The 35th annual Vassar Book Sale opens this morning at the Washington Convention Center, and even though I'm not a Vassar alumnus (men weren't admitted in my day, kiddies), I recommend the sale highly. You won't find a better range of books anywhere in town--particularly if your taste runs to mystery and history.
Nor will you find a better range of unusual anecdotes starring the bookbuying public. If you ever doubted that truth is stranger than fiction, pull up a chair and listen to Hannah Burr Arnold of Chevy Chase.
Arnold is vice president of this year's sale. I asked her to set down on paper a few nuggets from sales past. I'm glad to say she has obliged.
Arnold's favorite customer was "the little boy a year or two ago who was noticed trying to see the record collection. When asked whether he would like help, he rather tearfully said his grandmother had given away all his records and he was trying to find them again."
Then there was the young woman who bought her father a copy of "Road to Xanadu" for Christmas. "When he opened it, lo and behold! It had his name in his own handwriting just inside the front cover," Arnold reports.
Curiosity sometimes puts bargains out to pasture. Arnold tells of a volunteer in the sale's art section who picked up Richard Adams' "Watership Down" to read over lunch. As she returned it to the sale, she noticed that the author had signed it. Thinking that it must be more valuable than the marked price, the woman turned the volume over to Rare Books. They researched it and discovered it was very rare, indeed. So was the price after Rare Books got through. It grew by many multiples.
My favorite Hannah Arnold story concerns a donor who knew her own tastes only too well.
"Please don't put my books out the first day," she asked, in a note accompanying a carton of mysteries and science fiction. "I damn well don't want to buy my own books back!"