Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Of used book fairs and old King Arthur

I love used book fairs. I find them irresistible, like a dish of peanut M&Ms placed on my desk while I’m trying to work. A local library recently hosted one in which you could fill up a brown paper supermarket bag for the princely sum of $2. Needless to say I walked out of there with a laden sack, nigh to splitting.

Book fairs require you to sift through a lot of junk. Cookbooks, outdated science textbooks, encyclopedia sets (remember those?), V.C. Andrews novels, etc. always seem to dominate. But that’s part of their allure, of course. You have to sift through the silt to find gold.

Less appealing is the frenzied behavior of people grabbing great handfuls of books, seemingly at random, and shoving them in bags. I’ve seen this phenomenon many times and don’t get it. Why do people lose their sense of discrimination when the items in question are cheap, or free? I shouldn't be judgmental--perhaps they were donating them to charity, though my cynical side tells me they'll probably end up for sale on the internet.

This particular fair had a surprising number of decent books worth getting jostled over (I threw a few elbows myself, admittedly). Most notably, I managed to liberate a hardcover copy of The Book of Merlyn by T.H. White.

The Once and Future King happens to be one of my favorite books of all time, achieving a rare five-star “perfect” rating in my pseudo-scientific, highly subjective book rankings. While The Book of Merlyn—the previously unpublished conclusion to The Once and Future King—is not as good as its predecessor when compared as a standalone work, it was never intended to be a sequel, but a part of the whole, the final chapter of a wonderful story. It’s definitely worth owning. So although I already own the softcover, I snatched it up and stuffed it into my sack.

The hardcover of The Book of Merlyn has the advantage over the paperback of large print, glossy, sturdy pages, and wonderful, full-page, black and white illustrations (tangent—does anyone else appreciate the beauty of a good hardcover book? I used to be a paperback junkie, but I’ve since converted. The heft and stateliness of a good hardcover have won out over utility and portability).

Once I had The Book of Merlyn at home I was overcome by the urge to read it again. Just as I remembered, it remains a wonderful book. Some of the grabby boors at the book fair would do well to read it and let its lesson sink in--being, of course, that Might does not equal Right.

I’ll be posting a full review on Thursday.

In the meantime, here is a summary of my finds at the fair:

The Sea-Wolf and Selected Stories, Jack London (great writer--'nuff said)

Secret Weapons of World War II, Gerald Pawle (as a WWII buff, I was delighted to find this)

The Black Death, Philip Ziegler (Not surprisingly I'm a fan of medieval times, and I've never read a full accounting of the Black Death)

Hamlet (Norton Critical Edition), William Shakespeare (I own a copy of Hamlet, but the Norton Critical Editions are must-owns for the additional essays/criticism, and notes).

The Shining, Stephen King (hardcover--I own the paperback)

The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White (hardcover, illustrated)

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper (hardcover, entire five book series collected and unabridged--a great find!)

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond (I've heard a lot of good things about this one)

Let's Roll, Lisa Beamer (a story of the heroes of United Flight 93)

Assorted books for my children


G. Benedicto said...

'Guns, Germs & Steel' is a great find.

Fantastic review of TOAFK btw. I might actually have to read it now. So far I've avoided it, mostly for its reputation as an allegory. But I see now that I may have been too hasty.

Atom Kid said...

Oddly enough I too found a copy of The Book of Merlyn at a library sale, along with The Frankenstein Diaries. Both are hardbacks, and I've had them for over 15 years now.

The Dark Is Rising is a great find!

Pericles said...

The Ziegler book is excellent, if grim reading.

When it comes to WWII secret weapons, I think the Germans had the most interesting ideas.

Brian Murphy said...

G. Benedicto: The Once and Future King is allegorical, but it's not heavy-handed (i.e., characters aren't 1:1 representations of concepts, save perhaps Mordred). It is a profoundly philosphical and meditative book, however. I happen to think it's brilliant, but I can see how it would turn some people off.

Atom Kid: I think The Dark is Rising was a great find too. What is the Frankenstein Diaries?

Pericles: Thanks for the vote of confidence on the Ziegler book. Agreed on the Germans, particularly the jet engine.

Welleran said...

Library book sales are great! Fairfax County in Virginia has a number of excellent sales I try to hit every few months. In fact, I hit two good ones a few weeks ago and am going to hit two more tomorrow. I must've bought 500 books or more over the years at these sales, including some really amazing finds buried amongst the dreck.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Wow - hardcover Dark is Rising! I didn't know they were ever even released in hardcover. I have a new Xmas gift to ask for...