In Praise of Community Book Sales

There are so many things that have been put on hold because of Covid and the national and international responses to it. Travel, obviously – including a special trip my wife and I had booked. There were gatherings that had to be called off or postponed – from religious services to sports games, not to mention the many significant events that families were unable to celebrate as they would truly have wished. My own book launch earlier this year was in danger of being called off with our country returning to a semi-lockdown over the two preceding weeks. Would we be out of that lockdown in time? If not, social distancing would have resulted in about 5 people being present, rather than as many as the building could handle.

But there was one thing I hadn’t realised how badly I was missing: the community book sale. School fairs, Rotary club fundraisers and the big one for the city I live in: the 24 hour second-hand book sale run annually in May or June to raise money for the main professional theatre in town, the Regent. This one is a perfect win-win – at the same time you’re extending the budgets of theatre groups, you’re stocking your own bookshelves. 

I have some wonderful memories from the Regent. Joining the queue for the noon opening on Friday. Those nights we used to arrive about 1am expecting the crowds to have thinned out, and finding the place just as busy as at 8pm. The time I popped in just before it closed at noon on Saturday for one last look, and found my favourite Shakespeare play in my favourite edition. As I saw it, my heart seemed to have stopped beating, or perhaps time had just stood still.

The Regent Book Sale is also the primary way of clearing out those books that our family will never read again. We almost always give away more than we buy, although since we gave away 150 books a couple of years ago, perhaps that’s a pretty easy thing to say. We have well over 100 ready to go to the next one too.

I’ve found there is one essential accompaniment at any book sale like this (apart from good arm muscles): I always turn up with a list, to avoid duplicating some of those Graham Greenes or Henry Jameses I’ve forgotten I own.

Now, of course I buy new books too, or gladly receive them as gifts (hint, hint!) But I’ve just chosen a shelf at random from the closest fiction bookcase to where I’m writing this – of the 54 tightly-packed books on it, 40 have come from community book sales.

Covid struck. The 2020 Regent Book Sale was cancelled. The annual school fair was called off too. My reading pile dwindled away until there were just a few books left – those “Yeah, I’ll give that another go one day… one day” books.

Some good things came from that: I rejoined the local library and borrowed books from them. I found some books on my bookcases that I’d never previously read and also re-read some old favourites that had quietly sat next to them for years. But I still craved new books.

And then I noticed the delay in the 2021 Regent Book Sale. Normally held in May or June, as I said, but this year it’s planned for December. “I can’t possibly wait that long!” I cried. And the Rotary Club of Taieri came to my rescue, with a book sale of their own, held a couple of weeks ago. Here they are, getting it all ready for me:

My wife and I had a wonderful time. Books cost a dollar each, or you could fill a carton (one of those banana boxes in the background) for $25. We chose the latter option.

I came away with authors I’ve loved for years – Douglas Coupland, Carl Hiaasen, Alexandre Dumas. I came away with thrillers – Georges Simenon, Michael Crichton. I came away with good literature – Thomas Keneally, Susan Hill. I came away with classics – Ivan Turgenev, Stephen Crane, St Augustine. I came away with at least one book from my state-by-state US reading plan by Junot Diaz. I came away with some top New Zealand writers – Catherine Chidgey and Stephanie Johnson. I came away with arms aching from holding piles of books while I slowly wandered around the sale. I came away with a chill wind intent on freezing my bones but I also came away with a delightful warmth glowing through every fibre of my being.

Book sales are back!

Published by gregbrook

Books. I read them, I write them, I read about them and I write about them.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Community Book Sales

  1. You should have come up to Oamaru last week…they had a Bookarama that went on from Tuesday to Sunday. And plenty of books too. We didn’t get there till Thursday or Friday, and there was still a heap of stock.


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