Garage sale heaven

Fall is the season to ply the avenues for garage sale books in Fairbanks, Alaska. Though sold all summer, books seem to occupy a higher ratio of items offered in the fall. I don’t know why this is so but I suspect the book worms are busy reading outdoors under the long days of the Midnight Sun. With 22 hours of daylight, plus two hours of readable dusk, what serious book reader would mount a full scale, time sucking, garage sale?


Probably only those forced to move

Throughout the summer a high turnover population of military and seasonal work forces, make the Golden Heart City a target rich environment for clothes and bulky garage sale items. On any summer weekend in Fairbanks, a working town and jumping off point for bush Alaska, there are 30-50 garage and moving sales. The clothes the kids outgrew, the vintage sewing machine, the worn love seat, and the engine block collecting bird dodo for half a decade are brushed off, carried and rolled into place on lawns and driveways. Traffic jams at garage sales are the norm. 

When the good books come out

Yet, as the days shorten and the air cools, the folks of Fairbanks know this is the last chance to clear that overstuffed book case of tattered paperbacks and unread classic tomes. In the fall, it’s the small items, like dishes and table wear and books, that tend to go on sale. They are easier to set out and can be gathered up easier under fickle weather.

My garage sailing book bounty

Last Saturday was a good garage sale day. S. and I left on our bikes in a slight drizzle. Just down the street was our first sale. Our elderly neighbor was selling out. A hand written sign at the curb read, “MUST GO — 30 years of accumulated stuff.” There’s nothing like a must go sign. It usually means the owners are ready to deal and bargains are to be had.

Their items were set out on folding tables under two square, white canopies. There was little that interested us but lining one side of the garage were six large boxes of books. “Yes,” I whispered quietly. I began to rifle through them and immediately found a treasure: Coleman McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, the first book in his Border Trilogy. The book was a National Book Award winner. I read McCarthy’s End Of The Road last year and wanted to read something else by him. It was a clean, large paperback edition, so I snagged it.

Then I spotted a book I’ve wanted in my library for some time. Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, a hardback book on the corrosive political debates between the right and left. The jacket blurb reads, “Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it.” Wallis has led the fight to bring more light and less heat to the debate dividing not only Christians but the all Americans.

As I went through the last box, a book with a dark brown cover caught my eye. It was a find, A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was old but in excellent shape. The copyright page gave the publication date of 1911. It wasn’t a first edition but it might be the first edition published in America. This book will go in my classics shelf next to my great grandfather’s first edition Huckleberry Finn and a hand full of other classics. We paid a total of three dollars and fifty cents, an unbelievable deal, and set off to our next sale.

We visited three other sales in quick succession not finding anything we were interested in. In fact, at a couple of the sales it was obvious some folks were selling sketchy items: yard rakes with missing tines and shovels with dry rotted handles. Some were repairable but some were total junk and not worthy of sale. We moved on to better gleanings.

Last stop and score

Our luck changed when we visited our last stop, a neighbor’s sale a few doors down from our house. The daughter and her boyfriend were moving to Maine and needed to get rid of a lot — I suspect whatever couldn’t fit in their small car. At the entrance to the garage S. spotted a sturdy coffee table with a few dings. It was stout enough to hold our 50 gallon fish tank. We have a koi and four gold-fish that we bring indoors for the winter and we needed a strong table to hold the tank. They wanted 50 dollars for the table. I talked them down to 25 and arranged to return with the car to pick it up.

Before leaving I found a table full of obsolete VHS tapes. I wasn’t interested in the tapes so much as seeing what movies these nomadic neighbors liked to watch. As I turned them over I found a hardback copy of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, all 676 pages of it for a dollar. I had read a few chapters of this book a couple of summers ago while on vacation and thought at the time I’d come back to it sometime. Here it came back to me.


Before you sample a garage sale this weekend, click over to my sample poem at Fresh Bean Sprouts.


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