This thing about buying books…

Picture this:

It’s a busy Saturday. The list of errands we need to run is barely shorter than the grocery list for the week, and we’re skittering about the mall, slightly cranky toddler in tow. Lunch was a humble affair at the foodcourt and we’re trying to do as many things as we can before we can get into a cab, because a car ride with Miss Munchkin right after lunch isn’t really a good idea, if past experience is anything to go by. Nap time was about an hour ago, and we’re slowly but surely inching towards overtired.

And then I see an atrium book sale. 3 for $10!

The books, their covers worn soft and pages turned brown due to age, call to me. “Just give me a second,” I say to my husband, who by now knows me well enough to see the danger signs, and rolls his eyes in warning. “No, really!” I insist, “Just a second.” I walk along the display, gingerly touching the spines of the books, a fixed smile on my face. I imagine the pages, worn soft. Of late, I have been zeroing in on the children’s and young adult section, and I wonder if I can find a couple more Roald Dahls to add to my already growing collection. Despite being a sucker for chick-lit, I have this rule about never buying them first-hand, and so book sales are also perfect for grabbing a few indulgent fluff reads.

The husband starts getting increasingly annoyed. “Not fair,” he says, “You do this each time!” The little one, now truly overtired, refuses to let go of me, and so I do what I know best: pick her up and browse through books together because no way was I walking away from a book sale empty-handed. I manage the seemingly impossible manoeuvre of handling four thick paperbacks AND Miss Munchkin settled on my waist, and walk to the payment counter.

We come back home, the husband still miffed about my impractical detour and the toddler an absolute mess, while I hug the books to me because hey, I bought books!

I think it all started about two years ago. I mean, before that my husband and I did have a somewhat okay collection of books but it was nowhere near huge. I still remember the first buy that opened the floodgates. Miss Munchkin had just turned one and half, and I had joined that Mommies’ Group on Facebook where we all sold off our stuff, and this lady was selling off her books for $2 each. I grabbed the whole lot, and was extremely proud at having bought 20 books for $40. Some of those books I had read, having borrowed them for the library, but I bought them for the sole purpose of owning them.

My second major jackpot was when we came back to Singapore from Dubai last July. I rejoined the Mommy Group, and came across this lady who was selling off her entire bookshelf. An entire bookshelf! Double stacked! The family was moving, and they had moving boxes lying around, and I basically grabbed an entire boxful of books. Hardbound Jeffrey Archers and Stephen Kings, cookbooks… all in mint condition, 45 in total. The bookshelves started groaning in protest. My further purchases didn’t really help.

But this post isn’t really about listing how many books and where I bought them from (although it does read a lot like that so far, I know) This post is about the wonderful people I came across in my incredible journey of book-purchasing, and how my belief that book lovers are a whole different community altogether has been reinforced.

I started teaching last year, and because I teach English, I consider it my cardinal responsibility to ensure that my students have a steady supply of good books to read. The first time I bought books exclusively students was for my ninth-graders, when they’d handed me a brilliant class project and I was so impressed with the amount of effort they had put in it that I unabashedly promised them gifts. I remember the look on their faces when I walked in with the new books and told them the books were theirs to borrow. Word spread, and one day a sixth grader walked up to me and demanded to know why I was being unfair and lending books only to the higher grades. The simplest reason was that I didn’t have any books suitable for middle-schoolers, and the moment I realised that my stuffed bookshelves didn’t cater to the needs of a particular section, I knew I had to fill the gap. A harmless comment made by a cheeky eleven year old was what triggered it all.

On this journey towards converting our home to a veritable library, I have sought help multiple times, and have received it from all quarters. I remember desperately looking for a second set of Harry Potter books because I was unwilling to lend out mine. I had even decided to shell out the money to buy a new set in Popular since no one was willing to sell off theirs. Until I heard from this lady who had a spare set but was concerned that the box was slightly squashed. “Who cares about the box!” I wanted to tell her, “Tell me about the books!” I went to meet her straight after work, hoping it was worth it. Boy was it worth it! The books were in impeccable condition, and she’d wrapped the covers in clear plastic to make them durable. I could’ve hugged her (I think I did, I don’t remember) because I was overjoyed.

Because one of my students mentioned that he loved dogs but didn’t quite like reading books, I decided to get him books about dogs, and on that pursuit, came across this woman whose daughter, a voracious reader herself, was selling off her collection. It was late in the evening when I took a cab to their place, almost half an hour away from my place, and I decided to keep the cab running while I went upstairs to fetch the books. This young girl, on knowing that I was buying books for my students, decided to give away quite a lot of books for free, and I couldn’t do anything other than bless her. That day, on the ride back home, I thanked my lucky stars, my faith in the younger generation restored. All was, after all, not lost.

My latest tryst with providence came a few weeks ago. Through that same blessed group, I came to know about a lady having a garage sell with over 700 books and DVDs on sale, and the books were $3 each. The only glitch was that on the day of her garage sale, I had to go to school for a parent-teacher meeting in school, and was highly disappointed at having to miss it. Sending a hurried message asking her to send me photos of any remaining books, I prayed my luck hadn’t run out.

Turns out it hadn’t. I reached home, exhausted, only to find a message from her saying the books were now $1 each, and there were quite a few left, and would I be interested? Typing faster than I ever thought was possible I told her I would take the whole lot, and true to my word, reached her place the very next day armed with tote bags to bring the books. When I came back home and checked the books, I almost cried. Classics, Newberry Honour Medal winners, even hardbound books in perfect condition… it felt like a crime to pay only a dollar for each book and yet I couldn’t thank the higher powers above. Someone had once told me that if one’s intentions are right, and if one is desperate enough, things will go out of their way to fall in place.

Books

One of these days I will tell myself that maybe I have finally run out of room on my bookshelf. That maybe I’ve bought enough books to last me some time.

But then again, one can always buy another bookshelf, right?

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