amanda rowe


Book sale

In a previous post I stated, “We never buy things we don’t need.” Ahem. We occasionally invest less than $100 (!) for 47 used books from the library book sale. Occasionally. And I’m not entirely convinced we didn’t need those books. All 47 of them. Being the considerate and selfless parents we are, we even bought one for Nadia.

We have a weakness for library book sales. My favorite experience was stumbling upon one down a side street in Maine last year when I was extremely pregnant, where we became so engrossed that we nearly missed our flight. That sale was the beginning of our obsession, and resulted in a few books we’ve referenced again and again this year: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (a 1960s copy with cover art that looks like Herman Hesse designed it) for me, and The Great Crash of 1929 by John Galbraith for Trent (oddly prescient).

While the Maine sale was my favorite experience – as it was just a few weeks before Nadia’s birth, it is one of my last memories of carefree childless days, not to mention a sunny fall day on the New England coast – this Arlington County sale was far superior in quality and selection of books. Most of the ones we bought were like new. A few worth noting, for various reasons:

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, and the copy I picked up was in great condition. It was the first book I found at the sale, and I was practically beside myself with my good fortune. I even smiled smugly at those around me who’d missed this gem (it was in the wrong section). Unfortunately, in my exuberance I failed to notice the word “abridged” on the cover. Let this be a warning to future library book sale patrons: be wary of beginner’s luck. Remember the tortoise.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading (2003), edited by Dave Eggers. I adore Dave Eggers. My first published article was a review of his What is the What, and I often fantasize about submitting a humorous letter to McSweeney’s notifying him of my obscure, but brilliant, review (in this fantasy, uproarious laughter and a lucrative publishing contract ensue). Needless to say, I’ve long wanted to read the books in the Nonrequired Reading series that Eggers edits. The 2003 edition has always been at the top of my list. In the Barnes and Noble in my hometown, I was reading the forward to this edition and laughed so loud that a staff member was sent to quiet me. Said staff member was none other than Kent, the gangly pothead who’d had a crush on me in high school. Because Kent worked at Barnes and Noble, I was usually a vigilant lurker in the store. But my laughter at this book blew my cover and led to a lengthy and awkward conversation about Kent’s new hobby, glass blowing. Which is actually really fascinating. 

Many additions to our burgeoning South-Afrophile library: a novel by JM Coetzee, several by Nadine Gordimer, Biko by Donald Woods, and Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. We have just shy of a bazillion books on South African themes. It was important that we purchase a few more.

Women in the Material World. This book is such a great find that I’ve added a link to its Amazon page. One of the first gifts Trent bought me was Material World, this book’s predecessor. Material World was a photo project in which families all over the world were asked to bring all of their possessions out of their home, have them photographed, and talk about what they mean to them. The contrasts from Bhutan to Mongolia to Ethiopia to Texas are striking. Women in the Material World does the same thing, but goes a little deeper, asking women more questions about their lives. A woman from Texas cites one of the worst events in her life as her mother’s forgetting her 16th birthday. Her tragedy is sandwiched between women who have been kidnapped as wives, who have undergone female circumcision, who cannot own property, and other injustices. It’s outdated – 1993 – but still very moving. The copy we found was a beautiful hardback signed by the author and photographer (bonus: a birthday greeting to Judy).

I’ve already written far more than I intended, and yet I’m eager to share more of our finds. Instead, I’ll wait and let you know more as I read them.

Just a few of our finds

Just a few of our finds

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