My car is sitting in the driveway, and in my car are about 700 books. I won them at an online auction this week. Every time I look at them I do this kind of world weary smile and shake my head thing.
When I told Dan how many books I was getting, his jaw dropped. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody’s jaw drop in as archetypical a way. “Why?” he asked, and I could hear the subtextual question, too: “Are you insane?”
The answer to the first question is, “Because I wanted to.” The answer to the second is, “Of course, yes.”
The auction was on account of Ame’s Books in Grass Valley is closing. The owners are retiring and attempting to jettison off their stock. The auction took place last weekend, and this week those of us who bid and won drove to Grass Valley to retrieve our new libraries. On Wednesday morning I texted my parents, “I’m about to be sending y’all a lot of books. I’m sorry in advance,” and I got in the car.
The drive from here to Grass Valley is a little under three hours, and it’s a pretty one. 101 to 37 to 80 to 49. I skirted Sonoma and Napa Valleys, went through lots of hills and some muddy wetlands. Wednesday was overcast, but the damp had a way of making the green hills look even more vibrant. At some point I saw a sign that informed me I was on the Historic Overland Emigrant Trail. It seemed laughably appropriate, so I laughed. The past couple of days have involved a lot of laughing to myself. Further proof of the insane thing, I guess.
I was ecstatic during that drive. I listened to Graceland and Bridge Over Troubled Water on repeat, and sang along loudly. I was surprised and delighted by this impulsive thing I was doing. I still am.
I got to Ame’s at noon and it was buzzing with activity. I was by far the youngest person there, and that made me feel good.
Although I thought the sight of a gorgeous bookstore being skeletonized would depress me, I couldn’t help but be buoyantly happy the whole time. I was surrounded by fellow bookpeople, and they were all similarly gleeful. We were all dressed in practical clothes and were armed with tape and scissors and plenty of boxes. We all set to our work energetically, because our work was getting books.
I started by packing my first lot into produce boxes I had begged off a grocery store that morning. Right by me was a big-smiling middle-aged man boxing up the U.S. Sports section. He told me that his wife was going to have a coronary when he came home with his new collection. I told him that I literally had no idea where I was going to put all of my books. We laughed at ourselves and at each other, and kept working. I think my feeling of happy idiocy was contagious.
There were some who had bought even more books than I, and they showed up with Uhaul trailers. Some were professional booksellers, but most were just people who really loved to read. There was one guy closer to my age who had gotten a whole bookcase of paperback novels. He put them all in black trash bags, and put the trash bags in the back of his truck. He had paid $5 for the lot.
I spent all day Wednesday and Thursday boxing up books. Some of them went to the post office to be shipped to Houston, a few went straight to Goodwill. Space had to be made.
Although I tried to be quick about packing everything up, I couldn’t help but look through some of my new acquisitions. I won three whole bookcases: American biographies and memoirs, art (by artist), and vintage hardbacks. I paid the most for the vintage books, and it is them I care for the least, actually. It turns out that just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s good.
Last night, for instance, I flipped through a little novel called Little Sister Snow. It caught my eye because it has pretty patterned endpapers and and tissue-covered plats of Japanese watercolor-style illustrations. The story was a terribly vapid one of cultural tokenism and “white man steps in to save the heathens.” A primordial version of The Last Samurai, but sans Tom Cruise and sans cool beheading scenes. Completely useless, in short.
It’s the others that I’m really excited about — the bios and art books. I already picked out advanced reading copies of a Mary Leakey biography and a Victoria Woodhull biography. And there’s the Keith Haring Journals, Amelia Earhart biography, lots of books about Will Rogers, and plenty of oversized art books that would spruce up a coffee table real nice. Besides a lot of classic painters, there’s lots of Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade. Most of the Kinkade went to the Goodwill.
The majority of these books I’m going to sell. As I might have mentioned already, I really have no place to put them all. I’ve learned how to be an Ebay wizard from Dan, and now I figured I’d turn those skills to my own use. Listing everything will be a long process, but it’s exciting to go through my new treasures and research them all. Some I’ll have to get appraised on account of I can’t find examples of them anywhere online. Like this one giant book of a contemporary Italian painter I’ve never heard of with a terrifying image of a leopard on the front cover.
I was worried, at first, that going off to do some of my own selling would be treasonous to Dan. He’s taught me all I know about this trade so far, and he’s, like, housing and employing me. The last thing I want to be is ungrateful.
The way I’ve begun to think about it, though is that: 1) we’re selling such radically different stuff (he sells mostly signed or rare editions of modern fiction) that we won’t actually be competing at all, 2) by learning more about bookselling on my own I’ll be able to work more efficiently for him, and 3) we both really just love books. I think he understands that I’ve been bit by the same bug he has, and that accumulating a large quantity of books is fairly inevitable for me now. Having too many books is a condition we can commiserate in together, now.
If you’d like to browse through some of the obscene amount of books we communally have, you can visit my store here and Dan’s here. Mine is only slowly filling out. I’ve got mostly the vintage books up there now, but some art books and some cheap paperbacks are coming soon. I promise neither of us will rip you off.
You can buy Little Sister Snow if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s got pretty pictures in it, at least.