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I Survived the Tom Verlaine Book Sale

Hundreds of bookish Brooklynites waited in the sun to sift through the Television guitarist's massive collection.

One of the lines outside of Better Read Than Dead's sale of the late musician Tom Verlaine's book collection.

(Hell Gate)

Early Saturday afternoon, it felt like every bookish motherfucker in central Brooklyn converged on the same two tiny garages, all in search of a piece of the late musician Tom Verlaine's 50,000-book collection.

Reusable water bottles and plastic cups of iced coffee emptied swiftly as the sun beat down on the 150 or so people making their way through a pair of lines on Greene Avenue. "What the hell?" I said to my friend Amy as we arrived at the scene, which was more slammed than either of us anticipated, around an hour and a half after its 10 a.m. start time. Amy brought iced coffees and cigarettes for her friends, the Brooklyn booksellers Dave Morse and Matt D'Angelo, in hopes of fast-tracking us to the front of the line—but no, rules prevailed. "People have been waiting for a long time," D'Angelo said, as he bounced us to the back.

The garage housing five-dollar items had a longer queue, which snaked halfway down the block, then up and down a ramp, before finally leading into the space, with a break in the middle to allow non-shoppers to use the sidewalk, many of whom were gawking at the assembled crowd as they went. The wait for the ten-dollar garage was comparatively tame, with a line from the sidewalk near a truck full of even more of Verlaine's books down a shorter driveway. On line, people chatted, snapped photos of the assembled crowd, and warned anyone who wasn't there already not to show up. 

I actually don't believe a kid said this, but whatever.

I first heard about the sale, a collaboration between Morse and D'Angelo's Better Read Than Dead and the D.C.-based Capitol Hill Books, from a cool acquaintance's Instagram story. "Tom Verlaine was as prodigious and visionary of a book scout as he was musician and songwriter—scouring for decades to accumulate a 50,000 book collection as staggering in depth as it is volume," the flyer proclaimed, promising literature alongside books on art, music, mysticism, occult, poetry, religion, and spirituality. "Please join us for this first (partial) appearance of putting it back out in the hands of its next stewards and readers." 

I would bet the $40 of Verlaine's books that I ended up going home with that that kind of Instagram connection was how pretty much everyone wound up at the sale, based on the sheer number of people I recognized over the 40 minutes or so I spent in line: a DSA guy, a former coworker, an Instagram mutual who later DMed me that he was "*so* close to saying hello," plus a friend whom I spotted as she emerged from the five-dollar garage with an armful of vintage magazines on graphic design.

As we made our way from the sidewalk onto the downward-sloping driveway leading into one of the garages, my friend Amy's laugh attracted a pair of her pals, fresh off a free Pilates class at the nearby library, and she promised to pick something out for both of them. "Thank God we saw you!" one of them said. "We're not waiting in this." Meanwhile, Amy and I baked in the heat next to a rusted-out motorcycle and a folding table that seemed like permanent fixtures in the driveway of the booksellers' primary garage. I guzzled a plain seltzer and started to feel a touch claustrophobic, even though we were still outside. 

Finally, we made it into the room where it was all happening: Around a dozen people at a time were allowed to browse the thousands of short story collections and novels and music and history and film and theology books on sale for $10 a pop, or $100 for a box's worth. Amy told me she heard Verlaine, best known for his work in the New York punk band Television, frequented The Strand in Manhattan for decades, buying mostly from the store's $1 shelves.

The resulting collection was as deliciously freaky as promised, made up of gorgeous covers and eye-grabbing titles, the Holy shit, where did you get that? gems that make shopping at used bookstores such a special experience (plus a, let's say, unusual number of books about China, as well as Filipino mysticism). The hot little garage, which quickly became stifling, was less enjoyable, and I surrendered after around fifteen minutes of browsing when I started to feel nauseous. I Venmo'ed D'Angelo for my finds and (sorry) booked it back up the driveway onto the sidewalk, where it had mercifully cooled down a little.

My haul. (Hell Gate)

Amy, hardier than me, walked away with more than a dozen books, a bunch of which she planned on gifting to friends—including her pals waiting on the sidewalk, who received an illustrated guidebook to gems and an art book, respectively. I snagged four: a Donald Barthleme biography, a collection of poetry by H.P. Lovecraft, a book on aliens co-authored by Carl Sagan, and the absolutely irresistible "Evidence of Satan in the Modern World."

I was tired, I was sweaty, and the bulge of the books pushed my keys through the fabric of my tote bag, but I was happy. The heat and the wait were worth it—I just wouldn't have wanted to be any of the suckers in line behind us.

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