The Lost Book Sales of 2020

Books Family Featured

I speak often on GeekMom about my love of used book sales. Be it a four hour drive for a three day book extravaganza in Vermont, or slipping to the local public library to pick up a handful of paperbacks, heaven help me, I love them. As the snow starts to melt up here in Maine, this is the time of year that my Dad and I usually begin planning out the year’s book sales. We made plans in 2020, but they all came to naught. For 2021, I think I can be a little more hopeful, but even so, the upcoming used book season is infused with lament for what we have lost.

For us the biggest loss of 2020 was the Five Colleges book sale in Lebanon New Hampshire. This is our annual pilgrimage and the motherlode of used books. We spend a few days in Vermont, skipping five minutes over the state line into New Hampshire for the book sale. 2020’s sale was swiftly canceled and moved online, and just last week the organizing committee canceled the 2021 sale in favor of online sales again.

In 2020 I was forced to think outside the box for my book needs. I purchased far less on Amazon, and far more on bookshop.org. More often than not I placed an order with my local bookstore and collected my books from there, making sure to peruse their well stacked used section when I was picking up my order. But these are normal options. I also made use of the little free library my husband built for me, mapping out the nearest ones to us, there are six, and visiting them whenever possible. A friend introduced me to a book sharing page on Facebook for the area we live in, and while I have yet to give or receive a book, just having a daily check in with like minded folks and seeing what everyone is reading or putting out there for trade is utterly delightful.

Two of our beloved book sales did take place last year. The first over the Summer at a library in Cornish, which is in Western Maine and is a nirvana for antique hunters. Usually the sale is held across the street in the church basement, books crammed in and piled high. Elbow to elbow we would sort through mysteries, thrillers, and such oddities as can only be found in a rural book sale. I remain especially pleased with the edition of Paul Bunyan by Esther Shephard that I found several years back, illustrated by Rockwell Kent. This year they moved across the street, and laid out the books in single file along the porch. People were asked to stay in a single stream of perusers, to line up, and to wait until the person in front of them moved, before moving ahead. Facemasks and spacing were observed of course, and the library made several hand sanitizing stations available. Instead of walking wherever the whim took you, you made your way once through the sale, moving forward, never turning back. If you wished to look again, you must go to the back of the line and wait for another turn. It worked beautifully. The piece de resistance was that at the end there were no counters or cash takers, just leave your donation in the box at the end and thank you very much. Dad and I were both inordinately pleased with our finds that day, and just so full of heart to finally have been at a book sale. The men and women who run that sale did a wonderful job, and I can’t wait to go back this year.

The second took place in the fall and was put on by the Gorham public library. This sale is usually held in a small underused room at the town hall. Typically it has an enormous amount of kids books on offer and so my three children will sit under the tables, in the aisles, on top of the tables if they aren’t caught, and peruse for a solid hour at least. People trip over them and smile at the little bookworms. It’s a wonderful crowd of people that comes out. This fall the crowd was just as wonderful, but a bit more organized. Leaving the kids at home, we arrived to find about twenty people waiting with us, in three feet increments. Once the room was spaciously “full” people simply waited outside, Fall in Maine is as wonderful as you’ve been told. A bookseller was walking the halls writing down names and contact information in case contact tracing was needed, but it never was. When the doors were finally opened we discovered our reward. Making use of the gymnasium the books had been spread out over an area easily ten times greater than usual, with space enough for the cast of Hamilton to perform in the aisles. People were kind, polite and everyone waited their turn, all equally delighted to be there. As a slight reward due to the increased space available, there certainly seemed to be more books on offer than usual. I do hope they retain the practice of using the gymnasium. Though I will miss the coziness of children underfoot scrabbling to read stories, the advantage of more elbow room, and more books, is not to be sniffed at. Of course we picked up several books for the kids, including one Teen Titans graphic novel that all three of them pounced on.

So what does 2021 offer us? Both of these sales will be held, and it was recently announced that the Spring book sales will still go ahead at the same locations. Our beloved Five Colleges book sale has already been canceled, but I remain hopeful that more will be held this year now that people are used to this new way of operating, and as more people are vaccinated. For myself, I get the first of my vaccinations this week and am tempted to convince my Pastor to let me have free rein of the church building to host my own book sale. After thirty years of seeking out used books, it seems about time to find a way to put them out there myself.

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