Speaking Volumes

VNSA chairperson does it by the book

NT: What's the most valuable item you've sold?

Karlen: We had a letter signed by Theodore Roosevelt that just fell out of a book. We had a book signed by both Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We've had little old-fashioned engineering books that have come in at really high prices. Engineers are big book collectors.

NT: Speaking of things that fall out of books, I feel like I should return to you this recipe for "Mom's Low Fat Salmon Timbales" that I found in a copy of The Egg and I that I bought at your sale last year.

Karlen: You're not shoplifting if you keep those things. We've had $100 bills show up as bookmarks. A year ago one of our members found a book that was actually a safe, and in it she found cash and securities worth $160,000. One of our members is married to an attorney who was able to return the securities and the cash to their rightful owner. And we've had a lot of very interesting photographs come out of books, let me tell you.

NT: Naughty pictures?

Karlen: Well, no. We've had pictures of funerals, though. We try to get those back to the families.

NT: What do you do with porno novels that people donate?

Karlen: We sell them! Yes! I'm a First Amendment type of person, and a book is a book. We do try to keep them out of the reach of kids, though. We also carry Playboy magazine.

NT: What's the book you tend to have the most copies of each year?

Karlen: Reader's Digest Condensed Books breed in our warehouse. They're kindling! We can't begin to use all those. And please – we've had so many copies of The Bridges of Madison County it's almost a joke. We get so many copies of Lee Iacocca's biography, I shouldn't tell you this, but I have actually thrown some of them into the Dumpster.

NT: You've thrown away books?

Karlen: I've thrown away copies of that book. This is a major confession, I want you to know.

NT: But books are our friends!

Karlen: Yes, but how many friends do you need named Iacocca?

NT: Who makes your signs? Last year I saw a sign that read, "More Sex Under Table." I think it was referring to marriage manuals.

Karlen: That sign was sort of infamous. In the biography section, we used to have a category called "Tarts and Tramps." Most of us posed for pictures with that sign.

NT: And what about those annoying little stickers that tear the dust jacket when you try to remove them? Who thought those were a good idea?

Karlen: Use a hair dryer to get them off. Put it on medium or low, and point it at the sticker and it'll come right off. I've heard that lighter fluid works, too. But the stickers are just quicker for the people pricing the books.

NT: What about deep, dark secrets of Visiting Nurses?

Karlen: There really aren't any. Although last year a woman came up to one of the co-chairs and said, "I've been all over this building for hours, and I can't find a book that interests me!" People actually ask the workers where a certain book is. "Do you have The Lithuanian Dessert Cookbook?" We don't know if we have that book. And if we do, I promise you, we just don't know where it is.

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