This morning I headed over to campus for the first day of the “Friends of the Murray Library Booksale” at Messiah College. This is an annual event to raise money for the library and it usually draws a big crowd. The doors opened at 10am and I arrived around 11am to a packed room of book buyers. (On my way in the door I saw one of my students who told me that he would never again come to the sale on the first day. Too many people).
Over the years I have grown rather picky about the kinds of stuff I buy at these sales, so rather than browsing with a sense of anxiety about whether or not the books I wanted would be snatched up by another shopper, I decided to relax and just listen to the conversations whirling all around me.
There are several kinds of people that come to a big used book sale like this. Let me try to explain two of these “types.”
1. The “Theologians”
These book shoppers–many of them local clergymen–like to hang out around the “Religion” section, perhaps the largest of all the sections at the sale. Few, if any, are trained theologians, but they can certainly talk a good game. They are in the habit of picking up books and placing the author within a certain theological framework. For example, one guy picked up a copy of John Walvoord’s commentary on the Book of Revelation, announcing for all within earshot that “this is the classic dispensational commentary on Revelation–Walvoord was the chancellor at Dallas (Theological Seminary) for years!” Another guy grabbed a book about “Christian World Views” and wrote it off because it was “written by a bunch of Grove City (College) guys.” His buddy responded by saying–“you should buy that book. I am all about World View and you should be too.” Yet another man approached his friend with a book on Christian martyrs: “I am a bit surprised that this book is still on the table and no one has snatched it up yet. Do you want it?” His friend replied, rather smugly I thought, “nope–I already have it in my personal theological library.” Wow! I began to think about whether I had enough theology books to claim to have a “personal theological library.”
2. The Book Buyers
These are the on-line booksellers who show up to the event an hour in advance so they can be the first ones in the building. They could really care less about the content of a particular book, but instead simply grab whatever they can find that is in good condition and throw it into a device with wheels that I can only describe as a cross between a piece of luggage and shopping cart. When they are done ravaging the the tables (and taking books away from elderly Mennonite women with head coverings), they retreat to the corner of the room to revel in their acquisitions, not unlike a mouse with a piece of cheese. They pull out an electronic thing-a-ma-jig (I think they are PDAs) that looks similar to a scanner at a grocery store and begin scanning the books into their on-line databases. Apparently they subscribe to a service that tells them the going rate for each book based on the ISBN number. They then use this information to conclude whether or not they can make money on the item. If they can’t, they put the book back on the table. I saw one guy busily at work and asked him what he was doing. “Updating my inventory,” he said. In which I replied–“Oh, so you are going to resell these book on-line?” In which he said, “Oh no, I am just entering them into my database.” He obviously lied. I am pretty sure he was not buying that advice book for pregnant women over 40 to put on a shelf in his own “personal library.”
In the end, I spent $16.oo and bought the following books:
Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society
John Wilson, ed., The Best Christian Writing–2001
Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology
Henry Steele Commager, The American Mind
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man
Hanna Rosin, God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America
Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder: Essays
Rodney Clapp, Border Crossings: Christian Trespasses on Popular Culture and Public Affairs
Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America
Philip Zaleski, ed., The Best American Spiritual Writing–2004.
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.