Where do books go to die? Find out in my poem on library sales.

Bookstore with cat

In last week’s discussion of print-on-demand technology and self-publishing, several folks commented that the new POD technology is far more environmentally friendly than older technologies. I wonder how many thousands of trees per year sacrifice their lives to produce the thousands of printed works no one buys, that end up on remainder tables and in landfills. Even those that once found a home and presumably a reader often end up consigned to library sales.

I’m an avid patron of these sales. I like the heft, the feel and the reader-friendly larger fonts of hard-cover books, and I usually come away with a couple of cartons of mysteries to tide me over till the next sale. I’ve puzzled over why most of the books for sale are by big-name writers. Is it that no one bought the mid-list and lesser known writers, or did they perhaps buy the books and decide that they were keepers? In today’s post, I’m sharing a poem I wrote about some of my speculations.

Library Sale


How many books can you cram in a Hannaford bag?

There’s no official number, but beware –

the putty-colored plastic splits

when poundage passes certain limits.

Grab a box of rice, Ritz crackers, maybe Wheat Thins

if you worry about your waistline.

All approximate the average novel

bound between hard covers.


Oh, but the weight of words on paper

far exceeds the carbohydrate calories

in their cheerful colored boxes.

Books have heft. Their corners thrust against

the filmy, flesh-toned plastic, struggling to escape.

Better to double bag them. That’s allowed,

on bag sale day in affluent East Greenbush.


Twelve books per bag, at least, for just a dollar

on this final day, this final hour.

How can I lose? If I don’t like the book,

or even if I do, once read, I’ll throw it in the trash,

rather than clutter up my house with more forgotten words.

Less than a dime a book – what else comes so cheap?


Watching the greedy throngs grab bargains

from the folding tables, scanning author photos

that smile beguilingly from backs of dusty jackets,

I think about the lifespan of these books,

whether someone paid list or bought at discount,

and why they wound up here.

I ask a volunteer what happens to the rejects,

the ones that no one bags. She says they’re destined for

the dumpster, then probably a landfill miles away. 


And so these books may predecease their authors.

I picture them entombed with tons of garbage

in rolling manmade hills, decaying,

billions of words struck soundless

as seagulls wheel and scream

above the dump.


©Julie Lomoe 2006

This is the first time I’ve shared my poetry on this blog. I’ve been writing fiction longer than poetry, but I find the two complement each other in many ways. For me, poetry is a more spontaneous form of self-expression, a way of processing my thoughts and feelings. It’s not tied in to my more grandiose ambitions as a writer, since publication isn’t a major goal. There’s immediate gratification in spending a couple of afternoon hours writing a poem, then going out to read it that same evening at an open mic in a local pub or coffee house. These venues are generally congenial: people never put you down or reject your work, and they always applaud. And I’m convinced the poetry process has helped me hone my skills as a writer of fiction.

Would you like to read more of my poetry here? Would you be interested in a post about my poetic process? Please let me know. And check out my blog Wednesday, when I’ll write about my experience as an artist at the 1969 Woodstock Festival of Music and Art.

12 thoughts on “Where do books go to die? Find out in my poem on library sales.

    • Elizabeth — As a poet, I’d love to let you know about the vast universe of poetry online, if you’re interested to find out at any point. So many poems are published on the internet that it’s impossible for me to keep up with them all! If you ever have time, you could start by checking http://www.poets.org

      • Hi Therese. Thanks for the great suggestions.

        Therese Broderick is an excellent poet, the one who inspired me to begin writing poetry in the first place. Therese, I hope you’ll come back and leave the link to your blog!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Elizabeth. I’m thinking of maybe posting poetry on Thursdays – not today, though; I still need to write my post about Woodstock. I’ve got more than enough poems to last a year.

  1. I’ll definately check in for Wednesday’s Woodstock poetry. I wrote a poem around 1980 entitled’ “A Hippy’s Perspective of Creation” inspired from the Woodstock generation (way before my time. looking forward to your poems.

    Stephen Tremp

  2. Hi Stephen, Helen and Donna –
    Thanks for your positive feedback. I hope you weren’t searching in vain for my Woodstock post yesterday. I spent a rare day away from my computer, hanging out at the Y, shopping, gardening.

    Guess that’ll teach me not to promise specific posts on specific days – or to write them in advance the way more organized people do!

  3. I liked the poem. I wish those left over books could be recycled for the paper they contain rather than dumped in a land fill. I wonder if that is a possibility.

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