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Monday, October 31, 2005

Rockcliffe Book Fair

This week many volunteers are in the final stages of tediously shelving and pricing books for the annual Rockcliffe Book Fair. Like bees, they are busy moving boxes of all sizes, arranging books of all types on the burgeoning shelves. The space dedicated to the sale is no longer recognizable as a elementary school gymnasium. If you look hard enough, however, you can see a basketball hoop and the tempera painted wall murals on craft paper proving a vestige of the room's original purpose.

Last weekend I was asked by a fellow book lover, Nigel Beale, to come on down to lend my passion for books in the shelving effort. Nigel has two daughters attending the school and he volunteers his time sorting and pricing in the literature section. This was my first behind-the-scenes look at the preparations of the popular book fair. "Where do I start?" I asked him. He showed me to the poetry section. At the time, not so much a section than an aisle that looked like a front-end loader dumped a cord of wood to be sorted and stocked.

My legs are killing me. Bending down to pick up a tome, doing a once-over of the book, making a judgment call, write down a price, make room on the shelf, repeat -- a few hundred times. Others have a chair to facilitate the sorting process. There is no room for a chair in the poetry section.

Never have I seen two books of the same genre so unrelated sit beside each other: The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets (1994) is shelved beside Modern Poets and Poets of Spain (1852). The only commonality is the word 'poets' and the price. I marked them both at one dollar. I'll have to go back this week to see if they'll sell.

The people involved in the fair are great. Julie Stephens, the community volunteer coordinator, busy in her trade hardcover section immediately spotted the book of poetry I stashed in her section. "Here's a book for your section", she said. (In fact, I heard that phrase frequently from others throughout the day.)

The go-to-person is really Di Bethune. With close to twenty years as a bookseller, she sorts the special and rare books and she is constantly approached my me and others for her opinion. Someone sorting the Travel Writing section consulted her, "Hey Di, look at this book by James Morris". Di immediately recognizes the name, "Yes, that's an important book." The author now goes by the name, Jan Morris, the popular travel writer. I spotted a first edition of Carol Shields' novel The Stone Diaries in the slush pile and another one popped up later on in the day. Her 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning novel can fetch upwards of $500. These, among the other treasured books, will be listed in their silent auction.

The book fair provides an excellent opportunity to pick up fairly priced books to get signed at upcoming author events: Simon Winchester, Scott Turow, and Diana Gabaldon, for example. It all takes place at Rockcliffe Park Public School, 370 Springfield Road, and starts Friday, November 4th from 10am to 9pm and runs till Sunday. See for details.


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