Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Concordia book fair

Concordia University held a used book fair yesterday and today. I went not expecting much, but came away laden down with books. They had a lot of fine stuff which I already had too, including John Myers Myers' Silverlock and a collection of the first three novels by John Crowley.

So what I bought:

Iain M. Banks / Inversion
Iain M. Banks / Look to Windward
John Barth / The Tidewater Tales
Christopher Brooke / The Twelfth Century Renaissance
R.H.C. Davis / The Normans and their Myth
Philip K. Dick / Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Eleanor Shipley Duckett / Carolingian Portraits
Linda Haldeman / The Lastborn of Elvinwood
Tanith Lee / Black Unicorn
Tanith Lee / Days of Grass
Madelaine L'Engle / Walkng on Water
Iris Murdoch / The Nice and the Good
Ignazio Silone / Fontamara
Judith Tarr / Ars Magica
Lynn White, Jr. / Medieval Technology and Social Change
Austin Tappan Wright / Islandia
Douglas Young / Edinburgh in the Age of Sir Walter Scott
Three Greek Romances (Daphnis and Chloe, An Ephesian Tale, The Hunters of Euboea) trans. Moses Hadas

Eighteen books, plus two more bought as gifts; twenty books for twenty dollars. Not bad.


Michael Black said...

The Concordia book fair this year seemed much improved over the event in recent years. My remembrance of the earliest ones, the first was held in February (a good time, away from the spring and fall clusters), was that they used to have a lot more books. In recent years the pickings have been slim, not sure if they are visible enough to get book donations or what.

This year, they seemed to have a lot more books than in recent years, maybe too many. I was there at 10:20 on Monday, got about 17 books, then went back on Tuesday about 3pm. I knew that with so many books, it was worth going back after things had shaken out, and more of the books under the tables brought up. Oddly, it didn't look like that many books had been sold. In some cases the same books were there, but there still seemed a lot of books still in boxes.

It always seems less attended, student-age dominates, unlike other sales when there is a larger percentage of older people.

For the first time at the ConU sale, I spotted someone using a barcode reader to shuffle through the books hoping to find "valuable" books. People like that should be barred from the sales, they don't love the books, just the money. The book dealers that are always at the front of the line do it the old way, and thus have to know the books, and what the customers might buy.

The Atwater Library sale last week was dismal. I didn't go until Friday afternoon, and not only was it really quiet, but no books of interest. Too many hardcovers, it felt deliberate but I sure didn't find anything I wanted.

The mantra these days seems to be "quality". While that means less work after the sale, the less "odd" books that appear, the less interesting the sale. Shuffle out the riff-raff books, and then charge a higher price for what remains. The problem is, the bestsellers may bring in the most money, yet that Dorothy Day autobiography I bought yesterday must have more value, in terms of how uncommon it is (I've only seen it once before at a sale) and in terms of what one might get out of it. I pulled a book by jazz performer Ethel Waters out of the free box at the
Con-U sale on Monday, a book not valued because someone didn't recognize its value. Bestsellers are easier to price high.

Meanwhile, the McGill Book Fair is October 20-21. They seem to be going through a transition. One long term organizer died a couple of years ago, and that seemed to be the chance to change things. So no more magazines, no more encyclopedias, and as you noted last year, the prices seemed higher than they'd been. I have no problem with specific books being priced higher (though, if I'm the only one likely to buy a given book, I'd think twice about bringing home an orphan book if the price is higher), but there seemed to be a new policy in effect last year. Too many children's books had higher prices, as if they had more value because they were children's books. But they weren't anything special. Likely a lot remained after the sale, and if any children showed up, so much for encouraging them to read. The issue of book dumping continues, it's not clear exactly what gets dumped. Yes, if I'm buying a best seller I'll buy it used, but I go to the sales mostly to find the odd books. like that Dorothy Day book. Earlier this year, I finally gave up on finding a copy of "Fahrenheit 451", so I bought it new. Oddly, I saw a copy at the ConU sale.

I count five used book sales coming up besides McGill, with a few more to add and a few in November taht I have no news on but which usually occur. Though, the Thomas More Institute did not have a book sale this year, and Westmount High School didn't last year.


Matthew David Surridge said...

I certainly agree that the Concordia sale seemed very good this year. It felt almost under the radar, too -- I didn't see anything about it around town, and if it hadn't been for your website (which is excellent, by the way; I greatly appreciate it) I might not have known about the sale despite the fact that I've been around the Concordia Library Building a fair bit the past few weeks. I went by the sale just after 10, and unfortunately didn't get a chance to pass by the next day; still, I felt I'd given everything that was out in the open a good look.

I think the layout of the fair may partly explain why it seems underattended. The long rows of books seem to me to funnel people in an odd way; it doesn't feel quite like other sales I've seen. Frankly, given the layout, the attendance may be as much as they can handle; it was fairly difficult to move around there.

You mention seeing somebody with a barcode reader -- coincidentally, I stumbled across this link today:


It's a piece by one of those resellers. The upshot is that he's not proud of what he does, even if he's not entirely sure why.

I'm at the point where I rarely bother with the Atwater library sales unless I'm in the area anyway. They're very small, and, as you say, don't seem to have many interesting books (though I did find a set of three moderately-interesting 80s fantasy books by P.C. Hodgell at one not too long ago). It's curious; their regular book sale, in the basement room, seems to have a better selection.

I agree with you about the problematic impulse to "quality", though I can see the appeal on the part of the sellers. If the people putting on a sale aren't themselves regular book dealers, they may not have the knowledge to be able to sort out interesting books from less interesting; the only guide they'd have would be format. The flip side, I guess, is that there are also usually customers for a best-seller. An unusual book may have a lot of value to the right person, but how sure can you be that the right person will turn up at the sale? Still, it seems to me that the best solution is to *put the books out there*, and let come what may.

I'm like you; I'm mainly drawn to sales for the books that I'd never dream of, and may never have known existed. The McGill fair was always great for that (I was pleasantly surprised by the last Westmount Library sale I was at). I'm hoping things get better this year, but know nothing about the internal issues affecting the sale. Book dumping, in particular, is worrying.

Incidentally, the sales at the church in Verdun aren't bad (to judge by the two I've seen, one of them being the recent one). They dump all their paperbacks together, and arrange them such that it's difficult to flip through them easily. But if you spend time digging, you can usually find some treasure.

Thanks for the comment!

Matt said...

I like your approach to gift-giving, which resembles my own: two for them, and eighteen for me!