Why I Love the Annual Library Book Sale


Every spring, I look forward to the book sale at our local library with a consuming sense of anticipation.

For a book lover, it offers the best of all worlds. It takes place at the library, for starters. Since I was first let loose in the children’s reading room as a little girl, I’ve treasured a library’s comforting, book shrine atmosphere and the rapture-inducing scent of so many books in one place. Those feelings have only intensified over time. But as an adult, I’ve also come to appreciate the blend of humanity that congregates around a shared affection for the written word. That blend comes together for the book sale, too.

Sometimes, I discover more than just books on the sale tables – wonderful surprises secreted between the pages, gifts unwittingly left behind by the previous reader for the enjoyment of the next. Dog-eared corners. Handwritten notes in the margins. Bookmarks, photographs, a newspaper clipping. I even found a recipe tucked inside a book jacket once. I flip through the books, not exactly looking for these souvenirs, though certainly pleased when they reveal themselves. They leave me curious. How many readers have encountered this book before me? And after I’m done, after I’ve donated it back to the library for next year’s sale, how many readers will follow?

Library book sales offer all the physical satisfaction of live shopping in a bookstore, the tactile engagement Amazon denies me. Yet book sales are easier than both on the wallet. Every genre is there for the taking, and the books cost no more than a few dollars apiece. I have patience, though. I wait until the final hours of the book sale weekend when I can snag an entire tote filled with books for just $5. That’s a lot of reading without having to do any math. I bring a pretty large tote without shame. On Monday, they give away whatever they don’t sell anyway.

What I love most about book sales, though, is the serendipity. I rarely arrive with a specific list of books I’m looking for, and I come too late to score the hot titles everyone else wants to buy. I prefer to leave it all to chance, hoping I’ll stumble upon a diamond in the rough. This year, I got lucky. In the fiction tent, I found Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, which I’ve wanted to read for a while. From the Judaica section, I took home a stack of S.Y. Agnon novels, all hardcovers in English translation. And my diamonds: a gorgeous Collier’s World Atlas circa 1941, filled with countries that don’t exist anymore, and a book of vintage prints that highlight the most picturesque spots in the United States.

The backstories are wonderful, too – the conversations that spring up between shoppers, all looking for a little book love. When I went to the book sale last month, I bumped into a few friends. We compared finds, agreeing to a book swap after we’ve read them. I exchanged recommendations with a couple I’d just met near the biographies. And there was the brief dialogue I had with a tweed jacket professor type, who quipped, “I guess we’re both looking for the steamy romance novels,” as we stood near the classics. His girlfriend called him a “book snob.” He winked at her, proffering, “That’s right.” I decided not to get involved.

And with that, I was done. I chose to leave the last spaces in my tote empty, though on my way out I picked up a small volume of Abraham Lincoln’s wisest sayings because, why not? I could carry no more.

What a luxury, I thought, savoring the satisfaction of the hunt while cataloging my bounty in my head. I turned towards home, wondering where I would put it all, already daydreaming about what I’ll find next year.

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