Wednesday 9 March 2016

Fair price for a favourite

This weekend I went to a book fair. It's the first one I've ever been to and as I walked down the hill to the hall where it was being held I found myself wondering what to expect: I was pretty certain it wouldn't involve bookish fairground rides (wouldn't that be fun?), but perhaps there might be a little book bunting?

More seriously, I wondered if I'd be able to even afford to buy anything at the Tunbridge Wells Book Fair. The 50p admission charge was nothing to worry about, but was this entry fee a subtle way of ensuring only the most dedicated of book collectors turned up to the event? I had no idea. Then a friend got in touch to say they'd visited earlier in the day and seen a copy of one of my favourite books, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and my doubts no longer mattered. At the very least I had to pop in and look at this book for myself.

Paying my 50p and walking into the small church hall, the book fair opened out in a series of stands reminiscent of a craft fair (but without the bunting). The books were mostly secondhand and hardback, obviously of higher value than you'd find in a standard secondhand bookshop, but at first glance nothing looked prohibitively expensive. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Each stall was arranged according to the tastes of its proprietor, meaning the ones dedicated to cricket or Kent history kept my attention for significantly less time than those hosting classics or children's fiction, but all had something to catch the eye. From decorated spines and covers to interesting artwork within the pages, and one whole bookcase dedicated to the Folio Society, this room certainly proved hardbacks can be more than boring dark covers.

Having my mission to find the promised Burnett, I found myself scouring the children's shelves particularly carefully, alighting on many gems and reminiscing on favourite classics from my childhood while also convincing myself I must have arrived too late in the day. My visit was in the last half hour of the fair, so surely the book would already have been snapped up?

Finally, at the penultimate stand and just above head height, a dust jacket caught my eye. I lifted out the book and opened it at one of the many drawings illustrating this wonderful story. Mary Lennox looked out and I desperately wanted the book. In fact I was so taken with it I barely noticed the bookseller when he passed a friendly comment, which is particularly out of character for me.

Having been a thorough browser as I'd made my way around the room I'd noted many of the books I was interested in were priced between £3-£6, and so I told myself if the book was £5 or less I'd buy it. Otherwise I'd put it down and be on my way – as you all know, I buy a lot of books so I couldn't justify any higher expense for a story I already own, even if it was a particularly beautiful version.

I opened the cover, searched for the pencilled in price, my heart sank: £8.50. The book went back on the shelf, I wished it a happy life and hung my head as I prepared to move on.

At this point, the friendly bookseller reappeared and asked if I'd not wanted the book. Not wanting to admit to my limited funds I made an excuse about wanting to finish browsing and confessed my one purchase rule. Unphased, the bookseller suggested doing a deal. My eyes must have lit up, my surprised smile was certainly hard to conceal, and he suggested a price of £6. Still over budget, my heart said yes before my head had the chance to overrule.

At this point, many of you are probably yelling at the screen that I should've at least suggested £5 for it. The thing is, I was so clueless I hadn't realised negotiating on price was an option and – as anyone who knows me will be able to testify – I am the world's worst haggler. I was therefore absolutely over the moon to have purchased this book for a whole £2.50 less than its advertised price.

As my blog bio says, I love any bookshop where sales are made face-to-face, and while this wasn't a bookshop in the strictest of senses, the opportunity to explore so many different collections is not to be missed. Throw in the friendly welcome, good conversation, joy of a discount, and cake (all fairs have good refreshments) and bold book lovers can't really go wrong.

Tunbridge Wells Book Fair
King Charles Hall, Warwick Place, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 5TA

* For the very fussy among you, the fair was apparently organised by Goudhurst Bookshop (still on my must-visit list) and promoted by my local, which strike me as good endorsements for a book event.


  1. I find it really hard to haggle over the price of books - seems disrespectful to the book somehow! I've even been known to turn down discount when offered (OK it was in a charity shop of a charity I'm very supportive of and it was 2 for one on books that were only £1 - but it felt wrong to get a book so cheap!)

    1. Me too! Well, I find it really hard to haggle over anything, but it particularly didn't occur to me to ask for a discount on books. The value books bring to our lives means they're all worth so much more than we could ever afford to pay for them.


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