Sydney University Book Fair

This morning I visited the book fair, or “Bookfest 2011“, as it is referred to on the university website. It was a sunny spring morning, and peaceful apart from our mounting nerves as Simon and I rode our bikes closer to the Great Hall. We passed people walking fast, wheeling their empty trolleys towards the book sale. I locked up our bikes as Simon ran into the hall. When I entered a few moments later, he had already been swallowed up by the crowd.

This is the kind of scene that can easily make you want to reverse back out into the sunny day and go and lie on the lawn and eat some strawberries and daydream. Did I really want to join hundreds of book mad people squeezing past one another holding big piles of books in their arms? I consulted the map at the entrance and headed for the history section, fearing a little for my safety.

If you attend a library book sale after the initial rush it can be quite a relaxing experience. It is exciting, however, to get there at the start and be part of the book frenzy. I took my place among the browsers and made my way down the aisles, as people squeezed past behind me and their bags poked me in the back. Most people were courteous, although at one point I went to look at the books underneath the table, which were piled up in boxes ready to go out over the duration of the sale, when an old lady barked “no you don’t!” at me. It wasn’t that I was not allowed to look at these books, as we had been instructed by the man making announcements over the PA not to forget to look under the tables, it was more that I was impeding her path towards the fiction section (or possibly the exit). This encounter bruised my spirits a bit, but I kept looking.

In general, though, the mood was jolly. People balanced twenty books in a pile in their arms as they looked over the tables, cheerily moving when required, and every so often a jaunty announcement came over the hall.

“We’ve got some talking books piled up on the side of the steps, so if you’re planning a trip to Canberra or some other kind of long drive, they might come in useful.”

“Make sure you have a look at our boutique book section, with highlights such as an erotic novel by Frank Moorhouse – I might be killed in the rush for that one!”

“If you’re after a souvenir of the day, at the entrance there is a stall selling university merchandise for reduced prices – in its infinite wisdom, the university has decided to change its coat of arms.”

“There are no parking patrols today, so you can park anywhere that is a legal parking space – apart from spaces that say University Only, of course, you wouldn’t dare park in one of those.”

(The man with the microphone had a strangely adversarial relationship with the university as an institution, it seemed.)

“If you want to leave your books on the steps, labelled with your name, and continue to browse, then you can do so provided they’re not in anyone’s way, else we can’t say they won’t be tampered with.”

The steps area is where people retreated to look through the books they had madly collected in their trip around the hall. The best policy is of course to pick up any book that looks vaguely interesting, and then go through and weed out the bad ones, honing your books down to the essentials.

The steps is also the place to go if you’re feeling a bit overcome by it all. After about 45 minutes of looking my arms ached, I was sweating, and I started to have uncharitable thoughts towards the people browsing around me. One man was employing a torch to look in the boxes underneath the “Media” section, another was stubbornly blocking the cookery section like a huge cork. I sat on the cool stone steps and looked above people’s heads to the portraits of the Vice Chancellors that line the walls. I’ve been in the Great Hall a few times for graduations, and my favourite Vice Chancellor is the one pictured with a cigarette.

It was good to see people so excited by a book sale, and there were all sorts of people, men prepared for combat with canvas bags and torches, women filling up trolleys, pale young couples browsing together, people with browsing strategies and others moving in a more desultory fashion throughout the hall. I had wondered how many books would be from the libraries collection, and about 1/3 seemed to be; the rest must have been donations.

When I was browsing the Architecture section, I noticed a book about Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” there, among the big heavy books about buildings and city planning! Although I think this was placed there intentionally, after a while at a book sale the books start to migrate around, as people abandon the books in their piles they decide aren’t quite so good. You could stay in there all day and browse the different tides of books, as they are discarded, as more come out from the boxes under the tables…

But it was also a lovely day, and the announcement of the fast lane for those with few books and exact money appealed to us. The regular line to pay was 20 people with full trolleys long on either side of the exit. We swapped until we both had $20 worth, and escaped out the back door, each with a small pile of books.

Vanessa’s books – the thin one is “Complaints and Disorders: the Sexual Politics of Sickness”.

Most of Simon’s books – there are a few others that have already been absorbed into our house. The Marc Bolan book has what Marc Bolan did every day for the last 5 years of his life, which was fascinating in its comprehensiveness.

When we got home we lay about reading our books and eating strawberries. The book sale continues until Wednesday 21st.



Filed under Books, Library Book Sale

3 responses to “Sydney University Book Fair

  1. Amanda

    I think it’s funny that we seem to be having parallel Septembers. Snapdragon was the same weekend as SF Zinefest. Our BIG library sale is next week. I always go on Sunday, the last day, when every book is $1. The frenetic energy is pretty similar to what you’ve described here.

    • Vanessa Berry

      Ah, that IS strange, and we can’t even blame it on being spring…maybe it’s the in-between seasons? Good luck at the book sale!

  2. Fiona Berry

    I can state with some authority that the music section would have been rather good this year…

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