Campus Spotlight, Student Life

McGill’s Book Fair makes its long-awaited return to Redpath Hall

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, McGill’s beloved Book Fair returned to campus. Tens of thousands of books—divided into 37 categories––were crammed into every corner of Redpath Hall. Between Oct. 18 and 20, students, booksellers, and the general public enjoyed the Fair’s 50th edition. 

The Book Fair is organized by the McGill Alumni Association and has been part of the McGill community since 1971. The organization collects donations and sells them to raise money for McGill scholarships and bursaries, including the Book Fair Bursary in Music and the Jane B. Hood Bursary in English Literature, in addition to the McGill Book Fair for all undergraduate students.

The Book Fair has overcome many hurdles, the latest being the COVID-19 pandemic. Anne Williams, co-coordinator of the Book Fair, reflected upon how the organizers had to adjust to this setback in an interview with The McGill Tribune

“We had to remember [the process of preparing the Book Fair], you know, and reinvent everything,” Williams said. “So, there were a few problems along the way, but it’s working out.” 

Despite hardships over the last two years, the Book Fair has landed back on its feet. In only three short days, the organization raised approximately $50,000 for their bursaries and scholarships. Williams and her fellow co-coordinator, Susan Woodruff, credit this success to the sheer volume of books and high-quality pieces from donors that are often worth hundreds of dollars. 

The Fair sells everything from novels, vinyls, CDs, and DVDs, to sheet music—in both English and French. Books at the Fair are incredibly affordable, rarely stretching over five dollars even for mint-condition pieces—with the exception of rare and collectible books. 

“I don’t see why I would buy a new book for 30 dollars when I can get the same one for like two dollars,” Sophie Brunelle-Newman, U4 Arts, told the Tribune.

On top of their affordability, most books are in pristine condition. The book’s high quality is due to the Book Fair’s months-long effort of collecting donations, sorting, curating, and pricing books in preparation for the October sale.

Many library frequenters may be familiar with the notorious free book piles left outside Redpath Hall throughout the year. Woodruff explains how only the best among these make it to the shelves of the Book Fair, while less immaculate books are given out in free boxes to the students of McGill, or sent off to Renaissance, the Book Fair’s not-for-profit partner. 

Much like the enormous traffic on the fair’s opening day, McGill students’ enthusiasm toward these free piles was a source of astonishment and encouragement for Williams.

 “They always amaze us how the boxes go out and [students] are like vultures on the terrace; all of a sudden [the books] are gone,” Williams said.

Brunelle-Newman agreed that the Book Fair brings something unique to the McGill campus.

“I imagine that a lot of people from the McGill community bring books that they’ve read, and then other people from the McGill community come, and then it’s like a book exchange, like a knowledge exchange,” Brunelle-Newman said. 

The Book Fair is clearly about much more than just selling books; as Brunelle-Newman points out, it is about growing McGill’s public literary culture and increasing accessibility to literature. The average student is unlikely to splurge on a new book, but when they cost three dollars each, students can enjoy books that they may not have otherwise sought out. 

Above all, Woodruff is grateful for the Book Fair’s return following the COVID-19 lockdowns and the positive reception that the fair received. 

“We have quite a big fan base,” Woodruff said. “Everybody at McGill was so excited to find us back.”

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