Five days. Four kilometres of tables. More than one and a half million books. Depending on who you believe, it’s either the biggest, or the second-biggest event of its kind anywhere in the world. Yes, it’s that behemoth of used book sales, the Brisbane edition of the Lifeline Bookfest. Unfortunately I don’t have a digital camera or a camera phone to share the spectacle (sorry, Heather!). But for those of you who want to turn a lovely shade of green, the Sunday Mail had an article, and ABC Radio’s website still has a mention of last June’s Bookfest. Both items have pictures which should give a hint of the scale of the thing. It’s the one day of the year when I get to experience both heaven on earth (five and a half hours browsing thousands upon thousands of dirt cheap books) and hell on earth (lugging a quarter of my body weight in books home in 30-plus degrees). The agony is more than worth it, though, and today not even the mid-morning heat and Queensland Rail’s lack of punctuality could remove the smile from my face.
The best bit of the Bookfest is the start, stepping into Hall 3 of the Convention and Exhibition Centre and absorbing the atmosphere of serenity and books. One of the perqs of being an unemployed student is having your summer weekdays free; when I arrived there were no more than several dozen people browsing through the books of the Unpriced section, and half the checkout lanes were lying idle and unmanned. Without the weekend crowds, the whole affair is very orderly. Sure, there’s the occasional shrieking kid, but it’s still much quieter than the average shopping mall.
I’ve been to enough Bookfests to have established a routine. The Unpriced section is first; books from fifty cents to two dollars, at the discretion of the volunteers at the checkout who are invariably generous. I load up there and then know exactly how much I have left to spend in the Priced section. I start with the paperback fiction, spread across four tables maybe ten metres long (or maybe more; I’m not a good judge of distances). They’re spaced out in a row, so I go down four right sides, browsing through books laid spines up, four deep. Then it’s a U-turn at the back of the hall, in front of the stacks of wire-mesh crates holding the extra stock and back down the other side. After that it’s the Penguins and the Literature, then a poke through Reference, History, and, for the hell of it, Humour & Oddities. Above the low hum of conversation and the rustle of pages comes easy listening music and the sporadic blare of the PA system, announcing lost and found items and requests for specific books. By the time I think of enquiring for North and South, my excursion to the Bookfest is half over and with my luck, by the time anyone locates it I’ll have left. So I decide to head over to the Priced section and take my chances on finding it myself.
There’s no queue at the checkout - quite unlike the weekend bottlenecks - and after a quick chat with an elderly and mildly surprised gentleman behind the counter (what can I say, I’m an addict) and a minor lightening of my wallet, I’m out into the blue-striped foyer and on my way to Hall 4. This is the home of the books in good enough condition to warrant price tags; up to around $3.50 in the Priced section, and used bookstore prices (generally $6-10) in High Quality. Priced is first; I glance around the signs wedged into tall metal holders to orient myself and work out my priorities. I’m carrying two capacious and thankfully strong fabric bags from the BCC Library; one is stuffed to the brim and so heavy that I’m skimming it along the ground. By the time I get to the Priced section, I’m too weighed down to feel much of an urge for random browsing.
Luck is with me to an extent; I find a few books that were on my list - and, inevitably, some I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them. (But still no North and South.) By the time I finish, I’6ve had two sit-downs because my feet are killing me and my back is starting to rebel, and it’s still only mid-afternoon. Go home now, in the heat ... or venture into the High Quality section in the continued hunt for Mrs. Gaskell?
A no-brainer, that one.
By now I’ve been reduced to pushing the full(est) bag along the ground with my foot. Not that it matters; after all, I won’t be in here long. Just long enough to check the Literature section. No North and South ... maybe it got mixed up with the paperback fiction? I really should check ... just to make sure....
Oh, who was I kidding? I just wanted an excuse to continue salivating over the books. I never did find North and South, but needless to say, nor did I leave the High Quality section empty-handed. (There’s only so much temptation a girl can take.) And beside, it averaged out to around a dollar per book, so the extra expense doesn’t really count. ;-)
It was after four when I finally emerged, bags hooked awkwardly (and painfully) over my shoulders because I’m too short to carry them by the handles without the bottoms scraping the ground. Maybe next year I’ll be smart and take a suitcase on wheels. And a backpack. And maybe a bag to perch on top of the suitcase....