Sunday, August 13, 2006

National Library Book Sale

As a woman reared on good books, I jumped at the prospect of the National Library's Book Sale. Admission was free, and all English books S$2. I envisioned myself loaded with great information books to supplement our homeschool times. I even gave myself a spending limit. I needn't have bothered.

Doors opened at 9:30 on Saturday. I arrived shortly after 10 a.m. to find about 2,000 people in the queue in front of me. I seem to have been working off the erroneous assumption that out of 4,000,000 people, I was the only one with an interest in cheap books. Still deeply entrenched in the American disdain for long queues (though I have resorted to calling them "queue" instead of "line") I told myself that if I wasn't in the door by 10:30, I was ditching.

The queue moved with lightning speed actually, so I was in the door about 15 minutes later. Inside I was handed a large plastic bag and set loose on thousands of bins full of manhandled books. I worked my way down to the English kid's books and found that only about 10-20% remained. It seems the way to approach the book sale is to come early, indiscriminately grab piles of books to claim as your own, then find a spot on the open floor where you can flip through them and decide at your leisure which ones you want. I saw people with 3-4 stacks 2 feets high each of books. Fighting twinges of bitterness, I battled my way into viewing several bins until my tolerance for chaos reached the breaking point. Another queue to have someone count my books (7), and a second wait to pay for them, and I was out of there in about an hour. I saw people with what looked like hundreds of books - what time did they come? I learned that the queue began at 7:30 a.m. That's when you have to ask how truly important is the great deal?

There were just as many people waiting outside as there had been when I arrived. I wanted to scream, "It's not worth it! There's nothing left - turn back!!" Next year maybe I will try to be there early. I'll be sure to bring a good book and a partner to help me nab my own stacks.

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