Lindsay Marks 6 p.m., Dec. 5
I’m standing in line for the big sale. There's about forty of us here, waiting breathlessly for the event to begin. I only have five dollars in my pocket, but it should be more than enough. That’s because this place has some amazing discounts – with prices slashed by as much as ninety percent.
At long last the clock strikes 10:00 a.m., and the front doors slide open. Immediately I hustle through them, take a sharp turn to the left, and enter a long conference room. My eyes widen at what’s inside. I see nothing but books. Thousands upon thousands of them. And all of them at prices too good to be true. Hardbacks for a dollar, and paperbacks for just two bits. Who’s responsible for all this? The downtown Chula Vista Library -- it’s their biannual used book sale.
Rapidly I do a visual reconnaissance of the room. All the books are organized in a rough and ready fashion. Paperbacks – most of them fiction – are located in the room’s center, lined up along a long table. Hardbacks – most of them non-fiction – are piled on a set of smaller tables pressed up against the walls. After an agonizing moment of indecision, I decide to begin with the paperbacks.
Thirty seconds later, I discover my first piece of treasure. It’s a pristine copy of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat. My timing couldn’t be better – just a week earlier, Vargas Llosa had won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, and The Feast of the Goat is considered one of his best works. With a grin, I slip the four-hundred page novel into my tote bag. It’s easily the best quarter I’ve spent in recent memory.
Next I pick 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 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, while Wolf Hall won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. To balance things out, I also pick up two suspense novels by John Grisham and two more by Dean Koontz. Neither of these 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, then move on to the prize-winners later in the year.
After about ten minutes, I shift my attention to the hardback section. Almost immediately I spot something grand – a beautiful and recent edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World. If you’re a map lover like I am, it’s hard to beat this book, which contains over a hundred detailed, full-color maps of major world cities. The list price for the Oxford Atlas is eighty dollars – but today I’m getting it for just a buck. As I stuff it into my tote bag, I resist the temptation to dance a jig.
My two final books are major-league biographies. The first is 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 is Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex, his much lauded book about President Theodore Roosevelt. I majored in American history at UC San Diego, so these types of books are like comfort food to me. I’ve always been more of a Roosevelt fan than a Rockefeller fan, but let’s see if Mr. Chernow can change my mind.
My shopping done, I walk over to the cashier, a grandmotherly woman who sits behind a small table in the library’s lobby. I show her the books that I’ve chosen, and she takes a long look at them.
“You have good taste,” she remarks.
“Why, thank you,” I answer.
“Middlesex was a lovely novel,” she says, “and Wolf Hall was just exquisite.”
“That’s good to know,” I tell her.
Her gaze shifts to my non-fiction. “I’ve read that Roosevelt biography,” she says. “And I thought it was capably written. But I must admit I prefer the one done by Nathan Miller.”
I nod along silently, as if I know what she’s talking about. Clearly this elderly woman is one smart cookie. I’m tempted to ask about her background, but I’m in a hurry to leave, so I decide against it.
“That will be five dollars,” she informs me.
I hand her a five-dollar bill, then say, “This is a great event. I hope it raises a lot of money for the library.”
The cashier lets out a little sigh. “Well, you know, the city has a twelve million dollar deficit. But every little bit helps.”
I respond 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. Staffs 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. This library is where I learned how to read. As a child, I spent many a weekend afternoon here, reading books on almost every conceivable subject. It’s here where I first decided to be a lawyer, then a writer. The 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 thank the cashier and leave the library. As I do, I find my feelings are bittersweet. I’m still happy with all my bargains. But deep down I wish I had a lot more money to give to one of my most favorite places in the world.