Nirvana. Paradise. Garden of Eden. The Promised Land.
If you’re a book lover living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can get to heaven simply by heading over to Ft. Mason this week, where the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library are holding their 48th Annual Big Book Sale. According to the event website, over 500,000 items are on sale, all benefiting the SFPL’s literacy programs. It’s an amazing event, truly. Filling a warehouse-sized building, there are tables and tables filled with books of every shape, size, and subject, from tattered to pristine, from fiction to the most esoteric of topics and then some. For most of the sale, all hardcovers are $3 and paperbacks are $2 — but if you want the biggest bargain of all, stop by on Sunday when everything is $1.
Tuesday night was member preview night, which I’ve attended for the past several years. Doors opened at 4:00; when I arrived at about 3:30, the line snaked all the way around the building and down the side of the adjacent pier. I couldn’t help but get a thrill walking by all the early birds on the way to the back of the line — these are my peeps! A crowd full of book folks! People as crazed as I am, showing up with boxes, tote bags, and granny carts, chattering excitedly about what they hoped to find and what tables they planned to hit first.
My friend and I used our waiting time wisely, scoping out the map of the floor plan and plotting our order of attack: Start with science fiction and fantasy, then horror, then move on to regular fiction. Time allowing, we’d probably split up after that: me to kids’ books, graphic novels, and science; her to literary criticism, travel, and occult. Of course, once the doors opened, we were swept up in the mass rush for good books, four hours flew by in the blink of an eye, and I never did make it much further than fiction. C’est la vie.
I went to the sale with a very short wish list this year. Having spent this past weekend putting books on my new bookshelves, I went to the sale damned sure that I’d keep my purchases to a minimum. I have plenty to read in my house already!*
*I’m quite certain that if I bought no new books and took nothing out of the library for an entire year, and spent the year reading only those books already on my shelves which I haven’t read yet, I would not run out of reading material by the end of that year. I actually thought about setting this up as a challenge for myself — my year of no new books! — but where’s the fun in that?
However, my good intentions flew out the window once I entered the sale. My tally for the night: 44 books for $88. I never did find the book I most hoped to find. (Note: If you go to the sale and happen to spot a copy of Doc by Mary Doria Russell, grab it for me!)
I did walk out with quite a satisfying haul:
- For someone who professes not to be a fan of short stories, I sure ended up with a bunch of short story collections. Among them, four (4!!!) books of Stephen King stories, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, a Norton anthology of science fiction, and a big fat volume entitled Treasures of Fantasy.
- I managed to pick up some mint condition copies of classic works of science fiction by Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, and Greg Bear.
- Lots of people seemed to have off-loaded ARCs this year. My finds included ARCs of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, and The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe.
- I found lovely hardcover copies of The Thorn Birds and The Good Earth, both books I read and adored years ago, but which I’d lost or misplaced in various moves over the years.
- I replaced a few books, lost when loaned out to friends who never returned them… you know who you are. Don’t worry, all is forgiven. Just don’t ask to borrow any more books.
- Picked up — dirt cheap — various volumes in series I’ve been meaning to read, including books by Karen Marie Moning, Seanan McGuire, Patrick Rothfuss, and Jasper Fforde.
- Plus, several other fiction titles, some very new, some I’ve always wanted to read, some I’ve read as library books but always wished to have on my shelves.
Ahhh. The pleasure of being surrounded by people who adore books, pawing through stacks and piles of paperbacks and hardcovers, looking for the gems among the thousands of books on display.
Then there are the books which I have already and love insanely. Every time I’d see a Diana Gabaldon book, I’d have to touch it and say hello. (Don’t judge me; I wasn’t being creepy or anything.) Whenever I came across something by Christopher Moore, I’d have to stifle a giggle — just seeing his books makes me laugh.
Of course, on the flip side, every time I came across a book I’d bought during the past year for more than $3, I wanted to kick myself. When will I learn? Every year, I leave the Big Book Sale resolved to not buy any more books until the next sale rolls around. Sadly, I never manage to live up to my resolutions.
What more can I say? Awesome event, great selections, amazing bargains, and all for a good cause. Check it out!