Robrt Pela: A Journey Through A Love Of Books

By Robrt Pela
February 14, 2014

The Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Book Sale is this weekend in Phoenix. One volunteer that helped make it possible is commentator Robrt Pela.


I have this thing for books. Old books, especially. Growing up, they were like windows into a world I had missed out on by being born too late. As a kid, I favored '40s humorists like Emily Kimbrough and populist fiction of the 1950s. As a teenager, I read a lot of travel books by Ernie Pyle and collected turn-of-the-century sex manuals with titles like Marriage Without Fear.

The best place to find old books has always been VNSA’s annual book sale, now in its 58th year. Those letters used to stand for Visiting Nurses Service Auxiliary but now stand for Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association. The sale has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, and now thousands of people come from around the world to buy up boxes of books.

I grew, too, and eventually became one of those people who got in line before the sun came up on the first day of the sale. One year, after sleeping in our car, my husband and I were the first two people through the door. There was only one thing left to do after that, become a VNSA member.

VNSA members are the people who spend the whole year sorting the hundreds of thousands of books that make up the sale, and for the past week and a half, we have been spending our days and nights at the Memorial Coliseum Exhibit Hall, setting up for the sale.

At our annual salad luncheon on Wednesday, I cornered VNSA president Teri Harnisch and asked her why we do this book thing.

"I think we all have our different inspirations, we’re united by loving books, being passionate about the community, being the kind of people that like to make our charitable contributions through hard work, being present in the moment…I think that is why we’re here," said Harnisch.

We work out of a secretly-located warehouse in midtown Phoenix, where we move books from one place to another, organizing, pricing, and re-boxing them. The first thing I noticed is that I do not love books so much anymore. Those windows to another world of my childhood have turned into boxes of really heavy stuff that make my arms ache and my back sore.

Even getting to shop before the sale, which VNSA members do, is not as exciting as I thought it might be. Now, when I’m browsing the on the Wednesday before we open, I am thinking not, "Wow, I’m really first in line," but rather, '"Hmm, if I buy this groovy old marriage manual, it won’t be here for that guy who stood in line for hours, or slept in his car, hoping to be the first book lover through the door."
   
The VNSA book sale is Feb. 15 and 16 at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum Exhibit Hall.