The Season of Used Book Sales

Leaving TIFF last Friday, I walked east on King Street to the subway. At Simcoe, I noticed that there was a used book sale set up on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Always a sucker for a bargain, I went in to browse. An hour and a half later, I left with four boxes of books, over 70 books in all.

I was delighted. I discovered a cache of hard-cover Canadian history books. There were memoirs or biographies: of politicians René Lévesque, Preston Manning, Joey Smallwood, Ed Broadbent, Sheila Copps, Tommy Douglas, and John Diefenbaker; of Rabbi Gunther Plaut and of Dr. Bob McClure, one-time moderator of the United Church of Canada; of famous lawyers Eddie Greenspan and Arthur Maloney; and of the generals in World War II written by noted Canadian historian Jack Granatstein. There was Rosemary Speirs’ Out of the Blue: The Fall of the Tory Dynasty in Ontario, and even a History of Canada written by my hero, June Callwood, and a novel written by politician Judy LaMarsh. Having spent time this summer reading the memoirs of popular historian and CBC celebrity, Pierre Berton, I looked for Drifting Home, his story of travelling down the Yukon River with his family, and for his two railroad histories. I found all three. And there was much, much more. Not a bad haul for a little browsing.

The volunteers who packed my boxes had decided among themselves, even before I felt inclined to leave, that, as I was their best customer during the two-day sale, I should have all the books for a mere $20.00. I resisted, held out a $50 and said it was the least I could pay. After all, I wanted to support their outreach projects and, having run my share of yard sales in the past, wanted to reward their efforts with a fair donation. They insisted that, by that point, they would pay someone to take the books away. We settled on $40, I hailed a cab and they put the boxes into the trunk.

“Will you read all those books?” one of the volunteers asked.”No,” I replied, “but I will use them. Some will fill in gaps in my library, some will be models for my writing, others I will give as gifts, if nothing else, as stocking-stuffers.” At a time when we are weeding our house of books, adding more seems dysfunctional, but if I use them, it’s a small investment that will pay off.

It occurred to me, as Peter Sellers of Sellers & Newel and Joyce Blair of Balfour Books insist, that the market for used books remains. Often book lovers just need to be reminded of what it is that they might need or want. Besides, I believe in serendipity. Finding and reading books by chance this summer brought me immense personal and professional satisfaction. As all lovers of used books know, this happens often.

It’s the time of the year for used book sales. Several colleges at the University of Toronto have massive used book sales coming up: Victoria College, September 24-28th; St. Michael’s College, September 27-30th; University College, October 14-18th; and Trinity College, October 20-24th. Check for times and locations on the websites of the individual colleges. For other used book sales across the province, see the list at Book lovers interested in new books and magazines have Word on the Street in Toronto this Sunday, September 25th, at Harbourfront starting at 11:00 a.m. Enjoy.

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  1. Marlene

    Feel free to gift to me – but only one at a time!

    Too bad to think the store would have to pay to get rid of such gems.

    I’m reading While the Women Only Wept – Loyalist Refugee Women in Eastern Ontario – by Janice Potter-MacKinnon. I discovered a few years back that I had some Loyalist ancestors, who became lumber barrons in Since County and later in Huron/Bruce, finally Muskoka. My stepdaughter was discarding this university text during a household move.

  2. Lorraine

    Marian, I love your thinking about ‘using’ books as you weed your own house of books. I too need to weed and could have supplied several of the political biographies. Meanwhile, some nights I wander downstairs and a book calls to me to be read.


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