Used book brick border boondoggle

Customs officials' suspicions understandably aroused

I have a bunch of books I haven’t yet read. I’m reminded of them because I can see them in a box in my closet I’ve been neglecting to unpack. The books are new and old, and I plan to read them all — eventually.

The problem is every time I’m travelling someplace and pass a used book store of some type I go in to check it out. And though I have every intention of not buying anything — of abstaining from starting another box of books to read — as soon as I begin perusing the selection of books I start finding the book gems. When looking through shelves of old books there are always the regular classics, they can be found anywhere you look. But then there are those books that are harder to find, ones that have disintegrated into the depths of time and become a rarity. Despite having great amounts of wisdom to pass on, the books themselves have been tossed out or forgotten to find there way to the old bookstores. Finding these books is another thing, but the possibility is there in those used book shops.

Of course it could be worse. The nice thing about shopping for used books in small book shops is that they are usually on the low end of the spending spectrum, so though I may need an ever bigger bookshelf, there’s not much worry on the financial side of things.

The truth is though I enjoy perusing the stacks of used books, much like sifting through boxes of forgotten vinyl because you don’t know what you may find there.

My friend went another route. Rather than the slow, periodic collecting that I seem to take part in, he elected for a more direct and quick way of amassing a collection. He went online and found every classic book he could from used booksellers in the States. He spent a couple hundred dollars for somewhere around a hundred books and then waited for a big box full of books to arrive at the shipping outpost across the border. When he couldn’t make it down there I agreed to go pick them up.

At the shipping outpost, I asked if they had received the box full of books.

“No box,” they said, “but we’ve received quite a few individual packages.”

In fact, the books had come individually shipped one or two to a plain white plastic package. Luckily they elected to charge a pick up price for the whole pile of books and not the regular per package fee, which would have easily added a $100 to my friend’s online book buying endeavour.

I opened a few of the packages to make sure they were in fact books and not something else and loaded them up in the trunk of my car and headed north.

At the border, I gave customs the list of the books piled in the trunk. The officer looked skeptical and told me to pull in for a search of the vehicle.

Imagine her surprise when she lifts up the trunk to see it piled to the brim with individually-wrapped brick shaped white packages. Her eyes went wide and she called another officer over. It must have looked as though this was going to be a historic drug bust. She cut open one of the packages, revealing the tattered pages of a literary masterpiece, then another, again only musty paper filled with the words of writers past.

Finally, the officers resigned that the packages were in fact filled with literature and not illicit drugs. We all had a laugh about the case of the mistaken cargo and they let me on my way.

My friend spent a good amount of time removing the books from their packages and trying to figure out if it was all the books he ordered. Some had disappeared somewhere along the way or maybe were never mailed. But most likely those books are sitting and waiting on the shelves of a used book store somewhere.

Arne Petryshen is a reporter with the Cranbrook Daily Townsman