Thursday, December 20, 2012

Oops! I did it again . . .

I’ve been avoiding the Yellowknife Public Library’s semi-annual book sale for the past couple of years. If you could see the library loft in my little house, you’d know why. Books crammed onto the shelves in an unseemly manner, books out of spilling out of Rubbermaid containers on the floor, books stacked on the floor, without benefit of Rubbermaid containers . . . you get the idea.

The library sale always starts on a Thursday night at 6 p.m., and then runs for the next couple of days. It costs five dollars to get into the Thursday night event, so only hard-core bibliophiles show up. As fate would have it, I was working late on the Thursday of the book sale, held earlier this month, and was walking past the City Centre Mall at 6 p.m. What to do, but make my way to the library floor?

There were already a dozen people searching the tables when I showed up. I am particularly interested in northern books, so was making my way to their usual location at the far side of the room. It turned out that the northern section had been relocated, but I noticed a well-known Yellowknife book hunter investigating some oversized volumes nearby. I figured that if the table had caught his interest, the pickin’s must be good. I sidled on over, said hello, and scanned the offerings.

Hallelujah! A copy of The Nahanni Portfolio, a beautiful coffee table book by Pat and Rosemary Keough, long out of print. I grabbed it.

The Nahanni, for those of you who are unaware, is a particularly beautiful area of the Northwest Territories.

I asked one of the organizers the whereabouts of the northern books and was re-directed to the other side of the room. She warned me that the selection was not very big this time. Be that as it may, I was relieved that no one was shovelling books into a cardboard box, as I have seen at 6:05 p.m. on other Thursday night previews.

I was perusing the selection when the organizer, who was standing nearby, blurted out: “The Nahanni Portfolio! Good score!”

A young man had just been turning away from the northern table. He stopped. His head snapped toward me and he zeroed in on the book I was carrying. He gasped. “Where’d you get that?”

I pointed toward the oversized table. He couldn’t take his eyes off the book. “I lived in the Nahanni for many years,” he said. “I have every book ever published about the Nahanni. Except that one.”

As a fellow seeker, I understand the pain of seeing your Holy Grail of books hovering just beyond your grasp. A kind, generous person would have handed it across the table and relieved the poor man’s suffering. Instead, I advised him to check out

“It’s an online marketplace for used books. You can probably find a copy there.”

His gaze lingered on The Nahanni Portfolio a moment longer, and then he turned away.

It was tricky searching the northern books while keeping a tight grip on The Nahanni Portfolio. It’s a heavy tome, but I didn’t want to set it down for fear others might think it was up for grabs. Most of the books on the northern table were about people who had gone hunting with the Inuit early in the last century. There was also a copy of Yellowknife, by Ray Price and Sunrise on the Mackenzie by Dick Turner, which criticizes the Berger Inquiry. I wanted to be selective, given the book-crowding problem at my house. Giddy from my previous score and unable to make a decision, I took them all, along with a book on weather shamanism. Oops. This is why I try to avoid the book sale.

I paid sixteen dollars for eight books. Now the problem was how to get them home. I walk to work, and my backpack can only hold so much. Fortunately, I was wearing my parka, which has two big pockets, so I stuffed a couple of books in each, and the rest went in the backpack. Walking for a half-hour in the cold and dark, weighed down by twelve pounds of books, is not my idea of a good time but you do what you have to do.

I looked up when I got home, and copies of The Nahanni Portfolio are listed. Canadian bookstores set the prices pretty high, but there appear to be a couple of good copies in the U.S. for a reasonable cost. So buddy, if you’re reading this, check it out. I do understand, after all.