Ithaca is a book town, and I’m a book person. So it’s a match made in heaven each October and May, when the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library put on one of the biggest book sales in the U.S. More than 250,000 donated items—books, movies, CDs, old vinyl albums, magazine, sheet music (but mostly books)—are up for sale at a warehouse that belongs to the Friends of the Library and is used exclusively for the book sale.
It’s an amazing sight. The photo above shows only about half the room. You walk in, and it’s just rows and rows of packed bookshelves. The aisles between them are nearly as packed with book buyers. Book dealers camp out in front of the building the night before the sale opens, to get an early shot at the rare books in Collectors’ Corner. (No kidding—we counted a dozen tents one year.)
The sale takes place over three weekends, and each day the prices go down. By the final day, you can buy all the books you can cram into a plastic grocery bag for a dollar. (My record is 43!)
This year, I found quite a few urban fantasy novels—enough to keep me reading happily until the spring sale—along with some literary novels I’d been wanting to read, a few mysteries, and a bag full of opera videos. The books are currently stacked on my kitchen table, waiting for me to figure out where to store them in our already-crammed bookcases. And I’ve started a bag for my next round of donations to the sale. I look at it more as a book-rental program—I buy inexpensive used books and then donate them back. It helps keep my book-filled house from getting too chaotic.
I gave my husband a Kindle for his birthday this year, and one of the first things I did with my new iPhone was download iBooks and read a whole book on my phone. But I love the book sale, right down to the slightly musty, old-book smell that envelopes you when you step inside from a cool October afternoon. I love the way it supports reading, and how you never know what you’ll find as you browse its offerings. I love the fact that Ithaca, a town of 30,000 people, supports a used book sale that sells 500,000 books each year (!) to benefit its public library. The book sale is one of my favorite things about this town.