A Stack Of Others On the Floor Beside Me

“I like best to have one book in my hand, and a stack of others on the floor beside me, so as to know the supply of poppy and mandragora will not run out before the small hours.”
Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker

I believe we all have our addictions. Life would be unbearably dull without addictions. The trick is to pick ones that won’t destroy you and then try and manage them.

One of my addictions is used books. In this Kindle age, my book addiction is tempered (that devilish device already has more words entombed in it than I can read in the brief time I have left to live) but every now and then it rears its ugly head. Today was one of those times.

It was the annual Half-Price Books Clearance sale at the Dallas Market Center.

Image a huge room – almost five acres in size – that usually holds massive collections of boats, recreational vehicles, or cars. That vast expanse of space is covered with hundreds of long tables and every table is stacked with books. All for two dollars apiece. That’s the Half-Price Books Clearance Sale.

Half-Price Books Clearance Sale, Market Hall, Dallas, Texas

The books (and other goodies) are only roughly organized – YA, Fiction, Cookbooks, Non-Fiction, Audio CDs, DVDs, Children’s Books, History, Vinyl, Comic Books, Coffee Table Books, and Vintage. If you are looking for a particular tome – it might be there, but you are not going to find it. The only way is to abandon yourself, walk up and down the tables, picking out what catches your eye.

I know that somewhere in that immense assortment there is one book that would change my life – and only cost two dollars.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it.

When we arrived the outer edge of the room was almost completely filled with a long line of folks pushing big shopping carts piled with books. It looked like it would take hours to get through that queue and make a purchase. Luckily, the line shrank precipitously while we browsed – these were the true addicts that had shown up at first light for the prime books (though the staff was constantly restocking).

I saw the folks that I have spotted at library sales before – people with an app on their phones, working down the line scanning the barcodes. They have some online database they are working against that will tell them the value of the book they are passing. They will do this for hours – scanning through thousands of items looking for something they can sell on their online store. I guess this is cool – but what a hard way to make a buck.

I went to the sale with the idea of not buying anything other than maybe a book or two – simply enjoying the scene – like a junkie going somewhere to look at gigantic piles of heroin. Of course, that did not work. I bought a few books – less than ten – not too bad. I’ll have to get rid of that many – I control my addiction by limiting my shelf space (a book goes in – one goes out). So many  books, so little time left.

If you live in Dallas, you have two days left to get over there. They completely restock every morning.

“Wild Books, Homeless Books”

“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”
― Virginia Woolf

Display at main Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

Everybody has their addictions; I think an important part of life is to constantly take a brave look at what you are addicted to and try and choose better ones.

I used to be addicted to buying used books. My dealer of choice was Half Price Books here in Dallas. When I first moved to the area in the early 80’s, I lived on Lower Greenville and their main store was on Mockingbird, next to Campisi’s Egyptian. It was a short walk to the old-school used book store – with its labyrinthine passages. I bought too many books.

Then they moved to Northwest Highway and an old Captain’s Cargo store. It retained the odd sailing-ship style staircases and had an strange open plan. I moved too to a spot that was too close. I kept buying too many books.

One day I drove there and found the store closed. Confused and disappointed, I turned and saw that they had opened up into a gigantic warehouse-style space across the street. This was very bad. I went in and found a book of quotations I had been looking for for years. My addiction blossomed into full-fledged hopelessness. It’s funny, I only bought used books – never new. There was something about the feeling that other, unknown hands had moved over these pages before. Something about the faint smell of mold. I preferred books that had a few notes in the margin, a handful of bent corners, evidence of someone having been here before me.

Nobody ever held an Intervention for me, but when we moved to Richardson the moving company charged us a hefty upfee because of all the books. What finally broke me was the arrival of the Kindle – now I can carry a library in my pocket. I have more books in my Kindle than I can read over the rest of my pitiful life.

Jeff Koterba color carton for 7/21/09
“Mars”

Now, I have two large and one small bookshelf. This is my limit. To buy a new book, something has to go.

Is my addiction gone?… of course not. It may be under control. I do check way too many books out of the library… but that is really an addiction that I can live with.

Today, I went to Half-Price to look for a particular book that was too expensive in its ebook form. I found it in the Clearance Section for two dollars. You can be a very well-read person and never leave the Half-Price Books Clearance Rack. I suspect that the employees sometimes put really good books into Clearance as a favor to society.

At any rate, my classic book by a famous author that has helped keep society from completely (so far) running off the rails was two dollars. I also bought a blank book (my bullet journal is almost full) and it was ten.

So, I guess that putting wonderful, skillful, important words on paper reduces the value of a book by eighty percent.

Display at main Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

Music In the Used Book Store

When I first moved to Dallas, 36 or so years ago, I lived in the venerable (and still there) Turtle Dove Apartments, off lower Greenville Avenue, behind the Granada Theater.

One of the things I liked to do was to walk up to Greenville and Mockingbird and then down a few blocks to a crackerjack used book store, Half-Price Books. I have a bad book addiction and the maze-like selection of rooms chock-full of tomes of all types was an irresistible draw.

Is there anything more evocative than the paper-and-mold smell of a used book store?

Over the decades I moved and so did the store. It kept outgrowing its present digs and, like a gigantic paper hermit crab, shed its shell and found larger quarters. It moved north to Northwest Highway, settling in to an old Captain’s Cargo store – leaving it with two incongruous sailing vessel type stairways (that location is torn down and an REI landed on the spot).

My addiction was as strong as ever and one day I went to the place only to find giant “Closed” signs plastered all over. Sadly, I turned to my car only to spot giant streamers and “Half-Price Books New Location” signs across the street in a giant new building.

It’s the biggest used book store I’ve ever seen, in an open-plan of comfortable rows rather than the usual maze-like configuration. I’ve been to this big main store hundreds of times over the years, though I’m slowing down now as I try to get my inner hoarder under control and deal with the realization I have more books than I can read in the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, in another story, in 2012 Candy and I stumbled across a group of singers, a jam, at the Bar Belmont in West Dallas. I became their fan.

Charli's Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

Charli’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

belmont3

Playing the Dobro

Playing the Dobro

Over the years, Charli’s Jam has been forced to move around too. As their fan, I followed to various bars and other spots – and enjoyed most every place.

And now, they have settled in to the Big Main Half-Price. The same bookstore I’ve been hanging out in all these years. They perform on Sundays at three PM – I stopped by for a listen and to check out the new digs.

Other than the unavailability of alcohol… it seems like a sweet spot.

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Music cases and used books... and a bass.

Music cases and used books… and a bass.