Friday, July 8, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

In the town of North Tonawanda, New York, in suburban Buffalo, there is an excellent bookstore that is simply called Book Outlet. Located in the former headquarters of the Wurlitzer pipe organ company, the Book Outlet is an enormous space (roughly the size of a suburban big box store like Best Buy or Barnes & Noble). Its barely-organized shelves contain books that other stores have remaindered, and of the inventories of bookstores that have gone out of business. Because they only stock what other bookstores are ridding themselves of, there is no predicting what they will stock from week to week. On one visit, they may have the entire bibliography of your favorite author, but come back a week later and they may have none of her books at all. The upside is that every book in stock is at least 70% off, and many are priced at $0.99.

On Wednesday, I bought seven paperbacks for $0.99 each, including books by Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Shirley Hazzard, Nadine Gordimer, Ann Beattie, and Charles Baxter. Much to my surprise, one of the books I purchased, Emerald City and Other Stories, by new CSD-favorite Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, was signed by the author. There was no indication that the book had been signed; it was for sale for ninety-nine cents just like every other book on its table. I have no idea what its worth, and I'll never sell it, but, as a diamond-in-the-rough among a whole pile of diamonds-in-the-rough, it reminded me of why I love outlets, used book and record stores, and vintage shops so much. Finding a little treasure in the midst of a pile of rubbish is infinitely more rewarding than ordering from eBay the exact item for which you are looking. If for no other reason, sometimes you don't know what you're looking for until its right in front of your face.

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