July 14, 2012: Westport Friends Annual Used Book Fair
Westport Friends Meeting, 938 Main Road , Westport, MA 02790
At 10:45 AM on July 14, there are a few handfuls of people milling around the two yellow and white striped tents recently erected in front of the Westport Friends Meeting House. Ten minutes later, the two tents housing 20,000 books of fiction and non-fiction are surrounded by an elbow-to-elbow line of customers waiting to wade inside. Only a long band of yellow tape and red white and blue pennants lies between them and the objects of their desire.
The antsy customers lean over as far as they can to catch a glimpse of the titles of books stacked neatly on the wooden tables a few tantalizing feet away.
With the same inner certainty the swallows time their return, these shoppers know that at exactly 11 AM, a whistle will pierce the air, the tape will be dropped, and the wild rumpus will begin.
By noon, thousands of these hard cover and softcover books that have been donated to the Westport Friends Meeting will have been carted away in shopping bags, cartons, and the occasional suitcase. The books will remain under the tents for about ten days. After Sunday,the honor system prevails. A coffee can set on the tables is emptied at the end of the day by someone from the parsonage access the street.
How fitting. “The parsonage had a leaky roof and our first used book fair was to make enough money to pay for a new roof, “ Dr. Stuart Kirkady says. Now retired, Dr. Kirkady ran his highly regarded family medicine practice in Westport and was a mainstay of the Friends Meeting. He’s been a fixture at just about every one of the previous 50 Book Fairs.
Although proprietary about their collecting, book seekers often break their silent scanning when the mood strikes them.
“I don’t know whether this should be labeled fiction or non-fiction,” a woman laughs, holding up a copy of Maureen Dowd’s “Are Men Necessary?” Several women get a charge out of that then keep raking through books.
Despite the upsurge in all ages of readers toting Kindles, there’s still a huge market for books in paper.
“I’ve been reading since I was four years old,” Twenty-something Katie says, balancing a big brown carton under her arm. “I live up in Berkley and work in a library in Middleboro. I’ll read some of these books and give others away to my reading friends,” she says as she lugs a carton around the fiction table. “I’ll sort through the carton when it’s full then come back for more!”
“No, I don’t read much on tablets, I really have to have paper in my hand. I also write for National Novel Writing Month and have submitted five stories so far!”
I’ll have to check in with her next year. Someday Katie’s name might be on one of these books on the table.
Ten-year-old Larissa from Westport is beaming. “This is the real one,” she says proudly, grasping a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 'Little Princess.' "The first one I read was a kid’s version. I listened to 'The Secret Garden' on tape but prefer reading real books.”
Larissa will enter Westport Middle School this fall. “My favorites are books about life and manners and growing up, I can spend all day in my room reading. I have one or two friends who talk abut books with me a lot.”
Larissa’s mom Lisa is fine with this. “The prices are crazy, “ she says. Their pile of books they have in their arms is a fraction of the cost of new titles.
And there’s Hannah from Warren, RI for her third year in row. She has a bigger budget from when I talked with her last year, $100 smackers. She had the foresight to bring a posse of helpers and a steamer sized suitcase to take home her loot and pray her mom will let her in the door. “This day is better than Christmas for me!” Hannah exults.
The huge wave of sales has abated around 12:30 and Book Fair Steering Committee Clerk Greg Marcello has a chance to sit down for a bite to eat.
“One development this year is we’re getting more donations of DVDs. Three years ago we had hardly and now have way more along with VHS and CDs. Lots of book dealers come here. We don’t allow them to preview anything but they’re patient, know what they’re looking for and find enough good deals to make it worth while for them."
"We don’t have the capacity to sort with that level of inspection with tens of thousands of books and we don’t know much about older titles,” Greg Marcello’s son Brendan says.
It consumes tons of hours to sort, categorize, label, box, and then organize the books for this annual sale. “Of our core membership of about 50, we have about 25 volunteers and 6 teenagers who’ve helped toting cartons from the shed to the tents and to the Macomber Meeting Hall (Better Books, digital and video) and the Meeting House (Children’s Books and 6 for $1 books),” Greg Marcello says. “It seems that church attendance across faiths has seen its numbers dwindle,” he says wistfully.
The bright light of the year was the emergence of volunteer Tristan Peirce. When Greg Marcello’s school administrator wife Melinda realized he needed a reliable and focused volunteer to head up the sorting process, she thought of student Tristan Peirce.
Although Tristan is not a Westport Meeting member, he emerged as the pivotal figure in this year’s organization, collection and sorting process “He sorted, priced, organized – did whatever was needed,” Book Fair Steering Committee Clerk Greg Marcello said.
“He was very shy. He’s become more comfortable talking with people, more engaging, was really good at organizing. Now he knows as much as I do about sorting, has learned more social skills, and is a smart down to earth, hard working kid.”
There are hundreds of used book fairs in New England every year. The Westport Friends Meeting organizes the great grandmother of them all.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.