Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Bonfire of the Niceties

Pileof BooksThe National Library Board (NLB) held their (annual?) book sale at the Singapore expo, last Friday thru Sunday. I wandered along with little purpose, although a couple of technical titles was in the back of my mind, and so I sauntered in around midday Friday past early birds already leaving with distinctive white carrier bags closed with cable ties and even stuffed shopping trolleys.

Inside the hall were 50 tables labeled above with simple descriptions such as Adult Fiction and Junior Fiction. Within these categories, the books were a complete jumble so you were left to just wander up and down looking for topics of interest. I grabbed a few, huge technical books, out of date for sure as most titles seemed to be published around 2000, but good enough for S$2 (70p) each.

Far more interesting was the behavior of the patrons. Keeners filled the provided shopping baskets, leaving them at the edge of the hall to return for more books. After amassing anything up to 200 books, they then sat down against the wall and slowly went through their hoard, tossing discards onto a rough pile at their feet, putting keepers in a fresh basket. At the tables, the neat rows of books quickly deteriorated into unkempt mass as selected books were tossed aside.

People behave this way when faced with free or cheap sales; first land-grabbing as much as possible, later to discard what, on reflection, they decide is not for them. I've organised a few jumble sales and there are definite types. The professionals (local gypsies in our case) looking for silver plates or valuable China going for 20p and leave within 10 minutes. Then there's the bag ladies, roughly sorting through clothes and just stuffing anything decent into the bag under their arm, sometimes leaving without payment. Then there's the charitable types, there to support the cause carefully thumbing a Foders guide to Portugal.

The organisation of the book fair was thought through; bags and baskets, helpers wandering around, a DJ at the back playing musak, the exit channels which divided buyers from visitors and guided the former down to packing tables staffed by schoolchildren who packed and counted the items. Then on to the ridiculously over-sized and dreaded Tensa-barrier maze ahead of the cashiers. I hate being in such processes and given the modest turnout, the formality was excessive.

The result was 7 books weighing 8kgs for S$14 (£5) and a disgust for the people who turned a generous opportunity into a greedy, selfish, ugly, rude stampede.