If you're like me, a relative newcomer to Phoenix, you may have found the lack of used bookstores a bit upsetting. Sure, Changing Hands is lovely, and there are several decent antiquarian spots around the Valley, but there's nothing that can give the wonderful sensation of spending a day among stacks of bargain-priced books just ripe for the picking. Or so I thought: Apparently, Phoenicians get it all out of their system in one weekend. This one, specifically.
This weekend at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association will hold its annual used book sale. Over half a million volumes will be available at rock-bottom prices, with most of the books selling for less than $5.
Phoenix New Times was granted access to the VNSA's preview sale for volunteers and media on Wednesday, and what we found was breathtaking: thousands of volumes of classic literature, sci-fi and romance novels, western fiction, and more; beautiful volumes on art and photography; textbooks, manuals, cookbooks, how-to guides, and sheet music; tomes on philosophy, religion, science and technology, history, and travel; books in foreign languages including Spanish, French, German, and even Korean; children's books; CDs, DVDs, audio books, and vinyl records; and there's even a well-hidden stack of vintage Playboys if you're completely devoid of shame (and feel no ways about shocking the seniors manning the cash registers).
Basically, it's a lot, especially for newcomers. That's why we've put together this brief guide on getting the best out of the book sale.
1. Know What You're Looking For
We cannot stress enough that there will be hundreds of thousands of books at the sale, and it's impossible to browse them all. So it helps to know what you want to find and where to find it, which is why VNSA has helpfully posted a map of the site on Facebook. This makes it much easier to find that vintage Julia Child cookbook you've been craving, or that fancy exhibition catalog you neglected to pick up from the Phoenix Art Museum.
2. Come Prepared
So, you've filled your cart full of books. Now, how do you get them to your car? VNSA does provide boxes and bags for shoppers, but we strongly recommend bringing something sturdier like a backpack, tote, or even a duffel bag. And then put another bag in that bag, because you'll probably need it. You may also want to bring water, some tissues, and even a snack. Leave the Sunday best at home as well: This is the fairgrounds, after all, and being in a warehouse full of old books tends to leave one a bit dusty. Lastly, know that while admission to the sale is free, the fairgrounds charges an $8 cash-only fee for parking.
3. Patience Is A Virtue
It's pretty easy to rack up a hefty bill at the sale. Sure, that hardcover first edition of Heart of Darkness is nice, but you can probably find a less expensive copy in the mass market paperback section. In any case, if you find something you like, make sure to swipe it up; If you do come across a cheaper copy, you can always chuck the more expensive one in the re-sort bins located all over the sale (and when we say "chuck," we mean "place carefully" — some of these books are fragile).
4. Know What You're Spending
You may have kept some money under your mattress for the sale in years past, but the VNSA takes cash and credit/debit cards, making it all too easy to blow a check on books. At the preview sale, guests were limited to 15 books over $1.50, yet I still managed to rack up a bill just under $60 after filling a shopping cart full of tomes and discarding about 20 percent of my take. So if you're worried about making this month's rent, come in with a level head and a budget ceiling in mind. For true bargain hunters, everything is 50 percent off on Sunday, although waiting until then may mean sifting through Saturday's leftovers.
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Speaking of which...
5. Get in Line Right Now
Preview sale guests were lucky enough to deal with small crowds during the sale, generally no more than 100. The general public, however, isn't as fortunate: Well over 1,000 people are expected to line up in the dark of night to get into the sale and snap up the finest cuts of fresh used literature. Technically the sale is going on Saturday and Sunday, but if you want the best, drop everything and get out to the fairgrounds as soon as possible (once the parking lot opens at midnight).
VNSA Used Book Sale. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, February 9, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 10, at Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road; 602-265-6805; vnsabooksale.org. Free admission.