Friday, August 24, 2012

Postcards from Mount Desert Island: Library Sales

It seems that the third weekend in August is Mount Desert Island's weekend for library book sales, where the profits augment an often-tight budget. We were stunned to realize that we visit the island around this time every year, but we had only been to one library sale prior to this year. We were either much saner in previous years or out of our minds; I'm not sure which. 

This year we managed to hit two sales on opening day without advance planning: Somesville and Bar Harbor. We checked out the sale at Northeast Harbor later in the week, and revisited the Bar Harbor sale days later, while it still had thousands of books. I don't think Southwest Harbor's library had a sale or we'd have gone there, too.

While many books are library discards, most of them are donated by people cleaning out their houses. Bar Harbor residents clearly include scientists and professors of English literature, serious cooks and voracious romance readers. In Northeast Harbor, there was a gigantic mystery section and an entire shelf of Laura Ashley decorating books (I passed). In Somesville, people seem to like trade paperbacks from years gone by. At times, I felt like I was seeing my own shelves laid out across the folding tables under the tents. 

Somesville's tiny library disguised its event as a blueberry festival. But the books were a bigger attraction than the muffins, cakes, and jam. Most hardcovers were a dollar, while paperbacks were 50 cents.

This sign had to be obeyed.

An excellent old-time jazz band provided entertainment.

Browsers under the tent.

Inside the library, a quiet gem.

We already have so many books that we are shelving them on windowsills and stacking them on tables because our 200 linear feet of bookshelf space is full. I try never to buy books. But, somehow, we couldn't resist buying half of a set of Harvard Classics (Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf, or a couple of feet of it, anyway) in an elegant edition in fine condition for $20, or about buck a book. They'll fit in my husband's office at school, where he added more bookshelves.

Within moments of arriving, I found a 1949 edition of The American Woman's Cookbook for a dollar.  It's packed with basic information and color illustrations — it's a classic of "the only cookbook you'll ever need" genre, designed to instruct the post-War bride in everything from stretching her main dishes to catering her own daughter's wedding reception. I have to admit that the illustrations are often sort of nauseating, with lots of piped cream cheese and maraschino cherry garnishes, etc. But I love it. 


I also bought a copy of Trilby by George DuMaurier for $5. The printing date appears to be 1894, but there's a bookplate from 1911 inside, and an envelope glued inside the back cover holds an article on DuMaurier cut from a 1911issue of Harper's Monthly. I discovered DuMaurier after reading Rebecca West's novels, including The Fountain Overflows, probably my all-time favorite novel. The Edwardian family in the story loved DuMaurier's books, so I read them, too. 

I also found a good hardcover copy of Rebecca West's The Birds Fall Down. This was impossible to find in the pre-Internet used-book world. In fact, I gave up back then and forgot all about it until last week. Now it's mine!

We filled a crate with hardbacks and then found ourselves at the much bigger sale in Bar Harbor. Book tables lines the interior of the library and filled a couple of meeting rooms. Outside, the extensive grounds were loaded with tables groaning with books, too. Again, hardcovers were mostly a dollar.

The indoor sale. We filled a box with hardcover biographies.

The bake sale boggled the mind. This is how it looked near closing time.
Volunteer bakers had heeded the call. I learned later that the town's firemen, 
police, and YWCA benefited from leftovers, and the rest was frozen for
use at library events throughout the year.

After two sales, our trunk was loaded and we tried to get a grip on ourselves. The sale in Northeast Harbor was in the smelly concrete basement of their new building, but the books were arranged by subject in alphabetical order by author. I was amazed to see this after having to sift through random stacks, rows, and boxes at the other sales. Northeast Harbor seems to be a law unto itself in many ways, which I won't go into here.... But I only bought Judith "Miss Manners" Martin's book about Venice, No Vulgar Hotel. One can never have too many books about Venice. But I have absolutely no place to put it.

I came away from these sales with admiration for the strong spirit of community on the island, from the sheer quantity of the donations, to the volunteers who organized the sales and arranged all those thousands of books, hauling one heavy box after another. Then there were the many friendly people who chatted with me as we perused the aisles and shared our finds. We were witnessing the legendary New England spirit of making the most out of the resources available and working for the common good.

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