Monday, April 30, 2012

Fun at the Greater St. Louis Book Fair

Apparently, I have lived in St. Louis for four and a half years without knowing about this amazing annual charity book fair.  According to its website (, the Greater St. Louis Book Fair “raises funds to promote education and literacy for underserved individuals in the St. Louis metropolitan area” and takes place over a spring weekend each year.  This is apparently such a big event that Thursday, the opening day, has a $10 admission fee, and the rules governing the lineup of people waiting for admission include “Patrons may stay in the parking garage overnight Wednesday provided they remain in their vehicles. No campers are allowed.” and “Patrons may begin lining up at 6 am on opening day.” (The book fair doesn’t actually open until 4 pm!)  It turns out that my husband has known about this mystical event for years, but never found out when it was taking place until the week afterwards.  Thus, neither of us had made it until today.  I highly recommend it for anyone not moving away from St. Louis like we are!

It was wonderful.  And enormous.  Spread out across countless tables in a roped-off section of parking garage at a large mall were stacks upon stacks of books, ranging from art to cookbooks to foreign language books to presidents and, of course, tons of fiction.  After a quick survey through history, I lurked in the paperback fiction section as well as the children’s fiction.  While I tend to prefer hardcover copies of the classics – nicer quality, plus the print is almost always larger – the hardcover fiction section seemed to be entirely contemporary, which is not really my interest at the moment.  I trusted my husband to find anything either of us might find useful in the religion section; in fact, he did come away with a few helpful titles.  And I meandered happily through D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, and E.M Forster.  (I didn’t, in the end, purchase anything by these authors, but it was certainly fun to look.)  There was a ridiculous number of Shakespeare editions available for purchase, and also a ton of Thomas Hardy and Nicholas Sparks (which I found to be an entertaining if strange combination).

I think I made smart purchases.  There were a lot of books that I’m interested in reading, and a few that I’m actively looking to add to my personal collection, but I kept finding reasons not to purchase the particular copies available at the fair.  Does anyone else find this problem?  It’s not enough just to find the right book; you have to find the right edition.  Perhaps it’s foolish of me, perhaps it makes me a poor reader of literary fiction, but I do find that I’m influenced by book covers.  I dislike book covers advertising “now a major motion picture!” with photos of the actors as the characters.  It leaves me peeved that I can’t imagine how the characters look for myself.  Another thing I check is the size of the text – if it’s too small, it would give me headaches on, say, an airplane.  Text that’s too small in a page with nearly no margin space makes a book feel long and ponderous to me, and ups the chance that I’ll find the book boring or difficult.  Finally, I’ve learned to always flip through and check for markings when shopping for used books, especially in novels that are often assigned for English classes.  It irritates me if a book has underlines, or written notes, or highlighted words or phrases.  Which is funny – I sometimes write in my own books and always appreciate the reminder of my thoughts later.  The same thing happens with sheet music.  I adore revisiting a piece of music and having my own written notes to aid sight-reading, but nothing annoys me more than having somebody else’s notes to erase.  On occasion, I erase a marking only to write it in again later!  Yes, I will freely acknowledge my hypocrisy.

Anyway, here’s my haul.  And because it was the last day of the book fair, everything was half price, so all told these cost me about $3.50!  With these costs, I felt free to pick up a few books that I may not end up keeping.  I can always swap anything I decide needn’t remain in my permanent collection for something else via paperbackswap.

The Awakening, Kate Chopin – I actually have this out from the public library, but haven’t had a chance to start it yet.  I’ve had some trouble with library deadlines recently, because I’m only a quarter of the way through the enormous Wives and Daughters, and after that, I have R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, which also looks like it will take me a long time.  Owning this will mean that I can return the library’s copy and focus on finishing these two clunkers before they come due.  I’ve read good reviews of Chopin’s novel, which identify it as similar to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I read a few months ago and loved.  We’ll see how this one measures up.

Wizard’s Hall, Jane Yolen – I loved this book as a kid, and have since lost track of my copy.  Perhaps it’s still among the boxes of my books that are currently living in my mom’s basement.  (Is it embarrassing to admit that?)  I picked up this copy in case I was foolish enough to get rid of my old one in one of my periodic childhood book purges.  Wizard’s Hall, about a boy attending a magic school, is remarkably similar to the Harry Potter books – so much so, in fact, that Yolen attempted to sue Rowling for stealing her ideas.  I’m interested to reread it and see if this book is as charming as I remember.

The Time Garden, Edward Eager – I adored Eager’s Half Magic as a child and only recently discovered that there are sequels.  I think this is one, and since it seems difficult to find his books these days, I didn’t hesitate to grab it!  I may hang on to it unread for a bit, until I figure out if it is, in fact, a sequel, and determine whether I can get my hands on copies of Half Magic and the others.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins – Supposedly this is the original Victorian sensationalist novel.  Several book bloggers with literary tastes similar to mine have recommended it.  This is a nice, old-school Penguin copy with the trademark orange spine.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson – This book is a classic.  I’ve never read it.  Enough said.  Plus, it’ll be interesting to compare it to A High Wind in Jamaica, which I read earlier this year.  They have the pirate thing in common, and supposedly share the theme of morality and its ambiguity.

Heidi, Johanna Spyri – Another classic.  I can’t recall if I ever read it as a kid – perhaps in one of those abridged versions?  The description on the back makes it sound very similar to The Secret Garden, which has been on my mind lately and sits firmly in my to-be-read pile.  Perhaps I’ll read them back-to-back and start a discussion comparing them.  Would anybody be interested in participating in a read-along?

Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild – Made famous by Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, this is yet another classic kid’s book that I never read as a child.  My reading choices this year seem to be bouncing back and forth between these children’s books that I missed and women’s literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It seemed natural to add this book to the list, especially after my husband told me that he and his sister were quite familiar with it in their own childhoods.

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