Bingeing on Books

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The doors to the Library Services Center have barely swung open to admit the three-block-long line of shoppers when Josh Leek comes scurrying out with two brown bags weighted nearly to the ground with books and discs.

“We sell ’em online through Amazon,” he says as he prepares to load the first of his day’s haul into a white van. “We make a couple thousand dollars each time -- two weekends. Little bit of everything. Books, AVs. We were here yesterday and got 50 to 60 bags.”

Here, from Tennessee.

A regular book sales customer, Jay Thompson brings his special "tool" for carrying his haul of books. It holds bag handles so their weight doesn't cut into his palms. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • A regular book sales customer, Jay Thompson brings his special "tool" for carrying his haul of books. It holds bag handles so their weight doesn't cut into his palms.

I was holding Leek up, for which I apologized. The Knoxille entrepreneur is one of the hardcore participants in the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation’s periodic sales of surplus new and used goods; and one can only wonder, watching him hustle back into the beehive of the final Saturday of April’s segment -- $7-a-bag day -- just how many of his ilk are raking in how much from this city’s biggest bargain in reading matter.

He’s an exception, though. Book lovers such as myself, those who love book lovers, and those who want their children to be book lovers, predominate along these rows and rows of besieged shelves.

Yet motivations vary nearly as much as the inventory. For a handy composite, try Jay and Darlene Thompson, the couple who come equipped with small wooden bars specially notched to hold the bag handles without cutting into their palms.

He likes biographies, history and geography. She goes for mysteries. But what they come for in bulk is children’s books; Darlene works for a pediatrician in the inner city who gives a book to each patient.

“When our own kids were young and we were home-schooling them, we looked for encyclopedias,” Darlene adds. “But that’s all online now.”

Miriam Geib oversees the collectibles sectioned-off treasures up in the front. A Library Foundation staffer for 30 years, Geib is familiar face at the sales. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • Miriam Geib oversees the collectibles sectioned-off treasures up in the front. A Library Foundation staffer for 30 years, Geib is familiar face at the sales.

And these days, so is half the library sale, by revenue anyway. It’s a concession made more than a decade ago to market realities. But the physical enterprise is more than holding its own against the digital invasion. The flagship example is Miriam’s Corner, a section near the front that’s set aside for rare and otherwise special books, with a modest price bump. It honors Miriam Geib, the Foundation staffer in charge of collectibles, for her 30 years of service.

Manning the counter in her blue apron with “Miriam” scrolled across, the namesake relates that the department sees its share of serious collectors, but tends toward the sentimental more than the acquisitive.

“Yesterday a man bought three Indy 500 books from the 1950s for 50 cents each. There’s always treasure out there. But even more than the valuable items, people simply say ‘I’ve been looking for that book for years,’ or maybe they remember reading it as children.”

This, I confess, is the scene of my first cave-in. I’ve clutched one of the brown shopping bags along with my notebook, but I arrived at least semi-resolved to return empty-handed to a home piled past spouse-tolerance level with books I won’t cut a decent swath through if I live to be 110.

But there they beckon.

A near-pristine gray cloth volume of Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy, with slightly embossed silver lettering.

A 937-page biography of Alfred Kinsey.

You know you want us, they whisper. And for two bucks each? Even if I know I’ll never read them? I cannot NOT possess them.

The long line of eager bargain-hunting bilbliophiles forms well before the Library Services Center opens for its book sales. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • The long line of eager bargain-hunting bilbliophiles forms well before the Library Services Center opens for its book sales.

On with the bag I go, into the bowels, past the gilt-edged volumes of encyclopedias, and the bin of vintage LPs ( A Fifth of Beethoven, Robert Goulet’s Greatest Hits), past Travel and Cookbooks and Juvenile and down into the jammed rows of Fiction, where my true temptation lies.

A Joseph Heller here, a T.C. Boyle there, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Albert Camus’ The Plague, for heaven’s sake -- I’m over a dozen books and a nearly-full bag and a heart full of guilt when I overhear Debra Hunt working her cell phone.

“You say Stuart Woods is good? OK, I better get him, then. I’m gonna have five bags if I don’t get outta here.”

You know readers? This is a reader. She goes through popular novels, and library sales and yard sales, like James Bond through paramours. Oblivious to my obvious preferences, my James Salter, my Willa Cather, she rattles off authors.

Nevada Barr. Vince Flynn. John Grisham. Sandra Brown.

And back on the phone to her bookaholic friend.

“Kay Hoop’s good? I better get her.”

And I know I better get out of there before I need one of Jay Thompson’s wooden supports – or some creative fiction to get me back in the house. I don’t doubt Debra’s word. For all my highfalutin taste, I know Kay Hoop’s good because it’s all good.

The next chance for futile resistance is in June. That round begins with Friends' Night of the library on the 19th and runs the 20th and 25th through the 27th. Start your wish list now.

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