A Sale Frequented by a Madman…Signifying Everything

Last weekend, Tito, Scott, a few other fab folks, and myself went to the annual Big Book Sale at Fort Mason. What you see at the right is the haul that I came away with. (Scott’s acquisitions can be found here. Tito’s too is somewhere. However, it can’t be by accident that RotR fave Anthony Burgess lauded one of his serendipitious finds.)

There are fifty books in this photograph. And heaven help me if I had actually managed to venture past the fiction and history sections. These book were often selected on the flimsiest of pretexts, even when I was strong enough to purge and put other books back. I did manage to find So Little Time, a rare out-of-print collection of John P. Marquand’s essays. However, none of this did not stop me from forcing books into the hands of my companions, urging them in the strongest possible terms that they had to read certain books. Moral of the story: you do not want to be near me when books are cheap and I know your reading sensibilities.

Understand that this is the result of a mentally unbalanced man. Where others have drugs and pornography as rampant addictions, I have this whole book thing to contend with. I don’t know what I was thinking when I loaded an entire shopping cart with these babies. But I can certainly confess that I was feeling. Perhaps too much. Certainly, it was the proverbial tale of a kid let loose in a candy store failing to consider pragamatism, let alone self-control. It is this addictive component of my personality that has caused me to avoid video games and television like the plague, devoting such ardor to better things.

Scott Esposito, who is a far more practical gentleman than I am, was kind enough to store this unbelievably ridiculous load at his house for me to pick up later. It occupied four bags and weighed approximately thirty pounds.

I have enlisted a team of friends and professionals to ensure that I do not set foot near a bookstore or a book sale for some time. To encourage me is to release a recovering heroin addict without methadone.

If humans had not invented credit cards, and if books were not full of such interesting things, then, of course, none of this would have ever happened. I would be one of those safe and easily tractable beings getting excited about American Idol. So like Rosseau revealing his closeted sexual interests in his Confessions, I am here to tell you (if you hadn’t guessed already) that I am a book freak of the highest order. I need professional help, for I am nothing less than a moth attracted to the flame.


  1. This is so familiar, right down to the substance-abuse analogies that I’ve been rather uncomfortably making about myself for several years now. I’m currently experimenting with the concept of a brief respite – until I make a genuine dent in the 20-book stack on my bedside table, I won’t buy any more books. I think if I were in the States, or anywhere where I might come across something like a Big Book Sale, this would be a big fat joke, but Israeli bookstores are so pathetically stocked that I might actually make it. All I have to do is avoid my two favorite used bookstores, and whenever the guy who sets up a used book stall on campus shows up I’ll just close my eyes and think of puppies.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    (By the way, a major problem with the photo is that I can’t tell what books are in the stack. The only I can even guess is the fifth from the top, which seems to be the sixth Harry Potter book.)

  2. Have any of you seen Caveh Zahedi’s film In the Bathtub of the World? It’s an autobiographical documentary cut together from footage he shot every day over the course of one year. At one point he owns up to his book addiction and makes a pact to not buy another one until he finishes the book he’s just started — a Borges biography, as I recall. Three or four scenes later, he looks at the camera and says, “I bought another book today.”

    Knoxville has a surprisingly great used book store. I don’t allow myself to go there more than once a month.

  3. I have exactly, exactly your problem. It is insane. I recommend the largest-size LL Bean tote bag, a friend gave it to me as sort of a joke present in grad school but you can actually fit in almost 35 books and sling it over a shoulder.

    Glad to spot some of my favorites in your stack, namely “The Crow Road,” “Earthly Powers” and Pynchon. The photo is too blurry for me to read the names unless I know what it is already! Happy reading. (Read “The Crow Road” first, it’s amazing. I love Iain Banks, you can’t go wrong with him in my opinion. You have also nostalgically reminded me of my younger self sitting on the bench for a lacrosse game–this means I was in ninth grade–reading “Earthly Powers” and just desperately hoping that the coach wouldn’t actually take me off the bench and put me in the game. I think it is a quite gripping novel.)

  4. Earthly Powers has one of the best opening lines EVER: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed wth my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” How could you NOT be immediately interested in the text that follows, I ask?

  5. There is something magic in the transaction of buying a book- Kelly Link puts in one of her stories a girl making a sandwhich, but it appears as if really she were making something completely different and it just looked like a sandwhich- a good book store is like that- there are no petty commercial transactions. You are purchasing a story, creation, escape, enhancing your imaginative horizons- you are not buying paper with words on it- it just looks that way. And because those words will now be yours, and not just the words, but the beauty of the texture and weight of the book is yours- and you may crack the binding placing it face down, you find the prose frustrating and obtuse or it may be the best experience you’ve ever had without a partner (or you could read it to your partner)- it’s yours to have and you are greatful for the oppurtunity.
    On behalf of the city of Portland, Oregon I’d like to invite you all to visit Powell’s on your next trip this way. It’s Mecca, it’s Heaven- it’s huge and funky and you get lost and kinda glassy-eyed roving around, hunting- but for what? Then your eyes alight on a promising find, you pull it from the shelf and someone walking by comments that they, too, have read- and oh, have you tried —? There is nothing like it. Or do other cities contain these wonders in microcosm? Just be careful and don’t confuse the main store with the lesser powell’s satelites in the suburbs- the one you want is on 10th & Burnside- 4 stories, a whole block, and contains a coffee shop & an art gallery. No, I don’t work there. But you may find me in the gold room. Or in a corner of the blue room.
    PS- Ed, do not under any circumstances open an account with alibris. Unless you have many empty shelves to fill…

  6. I am a major book addict. I buy them and may not read any recent purchases for months or even years. In my travels I picked up “So Little Time” by John Marquand, no dust jacket, 1943, pub’d by Little Brown & Company. It’s in pretty good shape, but frayed on the spine edges. Unfortunately, the store where I picked it up (The Book Thing in Baltimore) stamps all books inside the cover, but this is the only marking on it. Any input as to value?
    I collect old books as well, including Perry Mason and James Bond. My oldest book is 1878-1882, called “Mother Home & Heaven”. Any info on this book is appreciated.
    Thank you.

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