A Bibliophile’s Guide to Book Sales

Summer is the ultimate season for book collectors (sounds better than "hoarders", doesn't it?) because summer is prime book sale month. I'm a huge fan of these, and I've been attending the Poughkeepsie Public Library's sale for a few years now. This year they had a rather monstrously fabulous selection of over 200,000 books for sale, both from the library and through donations. Book sales are a great opportunity for diehard collectors to score some rare and collectible editions for their personal libraries, but it's also a fantastic opportunity to just buy used books and support your local library at the same time (or any library, for that matter; I traveled quite a bit for Poughkeepsie!). If you've never shopped a used book sale, you're missing out; it's a really good time, and you could walk away with some dazzling finds at unbelievable prices. With the Poughkeepsie sale (and this tends to be a running theme, in my experience), prices start low and get even lower, like, impossibly lower, as the days go on. When I attend - usually the third day - hardcover books are $1, trade paperbacks are $0.50, and mass markets are $0.25 (with exceptions for Young Adult titles, CDs/DVDs, and collectible editions, etc.). On the final day with most of the sales, anything you can fit into a bag is yours for $5. (I know!)
This year I snapped up mostly a few good stacks of classics that I've been wanting - novels from Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy; plays by Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Molière, and Oscar Wilde; sonnets from Shakespeare and a bit of Byron's poetry. It was fantastic. So, if you've never made it to a book sale, here are my only three tips for getting the most out of them:

Before you go: Do some research. BookSaleFinder.com is the best; choose your state for listings by month, including book sales in adjacent states, with details on how many books the sale is expecting to have and, usually, what consumers can expect price-wise. They'll also tell you any other plans the library might have for the sale - such as an accompanying bake sale or used clothing sale. Look up the library's website, too, because sometimes a day or so before the sale they'll release a list of the special edition/collectible books they're going to have available.

When you're there: The very big sales are a marathon. Like, serious book-buying business. Give yourself enough time to browse every table you're interested in - and be open to surprises. It's great to have in mind which books you'd like, but you do have to hunt. You never know what you'll find, and, depending on the day you attend, the books may no longer be in order. Take a list of series books that you haven't yet acquired or already have (to better avoiding making duplicate purchases) but otherwise look through as much as you can and take it all in.

Lastly, and for added incentive, here are some of the books I scored this year that I was especially excited about. I also spotted an edition of Jane Eyre from the early 1900s which was pure fun to see. Last year I spied a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford that was even older! I didn't browse the actual, differently-priced collectibles (which were in a separate room), so these were finds just littered in for $1 or less.

An early edition of T.S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party from 1950. (Imagine buying books at retail prices of $1.65!)

Thoreau's Walden from a 1957 printing.

A 1975 book on the Pre-Raphaelites and a criticism on J.D. Salinger from the early 1960s (I saw this once before and passed on it - it seemed like the Salingerish thing to do - but this year I had to snap it up).

A mid-70s collection of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's short stories!

I've wanted to read both of these anyway, but I was smitten over the cover art from the '80s!

If you're ever in Poughkeepsie over the summer, do check to see when they're running their annual sale; and if you have any favorite New England book sales, clue me in!