the vintage sections Deborah pointed out to me) comes this Irish-interest children's title from AYLMER HALL, a similarly untested author on my list, complete with a slightly-weathered dustjacket. It could certainly go either way, but I'm happy to have a chance to sample her work.

Tucked into the mystery section at the book sale was one of Edith Pargeter's mainstream novels, Lost Children, a postwar novel that was certainly worth $1.

For those of you with Type A personalities,
yes, I'm afraid the image on the cover
really is this crooked. The cover scan is
exactly straight. Grrrrr.

When I came across a DIANA COOPER memoir at the Overland Book Company last weekend, I felt certain it couldn't be the volume covering WWII, which I had always wanted to read. How could I get that lucky? But lo and behold, the book gods were watching over me, and Trumpets from the Steep is indeed the volume covering the war years.

The rest of the acquisitions, which don't directly relate to the blog, I'll start lumping together, but there are a few more finds and covers that I want to share.

Among books loosely related (in time period or theme) to the blog, there was this delightful book that Deborah at the Friends shop had mentally earmarked for me. KATHLEEN NORRIS is American, but several people have recommended that I should read her, and who could resist the lovely dustjacket?

If SHIRLEY HAZZARD weren't an Aussie, she'd certainly belong on my list, and having read The Great Fire a number of years ago and been blown away, I've always meant to get back to her, so coming across two earlier titles as well as a pristine copy of Great Fire proved an irresistible temptation. I had not even heard of her debut, The Evening of the Holiday, and it's one of those lovely, well-designed and well-maintained hardcovers that are such a pleasure to hold in one's hand.

Then there's this wonderful vintage Salinger cover. Probably most of you across the Atlantic know that the volume Americans think of as Nine Stories appeared practically everywhere else in the world as For Esmé with Love and Squalor, but it was news to me, and I had to grab it. I'm not the biggest Salinger fan in the world, but it may well make a good gift for someone who is, or simply be wonderful shelf candy.

Check out this cute little WOLF MANKOWITZ book with not only A Kid for Two Farthings, which was reprinted by Bloomsbury a few years ago, but another of his titles as well. Has anyone read either of them?

I've always meant to read L. P. HARTLEY's The Go-Between, so this pristine hardcover reprint had to go in the cart.

This lovely omnibus edition of most of DJUNA BARNES's most important works had to make its way to my shelves. (For those who missed it, Barnes, too little known outside of academic circles, makes a brief appearance in Woody Allen's wonderful Midnight in Paris, when Owen Wilson's character, fresh from dancing with a glamorous woman, is told by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Oh, I see you've met Djuna Barnes.")

Oddly, Barnes, who is purported to be quite a difficult author, is a favorite of mine, but I've still, criminally, never read one of America's most beloved women authors, FLANNERY O'CONNOR. That will finally change with this lovely vintage paperback, published when quality paperbacks actually meant quality—it's solidly bound, with nice thick paper and reader-friendly print, not to mention a charming cover. And the opening line is already making me wonder how I could have waited so long to read it...

On the subject of American writers of the period, have any of you who read American fiction come across RUTH SUCKOW? I think I remember coming across a review of a story collection she wrote, but I was surprised to see one of her books had been reprinted in recent years. It's a huge book, so we'll see how I get on with it, but it bothered me that I wasn't "in the know" about her, so the book leapt right into my cart.

I'll also mention a couple of unknown quantities I gambled on. I had never heard of CHRISTINE WESTON, an American novelist who has clearly fallen very far out of favor. I was merely seduced by the dustjacket and some vague instinct that she might be of interest. When I got home from the sale, I looked her up and found that one of her earlier novels had been compared to Henry James by none other than Dawn Powell (see below), so I'm certainly glad I picked it up. Her New York Times obituary here also mentions praise from E. M. Forster.

Some better-read mystery fans than I are already familiar with HELEN REILLY, who published more than 30 novels, but who was unknown to me. Andy actually brought the wonderfully gaudy paperback of Compartment K to me, because it looked like something I might like (some of my best finds at the book sale are always thanks to Andy noticing book covers that "look like my thing"). It has cruelly small print and yellowed pages, but the setting—a train trip through the Canadian Rockies—sealed the deal. See here for an interesting analysis of Reilly's work.

And finally, M. F. K. FISHER is another American, and one best known as a food writer. I've seen this book around dozens of times over the years, and assumed it wasn't my cup of tea, but when I finally picked it up I discovered that it was her only novel, written in 1947, and it suddenly became rather enticing. Have any of you read it?

Now, here in one lovely pile are some of the other titles with loose connections to the blog.

You can see here, too, that my interest in American fiction is reawakening a bit. Yet another resolution to finally read a famous work applies to THORNTON WILDER's most famous work of fiction (I've only ever read "Our Town," and that back in college days), as well as MAY SARTON. JESSIE REDMON FAUSET and CLAUDE MCKAY are Harlem Renaissance authors (as is RUDOLPH FISHER in the mystery pile below), but I haven't read these particular works. Some of you might know of CORNELIA OTIS SKINNER (Simon at Stuck in a Book has written enthusiastically about her, and she co-authored Our Hearts Were Young and Gay with Emily Kimbrough, who would later become a well-known travel humorist). This will be my first encounter with her as well. The aforementioned DAWN POWELL is another underrated American author, whose books are getting harder to find again, so I'm happy to add three more to my collection. She was rediscovered in the 1990s and enthusiastically embraced, but now seems in danger of being forgotten again. I've never read JANET FLANNER's writings about Paris, roughly parallel with Mollie Panter-Downe's Letters from London in The New Yorker, but I'll bet they'll be fun. And it was Andy who happily found LOUISE DICKINSON RICH's We Took to the Woods in a nice hardcover, which several people have recommended to me over the years. Oh, and the little red book you can barely see is FRANÇOISE SAGAN's Bonjour Tristesse, which Andy also found.

This book sale is always a grand opportunity to stock up on mysteries, as they're all priced ridiculously at $1 each. This year was no exception, and I even upgraded my old paperback of UMBERTO ECO's The Name of the Rose to a snazzy, pristine hardcover. I've already started reading C. J. SANSOM's Dissolution, which was reviewed in a recent issue of The Scribbler, and I'm irrevocably hooked. Happily, I also found the fourth in the series, Revelation, but I was told in no uncertain terms by a fellow mystery fan at the sale that I must read this series in order, so I've already (believe it or not) ordered a copy of the second book from Abe Books—yes, even this extreme book-buying orgy seems only to be leading to additional purchases! Plus, I've been wanting to try ALAN BRADLEY for ages, which will probably lead to more purchases as well. The others are mostly new to me as well, but I bet they're not to many of you.

It may come as a shock that I've lately been delving into far more contemporary fiction than is my norm. I might write a bit about that here soon, as I've read a couple of recent novels that I'm quite enthusiastic about and have several more on my shelves already that I'm dying to get to. So this year's haul contains considerably more recent fiction than is my norm.

There are four authors here that used to be among my favorites, but whom I've been neglecting for a decade or two. I read all of TONI MORRISON's early books, but nothing since Jazz, which I loved (of course Beloved's status goes without saying). I jumped on a pristine hardcover of that one, and also the more recent A Mercy. I've also missed the last two or three by KAZUO ISHIGURO, whose early work I love love love, and along similar lines I haven't read MICHAEL ONDAATJE since falling in love with The English Patient back in the 90s. Ditto PAT BARKER, whose work I haven't read since the Regeneration trilogy, so I thought I'd sample her Blitz-related Noonday. Of the other current authors, believe it or not I've never read SARAH WATERS, GERALDINE BROOKS, ROSE TREMAIN, or TOM MCCARTHY, though I know they all have impressive reputations.

And finally, a whole array of other books that I've always meant to read or was suddenly inspired to want to read when I saw them on the sale tables.

I'm particularly taken with two more random finds in this category. GIORGIO BASSANI's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, in a slightly bedraggled but still lovely hardcover, was impossible to resist, as was a Faber & Faber edition of Lawrence Durrell's Nunquam.

I'm a big fan of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, but have read nothing else by him. From online reviews of Nunquam, I'm not sure what to expect, but it's a lovely book, and the little mass market paperback of The Dark Labyrinth is also proof of the afore-mentioned quality that once was lavished by publishers even on low-budget editions.

And in a nice bit of kismet, someone told me only last week I had to read GUNTER GRASS's The Tin Drum, so how nice to find a spanking new copy of the new translation of it just waiting for me at the sale.

By the way, the almost invisible little Modern Library edition at the top of the pile is a charming early edition of GERTRUDE STEIN's Three Lives. This was another wonderful Andy find—there's a reason people are always saying that he should be sainted, and it may be time to contact the Pope about making it happen...

You must be bored out of your minds with my bibliophilia by now, but that is (finally) that. What a marvelous sale it was—I think this might have been the most fun I've ever had, though I am also exhausted and have been using Advil and yoga to try to loosen up the seriously stiff back and neck that are one of the perils of fanatical bookshopping.

The other peril, of course, is finding space, which I'm off to attempt right now. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A peek behind the scenes: The Big Book Sale part 1

Ah, the Tuesday night members' preview of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale is now but a memory, and my feet and back are still aching (whatever inspired me to do an extra 15 minutes of cardio at the gym during my Tuesday morning workout, it was clearly not well thought out). The sale was wonderful, as per the norm, and enormous fun, and I'm currently frantically taking pics and scanning covers of my new acquisitions to share with you soon. Spoiler alert: I exercised precious little self control this year, though, really, when have I ever?

In the meantime, however, this year I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak behind the scenes of the massive setup work in progress on Monday afternoon, as well as the final last minute fine-tuning just before the sale opened on Tuesday. I have to give a big thank you to Lisa Perry, a dedicated volunteer with the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and also, happily for me, a reader of this blog, for allowing me this wonderful preview. And I also have to thank Brenda Salguero, volunteer manager for the Friends, for taking time out of what must have been a crazy afternoon on Monday to talk to us about her team of volunteers (50-60 present that afternoon, even more expected for early Tuesday) and some of the logistics they dealt with. She also mentioned the staggering amount the organization must pay to rent the space at Fort Mason—San Francisco is indeed not a cheap city!—which is a large part of the reason that the spring book sale was, sadly, discontinued this year.

(This must have been part of my inspiration for doing my part to defray the costs by splurging on books, but more on that in my next post.)

Andy took lots of great photos of the space, the empty tables, and the shopping carts awaiting frantic shoppers:

It was fascinating to see things starting to come together. Obviously, Tuesday was even more exciting. First, we stopped in at the permanent Friends of the SFPL bookshop just around the corner from the pavilion where the Big Book Sale is held. There, I got to meet Deborah, a fellow blogger whom many of you know as Book Barmy, who got me warmed up for the big sale by pointing out an irresistible book she'd thought belonged on my shelves, and also directing me to a couple of sections of vintage books that I'd never noticed on previous visits. The books themselves I'll save for the next post, but a big thank you to Deborah, too, for the warm welcome and the inside scoop.

Then it was on to the pavilion, where we had the distinct pleasure of bypassing the long and winding line in order to get a thrilling glimpse of the fully assembled sale (with just a bit of last minute tidying on the part of the heroic volunteers). It was a heavenly sight, still in its pristine, unrifled glory, and with only a few volunteers lingering here and there preparing for the madness.

I convinced Lisa to pose for a picture as well, to give credit where credit was due.

Then I spent a few minutes gazing lustfully at the hardcover fiction tables, which you must admit were a thing of beauty.

The peril of looking at these pics in retrospect... that I see books I missed at the time. Drat!

It wouldn't be a book sale post without the traditional "geek with granny cart" pic:

Ready, set...

While I held my strategic position until the starting bell (there's no bell, really, but wouldn’t it be fun if there were? or perhaps a gong?), Andy waited to capture a couple of photos of the very beginning of the rush:

And then we were off, and I was lost in the intent search for treasures for several hours, which remain something of a blur, though I am sure I was having fun.

We're venturing back to the sale on Saturday morning, as new books are put out each day, so who knows what additional treasures there might be yet to find? In the meantime, I'm working on getting a handle on what I already have, and I'll share it all with you by Sunday at the latest.

In the meantime, here's one more picture Andy snapped of two of the volunteers in their Sunday best:

The sale continues through Sunday—see here for details.
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