When Friends of the Albany Library holds used book sales, I’m there with my bags, egg sandwich and coffee in the parking lot in my car at the Albany Community Center (1249 Marin Avenue) 30 minutes before the doors open on the first day of the sale.
There is no better place to vamp up your cookbook collection than library book sales, and Albany’s are top-notch, especially the one or two big sales they have each year, though the smaller ones are good, too. There are no restrictions, meaning you can buy as many books as you want, and they are not “picked over,” meaning professional book buyers have not had first dibs on the stock. This is important information, and I suggest you check out a site like this one before you travel. I guess everyone has to make a living, but you’ll see these professional buyers arrive at sales first thing with huge containers, which I find, well, kind of obnoxious, but maybe I shouldn’t. I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at a valuable find, but this is pure serendipity for me, because I buy for myself and to give gifts to my friends. My good karma has paid off, because I found first editions, early printings, of both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, several copies of Victoria Wise’s American Charcuterie, based on recipes from the Berkeley store she owned and operated for 12 years – Pig-by-the-Tail – the first real charcuterie market in the US. Victoria Wise was Chez Panisse’s first chef, to boot, so a pretty good pedigree there and her out-of-print book is wonderful.
At the Albany sale, as with many others, stock is replenished throughout the day, but I find it’s best to come on Saturday for a weekend event, because there is often serious competition for cookbooks. The Food Network, celebrity chefs, and all the other hoopla have elevated the status of cooking from respectable trade to cult, so you won’t be the only one looking.
I bought 10 books for a total of $8 this Saturday. I go to the $1 room first, and then the 50 cent room, where I often find fun, kitschy works, like manufacturer’s cookbooks, or crazy stuff from the 60’s and 70’s that feed my obsession with molded salads and terrines and other scary things. This week I got a couple of Betty Crocker 1964 spiral bound planners and a C&H book, where everything calls for C&H sugar. Don’t turn your nose up at this kind of book, because they often have good information in addition to being fun to look at and read, given how dated they are. The C&H book has a nice little chart of the stages of cooked sugar, for example.
I also picked up Escoffier’s Cook Book of Desserts, Sweets, and Ices, from 1941, which is an extract of a larger work published in English. Every cook should have a book by Escoffier to keep them humble. His recipes are arcane, written in paragraph form, and esoteric. Often you won’t have any idea what to do, and you’ll think, “What does THAT mean?” Outrageous reading.
With general cookbooks, I gravitate toward antiques, but will pick something up if it grabs my eye. I could have done without 1974’s The Great Cooks Cookbook, but it involves a couple of chefs whose recipes I love, and it was only $1. Besides, look at the young and handsome Jacques Pepin!
While a book sale is great for oddball things, it can save you a fortune on books in print costing an arm and leg elsewhere. You have to have patience, but eventually you’ll come across some things you’ve been wanting to buy. These books go first, though, so this is why I suggest you start early in the day and hang around a bit for stock replenishment.
I live in El Cerrito, and there’s an annual sale in September at EC library (6510 Stockton Avenue), but in a room so small I can’t deal with it very well. Long and thin, and access only from one end. No room to pass. They also have stuff outside. That said, when I went it was rainy, so maybe they move more outside when the weather’s good.
Berkeley, Richmond, Kensington, Oakland and other East Bay cities also have used book sales. A good way to start is by looking at library websites.