Shoppers browse merchandise at the American Association of University Women’s McLean Branch’s annual used book sale. This year is the 50th anniversary of the sale. (American Association of University Women — McLean Branch)
Columnist

Washington is a city built on words.

And if you’re into words, you may want to head over to the McLean Community Center this weekend. There you will find big words, little words and medium-size words, all stuffed between hard covers and soft covers at the annual used-book sale of the American Association of University Women’s McLean branch.

This is the 50th anniversary of the book sale. It’s survived the advent of Amazon, the Kindle and other assorted digital disrupters.

“We were concerned about it, especially when the e-readers came out,” said
Betsy Schroeder, chair of the book sale committee. “How would it impact us? It has not.”

Volunteers have been gathering books for months. They have at least 30,000, sorted into 32 different categories. This being the Washington area — full of literate, globe-trotting, policy types — the Current Affairs, Travel and Military History categories are popular. But so is Cookbooks and a category that didn’t exist 50 years ago: Graphic Novels.

Since the sale has been around so long, veteran volunteers have been able to track trends.


A brick from the house Francis Scott Key once lived in is on display in the Peabody Room in the Georgetown Public Library in Washington, D.C. The house was torn down in 1947 to make way for the Key Bridge. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

“One thing amusing to me is that several years after a popular book is published, all of a sudden lots of people get rid of the book at the same time,” Caroline Pickens said in an email. “I can remember one year having dozens of copies of ‘Coma.’ A few years ago it was ‘Seabiscuit.’ Always seemed funny to me that so many people were moved to get rid of a book the same year.”

Bethany S. Jones has been sorting the History category.

“I stopped counting donated copies of ‘Team of Rivals,’ ” she wrote. “Is there anyone alive who has not read at least one Tom Friedman book? How about Jared Diamond? We have these titles and authors (and similar) in high multiples.” 

Nina and Tom Mc­Veigh volunteer together. Tom works on the Reference category and is glad to see dictionaries still do well. He’s noticed that every year brings three or four partial sets of Harvard Universal Classics — “the five foot shelf of books” — but never a complete set.

Wrote Tom: “Haven’t been able to figure that out yet.

People will start lining up hours before the doors open Friday morning. Many will head straight to the Special Price room, which is stocked with interesting and desirable titles, including a first edition of Larry McMurtry’s 1968 “In a Narrow Grave” ($200) and Gatien de Sandras de Courtilz’s “Mémoires de M. D’Artagnan,” published in 1701 and the inspiration for “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas ($500).

Too rich for your blood? Eight bucks will get you “Tugboats of New York: An Illustrated History” by George Matteson.

Proceeds from the sale benefit the organization’s scholarships and other charitable activities.

“We’re hoping to break $50,000,” Schroeder said.

The sale is 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at 1234 Ingleside Ave. in McLean. For information, visit mclean-va.aauw.net.

Mistakes were made

Speaking of words, I used one incorrectly in Tuesday’s column. The mistake I made was using “onomatopeiac” in reference to “Knitted Northern” when I meant “alliterative.”

Of course, the column was about making mistakes.

Mighty, mighty

Jerry McCoy is a librarian in the Peabody Room at the Georgetown Public Library. There has always been a lacuna among the books, maps and newspaper clippings that comprise the neighborhood history collection and that’s a piece of one of Georgetown’s most famous houses: the Key Mansion.

The onetime home of national anthem lyricist Francis Scott Key was dismantled in 1947 to make way for the Key Bridge. The idea was to rebuild the house in a new location. But that never happened, and the pile of bricks disappeared, probably finding their way into walls and patios around Georgetown.

Enter Chris Barbuschak of the Virginia Room in the City of Fairfax Regional Library. Last year the family of Charles A. Jensen (1916-2007) of Falls Church, Va., donated a collection of their father’s historic artifacts. It included something that didn’t fit with the Virginia-related collection: a Key Mansion brick.

As McCoy posted on Facebook: “When Chris called me a couple of months ago and asked if I wanted a brick from Key’s Georgetown house, I felt like I had won the lottery!”

The historic brick is now in a glass case in the Peabody Room.

Reunited and it feels so good

Classmates from these area schools are reuniting in the coming weeks.

Northwood High Class of 1969 — Oct. 26. Email myracohen@aol.com.

Bishop O’Connell High Class of 1974 — Oct. 5. Email zeke834@aol.com.

Richard Montgomery High All 1960s Reunion — Oct 12. Email jdswink@verizon.net.

Theodore Roosevelt High Class of 1974 — Sept. 28. For information call Dorita Norman at 404- 886-8029 or James Parker at 301-356-0900.

Springbrook High Class of 1989 — Oct. 26. Email Sara (Rosenthal) Luongo at

Sararose1@aol.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.