I’m going to have to quit my day job, go on disability, and do nothing from now on but read.

Let’s face it, it’s what I was born to do, the only thing I do really well. Aside from napping on the couch, that is.

The two activities complement each other nicely.

Thursday I took off from work and went to the opening day of the Friends of the San Francisco Library annual booksale at Fort Mason. I try to go every year now, tho I had to miss last year’s sale, which happened while I was in Madison, Wisconsin for Bouchercon.

It was a tough decision to go to Madison.

The San Francisco weather gods are kind to books. Unlike the Fourth of July or the Chinese New Year’s parade, which are traditionally shrouded in fog and cold as fuck, the first day of the Friends of the SF Library booksale is always bright, sunny, and clear, with a brisk cool breeze blowing from the ocean and into the hangar-like waterfront building almost completely filled with tables of books and dazed, intent book people.

Many browsing the tables are stereotypical book folks, tweedy, bespectacled, etc. Many are not: A long-haired, bearded man in a studded black leather jacket and leather motorcycle pants, hovering with his empty shopping cart before jumping in, watching the crowd and talking loudly to himself: “That’s my book! My book! Mine, mine!” and laughing sardonically.

I know how he feels. When I wheeled my shopping cart up to the first book-covered table, I was almost hyperventilating from indecision–start here? Move left or right? Go through the boxes under the table now, or later? Systematic read, or random? And meanwhile the conviction that everyone else is slyly picking out the very books I’m looking for, the prize my heart is set on. Whatever that is. I’ll know it when I see it.

Eventually I settled down and began reading the spines. I settled on systematic, and would block out a dozen books or so, choosing a prominent or easily recognizable book as a boundary, speed-reading the titles, then back up to the beginning and read the second row, and then the third if there was one. I didn’t want to miss anything. I meant to read every goddamn bookspine in the place.

Two years ago my booksale experience was magical. It seemed that as soon as I thought of a book I wanted, it appeared under my hand, or at most a few books away.

This year was different. The rows of bookspines remained inert, closed to me. I wasn’t finding anything I wanted. Hundreds and hundreds of books, and not one of them I wanted to read!

I decided I was pushing it, trying too hard and driving away the delicate relationship between desire and its manifestation. I cleared my mind, opened my heart to all possibilities.

Then I started to score.

Crime novels: Eddie Muller, Kevin Wignall, Chantal Pelletier. It makes me happy just to type the names. Charlie Stella. Joe R. Lansdale.

Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd.

Crime books: Crooked, the confessions of a twenties criminal. Mostly Murder by Sir Sydney Smith, memoir of a Brit forensics specialist in the first half of the 20th century. Bloody Murder by Julian Symons, the revised edition that goes up to the 90s.

Fantasy novels: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly; Zamora’s The Shadow of the Wind.

Bio: Sewell’s big Emily Dickinson.

Reverdy, trans. Mary Ann Caws. The Collected Poems of Edwin Muir.

Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse, Haitian voodoo explorations.

Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, journal of a trip around the Great Lakes from New York to Michigan in 1826. Hardcover, in slip: four bucks! Watercolor illustrations by the author!

A tattered, battered copy of Ocean Shore Railroad, local California history of the San Mateo Coastside (I used to live there, have spent a lot of time there.)

A nice old hardcover with handcut pages, illustrated, of RL Stevenson’s later stories, including “The Bottle Imp.”

A Tale of Brittany, Pierre Loti. Ambivalent about this for a couple seconds–Loti is a lightweight, a fake exotic–but it’s a nice hardcover in great condition, and I’m a sucker for anything about Brittany. It goes in the shopping cart.

Oh, and some cool lps: a set of the first Leadbelly recordings for the Library of Congress by the Lomaxes–I’d never heard these. The recordings document a wider range of Leadbelly’s considerable repertoire than I’d heard before. Way cool stuff.

A boxed set of early music by Brit musicians, demonstrating a range of period instruments. Shawms! Bagpipes! Bladderpipes! The tromba marina! I am happy.

A folk orchestra from Romania. More bagpipes, fiddles, one of those fearsome Hungarian hammer dulcimers, wild singing and playing.

Freilachs by clarinetist Dave Tarras. Yiddische musics. Tarras one of those musicians with a direct pipeline to the endless flow of music going on always underneath everything.

A two lp set to teach yourself Irish Gaelic, on Gael Linn. I’ll get around to this someday, I swear.

Were there more? It feels as if there were more. There are always more books.

Ah! Fuck! Books, books!

I am happy.


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