Sneak peek

I wrote another column for work, and even though it won’t officially go out online til Monday when I put it on the site and in print sometime around Thursday (give or take a day), I’m giving all you lovely readers (all two of you) a special treat by publishing it early here.

Mostly it’s because I wrote about cookbooks and the book sale in Ithaca and I’m excited about it.

The weakness for some college students is booze. For others, it’s coffee or Netflix. For me, it was and still is cookbooks.

(It’s also carbs and I guess food in general, but that’s a story for another time.)

This may come as a surprise, especially after that study they did recently that said many millennials are so lazy that they can’t even handle a bowl of cereal, let alone homemade Swedish meatballs or braciole. But as much as I like a good bowl of ramen every once in a while, I want to eat real food, and sometimes I need ideas that aren’t tacos or lasagna.

Like our Tossing Lines columnist said in his Jan. 28 piece, I also have a soft spot for used book sales. I was introduced to the magic that is Book Barn back in high school, specifically in the context of buying used foreign language dictionaries for a quarter of their list price. Who cares if a page is bent? A dictionary is a dictionary.

What really did me in, however, was the Friends of Tompkins County Public Library Book Sale. As it turns out, the people of the greater Ithaca, New York area really like their books. They donate so many books to the library that the library has to put them into a giant, mint green warehouse for safekeeping until May or October when the book sales are held.

I also learned that the people of the greater Ithaca area are also crazy about their book sale. Like “I’m going to camp out in front of the place before it opens up at 8 a.m. Saturday morning” crazy. Like “I’m going to fill my minivan with boxes upon boxes of books” crazy. It was probably a good thing that I was carless at school, otherwise I probably would have done the same thing.

The sale goes on for three weekends twice a year, getting progressively more sparse but also cheaper until you get to the point where it’s however many books you can fit into a Wegmans bag for a dollar. (For those of you not in the know, Wegmans is the Disney World of grocery stores and an experience in itself, but for all intents and purposes its shopping bags are the same as a plastic Stop and Shop bag.)

Since the selection changes every day, you also never know what’s going to be there, but I was struck by the wall of cookbooks. There are a lot of old cooking magazines and fad diet cookbooks and veggie-happy cookbooks that make sense in a green and crunchy community like Ithaca, but if you can think of a cuisine, chances are there’s a cookbook for it at the sale. And I learned very quickly that, like my Spanish and ASL dictionaries, this is absolutely the way to buy them.

Brand shiny-new cookbooks usually run upwards of 20 bucks in the bookstores. The same books at the book sale, maybe a bit rough on the edges or with the telltale stains that show which recipes are the good ones, are at the most $4.50, and by the end of the sale, they’re less than 10 cents each.

Is a Pacific Islander or Scandinavian or Australian cookbook worth 20 bucks? I don’t think so, but I’ll take any of them for a buck. Would I pay extra for a signed copy of “Yan Can Cook?” No, but I have one now that I probably paid two bucks for. And do I really need a 1999 “Taste of the World” cookbook full of recipes from long-closed Ithaca establishments? Probably not, but that braciole recipe was worth it.

I have since lost count of how many cookbooks I’ve gotten from the book sale in Ithaca, but at last count my grand total was more than 50. Now that I have Book Barn to fill the hole left in my heart by my distance from the book sale, it’s probably more than 60 or maybe even up past 70 now.

If anyone needs any gift ideas, I could always use another bookshelf. I have the cookbooks to fill it.


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