June 22, 2018

Massive Book Sales

Category: Education,Literature,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Here’s something I wrote a while back, for homeschooling parents heading to a huge book sale and unsure which books they ought to be snatching up as fast as they spot them.

Having a list does help. But you may be in a hurry and not be able to stop and look up every author’s name in a list. It’ll take too long and there may be other people grabbing books.

The last sale I went to, there were a bunch of people using their phones to scan books — Amazon lowest sale price and Amazon sales rating, probably — to see what was valuable for resale.

So what can you do FAST?

(1) Best case: You’re going to know certain authors’ names. Don’t worry about titles. All the titles you need to know are the titles of books by that author that you already own, so you don’t buy duplicates.

But there’s no point trying to memorize (or check) a list of every last book Alice Dalgliesh wrote or which ones AO uses or whatever. Just remember the name: Alice Dalgliesh. And remember that you already have The Courage of Sarah Noble. Maybe remember that you’re especially looking for The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, but you probably want everything Alice Dalgliesh wrote anyway.

Memorize (or jot down) a few authors’ last names: Brink, Burgess, Coatsworth, Dalgliesh, Marguerite de Angeli, Eilis Dillon, Enright, Estes, Harnett, Marguerite Henry, Kjelgaard, Lenski, Meader, Meigs, Needham, Nesbit, Ransome, Streatfeild, Sutcliff, Treece, Van Stockum, Willard.

(2) Look for older books, preferably hardback. Check the date. Let’s be honest: Pretty much everything newer than about 1970 is a bit suspect.

I’m not saying there aren’t living books that are more recent than that, but the likelihood of twaddle (or immoral books or badly written books or whatever) after 1970 is higher. And yes, there was twaddle, etc., before 1970, but on the whole those books are better written.

Remember: This is a FAST rule of thumb to get POSSIBLE good books into the big box you’re carrying around with you (or by now, pushing along the floor with your foot as you move down the table).

(3) You’re probably not looking for # 47 in a series. You like The Boxcar Children? That’s great. But everything after #19 is a cheap knock-off written by someone else. You don’t need volume 47.

(4) You should be able to spot obvious twaddle and obvious junk. Your eyes skate right over Captain Underpants and Barney Belch’s Barfalicious Birthday and land on … Is that Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet?! All four Melendy books in a single hardback volume in great shape? Why, yes. You will add that quietly to your box.

(5) Look for the Landmark series of historical books. They’re uniform in size, have the word Landmark on the spine, usually a circle of some kind on the cover — like the picture I’ve attached.

Good rule of thumb: Know the names of a few series that you want to collect.

(6) There are a billion books about fish, the environment, the weather, mountains, snakes, trees, Ancient Rome, and so on. Most of them are pretty bland and pretty much the same. There are going to be a bunch of pictures and very little text (and of a somewhat twaddlish nature). Get some if you really, really want them, but … well, they’re not especially high quality. I suspect you’re mainly looking for The Really Good Stuff.

There are some great, classic science books of course, and it helps to know the names of some series and some authors (Fabre, Goudey, Selsam). But just because a book is somehow science-related or looks “educational” doesn’t mean you need it.  You can spend a lot of money buying mediocre science-related books (Usborne, DK, Magic School Bus) and not get very much bang for your buck.

(7) When you’re done, start over quickly. It’s amazing how much you missed the first time. You may spot things that you didn’t see before. Is that a Frog and Toad tucked between those two other books? They also sometimes bring out more books when they see the tables being depleted.

(8) When you’re done, sort. That’s the best time to look things up on your SmartPhone is you need to. If you’ve picked up some book published in 1947 and you’re not sure if it’s a good, living book, read a bit of it. If it seems silly, if it has really big print and really short words and short sentences (“Jane looked at the dog. The dog was black. It wagged its tail”), and above all if its tone is smarmy or it talks down to the reader, set it aside to put back.

My other piece of advice would be a caution, which may be totally unnecessary. Don’t lose your head and go on a buying spree. 

It happens. It’s possible to find yourself grabbing books, even though they aren’t in great condition or aren’t particularly high on your “must have” list.

Here’s a copy of Edward Eager’s Half Magic. Woohoo! Except … the spine is cracked and someone has used crayon liberally throughout. But it’s Edward Eager! Into the box it goes.

And here are a few books that … well, nothing about them really grabs you but they are older and might not be twaddle and so into the box they go.

And then you get home and look through your pile and realize that you didn’t get anything that you’re really excited about.

This is especially tempting near the end of a sale, when they say (as they do at a sale near here on the third day of the sale) that it’s $5 a big bag. Great! You stuff it with almost everything you can find. But when you get home, they’re all books you might as well have just taken out from the library, nothing you really want to own. I speak from experience here.

A variant of this buying frenzy: You get so excited about picking up so many great books at such great prices that you start stretching your budget a bit. After all, that box set of Time-Life Books about great artists *might* be good for your home school … and it’s 10 books for $40, which is only $4 a book for a lot of great art and … But do you really want those books? Are they really something you want to stretch your budget for?

Well, maybe. And maybe not. Don’t buy stuff you don’t want to own. Don’t lose your head. Don’t give in to the voice that says “I might never find this Edward Eager book again, so I ought to pick it up, battered and broken and ugly and crayoned in as it is.” (That voice is worth listening to only if the book in question is extremely rare and available only at a high price elsewhere.)

Again, maybe this is totally unnecessary. But I myself have had some buyer’s remorse after a sale or two, especially when they tell me that it’s $5 a bag and I come home with a bag or two stuffed to bursting with books I’m not all that interested in.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:20 pm | Discuss (0)

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