By Beth McCoy
In graduate school, my peers and I frequented used book sales. Church basements and school cafeterias displayed row after row of fusty paperbacks that we thumbed through, tossed aside, and picked out like green beans in a market bin.
It was the early 1990s. The books we bought hailed from decades past and bore covers reflecting appropriate historical hues: turquoises for the 50s, reds for the 60s, avocados for the 70s. The musty, dusty novels, tracts, and treatises made many of us sneeze. We stacked them in wobbly towers on the checkout table as the attendant toted them up, 10 and 20 cents at a time.
Leaving these sales felt like victory, as if the mere buying of works by William Makepeace Thackeray, Allen Tate, or Baldesar Castiglione would make us smarter and more likely to pass our anything-goes, your specialty-be-damned qualifying exams.
We also ransacked the local used-book store, one that would allow you to return for credit the unread (because of the sneezing) Thackeray and leave with volumes whose own allergy-provoking qualities you tried to ignore.