I was so pleased when I heard that the library book sale was on again! It has been three long years since the last library book sale, which was my first, and which I really enjoyed. However, it was scheduled on a really busy weekend, and I wasn’t sure until the day itself, whether I’d be able to go at all.
The hubs kindly tried to make it happen for me, by dropping me off at 850am before sending K to Chinese class, and then picking me up before we went to collect her early so that we could meet some friends for a joint birthday celebration at Amped (which was super fun!). So I only had about an hour to scour the many trolleys for good books. It certainly helped that the hubs took B, so I could concentrate. When B came later, she could occupy herself at the sidelines looking at the books I’d picked. There were many kids doing that that day!
What makes for a successful trip to the famed NLB Library Book Sale? Here are some tips.
Go early if you can. They seemed to have opened the doors slightly earlier than announced, cos when I arrived there were already about 30-50 people inside the cavernous hall. And the books were neatly stacked to the brim in each trolley. Whilst I was there, they kept wheeling in emptied trolleys, and wheeling out new trolleys full of books every 15 minutes or so. This happens throughout the day, so you need not fret that ‘all the books will be gone’ by mid-day. But they will certainly be much neater early in the day.
It was easy to find good stuff, and my basket got full quite quickly. Some of the books I picked were really thick tomes, so I was glad that I had come armed with a cabin-sized luggage bag. But I soon realised that ALL the books I had picked would not fit into the luggage! And it was difficult to balance a full basket atop the luggage. And I preferred tossing books into an open top basket instead of having to stuff books into the luggage now and then.
I made a bee-line to sniff out travel books, after 45 mins at the kids’ section. As the books are not really categorised by topics (understand that it’d be really hard), I had to dart from trolley to trolley and do a quick scan of the titles to determine the rough ‘topic(s)’ of that trolley. Happy to find half a trolley of travel books. No Lonely Planet ones unlike the last time, but I managed to find a few travel guides and one travel memoir that I thought were absolute gems. $2 a piece!
I did not see a queue the entire time I was there, and friends who had gone at other times during the weekend also attested that they did not have the queue to pay. Which is excellent, since taking time to queue means less time to browse, especially if you were time-starved that day like me! They had queue lines in place (see below) but the fantastic way this event was organised (20 cashier counters!) made for a wonderful experience.
This is an overview of our haul from Saturday!
Here’s a closer look at the Chinese books.
The three books in the bottom row below were so new, and so thick – I can’t wait to read the American Short Stories one, which contains 17 stories including Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants”, Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemum”, Updike’s “A & P”, Ray Bradbury’s “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”. So yeah, that one, and Carol Ann Duffy’s “New and Collected Poems for Children”, are really for me. 😛
The stars aligned and the hubs said I could go again if I wanted, on Sunday afternoon, after B went down for her nap (not without significant resistance though). I wasn’t sure if it’d be another 3 years before they held the next library book sale, so I decided to seize the evening and hop down, this time via public transport (parking at Singapore Expo is about $3 an hour) and armed with a marketing trolley. It was a bit ironic because I don’t usually do marketing. Happy to be an auntie if it helps me cart more books home! It helps that I don’t live too far away from an MRT station.
Bring a marketing trolley. I realised that this was best the weapon of choice, because the shopping basket would balance well atop this, and being an ‘open top vehicle’, it has greater capacity as compared to the very finite volume of luggage. I arrived at around 515pm (1.5 hours till closing!) and had such a good time shopping that I forgot to take photos of my trolley in action.
Go on the last evening. At 520pm, they made an announcement that books would be going at 2 for the price of 1. The folks at the same book trolley as me looked up. We stared at one another. $1 per book?! That was even more rock bottom than ever! Time to be less picky? But as always, the limiting factor was bookshelf space at home…
One book that she gravitated towards immediately was the one on the science behind snowflakes “The story of snow – the science of nature’s wonder”. She loves drawing snowflakes, and this book explained the formation process so well.
And a star find was this book that explained diabetes so well! “The Great Katie Kate discovers Diabetes” – written to explain and allay the fears of a child who might be diagnosed with diabetes. I read it with K and it was simply the best tool for her to understand this condition, which her grandparents have. Science made crystal clear through an engaging story – best.
I felt like I had struck gold when I found the English version of the Chinese book that I bought the day before – “Clancy and Millie – Very Fine House”. B said “I like this story” when I read the Chinese version to her on Saturday evening. Such a sweet, endearing tale – and now I have it in both languages!
I found a Roald Dahl book “The Giraffe, Pellie and Me” but put it back because we already have that book. There were a few other buy-worthy books but either cos we already owned copies, or because my kids had outgrown those books, I placed them back on the trolley.
Buy for the present. Ringing in my mind was a friend’s advice to ‘buy what you need now’. So I put back a copy of MacBeth for kids (storyline and illustrations of daggers and blood still seemed a tad dark for their age) and a Michael Morpurgo that was 5cm thick and too wordy for K right now. I realised that I should have spared some time to Google up books I wasn’t too sure about. It crossed my mind, but I thought ‘Just focus on finding familiar books you know your kids will read!’. So I put Chris Riddell’s “Ottoline and the Yellow Cat” back, though I spent a few minutes reading the blurb and the book jacket on how he’s the political cartoonist for UK’s The Observer, but ultimately wasn’t too convinced by the few lines of the story that I read.
Trawl through baskets just before closing time. Another tactic I picked up on the fly, was that around 15 minutes before closing time, there will be many ‘abandoned baskets’ along the walls. Run through them, and you are more likely to find buy-worthy books. Since they have gone through one round of someone’s selection process, they are less likely to be duds. By 650pm, the book trolleys are really messy and likely to be devoid of the better books.
Final survival tips – Go to the loo before entering the hall if you are alone (otherwise you risk having no one jaga your basket), bring a small bottle of water (hours in an aircon hall = thirsty), put books back nicely if you can, on their spines, so that others have a good search experience (because, karma) and thank the NLB staff cheerfully (I found out that most of them are volunteers, wow!), because they are a big part of making this happen.
Some closing thoughts
A few friends and I wondered what happens to the remaining books – and as of 7pm, there were still thousands left. A friend heard that they’d be discarded… oh shock and horror! It seems almost criminal to throw away perfectly good books. Destruction of knowledge and civilisation and all that, you know.
But then again, I suppose space is a very scarce thing in Singapore, and who wants to keep a bunch of books that they have no use for, or will not ever want to read (some of the adult non-fiction titles were really bizarre)? I suppose getting recycled is as kind a fate as it gets, for these printed pages.
As for children’s picture books, I really hope that they will make their way to some children’s charities. There were definitely books that children can enjoy left in the book trolleys, and sending them to the incinerator would be such a shame!
Anyway, I saw many happy people lugging huge sacks of books home. There was no Ta-q-bin delivery service booth this time, so it was each man for himself. Here’s to more Singaporeans buried in books instead of their phones!