One great Arizona tradition is braving  the last part of a cold February night for the annual VNSA Book Sale at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.  On Saturday, I took part in the 56th annual sale, called one of America’s biggest and best used book sale.  It’s believed more than 20,000 people turn out during the two days to pore over the more than a half-million items. On Sunday, remaining books are available for half-price.

 I started going to them about 25 years ago (typically always the second Saturday and Sunday) of Febraury. I have missed only a few times.

This year, I got to the line at 4 a.m. for the 8 a.m. opening. That typically guarantees being among the first wave of book-buyers who will be let into the long and large exhibition hall before the shut off the valve of humans, until enough shoppers have bought books and moved on for the day.  For a number of years, the doors didn’t open until 9 a.m., and it seemed an interminable wait.   So this year, I had four hours in 40-degree weather before we got inside.   The alternative is to come later and stand outside while others get the first dibs on the old and new books, DVDs, CDs, paperbacks, dictionaries, puzzles, rare editions and so much more.  The hardc0re folks camp out all night in sleeping bags and blankets to get closest to the door and get to be the first to dive into their treasured areas, whether the rare books, the World War II collection or whole sets.

Having been in the Army, I have never enjoyed standing in lines, but it seems bearable with the proposition of getting to lay hands on things not be found anywhere else.    I wore my longjohns, two pairs of socks, three shirts, a stocking cap covered by a ballcap and wrapped my cloth bags over my legs.  I took a plastic milk crate to sit on during the long wait and to use to carry the books I would buy, but once inside the hall, I abandoned the black milk crate because it was more unwieldy to manage, compared to the cloth bags.

It is always fascinating to sit in line and listen to the bibiophiles around me talk about the addiction to purchase more books than then can accommodate in their homes and dens and more books than they can ever read.  They talk at length about what they already have, what their especially relish and what they will be searching for.   Their conversations reflect them — some very academic, some just wanting a new fat supply of romance novels and mysteries.   Folks show up with all sorts of containers to hold their books: suitcases on wheels, milk crates strapped to two-wheel carts, sturdy cardboard boxes, large cloth bags, coaster wagons and other conveyor.

The gonzo buyers are the professional buyers who fill grocery carts with books after they’ve put their hand-held scanner to the zebra codes and get immediate information on their value visavis the price charged by VNSA.  These folks typically intend to put them on eBay or Amazon and resell them for more.  These buyers snap up book by the armload.  They must certainly be a major force in the volume of books going on the door.