Tehee: Bibliophiles stock up at Fresno County library's Big Book Sale

The Fresno BeeAugust 21, 2013 

The Friends of the Fresno County Public Library received more than 200,000 donations for its annual Big Book Sale, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis.

That's a lot of books.

These are actual, physical books, the kind with actual printed pages that yellow with age and start to smell. It's part of their charm.

It's hard to imagine the logistical nightmare that comes with having that many books stacked in one place, but here's a hint: It took 10 shipping containers and an industrial crane to get the books to the shopping mall (and here I complained about my books the last time I moved).

Volunteers (myself included) sorted through cardboard boxes for the better part of a week, trying to get the books in some semblance of order before the sale began.

There's one whole storefront dedicated to fiction, and another dedicated to nonfiction, with sections for health, diet, biography, history, politics, gardening and golf. There are textbooks and teacher resources and books on sports, religion and humor. There's other stuff, too — sheet music for piano or mandolin. There are CDs, DVDs, records and cassette tapes.

"I really think there is something for everyone," says Nancy Kast, president of the Friends of the Library, or FOL, which does community outreach and raises money for special projects and programming with the county's various library branches.

The sale is popular with casual readers and hard-core bibliophiles alike because there are good deals to be found.

"There are lines of 100-plus people waiting to get in every day," Kast says.

Prices range from 50 cents to $2. Nothing is more than $5. At the end of the weekend, there's a $5 brown-bag sale —as many books as you can fit in a bag. It's a last-ditch effort to clear out as many books as possible, though some of the books will no doubt get recycled.

A savvy shopper with a couple of hours and $50 could stock up an entire year's worth of reading. The smartest shoppers hit the sale several times throughout the weekend, knowing that the turnover is high, and more books are brought in as space becomes available.

The selection ranges from mainstream best-sellers — you're sure to find plenty of Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel and Stephen King — to the obscure. Last year, I picked up a copy of "Salmonella Men on Planet Porno" a collection of short stories by Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui that I bought mostly for the cover.

It's way less risque than it sounds.

I also picked up a copy of John Updike's "S" and a couple of young adult books that were fun, but forgettable.

There is a thrill to the hunt. The real experience for most comes from sifting through the collected paperbacks, moving from book jacket to book jacket without any real idea of what you're looking for, waiting for something to pop out.

Book lovers are like record collectors in that respect.

For those willing to really spend the time, there are some gems to be found. Last year, there were two first-edition Jack London books floating around the sale, Kast says.

Of course, at 200,000-plus books, not every one will be a classic, or even good, and you wonder how many of these books were at the sale last year.

It's the same sensation I get every time I buy something at a yard sale.

But in this case, the money does goes back to the libraries. And while Kast won't say how much money the event makes each year, she says the sale represents 60% of the FOL's fundraising for the year.

So take a risk on an author you've never heard of before. Judge a book by its cover. Chalk it all up to a good cause.

If you go

Big Book Sale, benefits Friends of the Fresno County Library, through Sunday. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sierra Vista Mall, (559) 486-0866. fresnocountylibraryfriends.org

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @Joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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