Every now and again the local civic society in my town raises funds by holding a second hand book sale in the town hall. It is a gruesome affair, where the thin veneer of civilisation is ripped off and men and women revert to the brutish state of nature. The doors open at 10.00am, by which time the predators have already gathered. Darwinian selection ensures that only the fittest and the most aggressive specimens get through the door first.
Like rugby and basketball, there is a particular physical type that excels at book sales. Short, sharp elbowed and sharklike smoothness are the attributes that enable them to get to the good books and grab them before anyone else has a chance. There are characters that everyone fears. The Spaniard is known to be someone who it is unwise to come between and any book on history or architecture. The waitress makes up for her petite stature with a steely determination to get hold of the book she wants.
I am too scared to venture down to the sale most times it runs. I have occasionally hazarded a late afternoon visit, by which time the predators have eaten their fill and retired with their prey. It is a scene of devastation, with only old runs of the Readers Digest and the pristine signed and unread copies of Edward Heath’s autobiography untouched. Even the old smelly and unreadable – the Austen Allegro Hayes manual, the Brief History of Time, Berlitz Guides the Simon Schama History of Britains have been pawed over and sullied before being rejected. The readers red in tooth and claw demand redder meat and fresher fare.
The shell shocked volunteers manning the stalls can only survey the paltry remains of their stock and hope that they will get enough donations to sate the bookophilic lusts of their customers the next time a book fair is run.