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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How To Survive Tomorrow's Massive Friends of the Library Book Sale Without Being Trampled By a Fleet of Literary Aficonados With 'Old Lady Carts'

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 7:30 AM

Who doesn't appreciate a good book -- for cheap?
  • Who doesn't appreciate a good book -- for cheap?
Just as Josef Stalin purportedly opined that one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic, most folks can't really wrap their heads around the idea of 300,000 books. So when the Friend of the San Francisco Public Library announce that's how many tomes will be up for grabs at their annual Big Book Sale -- which opens for the general public tomorrow morning and runs through the weekend -- it merely sounds like a whole lot of books.

So let's put that in perspective. Those 300,000 books are ferried from the Friends' warehouse to Fort Mason via 10 trips from an 18-wheeler. As anyone who's ever had the pleasure of packing up an apartment knows, books are heavy. Well, imagine moving 8,000 boxes of books. Hope you've got a good chiropractor.

So, yes, there's going to be a whole lot of books. And people do get worked up. Katie Ambellan, the Friends' spokeswoman, notes that people fly to San Francisco for this. They wait outside the door like Long Islanders anticipating the opening of the Wal-Mart on Black Friday and roar about the aisles "like Supermarket Sweep." A couple of years ago, a fire broke out after someone left a ball of tape on top of a heater. No one wanted to leave the books despite the smoke and flames and patrons had to be physically removed.

So If you want to walk away with an armful of books rather than have a flock of obsessed, apparently flame-retardant readers walk over you: Ambellan has some advice.

First of all, wear comfortable shoes. Steel-toed, perhaps, in case someone rolls his or her cart over your foot. You're going to be standing up for quite a while; this book sale is like attempting to tackle the Met or Philadelphia Museum of Art in just two or three hours. You haven't a chance, and you'll always spend longer there than you thought. You'll spend more, too.

As for that cart -- bring one. Since no book costs more than $5 -- and, on the closing Sunday, nothing will cost more than a buck -- you will likely end up with a small personal library. Without an "old lady cart" you'll "end up with a bunch of paper bags and a bummer of a bus ride."

If you can't make the opening gun tomorrow at 10 a.m., you haven't necessarily missed out. The book supply is restocked a bit each day. And If you need an impetus to head to the book sale other than, say, books -- how about financial windfalls?

Ambellan's friend didn't notice until days later that a book of Leonard Nimoy's poetry she swiped for $2 came equipped with Mr. Spock's John Hancock. Yes, any number of patrons have reported finding old books that forgetful prior owners stocked with legal tender bookmarks. And, yes, someone once did buy a first-edition of To Kill a Mockingbird for a dollar or so -- which is one-one thousandth its value.

And, finally, it all goes to a good cause: The San Franciso Public Library. Last year the sale raised $255,000. Each year, around 75 percent of the books are sold and the rest are donated to the St. Vincent de Paul society. So, no, crappy books do not sit, unsold for years on end. Those 300,000-plus tomes represent the Friends of San Francisco Public's donations haul in just one year's time.

Finally, Ambellan boasts that, this year, somewhere in the last-scene-in-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark morass that is the book sale is a signed copy of Twilight.

But don't worry. If teenage vampire lit doesn't appeal to you, there's other fare to choose from.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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