The Joys of a Book Sale/Fair

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Book Sale

My library’s annual book sale is coming up and I’m in full excitement mode. The weekend of the sale is better than Christmas as far as I’m concerned. A chance to pick through thousands of books and take them home for cheap? There’s nothing better. The book sale also brings out my nostalgic side. This was one of the things my dad and I did together when I was a kid (we still do it), and I treasure the memories of time spent together comparing our finds and seeking the books on each other’s wish lists.

But beyond cheap books and a nostalgic thrill, a book sale offers so much more. It’s a chance to celebrate reading in all its forms, and to celebrate readers and all of their quirks. So just what can you do and find at a book sale? Here are some thoughts:

Discover new authors.

This is the biggie for me. Every year I find some author I’ve never heard of before. I see a book that looks interesting, read the blurb, decide, “What the heck,” and toss it in the bag with the others. Sometimes it’s a flop, but more often it’s a win, introducing me to a new author. The low price makes taking chances feel less risky than if I were shelling out full price.

Learn new things.

Books about fields of study, hobbies, and activities I’ve never heard of regularly turn up at the book sale. I’m also introduced to new formats at the sale. (I found my first graphic novel there, back before they became a thing.) You just never know what you’ll find when browsing the tables that might lead you to a new avenue for learning. Even “normal” learning opportunities like foreign languages and crafts can be pretty darn tempting when they’re priced at fifty cents.

Get books you don’t feel bad about messing up.

Book sales are great for buying books you know are going to get messy. Automotive repair manuals, cookbooks, kids’ books, and craft/hobby books are prime examples. You may feel bad about messing up the book you paid full price for, but it’s hard to feel bad about messing up book you got for a quarter.

It puts a bookstore in areas that have none.

Even if it’s just for one day, a large book sale or book fair plonks a bookstore down in an area that might not have any other retail outlets. It gives people who don’t normally get a chance to browse for books the chance to experience the joy of cruising the aisles and buying books. Perhaps they might join the ranks of readers and demand a permanent store for their community.

Books become accessible.

The cheap prices make books accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford books for themselves or their kids. A new hardback goes for $16 on Amazon, but at a book sale, you can often score hardbacks for a buck or less. That’s sixteen books for your money instead of one. Book sales are glorious for this fact alone. Sure, people can go to the library for free, but that’s assuming there is one in the community. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy owning at least a few of their favorite books?

It’s a treasure hunt.

You never know what you’re going to find and that’s the thrill. You may find that long out of print gem from your childhood, or a foreign edition of an old favorite with a cover you love. Some books are so barely used they look new. There are books you’ve never heard of, and things you never knew existed. If you go with a specific wish list, you get the thrill of marking them off one by one as you track them down.

(Even if it takes years. As a kid I was into Trixie Belden. I think it took about five years, but I finally found every single book in that series and never paid more than a dime for any of them. As the years passed and it got harder to find the missing volumes, my thrill level escalated every time I did find one. Yes, I was a weird kid.)

It’s something parents and kids can do together.

My dad and I go to the sale together every year, and have since I was old enough to go to the bathroom by myself. We don’t gravitate toward the same materials… He’s a textbook and science geek, while I tend to ravage the fiction section, but we have a lot of fun regardless. We help each other find the items on our wish lists. When we sit down to pare our stuff down, we have fun looking at each other’s choices. Then we go get something to eat and make a day of it.

A book sale is something cheap or free that parents and kids can do together. It can help encourage the love of reading in your kids and give you a window into the things they like and dislike. You can share why you like certain books and let them share in return. And since the books are cheap, there’s less of the tension you get in a trip to the bookstore where they want ten things and you can only buy one.

Book sales are a little voyeuristic.

Since many books are donated by the members of your community (or come from libraries that bought books the community wanted), book sales are a way to get a peek inside the personal libraries of your (figurative) neighbors. What does your community read? We find a lot of textbooks here, as would be expected in an area with five major universities. But I also know that people here love the bestsellers, more than a few adore the classics, and a strangely high number have a thing for cake cookbooks. As befits a high tech area, we also have a lot of sci-fi/fantasy (yay) and computer books.

That’s changed over the years and tracking the changes has also been fun. I’ve watched as the titles have morphed from farming, gardening, and DIY books back when we were a sleepy little hamlet, to the tech-heavy books we now have. Even the fiction has become more upscale/trendy. A book sale is a neat way to find out what makes your community tick and track that over time.

The people watching is fun, too.

If nothing else, it’s a blast to watch the human behavior at a book sale. Some people dash straight for their designated favorite genre and stay there all day, studying every single title and weighing one against another. Others hit the high points of several genres and pick out whatever catches their eye. There are those who get distracted by a book and just sit down in a corner and begin to read. And then there’s my tribe: The people who pick out way more books than they could read in a lifetime and then try to cull to pile to a size that will actually fit in the car.

And sometimes you make a new friend.

Readers are a fun bunch, but we also tend to be solitary. It can be tough to find reading friends outside of a book club environment. But at the book sale, you are surrounded by your people. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation, or offer help to someone searching for a particular book. Sure, you might get the stink eye, but you might also find yourself exchanging numbers and agreeing to meet for coffee sometime.

(Photo courtesy of MichaelGaida)


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