Caryn Radick 2016-09-26 12:04:09
One of my book-buying/pile-growing “downfalls” is the Friends of the Library book sale (FOLBS for short). They seem so innocuous. “It’s for a good cause,” I say as I walk out with 20 books—for less than $20!—for which I then have to find space. FOLBS is a good place to uncover authors and books that I think have “archival lens” potential. Where I live in New Jersey, FOLBS is a competitive sport. My partner-in-crime and I typically get there before opening time with shopping bags in hand (not bringing one is an amateur move; you’ll know why when you pick up your sixth or seventh book), only to find 20 to 30 people waiting by the library doors. As soon as they open, we fly in and stake out an area, making our bodies bigger to deter those who would try to look over our shoulders to get a peek at the books we’re checking out. Inside, I have two modes of book-acquiring behavior: the “hover over” and the “do a double-take and immediately grab.” The first is for books I may have looked at before and not picked up for one reason or another, until I see one enough times that I decide to give it a shot. A “speaks-to-the-archivist” book I recently acquired in this fashion is The Shadow of the Wind by Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Topic aside, it has a cool title, which is why I looked at it in the first place. Next, the back of the book describes a post-World War II tale of rare books and secrets set in a labyrinthine library in Barcelona—a mystery about books that have almost been erased from the record, their author, and the lives touched, haunted, and ruined by them. It took me three or four sales to realize this was exactly the sort of book I go to the FOLBS to find. I read this moving and entertaining book about a year later and was reassured that picking up the sequel, which I’ve yet to read, was a good move. The “double-take-and-grab” books tend to be ones I’ve heard of but never expected to see in this bargain setting; often they’re very new, highly rated, or just hard to get a hold of (two recent “grab” examples could easily end up in this column—Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven). It was a little harder to place Australian author Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish when I saw it. I knew it was published more than a decade ago—2001—that it had been well-regarded, and that it, unsurprisingly, had something to do with fish, further borne out by its subtitle: “A Book in 12 Fish.” Set in the 1830s in a prison colony off the Tasmanian coast, it’s about a prisoner “ordered to paint a book of fish” and how “he attempted to keep a record of the strange reality he saw in prison, only to realize that history is not written by those who are ruled.” At that point, Gould’s had secured a place in my bag, by appealing to the “archival lens” reader in me. What would Gould’s Book of Fish have to say about records and history? A note inside says that Gould’s paintings are at the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania. The fact that Gould was a real person made me want to know even more. I haven’t read the book yet, so time will tell if it was a good grab. And if not, it was acquired for a good cause!
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.