Danbury, Connecticut, is the closest metropolitan area near me (population 80893), and this past weekend, the Friends of the Danbury Public Library held their annual sale. The first remarkable fact about this event is that the 80,000 books available to the public for sale, transported several miles from the library location to the Danbury PAL building at the other side of town, arrived in alphabetical order! This was a very well-organized sale; browsing the fiction tables was a breeze.
The second remarkable fact about this event would be the surprisingly large number of biographies, auto-biographies, and memoirs donated by Danbury residents. Three long tables laid end to end were laden with all manner of biographical materials, and under these tables, there were boxes filled to overflowing with additional selections. Interestingly enough, most of these books were “solo” copies; duplicates, with the exception of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (an area favorite) and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, were hard to find. A cultural anthropologist attending the sale could speculate as to what the fascination biographies, auto-biographies, and memoirs have for Danbury readers. Are the residents “people”-people? Is there a strain of voyeurism running through their veins? Or are they simply curious about the lives of the rich and/or famous? (Did former Danbury resident Robin Leach have anything to do with this trend?)
The plethora of memoir titles provided the following as selections for independent reading for the 12th grade memoir class:
Madhur Jaffrey– Climbing The Mango Trees: A Memoir Of A Childhood In India.
Gail Caldwell- A Strong West Wind
Ann Patchett- Truth and Beauty
Lucy Grealy- Autobiography of a Face
Meredith Hall –Without a Map: A Memoir
Patrick Moore-Tweaked: A Crystal Meth Memoir
Rory Stewart- The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq
Janice Erlbaum- Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir
Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine- Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back (P.S.)
Linda Greenlaw- The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey
For Grade 11, there were multiple copies of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Sebastian Junger’s War, and Michael Sharra’s The Killer Angels.
There were also multiple copies of Nobel prize winning author Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, an indication that the book is on a Danbury school or local book club’s reading list. Currently, this book is being challenged by parents in the neighboring town of Brookfield. According to the local media, the Brookfield challenge to have the book removed (Honors Grade 11 class) is largely led by individuals who have not read the book but who have read, and are circulating, excerpts of some graphic scenes; one complainant does claim to have read the SparkNotes.
For grade 10, there were multiple copies of Ishmael Baeh’s A Long Way Gone, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson’s Kabul Beauty School. There also multiple copies of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quite on the Western Front in the same editions we have in our classroom libraries.
For Grade 12 independent reading, usually Creative Writing classes, I found multiple copies of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, and enough copies of Melissa Bank’s The Girls‘ Guide to Hunting and Fishing as a “test” to see what students think.
I located some “hard to find” titles of books that are always needed including Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, Bobbi Ann Mason’s In Country, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Joseph Bruchec’s Codetalker, and Laurie Halse Andersen’s Chains. Since we are a vocational-agriculture school, an elective under consideration for seniors is Animals in Literature. Both of Ken Foster’s books Dogs I Have Met: And the People They Found and his other book Dogs Who Found Me will be added to that bookshelf.
I have noticed that a number of books that currently occupy positions on the NY Times best seller lists have been available at these local library sales. At Danbury’s sale, these titles included Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossani. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson, and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest escaped the stigma of being limited to the mystery table; all three were placed for readers of fiction who may want to “cross-over” for a thrilling mystery.
An entire side wall was dedicated to VHS tapes. Given the current state of technology, I wonder how much longer VHS will be featured at these sales; their value must be falling as the popularity of online movie streaming or DVD/Blu-ray grows. There were also two tables of audio books, CDs and DVDs. The organizers of the sale had a rather uncoventional approach to the literary canon; the classic literature section was divided from the poetry section with an expansive section of books devoted to humor. Was this placement a commentary on humor as the offspring of the classics? Or was this partition a statement about the lack of humor in the classics? I am not sure.
Unlike other area sales, there was no admission charge for early arriving buyers, so shopping during the first hours of the sale meant contending with book dealers and their ISBN readers. Fortunately, the aisles were wide enough to accommodate people carrying large bags filled with books. Prices ranged from $.50-$2.00;rare books had their own section and were priced accordingly. Volunteers wearing blue shirts and aprons were plentiful. By noon many were engaged in re-stacking tables and filling in gaps created by eager shoppers. Checkout was a breeze. The bill for five large bags of books, roughly 87 books, came to $101.00. The Friends of the Danbury Public Library will reduce the number of books to pack up by having a “bag sale” on Monday, 10/17.
80,000 books donated by residents in a city of 80893 means at least one donated book for each person. That is also remarkable; make this 80,000 Books and Three Remarkable Facts.
Writers for the NYTimes Book Review have mentioned how numerous memoirs have been over the last several years. This probably accounts for their prevalence at the Danbury Friends book sale.