The February ’16 Boston Public Library Book Sale!
Once again I combed my few remaining hairs, donned pants, kissed my frail old dogs good-bye, and ventured out to the bi-monthly book sale hosted by the stalwart City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library, even though I need a sack of new books about as much as I need an attack of malaria. But this time, my customary route – take the creaky, eau de urine Orange Line to Back Bay, walk over the the library – contained a detour!
I instead went down to the vaguely post-apocalyptic bleak underground hangar where the commuter train from Parts West pulls in, and there I greeted my guests for the book-sale: Giselle Bradley and Chris Rhodes, each stellar Booktubers and together the stars of the Rhodes Vlog, their daily vlogging channel. They agreed to make a day of it in Boston, weather permitting – and since weather didn’t permit on Friday and weather isn’t going to permit on Monday, Saturday’s book sale seemed like a natural fit. Together, the three of us climbed the stairs to the Sargent Gallery, braced ourselves, and plunged into the extremely hot, cramped confines of the Cushman Room where the sale is now held, despite that grand old building having seven bigger, better spaces I can think of just off the top of my head. The sale in the Cushman Room is a little like participating in one of those old-fashioned fraternity stunts where all the brothers try to cram into a phone booth – only without the extra space.
Giselle and Chris are wonderful company just in general, but I always tend to forget how extra-wonderful it is to go to a big, interesting book sale with fellow book people. Once there’s some serious browsing to be done, book people simply do it – there’s no thought of keeping each other entertained, no thought of small talk, in fact no thought of talk at all. Instead, apart from quick periodic checking-in, each is off in their own world, searching for their own treasures, consulting their own mental lists, and, in the case of the Cushman Room, fending for themselves against the NBA-quality elbow-jabs of some of the less friendly natives. I took one from a 90-year-old lady that would have done credit to Bill Russell in his prime.
I filled a basket with my customary speed. Library book sales prompt the suspension of some of the rules that otherwise govern book-shopping, and I’ve long since stopped fighting this. At library book sales, whims are to be indulged to a far greater extent than elsewhere; past reading mistakes and omissions are to be generously corrected; and most of all, when the sojourn is over, minimal pruning.
As a result of such lunatic rules (as opposed to a rule like, say, “don’t go to library book sales,” which might just possibly make more sense considering how many books I get in the mail every day), I ended up with a small stack of books:
Blood Song and Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan – I first became aware of these two “Raven’s Shadow” novels a few years ago (and wrote a rave review of Tower Lord back in 2014) and have always been predictably mystified as to where my original copies went, so when I found them both in the Cushman Room’s steamy confines, I snatched them up. Too much to hope that Queen of Fire would be there as well, but maybe a kind-hearted publicist at Ace will be able to find a copy in their warehouse, if I ask nicely…
The Norton Critical Death in Venice – a necessarily slim volume, translated by Clayton Koelb with the usual generous selection of extras and critical essays in the back. I’ve of course been thinking of this novella as natural addition to my new Books … of Venice feature here at Stevereads, but even without such a feature, I just love the one-stop-shopping feel of Norton Critical editions, where you not only get a wonderfully annotated version of whichever book but also an intelligently-chosen spectrum of earlier responses to that work. It’s why I seldom pass up a Norton edition, regardless of how many other editions of the book I might have (*sigh*)
Honorable Justice – Sheldon Novick’s resoundingly good biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the perfect companion volume to Catherine Drinker Bowen’s more eloquent but less critical Yankee from Olympus. Up until just recently, I had a paperback copy of Honorable Justice – one that I never read, because a) the type was too small, and b) the binding was so cheap and tight that opening the book wide enough to write in the margins would have pulled it apart like an Oreo cookie. I got rid of that old paperback secure in the confidence that I would either find the Little, Brown hardcover some day or else somehow manage to live the rest of my life without any copy at all – but I’m happy it was the former!
The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller – Since Orbit Books was deaf to my repeated entreaties for a review copy of this book when it first appeared a couple of years ago, I never actually read it back when it was garnering a fair amount of word of mouth – so I was happy to find it in the Cushman Room for dirt cheap. It’s the first volume in Miller’s “Tarnished Crown” series, and off the top of my head I can’t recall ever seeing a second volume in the series, which might be an ominous sign. I’ll know soon enough, since another library book-sale rule I always follow is to read (or re-read) all the books I get there in fairly short order. I’ll report back here on Stevereads one of these days.
The Making of a Publisher – this industry memoir by Victor Weybright is subtitled “A Life in the 20th Century Book Revolution,” and the revolution in question is of course the paperback revolution, the new move by publishers to bring out cheap paperbacks of their titles in an effort to get far more of the American populace reading. Weybright was at the forefront of that revolution (the dust jacket of this hardcover irresistibly refers to him as “the Pepys of the paperback world”), but he was also a wonderfully gregarious wheeler-and-dealer in the book world just in general. I’ve never read this book in its entirety, just bits and pieces elsewhere, so I’m making it my special reward for finishing my next solid slab of deadline work.
The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All – For the longest time, I was of the firm belief that this big, fantastic novel would end up being one of many such big, fantastic novels that the reading world would have from Allan Gurganus – instead of what it’s turned out to be, his one and only big, fantastic book, his masterpiece, now 25 years old (it was one of the last books I reviewed prior to the start of the Donoghue Interregnum, for those of you keeping score at home). I originally read it in galley, then I read a finished copy when the whole book-world was talking about it, then I bought and read to little pieces the mass market paperback, and for the last few years I’ve been wanting to re-read it again, so this sturdy last-copy-I’ll-own hardcover showed up at just the right time.
The Line of Beauty – A contrast in opposites, this next one: when it originally came out in 2004, I was still mired in the Donoghue Interregnum – I got no advance review copy, no complimentary finished hardcover, nor did I bloviate about it anywhere in print or online. I just read it and loved it, and I’ve re-read it twice since it first appeared, which is a sure sign to me that I’m going to keep re-reading it and therefore need a nice sturdy hardcover for my shelf. I’m slowly, steadily triangulating toward a nucleus permanent fiction section in my personal library, the contemporary novels I actually like enough to keep. I figure on no more than 50 titles for that section, but these things are annoyingly fluid…
Samuel Johnson: A Biography – To put it mildly, I have plenty of books on, by, and about Samuel Johnson – including a neat thick hardcover and a neat thick paperback of Boswell’s famous Life Of. But the author of this book, Peter Martin, wrote a biography of Boswell himself that was such a marvelous combination of sympathy and scrutiny that I’ve returned to it over and over again – so I reasoned (if library book sale thinking can ever be dignified with that term) that Martin might be equally readable on Johnson as he was on Johnson’s famous biographer. This book originally appeared in 2008, so there’s no real accounting for how on Earth I missed it.
The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy – This look “inside the world’s most exclusive fraternity” came out in 2012, and I read it then and liked it very much – in fact, it made my Stevereads Year’s Best list, which you’d think would guarantee that I’d still own a copy a mere three years later … but nooooo. The instant I saw it at the BPL, I realized I no longer owned it … so I immediately plopped for it again, and with any luck this copy won’t disappear the way the last one did.
Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency by Charlie Savage – This one somehow slipped by under my radar last year, even though its general subject matter is of increasing interest to me. No idea why that happened – it’s not as though Little, Brown & I are quarreling! I must have requested a review copy at some point, and that request must have fallen between the floorboards somehow. As a result, the poor little tyke never had a chance to get on my much-coveted “Year’s Best Nonfiction” list – but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the time to read the poor neglected thing!
And there you have it! That was my BPL book sale haul for February 2016! Giselle and Chris likewise found a pile of goodies, although perhaps not so many, and all three of us quit the steam sauna that was the Cushman Room after having been there considerably less than an hour, I think. It was refreshing to step out into a bright, crisp winter day (refreshing too that none of our purchased books set off the tag-detector gates at the front door) and cool off with a little walk. You’ll never guess where I took them next. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with “rattle.”