Book bazaar satisfies even the most voracious reader

Jacques Kelly

April 05, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

Today, people will grab Ogden Nash, tackle Anne Tyler and rough up Russell Baker.

The displays of rudeness will occur at the 33rd annual Smith College Club used-book sale, a literary bazaar for Baltimoreans with short budgets and hearty reading appetites. The sale ends Sunday.

It's hard to say whether this sale is Baltimore's literary rite of spring or the city's way to clutter a home library. Readers and book collectors love the event. I have never heard of anyone who left the Towson Armory without buying at least one book. The prices start at 10 cents. Most volumes are in the $1 to $4 range. On Sunday evening, biblio-maniacs will have their urges satisfied. For $2, you are free to carry out as many books as your arms will allow. It's gluttony and readers love it.

The Smith College alumnae are a refined and dedicated group of volunteers. Attired in their wool suits and canvas aprons, they sort and price the books packed in boxes in rented basement quarters where the wares are stored before the weekend sale. In a good year, the alumnae raise the equivalent of two full scholarships ($36,000 plus) for their alma mater.

"We've had so many donations, we've been very selective this year. We've really cut down on junk. Nobody reads sociology texts. And we've banned most old National Geographics," said Nancy Boyce, a Glen Arm resident who has worked for the sale for many years.

The people who attend the sale are aggressive book hunters. They elbow, kick, jab and occasionally steal. One year, a cigar box containing $500 walked off a table. The Smith College ladies countered by finding a massive old cash register that takes two people to lift.

Last year, an autograph hound stole a small collection of Jacqueline Kennedy's letters and personal cards. This year, the ladies put many of the more choice items, which are auctioned, into locked glass cases. And there are some lovely items to bid on, including a 1957 Baltimore Colts media guide in mint condition that's included in a lot with four City-Poly game programs (1950, 1952, 1968 and 1969) and a 1968 Orioles score card.

But the sale is really about books. It took five trips in a Von Paris moving van to fill the Towson Armory with the 50,000 volumes for this year's event, a wonderland of pulp.

One table, on local authors, held this inventory: Russell Baker's "Growing Up," Peter Skutches' "Diner," Alan Fisher's "Country Walks near Baltimore," Alma Powers-Waters' "Mother Seton" and Walter Lord's "Dawn's Early Light."

The women who sort these books know their wares. For example, Edith Hamilton's "The Echo of Greece" and "The Roman Way" are not found under classical literature. Book-sale principals know that Hamilton was the headmistress of Baltimore's Bryn Mawr School. As a result, these volumes are placed on the Maryland table.

For cooks, there's a Sheppard-Pratt cook book, a Ruxton cook book and Avalynne Tawes' Eastern Shore recipes.

Jurist and poet Severn Teackle Wallis (his statue is in Mount Vernon Place) wrote four volumes of his "Glimpses of Spain." But because he's local, his books go on the Maryland table. Besides, there's already plenty of stock on the travel table.

Novelists are a bit more sticky. Anne Tyler is so well associated with Baltimore her "Breathing Lessons" goes on the local table. But Potomac resident and University of Maryland professor J. R. Salamanca's work of fiction, "Southern Light" is filed among the novels. James M. Cain's "The Butterfly," priced at a lofty $25, is a clean first edition and went into the collector's choice section.

The hours of the book sale at the Towson Armory, Washington and Chesapeake avenues, are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. then 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Books are half price on Sunday; at 6 p.m., all you can carry for $2.

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