Paperback pilgrimage: Friends Book Fair packs them in

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By Paul Tamburello

The opening moments under the tents in the annual Friends Used Book Fair feel like a combination of religious observance and tag sale. The pilgrims drawn to this event revere books and have acquisitive tendencies.

Like pilgrims of yore, they want to return to their homes with relics, in this case pulpy ones, to enrich their lives. They may even proselytize, encouraging friends to establish faith with their favorite authors when they arrive back home. As with pilgrims the world over, they bond quickly with others on the same quest. Even in the first hour, when seekers are especially focused on finding prized books amongst the tables lined with row upon row of paperback titles, you might hear, “That’s one of my favorite books,” uttered quietly by a shopper who sees a seeker pluck a title from a tightly packed row.

After initial whoops of excitement when the opening whistle pierces the air, the areas under the yellow and white striped tents have the aura of an outdoor chapel, hushed voices, the sound of feet shuffling over the gravel underfoot, and the soft plunking sound as shoppers drop a paperback into a sack or carton.

The area is wall-to-wall people. Moving along the narrow rows between tables is not accomplished by volition but by flowing with the languid current of engrossed shoppers. This is not the place for claustrophobics. This is one place where little kids never have to be told twice to stay right next to mommy or daddy, After thirty seconds, they realize that with one lackadaisical moment they’d lose contact with the parental unit.

On this hot, humid, July morning, the atmosphere under the tents feels like a greenhouse. Scents of sunscreen, shampoo, and perspiration hang like musk in the breeze-less shade of the tents and blend incongruously with the smell of paperback books having been packed and stored for months, now liberated chock a block on the tables.

If you were to bottle the competing aromas, I’ll bet that anyone who’s previously attended one of these book fairs could identify it in a heartbeat as “Eau de Book Fair.”

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