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!