Overheard at the Friends of the Fondren Library’s biennial book sale, uttered by an elderly man in a broad Texas drawl, who was holding three empty canvas book bags:
“I was hoping to get enough to last me the winter, but I don’t know if I’m gonna find enough to make it to Christmas.”
No, it wasn’t like back in ’07. The selection was thin and indifferently organized, with an unhappy paperback-to-hardcover ratio, slanted toward best sellers, cook books, overpriced art books and well-thumbed encyclopedias. A librarian explained: “It all depends on who dies during the year.” In other words, if a dead alumnus or faculty member with a substantial library bequeaths it to the Fondren, pickings improve.
I watched dealers swoop like hawks over the tables, some taking photographs of individual books and emailing them for evaluation back to the shop. I heard one say: “I only sell three of these a year. Do I really need to buy six more?”
For my kids I found a stack of cartoon books and Mad magazine paperback reprints. For myself I found three volumes, all of which I’ve read before, two of them among my favorite books: a first edition of Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, a seventh printing of Witness by Whitaker Chambers, and the North Point Press reissue of The Senses of Walden by Stanley Cavell. For a librarian friend I picked up Marilynne Robinson’s Home, and on her own she found a hefty music encyclopedia.
Here’s what Bellow wrote in a letter to Philip Roth on Dec. 12, 1969, after Roth had read Mr. Sammler’s Planet for the first time:
“Your note did me a lot of good, though I haven’t known what or how to answer. Of course the so-called fabricators will be grinding their knives. They have none of that ingenuous, possibly childish love of literature you and I have. They take a sort of Roman engineering view of things: grind everything in rubble and build cultural monuments on this foundation from which to fly the Bullshit flag.”