When the doors open Friday for the annual Smith College Club of Baltimore book sale at the Timonium Fairgrounds, stand clear of the bibliophiles. They may mow you down as they sprint through the exhibition hall for bargains in the military section, or the mysteries or beach reads to be found among the sale's 50,000 carefully sorted volumes.
"I love that moment," says Joan Griffith, co-chair and 25-year veteran of the sale. That's when she and other volunteers can finally exult in their year-round work on the scholarship fundraiser. "We're excited and they're excited," Griffith says.
A rite of spring, the Smith College sale draws thousands. But as prices for gas, food and other necessities skyrocket, it's gratifying to know that avid readers can, with little expense, feed a hunger for books all year long.
The Baltimore region is rich with sources of inexpensive or free books, both used and new, for recreational readers, teachers, students and independent scholars. Each book outlet has carved its own niche from the infinite possibilities created by the publishing industry and spring cleaning purges of books from home libraries.
At Normal's Books and Records, a Waverly mainstay for nearly 18 years, browsers will find a fastidiously organized collection of used books ranging "from the obscure to the indispensable," according to the shop's motto.
Normal's "specializes in Eastern and Western philosophy, art books and classic literature," says co-owner Rupert Wondolowski. A first edition of Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full costs $10. A quality paperback edition of The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander goes for $6. A slightly musty clothbound copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather sells for $4. Any number of paperbacks are $2.
There's something "for every budget," Wondolowski says.
Around the corner at The Book Thing, everything is free, but browsers must invest more time as they cull through the warren of some 250,000 titles. Although loosely organized by subject, nothing is filed in alphabetical order and erudite tomes share space with odd encyclopedia volumes and self-published books such as one by someone who claims to be Elvis' therapist - still.
The random nature of what's available at The Book Thing is "what makes it fun," says its founder, Russell Wattenberg.
Local students and teachers also know to come in summer when The Book Thing's shelves swell with text books and syllabus perennials.
At Daedalus Books and Music in Columbia and Belvedere Square in North Baltimore, the wide selection of new volumes has been carefully culled by company co-founder Robin Moody and his staff. "We focus on books in literature and art and history and science, [whereas] most bargain book dealers orient what they buy and sell to a mass audience," Moody says.
At Daedalus, books "are generally a quarter to a third of the original price and all of the remainders are half-price or less," he says.
More than once, Moody has heard from authors whose books have been remaindered and found a second life at Daedalus. There, a customer who might not have bought the book for $26.95 will buy it for $4.98, "then watch for the author's next book and may pay $26.95 for that. It's a great way for authors' works to be further disseminated," Moody says.
Ukazoo Books in Towson is set up to resemble a never-ending living room, where customers can curl up with a gently used best-seller or Dan Quayle's autobiography, Standing Firm. A spring themed display features books such as Reader's Digest's 1001 Hints & Tips for Your Garden ($7.98). And there is enough Chicken Soup for the Soul for all.
Ukazoo is an all-purpose bookstore with a revolving clientele, says manager Olivia Tejada. "Early in the morning and during the day there are senior citizens and moms, and a little later in the day and the evening, a lot of the local college population" comes in, Tejada says. "We have such a diversity of titles, over 100,000 here in stock, so we have every category represented, from unusual, quirky used book titles to mainstream best-sellers."
Of course, one of the cheapest ways of procuring books, if you return them on time, is to patronize your local library. And while you're at it, various library branches always have a shelf of bargain books or hold annual sales.
"At the Central Library, we have books for sale all the time," says Wendy Dobson, manager of resource delivery at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
And early every December, the Pratt holds a three-day sale when hardbacks sell for 50 cents and paperbacks for 25 cents. On the third day, a box of books is $2.
Two weeks before the Smith College book sale, Griffith stands among more than 1,500 boxes neatly packed with texts. Here and there, a stray book surfaces. There's a large-print edition of Memoirs of a Geisha for $5. There's an 1886 edition of Charles Darwin's The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species for $12 "as is."
There's The Joy of Sex, The Diabetic Gourmet and Stephen King galore. There's Marylandia, and E.M. Forster and How to Walk in High Heels: The Girl's Guide to Everything. Most important, there's that nascent element of surprise when you find that forgotten childhood favorite. Even in the midst of a recession, these boxes represent affordable, untold hours of pleasure - for a pittance.
BROWSING IN STORES
If you are bound to books, you are bound to discover them in any number of retail nooks and crannies. Try Value Village or Goodwill, where you may find a cache of children's books, or scan Craig's List for book giveaways.
And then, in the Baltimore area, you can comb any number of locations for discount texts, used and new. Here is a sampling of book sources for the budget-minded:
The Smith College Club of Baltimore's annual book sale takes place Friday through Sunday in the exhibition hall at the Timonium Fairgrounds. Admission is $10 for the first hour only. Book prices drop drastically on Sunday. For hours, call 410-453-5510.
The Friends of the Towson Library holds its annual book sale April 10-13 at the library. First choice sale night is $10. Call 410-887-6166.
Daedalus Books and Music is at Belvedere Square, 5911 York Road, 410-464-2701, and at 9645 Gerwig Lane in Columbia, 410-309-2730. Visit Daedalusbooks.com.
Normal's Books and Records is at 425 E. 31st St. in Baltimore. Call 410-243-6888 or visit Normals.com.
The Book Thing is at 3001 Vineyard Lane in Baltimore. Call 410-662-5631 or visit bookthing.org.
Ukazoo Books is at 830 Dulaney Valley Road in Towson. Call 410-832-BOOK or visit ukazoo.com.
Browsing for books is not the same online, but there's no denying that the Web abounds with bargains. Those willing to curl up with their Palm Pilots will find multitudes of e-texts to download as well.
Half.ebay.com offers an exhaustive selection of drastically discounted new and used books.
Amazon.com gives customers the choice of buying gently used books from individual sellers. The same Web site also features The Textbook Store, where students can save up to 90 percent on hundreds of thousands of books.
Powell's, the world's largest independent bookstore, also does a thriving business on Powells.com, where visitors may check the site's "used book alert" for new arrivals.
Bookfinder.com is a massive clearinghouse for searching other online book catalogs and also provides price comparisons.
Better World Books collects discarded books from more than 900 libraries nationwide and resells them on BetterWorld.com, Amazon.com and Half.com, and more than a dozen other virtual marketplaces. From proceeds, the company has generated millions of dollars in funding for libraries (including the Howard County library system), second-hand bookstores and nonprofit literacy initiatives.
From Phil, the Fiddler, a children's book by Horatio Alger, to the Call of the Wild by Jack London to Algonquin Legends of New England by Charles Godfrey Leland, Gutenberg.org allows readers to download free books with no copyright limitations to computers and smart phones.