books: garage sales & other inexpensive sources of books

Headed out early Saturday morning, my thirst for books whetted by a treasure map of garage sale locations culled from Craigslist.  
Favorite seller comment:

I rolled up to that sale two or three minutes early after getting myself a coffee & asked the nice lady to let me know when it was cool to start digging.  She laughed semi-hysterically and said a touch too loudly "Go ahead, there's already been 25 people through here doing their route!"  
Early bird deterrence calls for establishing a junkyard style perimeter, concertina wire atop a chain link fence backed with irate dogs.  My hypothetical listing would state EARLY BIRDS WILL BE SHOT AND MOUNTED, which would have no effect but to make me feel a bit better in the days leading up to the inevitable melee.

As a wholesale buyer I think of books in terms of how many dollars a box I'm spending.  In the internet era the white cardboard banker's box, the kind you can buy six for ten bucks at Staples, is the standard unit of book measure.  If I say I bought ten boxes of books, that's the volume I'm using, although there's some shrinkage between a box in the trunk you're just dumping books into haphazardly as you buy them and an optimized, tightly packed box...ten 'loose' boxes can be compressed down to six or so optimized ones.

In a typical thrift store setting these days, a box of books (assuming you can find enough good ones to fill a box) runs around $20.  A cheap library sale, they run about $10 a box.  A pricey one, you're looking at $20-30.

Over the course of five garage sales I filled up 3 boxes for $20, which is a solid discount even when you factor in the hour I spent rounding them up.

One thing my loyal readers should know well is my nearly pathological hatred of haggling or bargaining.  I prefer a world where things have clearly defined prices- if you like the price you buy the item, if you don't you leave it.  This is why I do all my online business with Amazon rather than Ebay (and this was my preference long before Ebay began degenerating into a BUYER BEWARE Griftopia).

The problem with garage sales is the sellers aren't pros, and often haven't thought about what they want to sell something for until you stroll up with an armload of books and a fist full of cash.  Four out of five went smoothly today- a couple had posted prices, a couple took my fair offer after some hemming & hawing.  The last one, though, epitomized my least favorite sort of seller...a less pejorative term than my gut impulse would be "struggling Caucasian persons of low educational achievement".  People for whom books are objects of superstition, mystical artifacts inherently valuable regardless of topic, condition or quality.  I paused when I saw the couple running the show, but had already picked up a couple of likely looking textbooks and so soldiered on.  I ended up with the two textbooks, a couple of old Golden Books, some interesting books on psychedelic drugs & how to deal them and an oddball, a very cool Japanese book on origami.

Assuming my most professional mien I approached with my armload and asked how much.

"Oh man, I don't even know...they're books, you know?"
Hoping for forestall some sort of existential crisis, I say "How about ten bucks for the stack?"
"Those kids books are CLASSICS, man, I mean they're VINTAGE."
What they were is by far the least interesting part of the buy- I'd grabbed them for Fuss' reading pile.
I decided to try and grease the wheels of commerce with fresh squeezed honesty.
"I just want to read them to my son."
"Oh cool man, how old is he?"
"He's four."
"Oh...alright man, ten bucks is fine."

So, overall it went well and I got quite a few good books cheap.
Still having time to kill before work, I headed out to the Goodwill sorting center.

Regular Goodwills aren't worth hitting up for books.  They have their own scanner/Amazon setup these days- if you spend any time looking for used books on Amazon you'll see listings from various regional Goodwills- and their in-store prices are idiotic ($3 for hardcovers, $1.50 for paperbacks).  They have one 'half off all books' day each month, but that's still more expensive than any other thrift store around.  If I happen to be right next to one I'll go in and poke around- I can't help myself.  But I haven't bought a book from one of their stores in probably ten years.

But at the outlet you can find some great stuff if you're willing to dig, and the prices are good- fifty cents for hardcovers, twenty five for paperbacks.

I hadn't been in a few years, since around the time Fuss was born, and things had evolved.  Previously they dumped the books into these 50 gallon cardboard drums.  Now they dump them in giant plastic crates about the size of a 6 person spa.

The advent of the Borg with their scanners made scrounging there unpleasant in the old days- you could still find stuff, but there were always a couple of the Borg hovering around being pushy and irritating like they are. And the sheer number of them meant the chances of finding anything really good were slim.  But it seems that with Goodwill doing their own thing on Amazon, all that low hanging fruit is gone & along with most of the scanner creeps.

When I rolled up there was one gal slowly working her way through a bin. I setup across from her and started doing my thing.  The Borg will catch a lot of books I won't by dint of sheer persistence, but the advantage of having 20+ years of in-store experience is that I can can tear through a forest of books like a methed-out ninja with a pair of chainsaw nun-chucks, while they're cautiously picking their way between the trees staring at the GPS in their lap.  I can see the bottom corner of a good book under a pile and snag it, my brain automatically ignores junk I've seen ten thousand times- when I get in a groove it isn't even a conscious process.  After buying any substantial number of books I always find surprises when I go through them later-  stuff I don't remember buying, great stuff I bought for no good reason other than a hunch, stuff that's way better than I thought it was.

So I start going for it and after a few minutes I have a pile the size of a mini-fridge, and the scanner gal starts freaking out and just pulling out armloads of books & throwing it in her pile, not even looking at it.  I've had this happen at library sales- they tweak so hard on my zen book flow they short circuit and start flailing.

I was on a schedule since I needed to open the store up, but in a quick 30 minute binge managed to pull about six boxes, which rang up at $40.
An absolute steal, not even considering the number of really good books I snagged.

Scanners will let a know-nothing find good Amazon books from any given pile, but the nature of the books it tells them to buy stunts their general knowledge.  Books that look like garbage can be worth $50-100 on Amazon, glossy art books that look amazing can be worth a penny....so anyone who's getting their information entirely from a machine is going to have a strange worldview.  And of course, anything without a bar code is God's Own Private Mystery to them.  An Oxford Press title on the folk art of Bali is a blindingly obvious to me, but it had no visible ISBN, let alone bar code, so it's invisible to the Borg (including the Goodwill sorters and scanners who missed it, putting a fifty dollar book out on the floor for fifty cents).

While we were doing our thing a weird fellow who presented almost exactly like William Sanderson's J.F. Sebastien from Bladerunner sidled up to the scanner gal and started bantering with her about her pile of books- they way he was acting I thought they were together.  But after a few minutes he held up a biography of Jimmy Carter, told us the photo on the cover wasn't *really* Jimmy Carter and launched onto a monologue about how the entire Carter family had been kidnapped by the Soviets and replaced with programmed clones.  He rambled on about the geopolitical impact & secret history of this seminal event while we ignored him and kept sorting our respective bins.

Ah, the joys of buying books out in the wild!

J.F. took steps toward redemption later, helping me tote my boxes out to the car.
Aid I hadn't asked for, but which it seemed churlish to refuse.

So, to sum up:
Two hours, nine boxes of books aquired, $60 spent.

Of the garage sale books my best find was a book on the economic policies of Ronald Reagan, which should move briskly at $50 and which I almost passed on because old econ books are generally retail Ebola. There were another few good ones, a photography textbook that should bring in $40, and a few others in the $5-10 range.

The Goodwill books were fantastic.
Aside from the $50 Balinisian Folk Art book there was a $70 design textbook, a $60 book on African masks & close to a box full of random books in the $20 range.
The wild card is a Karl Appel book, some kind of promotional catalog for a Dutch bank.  An okay book anyway, I'd price it $15 for the store, but when I was checking it for condition discovered a grandiose signiture by the artist. 

Not a bad return for 30 minutes of intensive bin-digging.

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