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Buying Things That Don’t Exist

Greg Gibson, back from the 47th California International Antiquarian Book Fair: "I buy things that don't exist to sell to people who don't know they want them. The doors open and in they come – book junkies, bargain hunters, time wasters, braggarts, old friends, and my lovely librarians and collectors and colleagues, in search of things they don't know they want. Material that, until the moment of its discovery, did not exist. That's what I'm here to do. This is my place in the scheme of things."
Published on 11 Feb. 2014
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By Greg Gibson


So much for San Francisco. Long easy drive down the 101 to Pismo Beach. The vast Pacific and its eternal song.

Monarch butterflies gathering in eucalyptus trees by the hundreds of thousands, as they’ve been doing for eons. The male will fly with his chosen one to the treetops, spend six hours of insect ecstasy, and die. The female will fly away, find a milkweed plant, lay her eggs, and die. Some of these creatures have flown halfway across America, utilizing “stored fat.” Where does a butterfly store enough fat to get it as high as 10,000 feet, 100 miles a day? In the face of the magnificence of nature what are we but grains of sand on an endless beach? What is the place of the buying and selling of books in the grand scheme of things? The nervous grind of setup, the stomach churning, smiling competition, the tedious bragging about what we bought, what we sold. The claustrophobic world of the peacock show. What is the place of vanity?

On the way to LA giant billboards puff cartoon movies about chipmunks and dogs. Explosions and cars. The rampant infantilization of America. Books are just too hard. Long, solitary walks no one seems to want to take anymore. Long, solitary walks up to the ridge above Temescal Canyon and along that curvy spine, the urb down there beyond the hills in the roiling mist and smog, blocky and gray like robot Sodom, city of the damned. East on the 10 to the 110 to Pasadena. The man gets off his horse, looks around, lights his cheroot. “It’s a good day to die.”

Our Sheraton is a semi-dump. Bubblegum cologne in the ventilation system masks the sweaty reek of existential angst. Travelers going nowhere on the Internet for $9.95 a day. Paper cups instead of glass. Five hundred channels on the midget flatscreen. “Actually, I heard the Leggos movie is pretty good.” It’s raining, to the delight of the locals. But there’s a leak in the roof of the Convention Center. Whoever thought it would rain? Blue uniforms position cardboard wastebaskets with plastic bag liners. It’s got to be eighty feet to that ceiling, silver drips screaming into the bags below. Nervous dealer smiles. We’re living the dream, baby!

On the other hand (when there ceases to be another hand the game is up) … it is a comfort to swim once again in that sea of familiar faces and voices. The co-workers who became colleagues and now are my world, my identity, my friends.

The aisles begin to reveal things. A logbook for HMS Victory.

Notes from a training ship for New York’s juvenile delinquents, circa 1870 (whatever happened to that idea?), a photographic tour of Iceland, ancient letters from faraway places, lesser known voyages to obscure destinations. Adrenals thrumming with the compulsive risk-taker’s jittery insect ecstasy. The addict’s yen for material that, until the moment of its discovery, did not exist. Better sell something pretty soon, though. This stuff? To whom?

I buy things that don’t exist to sell to people who don’t know they want them.

The doors open and in they come – book junkies, bargain hunters, time wasters, braggarts, old friends, and my lovely librarians and collectors and colleagues, in search of things they don’t know they want. Material that, until the moment of its discovery, did not exist. That’s what I’m here to do. This is my place in the scheme of things.

“After you find out you’re just a grain of sand, things get a lot easier.”

(Posted on Bookman’s Log, presented here by permission of the author.)

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