Yard sale unification theory

The words on the fluorescent pink sign call to me. The address and hand-drawn arrow guide me. I turn, pull into a cul de sac, and there it is—a single-family home with innards splayed out on lawn and driveway.

Shoppers mill around, mulling over chairs, small appliances and bright plastic baby gear. Jackpot! I might find clothes for an adorable and fastest-growing toddler I know.

Sure enough, several boxes and bags of clothes from 2T to 4T.

“How much?” I ask, holding up a denim skirt.

“A quarter.”

Clearly my kind of people. I’m no fan of yard sales where parents want to recover a hefty fraction of pricey gear: “I paid $300 for that Donna Karan baby bib. How about $30?”

I gather T-shirts, shorts and itty swimsuit.

Then I dig into a pile of books. People reveal much with their discarded reading materials—pristine untouched Bibles, dog-earred South Beach Diet cookbooks and worn copies of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

We are what we read. When I’m not bleeding quarters at yard sales, I’m compiling a list of around 120 books to plow through as I complete my doctoral degree in English. The plan: Read these books over the next year and complete written and oral comprehensive exams on material therein.

Then I need only to write my own book (aka dissertation) and students can call me Dr. Deidre.

Crafting the reading list seems tricky. For tips, I visited my adviser Scott Slovic, a professor in the Literature & Environment program. Slovic’s work in the literature and environment arena earns him international recognition. He’s also a bona fide bibliophile. Piles of books overflow his office shelves and desk onto the floor.

Slovic suggested that I look at what other students are reading. Then I can create a list that reflects my own interests and goals. I’m thinking about combining known nature writers like Thoreau and Ed Abbey with more obscure works like John Clark’s The Anarchist Moment: Reflections on Culture, Nature and Power and pop culture novels like Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters.

Hopefully, my eclectic interests will meld into a coherent dissertation on what scholars can learn by analyzing the intersections of nature and culture in mass media.

A taste for turning aesthetic chaos into coherency runs in my family. “I buy things I like, things that appeal to me,” my mom says of her home decor, “and because I like them, they go together.”

While I peruse the books at my neighbor’s yard sale, I make a curious observation. One of the books selling for 25 cents is on my reading list—and several would be at home there. Alison Hawthorne Deming’s Writing the Sacred into the Real is piled atop Barry Lopez’s Crossing Open Ground and Gary Paul Nabhan’s Cross-Pollination: The Marriage of Science and Poetry.

The titles feel oddly familiar.

“Are these books from a UNR class?” I ask the woman taking my money.

“I was an English major.”

“You took a class with Scott Slovic?”

“How’d you know?”

I shrug. Lucky guess.

I’m still thinking about this at home as I picked up one 25-cent find, a marked-up copy of E.O. Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. In the book, the biologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author talks about the discovery of universal order, about a “search for objective reality over revelation [as] another way of satisfying religious hunger.”

“When we have unified enough certain knowledge,” Wilson proposes, “we will understand who we are and why we are here.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe not. I know one thing for sure—I don’t plan to tell my adviser that a former student was selling Barry Lopez at a yard sale for a quarter.