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.
There are 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.
Basically, it's a lot, especially for newcomers. That's why we've put together this brief guide on getting the most out of the book sale.
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.
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. 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 for parking.
Patience Is A Virtue
It's 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 grab it. 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).
Know What You're Spending
The VNSA takes both cash and credit/debit cards, making it all too easy to blow a paycheck on books. 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.
Speaking of which...
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Get in Line Right Now
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. If you want the good shit, 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 8, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 9, at Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road; 602-265-6805; vnsabooksale.org. Free admission.
Editor's note: This article was originally published last year and has been updated.