post book fair

When the five-minute call – ‘We’re closing the book fair for today!’ – comes, I normally go into overdrive. Quickly I empty my red fabric book bag (a long-term favourite for this occasion: it can be draped across to free BOTH hands for browsing) and scan the loot: what to keep, what to discard? This year time has run out and I have to trust my selection without a second look.

Filled with a wonderful sense of pleasure and joy I drive home and park the book bag for the evening. I believe that books need natural light for inspection and true appreciation, particularly picture books. So not until the next day, Saturday, after housework and other chores completed, the moment of reveal has arrived. I empty the book bag’s rewards on a clean kitchen bench and make three piles of books: one for work, one for myself, one for my husband Wiel. First things first. I lightly clean each cover and sides with a damp cloth (and additional antiseptic wipe in Covid-times) to remove stains, dirty fingers and dust.  

I marvel over the picture books and comics I scored for work. I make a point of reading each book first before it lands in the waiting room, to ensure that it is in a reasonable condition and has appropriate content. Jordan Watson’s How to Dad, Vol. 2 is so typical Kiwi: a father illustrating in pictures and words what parenting is really all about, or not. Hilarious! Next I smile over some cute picture books and move to the Christmas themed books. I love providing our waiting room (not before December though) with a variety of Christmassy books for big and small. I have a weakness for old fashioned style pictures and Christopher discovers a secret and The night before Christmas (a Golden Book) make me glow inside and starry-eyed.

Wiel’s books end up in the bookcase without further ado. It’s not that I am not interested, and they too get a clean-over, but let’s get to the really good stuff!

That’s my pile, you see! The few novels I bought are placed in full view in the bookcase in the living room. I read almost everything I purchase or receive (although it can take weeks, months or years) but you, as an avid reader, know that your mood has a big say in dictating what kind of story or genre you need at a given point in time.

I lovingly stroke the picture books (nobody is watching). I’ll read them later, in daylight, when the time is right. And that’s right now! I laugh with Daniel Kirk’s story of Sam, the Library mouse (impossible to resist such title) and the cute books Sam produces for library visitors. And then, the gentle drawings by Tomie dePaola in Four stories for four seasons. I recognised his name from Quiet, a wonderful picture book about mindfulness he produced in 2018.

The rest of the books are patiently waiting their turn. Each time I’ll pick one up and settle down for reading, I’ll be smiling. I am in the best place one can be.

book fair fever

Each year in the July winter school holidays, the Whakatane Salvation Army organises a gigantic book fair, one of their major fundraisers. Three days of secondhand book heaven, spread over Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning in the second week of the holidays, visited often more than once by thousands of people, families and children.

In 1991 the first book fair, the brainchild of Jim Kennedy, took place in the Salvation Army church. He took the idea home when visiting the Wellington Salvation Army at the time. Originally a summer event, the book fair was not particularly popular because everyone was outside having summer fun (as Kiwis do) and not interested in buying/reading books. The event was shifted to the winter school holidays, quickly outgrew the church space and found a new home in an old supermarket building across the road. Jim’s wife Cath opened this year’s fair with a 30th birthday cake in honour of her husband who died in 2010.  

It is Friday and I can hardly contain my excitement while patiently working through the day with my clients. I shoot out the door as soon as I finish work. It’s 4pm, only one and a half hour left until the lights dim over the books today. But boy, what an end-of-the week highlight!

As I enter the vast space and see hundreds of rows of books, neatly organised per topic (novels, history, New Zealand, children, cooking, gardening, sport, religion, humour, art, magazines, foreign languages) I smile and pause. It happens each year, that feeling of never going to get through all of this! Unable to revisit the book fair the next day, I ever so briefly consider conjuring a strategic plan, but with temptation lurking everywhere, that idea is abandoned quickly.

Firstly, a visit to the rare books, then scooting to the tables with fiction and browsing almost everything, scanning constantly, and hoping to find that amazing book, title or topic. I always bring home a book or author that I am unfamiliar with, to broaden my reading experience. This year the lucky (young adult) book is Fairieground Wish, by (author names without capitals on the cover, perhaps that appealed!) beth bracken & kay fraser. It resembles a graphic novel but in hard cover book format. Looks different!

Next I visit the New Zealand books, quickly walk past the cooking and gardening books, loiter around the biographies and gems of now unwanted gift books. Occasionally I recognise a book I donated back after my pre book fair routine: weeding my personal library (so painful), the stock for our community little library, the waiting room reads at work and a neighbour’s discarded books.

The final and favourite section is the children’s corner. I am on the lookout for picture books that will fit nicely in my private collection (I have a weak spot for picture books since I studied children’s literature many years ago) or are worthy for our waiting room bookcase (a space shared by many families and pregnant women). Another woman is rummaging through each box systematically, I follow suit. When a volunteer announces they’re closing in ten minutes, our rummaging becomes more frantic. The five minute call comes, we continue until we have to scoop up our finds, pay (plus an extra donation for this organisation) and leave with a book bag heavy and full. It is not finished. The book fair post routine is kicking in soon!