Shopping for books in Perth, a delight

Today’s Be My Guest is the lovely Karyn from A Penguin a Week, sharing her love for a good book sale. Her wonderful post and pics made me feel warm and toasty reading over it…the fab Perth setting made such a wonderful change from the grey old Melbourne backdrop my pieces normally have. Thanks so much Karyn for letting us know what’s going on over in WA…

This weekend, two of the best things about Perth in winter coincided. On days of the most pleasant winter weather, in which the sky was the most brilliant blue, and the temperature stayed in the low 20s, the charity Save the Children held its giant secondhand book sale in the Undercroft of Winthrop Hall, at the University of Western Australia. It’s a picturesque setting, with its location beside the Swan River and its beautiful old limestone buildings, extensive lawns and groves of trees.

The opening evening is so popular that you have to arrive early and queue to get in; by the time the doors opened, the queue snaked around the building, and was about 250 metres long, revealing an eclectic mix of booklovers: older couples, young students, businessmen and families.

Once a certain number have passed through the door, new people can only enter as others leave, and so the wait can be frustratingly long.  But I cannot think of a more pleasant place to be forced to queue in.

The book sale runs for six days, from 5pm on the Friday afternoon, until 4pm the following Wednesday, and they have many thousands of books for sale, with the stock regularly replenished: as books are sold, new boxes appear and the tables are re-filled. It means there is no best time to go, and repeat visits are essential.

The excitement comes from not knowing what you will find, but knowing whatever it is, it will be a bargain. My search is for old Penguins to complete my collection, and they were priced between $2 and $3 per copy, prices I rarely find anywhere else these days. But they also had beautiful hardback art books for less than $10, and old and collectible hardback books for around the same price. And they have tables devoted to many other categories: children’s titles, foreign language, religion, cookery, travel, crime, Australiana, textbooks and many more, as well as vinyl records, CDs, maps, and sheet music. On Tuesday remaining books are sold at half-price, and on Wednesday you can fill a box for $15.

I was there when the doors opened on Friday afternoon, and again when they opened Saturday morning. And this year I was very lucky: I found 69 numbered pre-1970s Penguins to add to the collection, and 19 other early Penguins from ancillary series like the Classics and Pelicans. And for my young daughter, who has also caught the collecting bug, 12 Enid Blyton titles and a few early Puffins.

I was particularly excited to find 3 new Michael Innes’ titles, including his first mystery novel Death at the President’s Lodging, which I have heard is one of his best. It was a review of this book by Jane at the blog Fleur Fisher in her world which first enticed me to read Michael Innes, and he has gone on to be one of my favourite authors. I have been searching for a copy ever since. I plan to start reading it tonight.

It’s not unusual these days to see reports of the demise of the book, the suggestion that it is a redundant technology, soon to be replaced by the enthusiastic embrace of digital downloads and e-books. And though I can see the practicality of e-book readers, I think these grim predictions ignore the emotional attachment people feel for physical books. The enjoyment of a book can be multifaceted, not just related to the reading, but also to the searching, finding, collecting, owning and displaying. The Guardian flickr group devoted to bookshelves shows how much people love their books, and the crowds at the book sale this weekend only confirmed it.


Karyn keenly collects numbered Penguin paperbacks from before 1970. I am smitten by her bookshelf (you can see it here) and her blog, A Penguin a Week which shares her journey as she reads her way through her collection. A fascinating concept, and wonderfully constructed set of reviews. Thanks so much Karyn for documenting your love of Penguin paperbacks, it’s one I share.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. FleurFisher
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 22:28:09

    What a wonderful post. Here in rural England I can only dream of such sales, and wonder about the practicalities of carrying home so many books.


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