Book purge

July 29, 2010

We finally had our big book purge–not the big book purge I contemplated some months back, but I’d say we reduced our inventory by at least a third. The night before, in my determination to overcome Scott’s emotional attachment to musty paperbacks, I’d inadvertently resorted to book slander as we sorted.

“See this?” I said, waving a copy of Black Elk Speaks. “This was written by a total fraud. The guy was actually a white supremacist.”

Scott was unmoved. “We’re keeping it.”

I realized later that the book I’d been thinking of was The Education of Little Tree. Forgive me, Black Elk Speaks!

Everybody says don’t bother trying to get rid of your books at a yard sale, but we had a surplus of old baby junk to expel and figured it was worth a morning of attempted profit from our driveway before we hauled the bulk of it away. I’d made a point of emphasizing that we had all manner of books in our Craigslist posting, hoping to draw the bookseekers, and indeed we did, but this new breed comes with handheld scanners and goes straight for the ISBN strip. If the device shows sufficient Internet value, a sale is made.

We had a nice conversation with the first of three bookseekers who visited our yard sale. He was gathering inventory for an online book dealer (presumably the others were, too, but maybe these devices also serve the hobbyist as a sort of new-fangled metal detector), and there were certainly worse ways to spend a Saturday morning, but the thing was, he didn’t even look at the covers. Thanks to the device, no discernment was necessary and might in fact prove to be an impediment; it would certainly slow you down. All you need to be is first on the scene, because subsequent scannings would provide the same data, unless perhaps there was a sudden surge of interest in a title. (Wonder if you could spark a tulipomania over certain backlisted books? Imagine a sudden landgrab for Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, spurred by online rumors of a Kurt Cobain-penned anecdote.) Scott came back from a bathroom break too late to warn the second guy, who’d already scanned our worthless leavings, but he saved the third guy the trouble.

Another bittersweet detail from the yard sale besides the cold electronic appraisal of our books: our toddler wandering among the all-too-recent deitritus of his infancy, moaning softly. He stopped at the little rocking horse he’d ignored for months, climbed on, dismounted, walked away, returned, and finally dragged it to the house. He spent the rest of the morning glued to my hip.

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