‘Best ever’ annual book sale brings in $11,300 for League of Women Voters

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  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School sophomore and volunteer Jack Hennemann slides boxes of sorted books across the cafetorium stage on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, where they had been stored temporarily in advance of the League of Women Voters of the Northampton Area book sale on Saturday. The Northampton LWV did not have a sale last year but this year the selection encompasses about 17,000 volumes. In 2022 the Northampton chapter will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School sophomores Jack Hennemann, left, Ryan Curtis and Andrew Royer move boxes of sorted books to the edge of the cafetorium stage on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, so they can be placed on the lunch tables in advance of the League of Women Voters of the Northampton Area book sale on Saturday. The Northampton LWV did not have a sale last year but this year the selection encompasses 17,000 volumes. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteers Andrew Foster, left, a teacher at Leeds School, and Leo Harrison of Easthampton take boxes of sorted books from the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School cafetorium stage on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, to set out on the lunch tables in advance of the League of Women Voters of the Northampton Area book sale on Saturday. The Northampton LWV did not have a sale last year but this year the selection encompasses 17,000 volumes. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tim Barry, owner of Tim’s Used Books in Northampton, scoops up hardcover fiction during the Early Bird rush at the League of Women Voters book sale at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Saturday morning. FOR THE GAZETTE/STEPHEN FAY

  • The Rare and Unusual section at the League of Women Voters book sale included a large number of distinguished titles. FOR THE GAZETTE/STEPHEN FAY

For the Gazette
Published: 9/25/2021 8:54:40 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Sharp at 8 Saturday morning, Margie Riddle blew a shrill blast on her lifeguard whistle.

And the race was on.

Book lovers, book sellers, book collectors and book readers swarmed into the Smith Vocational High School auditorium in a burst of energy and acquisition that would have been familiar to witnesses of the Oklahoma Land Rush.

“You want to be an early bird,” said Michael J. Manz, proprietor of Babylon Revisited Rare Books, an online shop.

Also, he said, he likes supporting the book sale’s host organization, the League of Women Voters.

Entrance to the League’s 71st annual book sale was free to the public starting at 9 a.m. But those prepared to ante up $10 — many of them book dealers — could take advantage of the Early Bird Special. Early Birds gained access to the trove an hour before the general public.

One of these was Tim Barry, owner of Tim’s Used Books on Main Street in Northampton. His is “a reader’s bookstore,” he said and he was looking for good, engaging, reads such as “Catch 22” and “Slaughterhouse 5.” Once inside the auditorium, he scooped up hardcover fiction by the foot, then the yard, and tucked his finds against the back wall before continuing the harvest.

If the book dealers were focused, the amateur book seekers were excited as they mined the rows of books — 17,000 in all — that the League’s volunteers had laid out by topic. The 80-plus themes ranged from fiction and fine arts to medicine and movies, from sports and classics, to science and history. The offerings were by no means limited to scholarly works and arcane reflections. For every Boswell there was a bodice ripper. For every Grisham, a Goethe.

The annual sale wasn’t held last year due to COVID. The result: pent-up demand and an extra-large haul of donated books amounting to twice the usual number.

It doesn’t hurt that the Five College area likes its literature. Among the rare books on hand were a six-volume set of Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson,” novels by William Makepeace Thackery and a “Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustre” French encyclopedic dictionary that might have been “petit” back in the day but seemed, in fact, hefty.

The majority of the books sold for $1, $2 or $3. The older, rare volumes went for more, but not much more. Nevertheless, the proceeds of $11,300 were gratifying, the sale was the “best ever,” and the whole event was “fabulous,” according to Riddle, who is secretary of the local chapter. The book sales benefit League programs supporting voter access and education on numerous issues involving health care, public education, human services and the environment. The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan group that studies and advocates for issues but does not side with political parties or candidates.

Riddle emphasized that a team effort makes the sale possible. The sorting crews, at times as many as 30 people ages 10 to 80, worked during July and early August taking in books, sorting them into categories and packing them into 850 boxes. Contributors to the sale dropped off their donations by the bag, box or carload. Some did their drop-offs in the dead of night. Each morning when the sorters arrived, they discovered that tidy parcels of books had mysteriously, anonymously materialized on the front steps. The source?

“Elves,” Riddle offered.

During the sorting, the crews made an effort to identify rare, unusual or special interest books. Treasures of this sort were identified and priced accordingly, usually at one third the online value. Several valuable volumes were rescued minutes before they were to be dismissed and dropped in the recycling box. Among these were an early edition of “Metropolitan Life” by Fran Lebowitz, her 1978 debut book of comic essays. Another was “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid,” an early verse novel by Michael Ondaatje, who later wrote “The English Patient.”

“That’s the kind of thing that happens,” Riddle said.




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