By Steve Donoghue
You come back home from Little League coaching and see the cat lolling lazily in the sunlight. You notice that you still have your game whistle hanging around your neck.
You force yourself to smile as a particularly overbearing relative arrives for Thanksgiving. You remember that your son’s novelty seat cushion, the kind that makes farting sounds, is on a shelf in the garage.
An insufferable co-worker has colonized an entire break room table to do an enormous jigsaw puzzle and has left it unattended. You’re passing by the loose pieces and spot an itty-bitty one that would no doubt be crucial to finishing the thing down the line.
You pride yourself in getting through the first whole day of your new diet. Right behind your tofu leftovers in the refrigerator is a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies.
Life is full of temptations. And sometimes it really does seem, as Oscar Wilde famously quipped, that the only way to get rid of them is to yield to them.
For book people, one of the sharpest, most pitiless temptations of all is a simple cardboard sign that says “Library Sale Today.” That kind of temptation can get worse, of course. If the cardboard sign, for instance, says “Library Sale Today – Fill a Bag for $5,” is there a book person anywhere in the country with the strength to resist?
I was reminded to ask myself those kinds of questions just recently when my town held its regularly-scheduled book sale, because the simple truth is, I’d like to be the kind of book person who has the strength to resist that kind of siren song. Every year at this time, I feel compelled to shrink my book collection, to get it under tight control, to end the year with the minimum amount of excess and get back to the basics of my collection. This is the time of year I try to be shedding books, not adding them.
It’s only sensible. As a book reviewer, I get dozens of books a week from publishers in the mail. I get dozens more as e-books sent from publicists, and those e-books go straight to my trusty e-reader. And that e-reader is already crammed with hundreds and hundreds of books. And every wall of every room in this house is lined with bookcases likewise crammed with books, print-and-paper books of all kinds and descriptions. And I’ve got a good selection of charity shops and used bookstores within easy reach. If I’ve got some sudden urge for a particular book or author, I’ve got half a dozen ways to satisfy that urge without ever resorting to the wilds of eBay.
In other words, as heretical as it sounds for a book person to say, I don’t need to go out of my way in order to hunt for yet more books. I have plenty of books, get plenty more without effort or expense, and want far fewer books than I have.
A new Joe Pickett novel by C. J. Box? A fat new fantasy epic? A new study of the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the American workplace? A collection of Thomas Mann short stories in a new translation? A lovingly annotated new collection of some Pulitzer Prize-winners letters? A cheesy old “Star Trek” novel I’ve read a million times? A battered Agatha Christie paperback that’s seen better days but still has a couple of wonderful re-reads in it? A hundred-year-old study of Rembrandt’s life and times? I’ve got these things and plenty more, already here, no tote bag needed.
But what about all the fantastic goodies that might be waiting for me at that library book sale? Those sales, especially the big ones that fill an entire auditorium and draw hundreds of people in a single weekend, are almost always amazing events, with table after table filled with books of all kinds. Maybe a solid hardcover edition of a beloved book whose old paperback is only held together with rubber bands? Maybe an older title the library is dropping from its collection but that will answer some reading taste of yours just perfectly? Maybe a whole armload of delightfully soapy old romances that the lady at the table will let you have for a grand total of $1? Maybe an entire set of some series, yours for dirt cheap as long as you can lug it home?
These kinds of daydreams come flocking to mind at the mere sight of that “Library Sale Today” sign. The mere sight of it reminds me of every enormously fun time I’ve had at library book sales over the years, the thrilling finds I’ve made, some of which are sitting right there on my shelves even now, having survived purge after purge. Those signs make me imagine all the things that COULD be there, just waiting for me. This is what the Twitter kids call FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
“No evil damns us hopelessly,” writes George Eliot in “Daniel Deronda,” except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from.” She might as well have been talking about library book sales.
I managed to stay away this time. But my tote back is ready for next time.