Every year, during the second weekend of February, something magical happens at the state fairgrounds.  Inside of the exhibition hall, thousands upon thousands of used books are unpacked and displayed on endless rows of tables.  As if the idea of thousands of books under one roof isn’t enough to make any bibliophile drool, they go ahead and price these books at unbelievably low prices.  A hardcover bestseller goes for about $4, while a paperback dons a $1 sticker.  Better still, on Sunday, everything (except rare books) is half off.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

For the last eight years, it’s been a family tradition to attend the VNSA Book Sale and replenish our stock of books.  This is the place to go for a truly amazing selection as they’ve got everything from fiction, literature, history, reference, poetry, art, suspense, YA, cookbooks, crafts, and about a million other genres!   Sunday morning we wake up bright and early, pack our large canvas bags, and practice using “Black Friday” elbows.  It gets pretty crowded with eager book shoppers all looking for a great deal.  If you don’t grab a book when you see it, someone else will swipe right out from under your nose!  Another thing to watch out for are the infamous “cart blockers,” who will use a shopping cart to block a section of a table to keep other shoppers from grabbing books.  Little do they know I have no problem moving their cart out of the way.  Only a newbie falls for that trick!

The entrance to Book Heaven

When the doors open at 8 a.m. the line streams into the exhibition building, with everyone running to their favorite section.  I always head straight for fiction first and spend at least an hour combing through every row and every box looking for favorite and new authors alike.  My Book Vibe goes into serious overdrive at this point, but it still steers me right every single year.  After fiction, I jet over to the craft section to check out needlework and sewing pattern books.  Then, its off cookbooks to see if I can find the ever elusive British recipe book.

In the Fiction Trenches

The family always regroups after an hour to check in and drop off books in the holding area before heading out for another hour (or more) of book hunting.  During the second phase, I head to classics to track down books that fall under the heading of, “books I should read, but haven’t gotten around to yet.”  After that, I hit the history section to expand my collection of Ancient Egyptian studies and the art section to see if there’s anything that includes my favorite artists.

This year’s haul was particularly good, as I brought home a wide range of books that should keep me busy for at least a few months.

The grand total: $57

My favorite finds for this year include:

The Impressionists and Their Legacy – This book has a price of $150 on the inside cover and I it got for $7.50.  It’s packed with brilliant color plates from of my favorite artists, (i.e. Monet, Cezanne, Pissaro, and Degas), as well as historical information about Impressionism.

Van Gogh by M.E. Thalbaut – I paid $4 for this book and I’m still shocked at what I got for the money.  The dust jacket may be torn, but the interior is pristine.  Color plates fill almost every page, along with reproductions of letters and sketches by Van Gogh.  His life is traced from start to finish with amazing insight.

British Grub by Brian Murphy – Hiding amid the far more popular Italian cookbooks, this British gem was just waiting for me to find it.  Recipes for traditional pub sandwiches, soups, and stews make this little book a huge find! And it was only 25¢!

Dusk by James Salter – I have a previous work by Salter, (Last Night), and always loved his writing, but finding his books in my area can be difficult.  I was delighted to find him hiding in one of the boxes beneath the tables.

Selected Tales of Guy de Maupassant – I already have a complete collection of Maupassant’s works, but this book was so beautiful with gold leafing and illustrations I had to have it!  At only $1, it was easy to justify buying a double.

The Britons Ed. by M.I. Ebbutt – This book was sitting on an end cap in a section where it didn’t belong and I’m so glad I noticed it. Rather than a dry history book, it’s a volume that covers early British history via traditional myths and lore.  I can’t wait to read it.

By the end of the morning, my arms burn from carrying my load of books, but its totally worth the work.  I go home and peel off all the stickers and clean all the covers, (these books sit in a warehouse all year and can get pretty dirty!), and then spend the next week trying to figure out how to fit them on my bookshelves.  For a book lover, this is a day well-spent!

The best part of the whole experience is knowing every dollar spent at the VNSA Book Sale goes to local charities.  This year, they raised $378,000!  The event is already set for next year and you can bet I’ll be there.

– – –

c.b. 2012


41 thoughts on “Bookapalooza

  1. Hey, C.B., I, too used to attend that book sale. It cracked me up to see people using their cell phones to check eBay and Google to see what the “rare” books were, and how much they were going for. They took it all quite seriously. Me, I was out for a good time. I would also start in the fiction area, then move to the other areas. I used to shake my head at people who had the huge garbage cans with wheels on the bottom. I think they were more into volume rather than getting a few good finds. I would also clean the books and organize them, deciding which ones I would read first. When I was done, most of them would be taken to a used bookstore where I could trade them in, or just create a huge account. I have never used up the money on those accounts. Perhaps when I find a “permanent” home, I’ll once again get back into collecting books of all kinds. Until then, there is just not enough back power for me to continue to heft the boxes of words from place to place. Thanks for sharing. Maybe next year I can tag along?


    • People still do the cell phone thing, only this year I saw iPads and spreadsheets, too. A lot of book dealers show up looking for new books to stock their shelves, so for them I guess it is a pretty serious business!

      I’m there to find something good to read – my kind of books are the ones no one else wants. Obscure writers, European classics, and novellas are always in plentiful supply even after the mad rush of Saturday!

      I would love to have you along next year! The more the merrier! 🙂


  2. I went to that once and just couldn’t handle the crowds. It is awesome to see that many books. And you got some real prizes. I’m looking forward to hearing about the recipes.


    • Sunday isn’t nearly as bad as Saturday. I have yet to be brave enough to show up on the first day. It isn’t worth the crowd unless everything is half off! 🙂

      It isn’t any worse than Target on Black Friday and I figure if i can survive that, I can do anything! 😉


    • So true – used book sales are one of life’s little treasures. 🙂

      I’m having so much fun paging through all my “new” books and figuring out how to get them to fit on my shelves. I’m already reading one of the novels I bought!


  3. I would love to have bought that
    Van Gogh book!!! Good for you! I always have meant to attend that event and never get a chance to go. Next week is the Junior League Rummage Sale held at that same venue. I sometimes ahve found some great books there, too! Anyway, it sounds as if you had fun!


  4. This is so awesome! We have something similar (but not as big or as organized) here in my hometown. We have a large used bookstore that owns about 4 or 5 warehouses completely stocked with books in addition to the already very large bookstore itself. Once a year for two weeks in September they set up a giant tent in their parking lot and just start carting things out of the warehouse. There’s no rhyme or reason, things are just unloaded on the tables as space is cleared. The plus side to this mayhem? Paperbacks are 50 cents and everything else is only $1, no exceptions! I LOVE combing through the tables and coming back several times during the sale. If you wait a day or two after you’ve gone through everything the first time, you’re coming back to an almost completely different sale. =)


  5. My little Pirate heart is very jealous. 🙂 I haven’t seen an event like that around here, but my idea of a great Sunday, or warm summer evening, is to got to one of the local communities around here that have several blocks of used book resellers, and walk in and out, browsing and buying. These areas always had great little restaurants, so I could stop for a bite while I enjoyed the day/night. I never had an agenda, never had a specific title / author / genre I was looking for, but I never went home empty handed (or hungry). I had to stop doing this when I moved onto my Pirate ship. There’s no more room for books, and I can’t look without buying. 🙂


    • That’s something I really wish we had around here. There are a couple used book stores around town, but not a cluster where you could spend an entire afternoon. You never know what you’re going to find in a used bookstore and I think that’s the part I like best. 🙂


    • It was the first “word” that popped into my head! 😉

      I will definitely be writing about each book as I get to them. Though it may be a while. I tend to let a book stew for a while before I write my thoughts, (kinda like London!).


  6. I absolutely love going to used book sales. The South Shore Library has one each year and if at all possible we attend. It’s really the best and most inexpensive way to buy books. I always wonder if one day I’ll go and find a used copy of Bitter, Sweet. Now that would feel a bit strange..


    • We were actually looking for my mother’s book in the poetry section. It wasn’t there, but it’s a milestone she can’t wait to reach!

      Library book sales are among my favorite attend. They always have to most unique selection! 🙂


    • At the moment they are neatly stacked on the floor beneath the last shelf. It’s slow going as I have such a hard time cleaning out my shelf! Actually, the look of the books on the floor is growing on me . . . it makes the house very cozy! 🙂


  7. Laureen O' (@ViBarkley)

    Oh, I WISH we had a used book sale like that anywhere within a 100 mile radius!!! That sounds like my version of heaven. I’m stuck with our local library’s annual books sale, and Half Price Books. Blech.


    • Half Price books is one of those places where one day its awesome and the next its not! In that respect, I love going there just for the surprise. 🙂

      Maybe one day the book fairy will listen and bring you a massive book sale – I’ll keep hoping for you. 🙂


  8. Wow! What a fabulous event – and awesome fundraiser!! We have several annual book fairs around here, but my favorite place to go is called the Book Barn: It’s this wild and whimsical complex of barns and outbuildings, stalls, basements, carts…all filled with wonderful, wonderful used books! Plus a colony of cats AND free coffee and donuts!


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