Tag Archives: book sale

The vultures

I have to tell you about the book dealers.

Book dealers are not people I’d ever given any thought to before this time last year. I’d heard the phrase, I suppose; I knew it was a job; but if you’d asked me I would have imagined them as little old men in dusty shops, surrounded by heavy leather-bound tomes of great antiquity. If you wanted to buy or sell a particular hard-to-find book, you’d go there and have a conversation in hushed tones.

Of course, now there’s the Internet, so everyone can be an armchair book dealer if they want to. You can sell your granny’s collection of Barbara Cartlands on e-Bay or Craigslist or Adverts.ie or just get someone to take them away from Freecycle.

But if you run a used-book sale every year, even just a local PTA one, and it’s quite big and contains books donated by many different and interesting people, word gets out. And the book dealers find out about it (especially if you advertise on one of their websites), and they come to your sale.

And these people are intense. This is not a hobby. This is life or death, I’m telling you. It’s a cut-throat business.

For one thing, someone tried to sabotage our ad listing on the dealer website last year by changing it to say that the books had already been picked over by a dealer. This would make the other dealers think it was less worth their while coming. They tried to do this in an email using the (misspelt) name of the PTA president so it would look as if it was an instruction coming from us. Luckily we caught it and changed it back, because our books are never picked over. Something similar happened again this year. They don’t back down.

On the day the sale starts, we bring all the books to the venue and set them up on tables under a tent, usually by about 2pm. Then one or two of us stays to put up lights and get everything in order, and to make sure nobody runs off with the books. By 2:30 that afternoon, there was a guy wandering around, looking interestedly at the books. He was friendly and polite, and he didn’t touch anything, but he wasn’t just an idle passerby. There was another one by 3pm. The sale doesn’t open till 6. All afternoon they arrived in ones and twos, some with bags on little trundle trolleys, ready to take away a haul. They ranged themselves around the sale, and I started to kick them out of the middle rows where they were too obviously poking around.

Some of them are lovely, friendly, polite people who don’t like others giving the profession a bad name. They all see each other at events like this regularly – every weekend, maybe. I was amazed by how many of them I recognized from last year. Some of them are a little grumpy and unfriendly. But they all did what I asked and stayed out of the stacks as soon as I said they needed to move.

To be honest, it was a little bit of a power trip, having all these people do what I told them. The volunteers staffing the sale from six o’clock on hadn’t arrived yet, so I was singlehandedly holding back the tide. The semblance of perfect authority was slightly marred by my children, who were also there, dancing along behind me demanding ice cream and lollipops and whatever they thought they might get at the festival that was setting up all around us. All these adults, perfect strangers, hanging on my every word … and these two short people who came out of my own uterus, ignoring me. I caught a few amused eyes in the crowd.

I told the dealers there was no touching until six. I emphasized that we were going by my clock, not anyone else’s. I swear I saw someone synchronize their watch. They inched ever closer to the tarps tantalizingly covering up the books and the CDs (we have a media section too). At 5:50 I had to start removing the tarps. You could have cut the tension with a knife. Their eyes were bulging out of their heads and their fingers were itching to grab a box of books or riffle through a tray of music. I held all the power. I restrained myself from letting out a maniacal laugh. I watched the second hand tick by. I wondered if I could mess with them by never announcing that the sale was open.

My relief shift began to show up, and I hugged them, because the tension was getting to me, and I really couldn’t open at six if nobody else was there to run it. Three minutes later I said the word, and the surge of book dealers broke over the books. I had to leave then, because it was carnage. I*’d spent all month sorting and packing and stacking those boxes full of books and these ingrates were pulling them all out and throwing them around willy nilly.

The next morning I prowled around the now-much-calmer sale grumbling about how people should be banned because they just mess everything up, and how book sales would be much better without any customers at all.

This is probably how the people who work in Old Navy feel every single day. It’s a good exercise in letting go.

Many people milling around and under a large canopy tent

Let loose the dogs of… oh well.

*Not just me, of course. Me and quite a few other volunteers who enjoy sorting things of similar sizes neatly into boxes. But for the purposes of dramatic retelling, me.

Without whom

I was pretty much dreading Friday. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and if there’s one thing I try to avoid, it’s work. Especially of the moving-around, lifting-and-carrying kind. Also the other kinds, but mostly that kind.

Friday was the day when we had to take all the books that we’d spent the past five weeks collecting and sorting into boxes and piling up in the music room at school, and move them to the booksale site at the festival. You don’t understand how many boxes that is, how many books that is, how heavy they are, how I looked around the room and wondered how we would ever do it.

But you know you have amazing friends, and fabulous volunteers, and a wonderful community, when someone asks you what they can do, whether it’s finding empty boxes or piling up books, or something else entirely. When someone else says “I can’t be there in the morning but can I bring some cold drinks and fill the cooler with ice for you?” When ten parents show up to carry boxes of books instead of going to the gym (just as good a workout) or going home and enjoying their calm and child-free house, or even going to work.

We had hired a U-Haul to get the books on site. A 17-footer, I believe, which sounds more like a yacht to me. We filled it to capacity, twice. And unfilled it, twice. We had pizza in between runs, paid for by the PTA, as well they might.

And it was all done, with good humour and a lot of laughter. The sale was in place, and I had all the rest of the afternoon to string the lights and artfully place my pricing signs (hastily photocopied in the school the day before) and shoo away the book dealers who find out about these things and begin to circle like vultures more than an hour before you open, just in case they might be allowed to browse the stacks before we start taking the money. Hands off until 6pm but I couldn’t stop them walking slowly by those books that were uncovered and looking with their eyes, not their hands.

It didn’t rain yesterday or last night, and the forecast for the rest of the weekend is fine. If we get through without any downpours we are on track to do well. Even if it rains and all our stock is wiped out, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve made a profit, we have money in the PTA coffers, we’ve upheld the tradition of the booksale, which might possibly have been going for 50 years, according to sources in the local paper last week. And I was part of it.

At my first PTA meeting in the school, four years ago, the first thing that happened was a report on that year’s book sale. I looked in awe at the parent who had run it and thought that, while I was eager to help out, I would never be the one to take on such a responsibility.

Guess I can chalk another one up to “things I’ll never do” and be ever grateful for everyone else who helps, without whom it would not happen.

Boxes of books piled up on tables under a tent; people browsing.

One booksale, for your enjoyment.


I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.

Sundry updates

It’s one of those times when real life whizzes by faster than blog time, and I end up having to give you a list just to get things you need to know* out of the way.

*Need to know for full and complete appreciation of the blog, I mean.

So, without further ado, and in roughly chronological order, these things have happened:

– Mabel started school. So did Dash, of course, but this year Mabel’s the one with the big changes. I wrote a little bit about it here. She started last week, but after the long weekend of Labour Day, going back this morning was the roughest one yet. How long do I have to keep buying her bribes for? Until middle school, just?

Mabel in classroom

– The PTA book sale was a great success, in spite of a massive thunderstorm that rolled in on Sunday evening, shutting us down early and making some of our stock unusable. We had tarps to cover the tables, and put as many boxes as we could up there, but any boxes still under the tables that were in direct contact with the ground ended up sopping wet.

book sale under tents

– I may or may not have been a bookseller in a former life. But I should probably be one at some point in this one. I loved it. I loved the tetris-like challenge of “reshelving”, I loved remembering where I’d seen something that would go with this one, I loved seeing the droves of people buying so many books that they’d never find anywhere else, and by the third day I was talking to the books. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but they seemed to like it.

kids on ride at funfair

– I have Lyme disease, did I mention that? At least, I don’t actually have any symptoms, but I’m on antibiotics to make it go away. I had an odd fever with a stiff neck while we were in Italy and it was only when we got home that I decided, paranoidly, that maybe I had Lyme. I got checked rather than leave it to be a Thing I Obsess About In Bed At Night, and hey presto, I do. I never noticed the tick bite and have no visible rash. But we do live in a very high-Lyme area. My only lesson for you on that is: don’t be too paranoid, but do be just paranoid enough.

– We’re getting Dash tested for I don’t know what, a Learning Disability or something maybe, because vision therapy was great but it wasn’t the Ultimate Answer to his reading difficulties. The doctor I spoke to was trying to steer me in the direction of ADHD, but I honestly don’t think that’s it. I think he’s got some form of dyslexia. Or Overachieving Parent, it could be that. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, Third Grade seems Very Serious. Homework starts this week; I’ll see better how he’s keeping up when we get that.

Loft bed with desk underneath

– Or maybe I won’t, since he got a new bed and he’s going to do his homework in his bedroom now. Maybe I’ll just have to deal with Mabel’s homework. I’m really hoping that K homework is all drawing and stuff she likes to do.

All caught up now? Good.

(I’m making the photos big. If this has a terrible effect on your download times, tell me.)

Your Kindle can’t do this

Our school’s parent-teacher association runs a massive used-book sale every September, at the festival that takes place in our town for the Labor Day weekend. We collect thousands upon thousands of books, sort them into boxes for easy transport and display, and set them up on tables (under tents for shade, this year). We charge a dollar or two each for them – less as the weekend progresses and we just want them off our hands – and we raise a whole lot of money for the PTA to help the school send kids on field trips and do all the other great things our PTA does.

It’s a massive undertaking to organize the sale, and it takes a lot of volunteer power. This year for the first time (now that I’m no longer involved in volunteering for the nursery school) I’m helping out more than I had before – as someone yesterday said, I get to see how the sausages are put in the casings instead of just selling the sausages at the end. Looking at the amazing collection, ranging from the bizarre to the vintage, the beautiful to the trashy, I wondered about the people who gave their books away. Or who died and left others to clear them up and pass them on.

An elderly couple drove up to the school in the morning, after the first-day-of-school crowds had dissipated, with a pickup truck full of books. Not even in boxes or bags – just about 400 hardback tomes, mostly if not all non-fiction, tossed loose in the back for us to put on our little red wagon and trundle into the sorting room, one journey at a time.

From our end, seeing the wagon come into the room piled high with books, it looked like another half hour of sorting, flipping, deciding, box-cutting, and lugging. From the point of view of the sale, it might mean another $500 or more for the school, depending on whether the right person happened upon the right thing at the right time, or whether they were in fact saleable at all.

But as I went out to the truck to help fish everything out and load it up, and talked to the donors, I learned what else these books meant.

“These books mostly belonged to my son,” the woman said. She told me she was 80, but she seemed like a very young 80 to me. The sort of 80 I’d aspire to. “Some of them were his daughter’s.” Some of them were books they’d bought for their kids or their grandkids – a beautiful full set of animal encyclopedias with luscious illustrations. I thought of the 1970s childhoods of the siblings in a house where that set was a prized Christmas present, maybe. The whole lot ranged magnificently in subject matter from sailing to Freemasonry, and all sorts in between – a history of the world in many heavy volumes, a giant medical textbook… As if these were people who just picked up books and took them home because they liked them. They owned books to own books. “You’d know so much,” she said to me, “if you read all this.”

They had raised their family in our town, and only moved away when the children were grown. Her son, the one whose books many of these were, had died.  She said all the siblings come back for the festival every year. She picked out a few books that had been included by mistake: “I wanted to keep this one,” she’d say, and watching her fingers run over the dust cover, I could see the meaning it held for her, the familiarity and the memories and the history behind that particular collection of pages and binding. Every one of those books probably had a history behind it in her eyes. So many memories; so many stories.

“You’ll have a lot more space now,” I remarked, when we’d unloaded them all. I pictured empty shelves, or a whole corner maybe devoid of its stacks. They looked at me with relief in their eyes and agreed. But it was more than just space in their house. I knew they were saying a last goodbye to their son with this journey; moving on mentally, making a space and a peace inside themselves. Making room for grandchildren and the great-grandchild they told me was on the way. They may have been 80, but life was moving on and they were moving with it.

I went back to my sorting with new eyes.


Girl sitting among many books.

Mabel and Dash at the book sale three (!) years ago. (There’ll be tents and tables this year. It’ll be all fancy.)