Author: Donald Breese
Neighborhood: Chula Vista
I was standing in line for the big sale. There were about 40 of us there, waiting for the event to begin. I had only five dollars in my pocket, but it would be enough. The place had some amazing discounts, with prices slashed by as much as 90 percent.
At long last, the clock struck 10 a.m., and the front doors slid open. Immediately I hustled through, took a sharp turn to the left, and entered a long conference room. My eyes widened at what was inside. Nothing but books! Thousands upon thousands! All of them at prices too good to be true. Hardbacks for a dollar, and paperbacks for just two bits. Who was responsible for all this? The downtown Chula Vista Library — it was their biannual used-book sale.
I did a quick reconnaissance. Paperbacks — most of them fiction — were located in the room’s center, lined up along a long table. Hardbacks — most nonfiction — were piled on a set of smaller tables pressed up against the walls. After an agonizing moment of indecision, I decided to begin with the paperbacks.
Thirty seconds later, I discovered my first piece of treasure. A pristine copy of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat. My timing couldn’t have been better — just a week earlier, Vargas Llosa had won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. With a grin, I slipped the 400-page novel into my tote bag. It was the best quarter I’d spent in recent memory.
Next I picked up three award-winning novels: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Both Middlesex and Empire Falls had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and Wolf Hall had won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. To balance things out, I picked up two suspense novels by John Grisham and two more by Dean Koontz. Neither of those authors will ever win a Pulitzer, but their books are always a kick to read. Knowing me, I’ll end up reading the Grisham and Koontz novels first and move on to the prize-winners later in the year.
After about ten minutes, I shifted my attention to the hardback section. Almost immediately I spotted something grand — a beautiful recent edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World. If you’re a map lover like me, it’s hard to beat this book, which contains over 100 detailed, full-color maps of major world cities. The list price for the Oxford Atlas is 80 dollars, but I got it for a buck. As I stuffed it into my tote bag, I resisted the temptation to dance a jig.
My two final books were major-league biographies. The first was Ron Chernow’s Titan, which is about the life of John D. Rockefeller, the oil magnate who became the richest man in American history. The second was Edmund Morris’s Theodore Rex, the much-lauded book about President Theodore Roosevelt. I majored in American history at UC San Diego, so those types of books are like comfort food to me. I’ve always been more of a Roosevelt fan than a Rockefeller fan, but maybe Mr. Chernow would change my mind.
My shopping done, I walked over to the cashier, a grandmotherly woman who sat behind a small table in the library’s lobby. I showed her the books I’d chosen, and she took a long look at them.
“You have good taste,” she said.
“Why, thank you.”
“Middlesex is a lovely novel,” she remarked, “and Wolf Hall is just exquisite.”
“That’s good to know.”
Her gaze shifted to my nonfiction. “I’ve read that Roosevelt biography, and I thought it was capably written. But I must admit I prefer the one done by Nathan Miller.”
I nodded along, as if I knew what she was talking about. Clearly that elderly woman was one smart cookie. I was tempted to ask about her background, but I was in a hurry.
“That will be five dollars,” she informed me.
I hand her a five-dollar bill and said, “This is a great event. I hope it raises a lot of money for the library.”
The cashier let out a little sigh. “Well, you know, the city has a $12 million deficit. But every little bit helps.”
I responded with a look of sympathy. In order to balance the budget, Chula Vista’s city manager has proposed some major reductions in services. Many will affect the city’s library system. Staff will most likely be cut and operating hours reduced. There’s even been talk of closing down the branch library in Eastlake.
All of this hurts me deeply. That library is where I learned how to read. As a child, I spent many a weekend afternoon there, reading books on almost every conceivable subject. It’s where I first decided to be a lawyer, and then a writer. That place has a ton of good karma. It’s something I want made available to future generations, no matter what the cost.
Books in hand, I thanked the cashier and left the library. As I did, I found my feelings were bittersweet. I was happy with all of the bargains, but deep down I wished I had a lot more money to give to one of my favorite places in the world.