Image description: A hand reaches out for a book on sale. End ID.
Image description: A hand reaches out for a book on sale. End ID.

Illustration by Dulce Pop-Bonini

Pennies to Pages: The Priceless Joy of Book Sales

From chasing titles at Buhaira Corniche's book sale as a 10-year-old with empty pockets to walking out of NYU Abu Dhabi’s bookstore with full arms, my literary passion has followed me through the years.

Oct 8, 2023

I could have been no older than 10 when my school took a day trip to my own neighborhood in Buhaira Corniche, where I had been pointedly tossing expectant glances at the expansive book sale. I spent that day with my friends, largely flitting between stands and forgetting to stay within eyesight of our chaperone, when I came across two well-worn collections of Jeffrey Archer’s stories. I hoped to be able to buy them that very instant, knowing this author to be my father’s favorite, but — keenly aware of the emptiness in my pocket — plotted to return that very evening, recruiting my mother to the cause.
During my childhood, I had consistently staved off my ravenous desire for books through the liberal use of my library cards and the box sets I received as gifts. This kept my literary appetite fed and enriched with the variety of genres and authors I was exposed to, either at the recommendation of my parents, friends, and family or my peers. Having to wait at the end of a queue of reservations was no strange feat to me, and only really became a problem when my propensity for borrowing and lending amongst my friends dwindled significantly.
Book sales have been an intermittent salvation, and the perfect place for me to collect where I otherwise would hope for a windfall of literature. However, even then, my capacity was limited by the funds in my purse, directed by the grace of my parents and their judgment regarding the pile of biographies that haunted my bookshelf, spines as pristine as the day I unwrapped them from their gilded trappings. More often than not, I accompanied my friends to book sales with little intent to buy from their wares, instead bearing a little notepad and pen in hand to jot down the titles on eye-catching covers, or authors whose names I only vaguely recognized.
Finding new things to read is one of the many benefits I’d found from book sales. In addition to the company and potential to snag a few titles for myself, it meant that I could organically parse through the roughly sorted tables and occasionally bump into a fellow bibliophile who enthusiastically led me over to their favorites.
I would love to claim that these book sales were where I found my people or arrived at some equally profound revelation, but the truth is, I was in no way starved for book-loving friends and family.
It did not make it less enchanting to run into someone, a complete stranger, who was entranced by the same esoteric fiction as me, or to reach over simultaneously to the same stack and laugh over our similar tastes. Even when I did not make it all the way to the register at the end of the hall, and instead set down the finely illustrated cover with a little pang of disappointment at returning home empty-handed, I treasured the way book sales made me feel at home.
As the years passed, however, I occasionally gathered enough coin to spare for a handful of books — no more than two or three, but it only ever reinforced the pricelessness of the purchases I intended to make. I could not buy the frivolous, passingly interesting novels that I could just as easily find multiple copies of in my local library; my choices had to be worth the dip into the 50 AED burning a hole in my pocket. More often than not, I chose to err on the side of caution, opting not to buy what I most certainly could borrow, but the urge to relent did rear its head strongly enough for me to keep to.
One of those instances I yielded to that desire was at this book sale in Buhaira Corniche, staring just over the top of the table where I tracked down those ratty copies of Jeffrey Archer. My purse was not stocked with money then — admittedly, for good reason — but I did drag my mother back to the table that evening, determined to give my father this gift. The smugness I felt as some 15 AED exchanged hands has since been lost to the recesses of my memory, and I wondered how it would compare to the way I sated my age-old hunger by venturing into NYU Abu Dhabi’s resident bookstore this past week and walking out with far more books than I intended to buy.
A wound I did not know I had healed itself that Monday to the tune of thorough unconcern for the state of my wallet and the weight of all the books I unhesitatingly piled into my arms — an image that had often graced my dreams, as fantastical and far-reaching as owning a manor with stables full of finely groomed palominos and a sprawling library to match. The satisfaction I felt walking out with a heavy Magrudy’s bag — my purse not much lighter than when I’d walked inside — only barely surpassed the glee I felt from mass-ordering translations of classical Greek literature just a few months ago.
Amrita Anand is Editor-in-Chief. Email them at
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