Last Friday I went to the Richmond Public Library to browse the shelves, and found myself in the middle of their fall book sale. I came across histories by John Keegan and Robert Conquest, as well as library discards of Twayne studies of Ivan Turgenev. In the past I would have quickly bought them up. And the Twayne volumes, so superior to recent gossipy and lowbrow nonfiction works, might be worth reading. But the fact is that I seldom have time for them. So I try to rely on library copies — although the way that libraries are shedding their older works, that tactic may not be viable much longer.
I was very frugal. The only book I bought for myself was a study by Brian Bond of the English military tactician and historian B. H. Liddell Hart. The rest were kids’ books. For a mere five dollars I nabbed a dozen pristine American Heritage hardback illustrated volumes from the sixties on such topics as the Mexican-American War, the Erie Canal, Clipper Ships, and the Battle of Yorktown. My children haven’t put them down yet.
Over the years I’ve found that library sales have supplied some of the best items in my collection, even better than many brand new works or used volumes purchased (at considerably higher prices) from book dealers. Unfortunately, the quantity of older quality works is diminishing. When I compare what I picked up this time to the troves of stuff I was amassing a decade ago, the selection is not as good. But a few unexpected gems remain to be discovered by the patient buyer.