The Best Book Sale / Find / To Read … EVER!

Have you ever had one of those red letter, best days ever? One of those finished the marathon in record time, got a compliment from the boss, won at Bingo, and grew the biggest pumpkin ever kind-of-days? I get them all the time!

I have blogged previously about the many great books we have found at thrift shops. While any desire for a human-made creation is inherently bad for the planet, I make an exception for books. They are made from trees so they are in fact sequestering carbon, and well, since they’ve been around for centuries they have huge historic-anthropologic relevance. And I just like them. Michelle and I have discussions often about whether or not to add another bookshelf to the living room, where there is absolutely unquestionably no room for another one (there are 4 bookshelves already). As a male I obviously say “dam the torpedoes, let’s buy the darn thing and I’ll figure out a way to wedge it in somewhere!” Michelle, as she calmly sips her tea, suggests that it’s a moronic idea, that there is unquestionably no room for another bookshelf and that the discussion is over, because it’s not happening, case closed.

Over the last few months we have actually been on a book decluttering program, removing books deemed unessential, thereby freeing up space … or at least reducing the number of books that are rammed in horizontally in every nook and cranny of all bookshelves.

So I have a new determination to limit my acquisitions. The ‘Non-Fiction’ bookcase, which is mine, still has horizontal books even after the purge … so I have few options.

Last fall I saw an interview on the PBS Newshour with Mark Leibovich about his book “This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral – plus plenty of valet parking in America’s Gilded Capital.” It was a great interview and there was something very compelling about him. He seemed to have a pretty ironic sense of humor and was able to be very mocking of the people we elect to represent us. I always liked “The West Wing” and I love watching the “House of Cards” on Netflix so I could hardly wait to read this book.This Town book original

I asked Michelle if she could reserve it for me at the library. I know, getting a book out of a library. What an admission of defeat for a book lover. It wasn’t available because they hadn’t ordered it and it didn’t seem as though they planned to do so. So I put it on my “Would Like to Read” list and forgot all about it. As hard as it was, I had to get on with my life. It was only out in hardcover anyway, and we simply can’t afford to purchase hardcovers, especially new ones.

Late in November Michelle and were in Kingston on a Saturday to help my Dad with his Chromebook. This was the third day of the “Kingston Symphony Book Sale” fundraiser. We had been a few years ago and hadn’t been overly impressed. There were a lot of books and sure, we got a cardboard box and left with many books but they were just okay. The symphony is smart and they have this little bonus fundraiser where if you buy a ticket you can go on the first night of the sale, where presumably you get first shot at the best books, before the plebeians and huddled masses, like Michelle and me, arrive.

So since the sale had been on for several days, and we were going after lunch, on the very last day, we had set our expectations very low. This is good because I have a tendency to set mine too high and be constantly disappointed.

The sale was held in an old Alcan warehouse which was probably donated for the sale. Alcan is the former “Aluminum Company of Canada,” a company that made aluminum. They had a huge factory and research facility in Kingston, which they closed, because, well, North Americans don’t seem to make anything anymore. We just buy stuff. And here we were, just buying stuff, but that’s the topic of whole other blog.

I saw several people leaving the sale with cardboard boxes full of books, which is always a good sign. We got in and it seemed to be very well organized and they always have tons of people volunteering. Michelle went her way and I went mine and headed right for the “Political” book section. There seemed to be some good books and I started to get kind of excited. I was making a mental note of books I might go for later, since I didn’t want to have to carry them around for an hour while I browsed.

And then it hit me. There it was. It had this incandescent glow on the bookshelf to tell you it was new. It had that new look to it. And I pulled it off the shelf, and there it was … “This Town”! Fireworks went off! Handel’s Hallelujah chorus began to play (just to show you how symphony-literate I am), confetti fell from the ceiling, the Rockettes chorus lined danced by and I let out the loudest shriek as I fell crying to my knees clutching this most awesome find high above my head. Okay, I exaggerated that part a bit. But I really did have to contain myself. There it was, brand new, looked as though it hadn’t even been read, hard cover, a $27.95 book, for wait … where’s that sign with the prices … wait .. no really?… $2.00!!! Two bucks for a brand new hardcover book! A book I really, really wanted to read! And now I was going to get to own it! And my son-in-law who works in the political sphere would get to read after I was done.

This was just the point where one of the volunteers came around and announced “… and just in case you’re not aware since it’s the final afternoon of the sale … every book is half price.” As she revived me from the convulsing fit I had as I collapsed to the floor it was pretty hard to contain myself. Alright, alright, I just thanked her for the delightful news, but you get my drift. It was pretty cool.

So I was on a tear and kept finding other great books. Eventually I grabbed a box to fill. And then it happened. I found ANOTHER copy of “This Town!” For a buck! For my son-in-law! My son-in-law who is awesome and who would be at my house on Christmas and who I now had an actual real live gift for!

Which brings me to the point of this long, rambling blog which you’ve invested way too much time on already. Who can afford to buy a brand new $30 book (with tax) and give it away a couple of months later? I understand some people are space constrained, but really, how did our society get to a stage where some people have so much money? Do I need to discuss the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us? I doubt it. The people in Davos all seem to be hatching escape plans…

In the meantime, before the revolution starts, I am now the “Kingston Symphony Booksale’s” Biggest Fan Ever! At this rate I shall be torn between paying to get first dibs on the first night of the sale, or gambling and waiting but getting the books half price on the final day. Michelle and I left with a box of 16 hardcover books. Let’s say if you averaged their prices new at $20/book, that’s $320 worth of books, for $16. I’m still gleeful at the thought of it. Bad Cam. Bad environmentalist. I hope the green people don’t start picketing my house.

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If you are intrigued by Cam’s enthusiasm and want to buy this book from amazon, here’s the link;





7 Responses to “The Best Book Sale / Find / To Read … EVER!”

  • Living in Kingston myself AND being a major bookworm – I love that sale just as much as you do Cam. I like to think of it as an environmentally friendly thing too, since (at least in theory) all those books will just go to the landfill is nobody takes them home and reads them. So, gathering a box of books is a very green thing to do.
    Maybe I’ll see you next year. Happy reading.

  • Marcia:

    Life is full of little miraculous moments. The unexpected gift that can bring excitement and joy are the sweetest. Thanks Cam for sharing, for Joyful excitement is so contagious.

  • Robin Bailey:

    Very funny Cam! I had the same feeling at a yard sale at our Knights of Columbus Hall when I found a book I had been searching for. I swear I did hear bells going off!

  • Sebastien:

    I love this story… great find! I won’t picket your house but I will make one very small observation, since we’re all thinking about sustainability these days 😉

    It’s highly doubtful that authors like Mr. Leibovich could continue to write books like the one you were so happy to find if their works were sold at $2, so I for one am happy every time someone buys a brand new $30 book and gives it away a couple of months later. The author can make a living from their hard work, and the purchase supports the book publishing industry as well as booksellers (or perhaps Amazon).

    Then the book gets donated to a great cause like the Kingston Symphony and re-sold for a fraction of its true cost of production, where it finds a second life on someone’s bookshelf while supporting music and the arts in our communities. It’s win-win-win.

    And if for whatever reason you decide not to build that bookshelf in your living room, I hope you’ll donate that book to a cause you believe in and keep the cycle going 🙂

  • I can see how much you love that book by your eyes in that picture! And yes, there is nothing better than an awesome book for cheap! Wooo hooo!

  • Gerrit:

    Wonderful story, Cam! We also have used books stuffed into every nook and cranny. Books are humanity’s most wonderful accomplishment ever. Followed by libraries!

  • Melanie Ann MacKenzie:

    I know all about books and bookshelves and the lack of space. We have an 8′ tall one in the kitchen with the “homesteading” books, another of the same size only wider in the living room with the “gardening” books three huge ones in the kitchen for my massive cookbook collection, and yes, I use them all the time, and then there are the other books which range in topic from art to fiction to design to history, etc. At the moment they are piled to the ceiling, both in bookcases and on the floor in our bedroom awaiting their final destination in a small sitting room that is not yet finished in our new house. Then there is the magazine collection, things like Mother Earth News, GRIT, Hobby Farms, etc. I have been going through all of those and ripping out the articles that I really want to keep and giving them to a friend so she can go through them and do the same. Books have completely taken over my life and I would not have it any other way. Good post. Cheers.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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