The Greatest Book Sale

Planned Parenthood Book Sale.

Planned Parenthood Book Sale.

Tonight we attended the Planned Parenthood Book Sale in Des Moines.

It is one of the five best things about living in the Midwest.  The other four are Murphy-Brookfield Books in Iowa City, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Wabash Trace Trail in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa, and Willa Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

My taste is impeccable.

You may not agree at first.

“Where IS Des Moines?”

“WHAT is Des Moines?”

“Are we there yet?’

When you find yourself among 600,000 books in the 4H Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds, you will think you’ve gone to book heaven.  And then you’ll remember:  oh, yeah, she’s the one with impeccable taste.  We, of course, went tonight, the first night.  There was some sleet.  There was some flooding in our basement.  But I was not about to stay home on Opening Night.  All the glitterati would be there.   What would we have done at home?  Watched “Community?”

There is  a certain protocol. Our maids and valets dress us for the evening.  “Where’s my fan?”  I say in a panic.

“It was here a minute ago, Ma’am.  Land sakes.”

“Please look for it, Tildy.”

Oh, wait,  this isn’t Downton Abbey. We have no maids or valets. We all dress down in old jeans and old sweaters, so we can get our hands dusty and dirty handling old books.


A smiling shopper!

Although the first Planned Parenthood Book  Sale was held in 1961,  I  didn’t learn about it till  the ’70s when I visited my grandmother in Des Moines.  She lived in an apartment in the charming Beaverdale neighborhood, above what is now Backcountry Outfitters, I’m pretty sure.  I loved all her old things, begged for her antique trunk, and when I saw her 19th-century copy of Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond, I said, “Where did you get that?”

“The Planned Parenthood Book Sale.”

And of course she let me take it home.  She was a grandmother.

Although Planned Parenthood continues to be strong, they’ve had some setbacks.  A few years ago, an ani-abortion group  started something called “a Pro Life book sale,” always scheduled the same weekend as the Planned Parenthood Book Sale.  The anti-abortionists hope is to undercut the profits of the 52-year-old Planned Parenthood sale:  the profits of the Planned Parenthood Sale, by the way, go to community education and outreach programs.

The anti-abortionists are playing dirty.  They’re petty.

The Planned Parenthood people never mention it.  They’re classy.

Someone should write a news feature about it, but the newspaper doesn’t  take it on.

So enough history.

And now for my stash!


We all love to read, and this little cat has her eye on Margaret Drabble’s The Waterfall.

The best thing to do at a sale is not to look for any specific author.  If you want to find Balzac, you won’t.  I found many other splendid things, though.


Penguins, Oxfords, and Nortons. Pretty good, huh?

Some of these were almost new.  They cost $2-$3 each.  They’re mostly replacements for old disintegrating copies.

The book scouts were there clicking on their scanners, and they had wiped out the foreign language books by the time we got there. Thank God for the classics, older books, and paperbacks.  They had left quite a few behind.


On the way home with your boxes of books you have to stop for a snack. Do not go to the Homeplate Diner. They can’t even make an omelet.  Drive down Unviersity to the Dairy Zone for chocolate soft serve ice cream.  .  When you taste that chocolate ice cream, you’ll know you’re in the zone.

IMG_2339This kitty can’t wait to read the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation of Crime and Punishment ($3).

I found several Angela Thirkell and Peter DeVries books.  I LOVE humor books.  Will try to add a picture or two tomorrow.  I’m tired!

7 thoughts on “The Greatest Book Sale

  1. Book heaven. Locally we do not have one big glorious sale like yours, but several excellent sales by Friends of the Norwalk, Wilton, Westport and Southport libraries. This way, more than one Saturday is well spent.


  2. We’re going to a book sale this weekend too. Very large potlatch. It takes place twice a year in one of the larger public libraries.


  3. I am sitting here sinking under waves of envy. We have nothing like this locally. We don’t even have anything that you could call a secondhand book sale. I am green, green, green.


  4. Hi, all. This WAS a great sale. The Planned Parenthood Book Sale is the biggest I’ve been to: it takes place twice a year, and I must admit that some times it’s better than others. This year I really found more than I could buy, including Trollopes, Colettes,and Thirkells I already have , but which I thought of buying to give to my online friends, and then I had to say, Wait a minute, get ahold of yourself.

    If you want any Thirkells or Trollopes, though, let me know, though, and I’ll be your book scout on commission! 🙂

    Alex, I’m so sorry there are no secondhand book sales where you are. You’ll just have to get on a plane in the fall and come here.

    I also love library sales. Ellen and Silver Season, I would be happy to join you at yours.


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