Brick and Mortar Carrion

Today I set out for DC’s King Library to buy a few books in their used bookstore.

Now, I know this is generally a No-No, but the books I buy are almost always older and obscure academic books that are either out-of-print or would never blip my radar unless I stumbled across them at a library sale or used book store.  So, technically there’s no replacement factor; the authors aren’t being robbed of royalties they would otherwise receive.

But, unknown to me when I set out, the King Library store is only open on weekdays.  Undaunted, I decided to walk down the street toward the White House, a few blocks east of which is a Borders®.

Anecdote. A few years ago, when a different man inhabited the White House, I was walking past this Borders® when I overheard a tourist couple.  Actually I only overheard one of them: she said, “Wow, a book store two blocks from the White House?! That’s strange.”

After a pause, she said, “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

Well, as I approached this particular Borders, I saw giant black and yellow signs in the windows: CLOSE-OUT SALE – EVERYTHING 40 TO 60 % OFF!

Sensing the smell of death, I mentally established a consumer appetite of $100.00 and swooped down on the shelves like a crow on a moose carcass. Let’s go through what I got, and why.

First, we have Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another by Philip Ball.  “Winner of the 2005 Aventis General Prize for Science Books” didn’t hurt, but when I opened the book and saw the sheer breadth of the material, my INTP brain insisted. And the chart, good God, the charts!

Then comes Wrong: Why experts keep failing us — and how to know when not to trust them by David H. Freedman.  I am always looking for contrarian arguments: even if they are wrong, they help clarify why I believe the correct theory is correct.  But, when I crack Freedman’s book and read a critique of Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, I’m sold.

Next come two reference books.  As anyone familiar with my Archaic Definitions must realize, I am a reference geek. So, when I see Dictionary of Symbols and The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore I add them to the growing stack o’ books. Oh, did I mention that my degree is in religion? So, yeah.

Lastly are four books that fit into the category of “background reading for The Observer Tales.” Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution also helps fill out my maritime collection, as does And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by a small stretch. The Colonial and Revolutionary Era (Life in America) is a nice little reference on a variety of topics.

But, Mark Booth’s The Secret History of the World beat all. When I opened this book, the first thing I saw was a chart of esoteric heraldic beasts. Did Tom Sul write this? Let’s head to check-out!

What didn’t make the stack? History of the Incas by Pedro Sarmiento De Gamboa, while intriguing, had to be placed back on the shelf to keep me under my self-imposed $100.00 limit.

The final tally? $95.87 Hell yes!

Even so, I was sad that this had to be part of the closure of a bricks-and-mortar store, because this is the way to buy books: picking them up, flipping through the pages, reading here and there, checking out the illustrations and cover blurbs.  Getting your hands into it like a farmer digging into his soil and mulch.

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  1. I was thinking about “over-eating” just reading this. So glad the total “proves” that you’ve done the exact right thing. I shop for books the same way ~ except I never read cover blurbs. I also buy comparative books on symbology .. aargh! I wish I was at that sale !! What a lovely entry & analogy.

  2. I’m actually surprised that that store is still open, since I received a ‘going out of business’ notice a few months ago. It’s true that the arts and education suffer most in economically trying times. 🙁

    I almost salivated (but settled for less messy commiseration) over the best way to shop for books. That’s usually how I do it, too. Although, in the last month or so, I’ve been paying homage to the illustration artists, not reading more than a title, and judging the books strictly by their cover artwork. I haven’t been disappointed, yet.

    There’s only one thing in this blog that I can’t wholeheartedly get behind. I’m all for those who can buy books brand new, doing just that. Most of my life I have done that. We need people to do that, so that we don’t have stores going out of business and authors bogged down waiting tables or editing some gov’t publications, because they can’t make living otherwise. That said… If not for the second hand purchases or library cards, literary exploration becomes yet another thing that exists only for the ‘Haves’. It’s a sad state, but having second hand books be a general ‘no-no’ is something of a luxury for many people, myself included.

    I can eat or get to and from work for a week on the cost of one or two new books. It’s hard to break the cycle that can destroy literary pursuits on both ends; the producing and the consuming. I’m not sure what the answer is other than taking some of the greedy hands out of the money pot on the publishing and production end. And, of course, that’s not going to happen. That’s well guarded by the Haves’ money making machine, and as you covered in another post, those seeking to self-publish don’t do all that well at dodging similar bullets.

  3. Once, when I moved into a house in which I lived several years, it took 18 double bagged garbage bags and countless boxes to move my books. And it’s a good thing I was stubbornly unwilling to compromise and leave any of them at my father’s house, because it burned in November 2005. I did have to weed some out, though, eventually, and my room upstairs at his place is slowly morphing into a library. At my house now books teeter precariously in stacks I’m constantly having to right and restack when the cat goes on a rampage. Bookshelves creak and have no space left. There are books in nooks and crannies, hiding tangles of audio/visual wire and cords. And still I buy more.

    And right now, I’d just settle for a bottle of rum.

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