Monday, November 10, 2008

A good haul at the library book sale

Twice a year, The Friends of the Yellowknife Public Library hold a book sale. The books (and videos) on offer come from the library, as it culls its collections, and from donations of Yellowknifers who are, likewise, culling their collections.

I generally avoid the book sale. Someday I'll post a photo of the chaos that is our library loft, and you'll see why. For now, just trust me when I say that I own too many books. The problem, of course, is that I love them all and don't want to give them away. But even I feel the occasional need to tidy up, and in the weeks leading up to the sale, I carefully select videos and books to donate and then make Pierre take them away before I change my mind. If I go to the sale, I may end up buying them back.

This fall, however, we spent a weekend at Blachford Lake Lodge, where I passed a good deal of time looking through the lodge's eclectic little northern library.

"Hey," I said to myself. "I need one of those."

I started collecting northern books shortly after I moved to Yellowknife in 1986, but quickly fell off. I realized, flipping through the books at Blachford, that a lot of the publications that had been fairly accessible to me away back then now had heritage value - annual reports of the Government of the NWT from the 1970s show a different North than the one we live in today.

But, hey, the hunt is part of the fun.

I know from the days of the Boy Scouts Book Sale (a sadly missed Yellowknife institution), that it can be difficult to get your hands on northern books - there are a number of collectors roaming the streets, all looking for the same titles.

So a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at the public library meeting rooms ten minutes after the special by-admission-only advance sale began. I heard the nice lady at the door tell another customer: "We have a small table of northern books at the back of the room."

Rats. Someone was already onto the northern books. By the time I paid my $5 and turned toward the northern table, someone else was hauling away a large box of books. Double rats! I politely elbowed my way through the crowds (yes - crowds), trying to peek into my competitor's box as I went past. No luck. Probably just as well - book envy is an ugly thing.

There was a group of people lingering in front of the northern table. A copy of Fred Bruemmer's "Seasons of the Eskimo: A Vanishing Way of Life" was perched atop a row of books.

"Let me get that out of your way," I said in my most helpful tone of voice, as I reached over someone.

The others at the table were either not as committed to snagging as many books as I was, or they simply couldn't take the get-out-of-my-way vibes coming off me. The gang quickly dissipated, leaving me to plunder.

Here are the highlights.

Best score? "Seasons of the Eskimo," published 1971.

Oldest book? "David Goes to Greenland," by David Binney Putman, published 1926.

The books that will be blasts-from-the-past in 20 years' time? "Diavik: Our Foundation, Our Future" and "Diavik: Constructing the Legacy," both about the establishment of the Diavik Diamond Mine.

Book with a personal connection? "The Northern Circumpolar World," by Bob MacQuarrie. The territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment supported the development and publication of the book while I was working there, and I had some involvement in the project.

Most unusual? A cookbook of sour dough recipes from Alaska by Ruth Allman, 1976. (Note to self: try the flaming sourdough waffles.)

Lessons learned? Next time there's a sale - get there early!

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