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Chancellor’s Committee Book Fest

Anna Grummitt indulged her inner bookworm among the stacks of classics

Somewhere in the corner of my room, in a crumbling Reflex-box, is a 90s posterbook entitled Most Wanted Holiday Hunks, with a glossy A4 picture of a 23-year-old Leonardo Di Caprio inside.

This book is understandably one of my treasured possessions, purchased at last year’s Sydney University Chancellor’s Committee Book Fest. So naturally, last Wednesday September 12, I rushed to the Great Hall for the final day of this year’s event, hoping Round Two would unveil similarly priceless items.

Founded in 1986 by Lady Black, wife of then Chancellor Sir Hermann Black, the annual Book Fest is an opportunity for anyone to buy an enormous range of second hand books from nearly every genre. Each year, on the final day, the Fest offers a deal that seems too good to be true: a Reflex-box filled with as many books as will fit, for just five dollars.

I was filled with excitement as I power-walked from Redfern to the Great Hall, despite the fact that all ten books I purchased last year are still sitting, untouched, in their original box (confession: this includes the Leo posterbook. But I frequently think of it fondly, ok?).

However, I emerged an hour after arriving, armed with 17 books purchased at 29.4 cents each, and feeling that the Book Fest had, once again, been an amazing experience.

The sight upon first entering was overwhelming; long tables completely covered in books stretched the length of the Hall. For five minutes I stood, in shock, racking my brain for titles I wanted, but soon realised this was a pointless exercise. Books were sorted into rough sections based on genre, and occasionally it seemed that someone had made a half-hearted attempt at alphabetical organisation. But the fact remained: this was not a place to find what you were looking for. The best strategy was to browse and hope to find a gem.

But gems were few and far between. The fiction section was mostly filled with obscure crime and fantasy novels. Most non-fiction books that looked promising were comically outdated, as I discovered when I grabbed “Europe on $50 a day” with glee, only to place it back immediately upon noticing the year 1995 splayed across the cover.

Of the books I did buy, I didn’t actually want them. Most did seem fairly interesting, but I knew that in all likelihood many would never be touched again, and that this latest box would soon become part of the furniture in my room.

But despite all this, the Book Fest produced in me a joy that lasted all day, and left me beaming at strangers who stopped to stare at the heavy box I was trying, with much difficulty, to carry. It’s hard to leave an event with 17 items for five dollars (price not including the inevitable chiropractic costs of lugging the box across campus) and not feel a sense of accomplishment.

And although I didn’t find another Most Wanted Holiday Hunks, I did find a yet-unbought textbook for a subject (albeit several editions old, but I’m sure nothing’s really changed since 2000.) And hey, I even got a free bookmark.