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.

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c.b. 2012