Nefarious. That was our code word.
No, we weren’t burgling a dragon or planning a spy mission. But we were sneaking off on a delicious adventure.
The Epic Library Book Sale.
That’s right! Twice a year, one of the big warehouse rooms at the fairgrounds is filled to the brim with books, and whoever has the guts for the glory can go digging through secondhands, donated, oldies, and books that should cost a fortune but somehow wound up there.
In other words, a slice of bookworm heaven. One I missed terribly during Ye Olde Plague. And since this was my first nonessential outing (although books, I assure you, are very essential) since restrictions had been lightened…
…I was sneaking out and ignoring the little screaming voices in my head of “but you could die, though!”
I’d follow all the safety rules. But I was going to get my books.
The plan was for Thursday. Since I had orchestra rehearsal, I let a family member in on the “nefarious plan,” and he planned to meet me at 4:45 by the sneak door to give me a ride. We counted down the days for a week, usually doing little more than saying “X days until Nefarious,” and grinning at the secret.
In retrospect, I could probably have walked if it came down to it. But the fairgrounds are on the other side of town from the performing arts center, you know, past that neighborhood where the houses stick out like broken teeth and the bars named after hat shops and that one bridge you don’t want to go under even during noon-bright daytime because it’s creepy and looks like it either has a disease, an unfriendly graffiti artist, or a real-life troll waiting for you behind one of the pillars–I digress. The point is that I slung my violin case over my shoulder, climbed into the truck, and off we went.
Besides. Some adventures are more fun with a co-conspirator. He was nearly as excited as I was.
And then? Once we were through the doors?
Books. Books upon books upon books.
Home, between two linen covers, on a thousand pages, yellowed and stained and paper-white.
Home. Waiting for me as if there had never been a plague.
We foolishly started with the rare edition books. Don’t do this if you want to get a lot of books. They are beautiful, but you can spend your whole budget on one gilt-edged copy instead of a mountain of dog-eared paperbacks. I know, believe me.
After that, we gave each other a little salute of a nod and split ways. We have different taste in books, my nefarious companion and I. And it’s a big place.
What did I find?
Ah, what didn’t I find?
- Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey. I will always remember this book on the first leg of a road trip, hitting construction and trying to read it by the yellow-orange streetlamps in Kansas City and probably straining my eyes even more than usual. It is a delicious Arthurian retelling with zilch magic, no Guinevere, no Merlin, lots of horses, and a wonderful Comes Artos steeped in history.
- The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. This comes recommended so many times by the MG/YA fantasy community I’ve lost count. In the process of devouring it now.
- The Lore of the Unicorn by Odell Shepard. A historical examination of why unicorns really should exist, their presence in myth, record, memory, and imagination. After getting something similar on Merlin by Norma Lorre Goodrich and feeling my brain expand with all the sheer beautiful possibilities, I knew I had to get this one.
- Alice im Spiegelland or Alice through the Looking-Glass for non-German readers. Because I’ve read the English version, and why not? How does The Jabberwocky sound in German?
- King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green. Another one, yes. Because there will never be a day when I have all of the King Arthur versions and I’m going to go on digging up older and older ones as long as possible.
- Silas Marner by George Eliot. Been hunting this jewel for a long while. The pages are almost completely yellow it’s so old.
- Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Probably getting me into something that I’m going to adore and regret deeply at the same time. But the magic system, though, the magic system…
- Nebula Awards Showcase 2013. Where will I not follow Ken Liu?
- Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters by Diane Zahler. More Zahler fairytales! Always!
- Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I read the beginning of this ages ago and fell for it hard. Everything about it is gorgeous. Everything I love. Oh, and Tuck and Robin Hood are there. Just there to make trouble and say hi because they got bored in their own stories. Why not?
James Riley’s The Revenge of Magic (unfortunately the second book) and Joel Ross’ The Lost Compass (again the second book!), filled out the list, along with Sarah Weeks’ Pie, and a few books for friends who weren’t at the sale–including Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl, which I intend to borrow back from my artsy friend as soon as is convenient and read as well.
But the crown jewel of the collection?
The Kalevala. The national epic of Finland. Hardcover. With newspaper clippings from the original publication tucked inside. The book that Tolkien’s Kullervo is part of, in a translation so old I can’t even find it on Goodreads.
I was tongue-tied. I could barely explain why I was so excited at seeing it except for “That’s The Kalevala. I can’t believe they have that. I can’t believe it.”
When a writer can’t talk or take their eyes off a book, do pay attention. It’s a serious moment. Like meeting a celebrity on the sidewalk. Or better than that.
My nefarious companion looked at me, listened to the garbled mumbling, then pulled the book out of my hands and took it to Book Parking saying something along the lines of “Yeah, we’re getting that one.”
The Kalevala. I’m still freaking out a little bit.
Still, even with all the excitement, we managed to get our books boxed up twenty minutes before they would have kicked us out and sashayed on, pockets lighter, arms full, violin case still slung over my shoulder, the very picture of success.
In other words, we were ridiculously proud of ourselves. We even had book peace offerings for loved ones who would take offense to our mysteriously disappearing for hours at a time without a word.
It was the end of our adventure for the day, but it wasn’t the end of Nefarious. Oh, no.
There’s more need for the code word after that. With summer dawning, dragons circling, and Hobbits poking their heads out into the sunshine, we had a few more adventures on the way.
Until next time, happy reading!