Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A paean to the city of books

As you may already have worked out, I loooove books. Particularly second-hand books. I have always loved them. I love the way they smell (unless some fool has let them get mouldy); I love the way they feel, I love the way they look on the bookshelf. As a child I created a library in my room, painting a small white square on the spines of all my books with whiteout and writing their Dewey number on it (including I regret to report, on my complete collection of Famous Fives with dustjackets!). I was on close terms with my school and local librarians and had to be given an adult library card at around 12 because I had read my way through the children's section. My family shares my love. Our passage walls are lined with books, everyone has at least one bookshelf, books stand in stacks next to our beds waiting to be read. One of my proudest moments was when my daughter's Grade Two report stated that she had borrowed more books than any other pupil in the school. Almost nothing makes my heart race like the sight of a second hand book shop or a book fair.

I preface today's blog with this statement just so you will understand when I say two events of nearly equal importance have occurred in the last 2 weeks - my beloved oldest child Hayley arrived home from wandering through South America for 9 months, and .... I received a delivery of 5 boxes of books (and some kitchenalia) that I had posted to myself from San Francisco the day before we left. These 5 boxes - totalling approx 40kgs were in addition to the nearly 50kgs that came back in our luggage (thanks Qantas for your generous luggage allowance, it makes up for your stingy leg room, crap food and scarcity of toilets for economy class passengers since you created premium economy!)

For booklovers like me, San Francisco really is a paradise: I have mentioned the fantastic second-hand book shops of the city (and the Bay Area) in several posts. What I haven't mentioned due to the internet drought in the last week of our trip, was that it is also home to a range of fabulous book fairs and sales. (As an aside San Francisco is possibly the only place where those trying to raise some cash will spread their collection of books on the pavement to sell - not a lot of cookbooks, but great fiction and non-fiction to be bought for a buck. I guess they know there is a market for their wares) Across the year there are several significant book sales and antiquarian book fairs, and on my return visit to Books by the Bay , I noticed a flyer for the Annual Friends of the Library Book Sale- fortuitously being held on the last 4 days of our trip.
Now this is not just any book sale - it claims to be the biggest book fair in the USA , a claim I suspect is not mere hyperbole. The fair is held in the Fort Mason Arts precinct - a collection of former military warehouses. We lined up on Day 2 (Day 1 is for members of the friends group) with a small crowd, including a charming Irishman who after being retrenched from his job as a recruitment consultant 3 years ago now makes his living selling books on Amazon (and he lives in San Francisco. Kill me now!).
Like any well-organised book sale, this one had maps available to plot out your attack before you entered the warehouse, but unlike any book sale I've ever been to, also provided shopping trolleys for your loot. Everything was under $5, and there were two large tables (in a massive warehouse the size of an aircraft hangar) of cookbooks. And what cookbooks: all in great condition, and many things I don't see very often in Australia (some dross as well, but that's always the case). There were dozens of volumes from the Time-Life 'The Good Cook' series as well as 'Foods of the World', some Elizabeth David, more Marcella Hazan than I've seen anywhere ( including my shop) and even a few paperback copies of Julia Child's The French Chef to make up for my complete failure to find a single second-hand copy of MtAoFC on this trip.
I came out of there with a trolley full - whenever I tried to cull my dear husband would remind me that I wouldn't see most of this stuff at all in Australia, and it would go on the keep pile. The criteria was this: as much paperback as possible, but anything particularly scarce in hardback was ok, as well as books for which I had customer requests. Once all these books had been purchased I had to find the most economical way to get them back to Australia. Travelling California for three weeks had already resulted in one large box of books and a smaller box of kitchenalia in the back of the SUV and now we had added another couple. We bought a suitcase and 2 duffel bags to supplement our one case and bought yards of bubble wrap and packing tape. Luckily for me USPS has several great flat-rate International Priority Mail boxes available (Australia Post please take note) and I spent around $240 and an afternoon packing and repacking my precious cargo to find the most economical use of the boxes and suitcases. Luckily I pack books for a living, as when we picked up our suitcases at the luggage carousel in Sydney it was clear that one suitcase - a cute vintage brocade Samsonite - had been at the bottom of all the luggage; it was completely squashed flat and was literally the last case to come out! A couple of the USPS boxes too were a bit bumped and torn, but I am happy to report that the books, like my daughter, had survived their travels unscathed!!
I am already planning my return to coincide with this sale next year - and perhaps to take in the Golden Gate Park Book Fair at the end of October, and the Palo Alto Friends sale in early November or maybe a Friends monthly $1 book sale; if I go in February I could take in the 43rd Californian International Antiquarian Book Fair, or the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print & Paper Fair; stay until March and there is the Anarchist Book Fair...............


Esme said...

Thanks for the info.

Unknown said...

How interesting. I have a dear friend who is featured on the sidebar of my site. He has the second largest private collection of cookbooks in the USA - over 18,000, including several pricey first editions. I will share your site with him.
Happy Twirls

Pam said...

Congrats on the foodie blogroll!