It is usually there from April to October, on Saturdays when it doesn’t rain. I don’t know its official name, but we call it the Book Wagon. It is a fire engine red, wooden cart, about the size of a horse trailer, with fold up sides and a door on each end. And it is full of cheap books.
The Friends of the Library in Carteret County park this contraption in the First Citizens Bank parking lot at the corner of Turner and Front streets. The volunteer in charge raises the sides, opens the doors, pulls out a folding chair and an old metal cashbox and waits for people like my wife and me — and our three children — to stare intently at an array of hard backs, soft covers, anthologies, pulp, children’s books and oddities of all sorts. Hard covers are $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents; children’s books cost a quarter. Inventory comes from library discards and cast offs from private collections, books to be sent again out into the wild, from the captivity of a home shelf.
Long before we had kids, my wife and I would make a point of visiting the Book Wagon in Beaufort-by-the-Sea, a little village near Morehead City, not far from Cape Lookout on the North Carolina coast. Rarely did we leave without a small grocery bag filled with good things to read. Even before they could read, the children had a fascination and desire to shop the shelves. Our daughter, Holly, always asked not if we’re going to look for shells or go fishing, but if I think the Book Wagon will be open.
I’ve had my share of great finds over the years: Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers, two N.C. Senate journals from 1911 and 1913, and plenty of W.E.B. Griffin’s serials. My wife has collected everything from pulp novels to local history. Everyone else’s lists are just as eclectic, because you never know what you might want until you see it. For a reader, it is a buffet for the mind. Just a block over are the touristy trappings — a wide waterfront boardwalk, boutique shops, and expensive seafood restaurants. Down Front Street, sailboats and yachts crowd Taylor’s Creek, a narrow strip of water separating the mainland from a small barrier island. During the summer, it is not hard to catch a glimpse of the famous wild ponies.
We like all those things too. But only after we’ve been to the Book Wagon, treasures in hand, ready for that first rainy day that keeps us inside.