Books Are Pretty

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Garage Sale America.

As much as I love to read, there aren't many books that cause me to chase my husband around the house, shouting about things I know he isn't interested in. Bruce Littlefield's Garage Sale America got me going, though.

"Look!" I yelled, running out to the backyard where Steve was catching fireflies with our four-year-old, "The Lincoln Highway has a 400 mile long garage sale!"

"Yay!" shouted Christopher, pausing in his pursuit of winged phosphorescent tushies. (His patented method of firefly catching: to run after them, arms outstretched, palms flat. When he gets a firefly in his sights, he puts a hand on either side of the doomed insect and claps them together as hard as he can. We've tried to show him less lethal ways to enjoy this activity, but what can you do? He's four.)

"Huh," said Steve.

"And we haven't missed it yet!" I enthused. "It's August 8-11th!"

This information motivated him to address me directly.

"If you think for one minute," he said, speaking slowly and clearly, "that I'm going to spend my birthday going to a four hundred mile long garage sale, then you are out of your mind."

This is exactly why having a straight husband is a bad idea. Sexual interest will wane over time, but yard sales and back roads will always be there.

It seems to be too late to correct Steve's rotten attitude, but it isn't too late yet for my boys - they love garage sales. During the summer, when they go outside to play on weekend mornings, they're on the lookout for garage sales or, now that Alex can read, signs advertising garage sales. If they see one, they burst back into the house, screaming, "Mommy! Hurry! Grab your purse! There's a garage sale!"

Sometimes I run down the street after them in a tee shirt and pajama pants.

The appeal of garage sales to children is obvious. There are toys there, yes, but what's almost equally important is that a yard sale satisfies children's curiosity about the world around them. They can go to a total stranger's house and have free rein to paw through their stuff and, for a quarter, take away one of their toys. They get to find out how other people live, what they do, what they like. It's a wonderful way to learn about people, and America's life history.

Some of us never outgrow that curiosity about hunting and exploring and sifting though debris to find out valuable information about the world. I get my kicks taking road trips down historical by-ways, like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. Bruce Littlefield gets his by going to garage sales.

There's really not that much difference between the two, which is why having an enormous yard sale on a historic highway dovetails so perfectly.

On my last trip down the Lincoln Highway, on a narrow, bumpy section of it in Central Illinois where you could clearly see the ghostly remnants of what it used to be, a woman sat by the side of the road in a plastic folding chair, her stuff strewn out all over her yard. Without hesitating I leaped out of the car and dashed over. I found a child-sized electric guitar, in excellent condition, and a dozen instruction books for five dollars. My son had been begging for a guitar for months. My journey back and forth on the Lincoln Highway was fabulous, as always, but that yard sale was definitely the high point.

In Garage Sale America, Littlefield covers more territory than you'd think would be possible in a book about yard sales - which states have excellent ones, which neighborhoods have the best yard sales, how to be a good seller, how to be a good buyer, how to find deals and how to avoid getting burned by buying, say, fake Bakelite, which yard sales are becoming legendary, and many interviews with other garage sale addicts, such as the world's youngest garage saler, a little boy named Lance Bedell, and Wini Williams, who at 91 is the oldest. There's even an interview with the Trachtenburg Family, who are the coolest nerds on the planet.

Littlefield has a wonderful photograph of himself and Williams on his blog, as she sees for the first time his interview with her in Garage Sale America :

What I love most about this photograph are how much the facial expressions tell the observer. Littlefield's interview is very respectful and admiring, and it's clear that Littlefield is more eager to please her with what he's written about her than she is to be immortalized in a book. Not to say that she doesn't like it; her bemused facial expression indicates that she does. It's just that this picture is such a great example of how often loving can give more pleasure than being loved. And you've got to love that NYPD baseball cap.

Littlefield gathers all this information together and binds it with a very honest, personal joy of sharing an activity that makes him happy in the hopes that it can make the reader happy, too. This results in a very uplifting little book, a great gift idea for the person in your life who hasn't outgrown their curiosity of exploring the world and finding out how other people live.

Garage Sale America
by Bruce Littlefield
June 2007 by HarperCollins
Paperback, 144pp.
ISBN: 978-0-06-115165-1

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