Elting Memorial Library book fair draws crowds of eager readers

lauren thomas Freya Wouters and Sophia Schelino dance at the Elting Library Fair. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Freya Wouters and Sophia Schelino dance at the Elting Library Fair. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

As the first half of the Elting Memorial Library’s annual book fair wound down last Saturday, the crowd of browsers toured the aisles looking for one last special find before heading for the checkout lines. People of all ages, hailing from near and far, clutched their treasures to their chests in stacks or carried them in bulging totebags. Valerie Smith of Modena, who admitted to being “just totally addicted to books,” was lugging a whole cardboard carton-full.

“I love cookbooks. It’s the best fiction reading there is,” she joked, showing the newest additions to her collection, along with some gardening books. A member of the board of the Plattekill Library, Smith makes it to New Paltz every year for the Elting Library blowout. “I couldn’t possibly miss it,” she said.


Dave Lowe, who had come from New York City to visit New Paltz friends for the weekend, seemed impressed with the selection. “I found a lot of dirt-cheap Roman and Greek literature, which you can’t find in New York,” he said. “Lucretius, Horace, Faulkner – classics. This is the best place to get things like that.” He showed his companions a volume that he’d found of the complete poems of Robert Burns. “For Burns Night.” He explained. “We have it every year, at home. We make a vegetarian haggis. We all wear kilts and drink a lot of Scotch.”

With secondhand books going for prices of 50 cents to $2 each, CDs for $1, DVDs for $2 and audiobooks for $3, and literally thousands of titles to choose from, the display was enticing indeed, no matter what one’s tastes in literature. And the budget-minded buyers who thronged the tables behind the library all day seemed to have barely made a dent in the offerings by the time 4 p.m. – closing time – rolled around. Luckily, the book fair had one more day before the unsold volumes would be boxed up and put on pallets to await the truck that would take them away on Monday.

Not to worry. The unwanted books don’t get pulped. For the past year or two, the library has contracted with a company called Better World Books, which redistributes unsold and remaindered books to “literacy programs in other countries,” according to Elting Library board member Bob Miller. About 60 to 70 percent of the books on display at the fair – mostly donations, as well as books taken out of circulation because they’re no longer being read – would get sold, Miller anticipated: “We got a really good turnout today.”

“We couldn’t ask for a better day,” agreed library director John Giralico. “It’s a great chance to see people in the community you don’t often see at the library.” And since the book fair was moved from the traditional July to September, when school is back in session, a lot of those new faces were college students who come to volunteer at the event. “They do all this stuff – they are wonderful! We got a big group of them, so it goes quickly,” Giralico said.

Only the book-sale portion of the annual event goes on for two days. Saturday also includes a plant sale, toy and jewelry booths, a flea market, food and drink concessions, community organization tables, a huge raffle and a whole lot of things for kids to do. At 15 minutes before closing time, the volunteers working the flea market and toy tables announced that everything left unsold could be taken home for free, rather than packed up and stored for next year.

Stuffed animals were popular items. “I got a lobster and a parrot and two chapter books,” reported Ruth Kurland, 8, while her 5-year-old brother Zev carried a stuffed bunny. “We come to this book fair every year,” said their mother, Rachel Markowitz.

Three-year-old Kestrel, son of Kristin Trenary, grabbed a package of flash cards. “We got all kids’ books, six of them,” said Kristin. “I think I’m going to come back tomorrow by myself and look for grownup books, because that’s boring for him.” While their parents shopped, children slightly older than Kestrel were entertained for hours by painting pumpkins, making bookmarks, getting their faces painted or running through the mobile funhouse equipped with two giant slides, called Kids on the Go.

An eighth-grader named Fiona Bevan had volunteered to work with young patrons of the funhouse all day to help fulfill her community service requirement at New Paltz Middle School. Afterwards she joined friends at the photo booth, where “kids were dressing up in costumes and having their pictures taken,” she explained. A tempting array of cloaks and gowns, wizard hats, tiaras and stick-on mustaches could be combined for a Polaroid or digital photo with the child’s face peeking through a mock-up of the cover of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Photo purchasers each got a ticket redeemable for one children’s book. “It’s not just a big fun time, but focuses on the library’s mission: promoting literacy, getting kids to read,” explained Miller.

Once hooked on books, those kids are bound to keep coming back to the library, until they’re big enough to carry away a whole boxful of additions to the reading pile – like Valerie Smith did. “I’m going home to put my feet up on the porch and read!” she said with a wave goodbye and an anticipatory grin.