For the last 40 years, book lovers, collectors, bibliophiles, antiquarians, page sniffers, and anyone remotely interested in books living within 100 miles of Santa Barbara have set their collective clocks to Planned Parenthood’s annual book sale. In terms of raw quantity, high quality, and ridiculously low prices, this 10-day event qualifies as the alpha and omega of used-book sales anywhere in California, let alone the South Coast. Running September 18-27, the sale is now in year 41, with an opening-night celebration ($25 a ticket) taking place on Thursday, September 17, all at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
To make this happen, finely honed teams of volunteers spend the better part of a year culling, categorizing, cleaning, and curating the roughly 100,000 that get donated each year. Of that amount, about 50,000 wind up on the ocean of sales tables. There are more than 20 book categories, and the wares for each are painstakingly assembled by volunteers with a passion for the subject. Cookbooks and mysteries are perennial best sellers, but the local history table is usually overflowing with rare finds. Most trade paperbacks go for $1; hardcover best sellers are no more than $5. Hidden treasures are more expensive, and now that volunteers scan every new arrival for its resale value in the Amazon.com universe, fewer books are likely to fall through the cracks — like the $1,000 edition of Henry David Thoreau’s On Walden Pond that was retrieved after first getting chucked in the trash.
Great pains are taken to ensure no book meets its maker in the recycle bin until all efforts to find it a home have been exhausted. Some volumes, however, defy placement, such as encyclopedias and old law school papers.
Planned Parenthood has found itself in the hot seat in recent months over allegations — seized upon by political conservatives — of fetal-tissue marketing. That controversy, insistently denied by Planned Parenthood spokespersons, encouraged Santa Barbara’s supporters to donate even more enthusiastically than usual. “Many supporters have gone out of their way to express their support, solidarity, and gratitude for the vital health services we provide,” said spokesperson Julie Mickelberry.
The event typically generates about $125,000 a year in sales; last year, it was closer to $165,000. That compares to $6,000 raised in 1974, its first year. The money goes to underwrite a broad range of services that include family planning, cancer screenings, and STD treatment, as well as political advocacy. In Santa Barbara, Planned Parenthood has long been solidly enmeshed into the warp and weave of the broader political community, so it’s little surprise that two Santa Barbara mayors — Helene Schneider and Sheila Lodge — both played significant roles within the organization prior to taking office.
While there’s nothing overtly political about the book sale itself — it draws book lovers from all political stripes — Santa Barbara’s first sale came just one year after the Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade decision affirming the right to abortion, and five years before the S.B. chapter of Planned Parenthood first opened its downtown health center. And that was the first in the nation, said Mickelberry, to “be built from the ground up.”