In total disregard of Francis Bacon, who observed, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested," hordes of bibliomaniacs were gorging on 100,000 volumes at the 14th annual Goodwill Industries Book Sale yesterday morning as if there were no tomorrow -- which there certainly will be; the sale runs through Wednesday, in the basement of the uncompleted Washington Square office building at Connecticut and L.
By 9:55 yesterday morning, five minutes before the doors were to open, about 200 people were waiting to descend upon books arranged inside on folding tables. The first 135 bookoholics sported snappy little hand-lettered numbers, which were distributed by Rick Marsh, a buyer for the Columbia Book Shop, who arrived at daybreak and found himself the first in line. This numbering system is a self-policing legacy of book sale devotees, whose major concerns when the doors open seem less the protection of life and limb than the acquisition of some rare volume.
At 9:58, number three, Paul Winick of Columbia Books, shouted out, "Two minutes and counting."
"Paul, shut up," said Marsh. "You're not the town crier."
"Don't get in my way," said number two, Bill Pollen, co-owner of Columbia Books (his partner, Joel Simm, was 29th in line), to someone standing inside the door. "I'm heading right for the literature table and you could be trampled." Call him dedicated: an inveterate collector of Melville. Pollen was hoping to discover a critical study of "Moby Dick" by the 20th-century American poet Charles Olson.
When the doors opened at 10, there was a surge of consumers that most shopkeepers dream about; they grabbed boxes inside the door, swooped down on tables, and began literally to sweep the volumes into the boxes. Never mind titles here; a passerby might think literature was finally being sold by the pound. There was particularly heavy action at the "military history" table; much less at a table titled "old favorites," which included such old favorites as "Elsie Dinsmore," "Tall Men" and "The Mettle of the Pasture."
A quick circumnavigation of the room revealed several interesting items no household should be without: the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the last to codify the Earth as if it were a wholly understandable unit; three copies of "Burnham's Celestial Handbook"; many well-fingered old issues of Playboy, discreetly restrained in Saran Wrap; the complete 19 volumes of "Carpenter's World Travels"; the complete 20 volumes of "Disney's Wonderful World of Knowledge"; Bing Crosby singing "Stardust" on a Decca 78; many postage stamps in glassine envelopes; a framed Chagall poster for $20; the same price on a framed "map showing Georgetown"; and the 15-volume "Universal Library of Autobiography, limited to a printing of 1,050 copies," including entries from Casanova, T. Jefferson and E. Gibbon.
What juxtapositions of ideas lay on these folding tables! No wonder, perhaps, that so heavy an atmosphere prevailed. Or is it what Robert Chambers wrote in 1835?: "Books are the blessed chloroform of the mind."