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Jack Knox: The Kinder Surprises of the TC book sale

Sometimes opening the cardboard boxes dropped off at the drive-through book collection is like busting into a Kinder Surprise.
Volunteer Bethany Barry Wiens with carvings donated with books to the Times Colonist Book Sale at the Victoria Curling Club. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

No little urn of cat ashes this year.

No brass knuckles. No FBI fingerprint kit. No stash of weed in a hollowed-out copy of Exploring the Ocean World.

But you know what the volunteers did find when they sorted through the donations to this coming weekend’s Times Colonist Book Sale?


Tens, hundreds of thousands of them. Buried treasures, unearthed.

Sometimes opening the cardboard boxes dropped off at the drive-through book collection is like busting into a Kinder Surprise. The cartons contain all manner of items inadvertently donated with the books. Among the weirdities uncovered over the 26 years of the charity event have been a home-made pie, a Boy Scout uniform, paratrooper boots, a fish-gutting knife, a case of wine (which was returned to the owner after he came back, damn it), several pairs of eyeglasses and more passports than Jason Bourne keeps in his safety deposit box.

Lots of cash, too, forgotten inside the covers of the books themselves. Finally freed, old $1 and $2 notes climb out of their crypts. Or maybe it’s a $5 bill inside the never-opened book Aunt Gertrude gave you for your birthday. One volume held $400. All of it goes to the cause, literacy on Vancouver Island.

This year? Well, volunteer Stedes Heibey stumbled upon a script for the classic 1980s television drama Hill Street Blues, co-written by creator Steven Bochko and dated a year before the series debuted. There was also a 1971 script for the TV show Kung Fu.

Other finds this week included a box of rat poison, several African carvings mixed in with some photo albums, a 1983 invitation to a $25 charity preview of Return of the Jedi at the Haida cinema on Yates, and a collection of eight-track tapes. (Older volunteers were delighted by the music — The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, the Moody Blues — but younger ones had no idea what an eight-track was.) A Victoria resident’s 1991 file folder full of newspaper clippings about the war in Yugoslavia contained both a 20,000-dinar banknote and a two-page letter from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney explaining Canada’s stance on the conflict.

Still, the books themselves were the real finds. They included every title you could imagine, plus many you couldn’t. Among the latter:

The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts

Tarot For Cats

• The poetry collection Shoot Low Sheriff, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies.

• Many variations on Fifty Shades of Grey, including the parody Fifty Shames of Earl Grey and the cookbook Fifty Shades of Chicken, its cover featuring a photo of trussed-up poultry

• The slender volume Decoding the Covid-19 Crop Circles: Unravelling Extraterrestrial Messages on Pandemic Remedies. (Think I’ll wait for the movie.)

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It: An Encyclopedia of Classical and Contemporary Abhorrence catalogued nasty things people have said about, well, everything. (An example: “I loathe people who keep dogs,” wrote August Strindberg in 1895. “They are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves.”)

• The sale’s splendid Canadiana section includes sub-categories for Vancouver Island and Victoria titles, including Ms. Stinky Does Esquimalt.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was a 1938 German-language edition of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, complete with swastika on the cover. No, it wasn’t signed by the author.

Not all treasures are obvious to the untrained eye. A first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was valued at more than $500. Order of Canada winner Savella Stechishin’s Traditional Ukrainian Cookery is listed online for $226 US.

Sometimes what’s intriguing is not so much the book as its history. In the Days of McKinley was notable mostly for an inscription identifying it as belonging to Canadian journalism legend Bruce Hutchison. A flimsy collection of Dorothy Livesay’s poetry was signed by the poet herself, and was enclosed in an envelope mailed from Galiano Island, where she once lived. Somebody went to the trouble of binding in leather a family-Bible-sized compilation of 1914-17 editions of The Camosun, the Vic High publication.

Come make your own discoveries. The sale is this weekend, May 4 and 5, at the Victoria Curling Club, 1952 Quadra St., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 to 5 Sunday. The cost will be $2 for softcovers and children’s books, and $4 for hardcovers. All the proceeds go to literacy on Vancouver Island.

For more information or to make a donation to the Times Colonist Literacy Society, go to