Graham Stobbe and his daughter Sage queued up at midnight to be second in a line of hundreds who poured into the Times Colonist Book Sale Saturday morning.
The fundraising sale continues Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., when crowds are traditionally smaller but the book selection remains huge.
“We slept a little, hung out a little, met some people, had a Tim Hortons run at 6 a.m.,” said Stobbe. “Before COVID we lined up every year so the experience, it’s nostalgic.” In 2019 the pair were first in line.
The book sale, in its 25th year, funds literacy programs in Vancouver Island schools. The pre-opening line was so long Saturday morning it snaked around the Victoria Curling Club venue; Times Colonist publisher Dave Obee said organizers decided at 8:25 a.m. it was prudent to open early. “I think it’s the first time we’ve opened early; I’ve never seen a lineup that long before,” said Obee. People lined up since the early hours of the morning “were desperate to get in here and start buying books and we had volunteers ready to go so we thought ‘let’s go.’ ”
There was one snag. Where were the Stobbes? They were not in their second-place chairs.
It turns out they dashed across the road to Crystal Pool where the washrooms opened at 8:30 a.m. In the interest of bibliophile compassion and fairness, organizers waited and by 8:40 a.m., with the Stobbes having returned, the doors opened.
Stobbe read to both his daughters from a young age, teaching them of far away places — real and fantastical. “It’s a great way to visit different worlds and learn about different perspectives.” As a corrections officer he sees the effect of low literacy rates on people.
Today, he has no worries that his daughters will have their faces stuck in mobile phones as opposed to books. Sage, 17, is an avid reader. The sale, she said, “is the best opportunity to get books cheap.” She found a very old The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.
Mathew McLash’s family also shares a love of reading and his parents, wife and 11-year-old twins make the book sale a family event every year. Each year once they secure their spots in line and set up their lawn chairs, they find new ways to make the passage of time memorable.
McLash said he loves “nerding out” on books having found several titles on behavioural economics, “a passion of mine.” Meanwhile, his parents, wife and children were off in their areas of interest: “It’s divide and conquer,” he said. “It’s a family event for us, we line up with our kids and my parents every year — it’s coffee, breakfast and books, it’s just great.”
Adding to the experience are the volunteers, asking to help with all manner of things: “Oh my God it’s amazing, as soon as we walked downstairs it was ‘do you need boxes, do you need a garbage can for the coffee cup, do you need help finding anything,’ it’s just phenomenal.”
Obee said after 25 years the charity event, run by volunteers, has become a well-oiled machine. There’s a core of 100 volunteers working each day with more coming and going.
In the Canadiana section, Jean Bisson was collecting the oldest and best preserved Farley Mowat books he could find. He can’t get enough of his favourite author. Mowat, who sold more than 17 million books, found fame in his stories about Canada’s north such as Never Cry Wolf. “I started collecting them about 10 years ago and now I’m addicted to it,” said Bisson, who arrived in line at 6 a.m. His wife is not as fond of his collection, “she thinks I’m nuts.”
Birinder Singh, of Massy Books in Vancouver, lined up at 3 a.m. and was at the sale to buy books to re-sell. “It’s my first year coming here but I’m going to be coming here every year; I’m finding a lot of good stuff and the prices are phenomenal.”
At the checkout, cashier Heather Drover said she began volunteering at the sale in 2011, after her husband died. She volunteers for the full week ahead of the sale. Awaiting knee surgery, she took a desk job this year and, instead, her daughter is sorting.
“It’s wonderful to be here,” said Drover, adding “and I get to meet nice young fellows.” She couldn’t get her fellow cashier to blush, but he did laugh.
The book sale hours Saturday were extended to 7 p.m. to accommodate demand.
“This is an absolute first,” said Obee. “We’ve never before been open until 7 p.m.”
Even at the end of the sale on Sunday evening, in every section there are good books left unsold so “even at the tenth hour of the sale you’ll still find excellent stuff. I’ve never seen the quality as high in terms of the titles and in terms of the condition of the books.”
• The sale continues Sunday at the Victoria Curling Club, 1952 Quadra St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The books cost $3 for hardcovers and $2 for softcovers and children’s books. Payment is by cash, debit, MasterCard, Visa or American Express. Lineups are typically much shorter on the Sunday but the selection of books remains vast.
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