My Last Book Fair
By Tom Congalton
I’m at a loss for words. This, you might perceive, is not something that happens particularly often if my colleagues are to be believed. I have read the brilliant blogs detailing the events at the Baltimore Antique and Book Fair that have already been “published” by Jonathan Kearns of Bibliodeviancy, Greg Gibson of Bookman’s Log, and, not least of all, our own “enfant terrible” Ashley Wildes of BTC. It doesn’t even seem worth the effort for me to re-hash the mixture of natural disasters, cute puppies, wardrobe malfunctions, and late night over-indulgences in food and libations by booksellers who were grimly but gamely mourning any possibility of commerce that was this year’s Baltimore Fair. These have been previously chronicled as representative of this year’s installment of our star-crossed sojourn in Charm City. What’s a blogger to do?
Maybe I’ll just do a blog review, thus allowing myself to bask momentarily in the reflected glory of these bright young sparks. Oh, yes, and to bask in Greg’s reflected glory, as well. Sorry Greg, but we of a certain rapidly aging generation are quick to point out the decrepitude of the very slightly more aged among our fellows, if only to deflect attention from our own ensuing dotage.
By reviewing the work of others, this path will allow me to feel delightfully “meta.” It’s ever so modern and trendy to be blogging about other people’s blogs! And, as anyone will tell you, I’m nothing if not modern and trendy, at least in an old fashioned sort of way.
Jonathan Kearns, exhibiting at the fair along with Jon Gilbert on behalf of Adrian Harrington Rare Books of London, provided a splendid account of two feckless young English gentlemen in the New World negotiating a natural disaster, Hurricane Irene, as well as an unnatural disaster, the Baltimore Antique and Book Fair. Mercifully, for someone who is seldom at a loss for words, as Jonathan proves to be, most of those he chooses are more than a little amusing.
His autopsy of the week’s proceedings (and I can think of no more appropriate word to apply to such a moribund event) was frankly hilarious, even driving my poor wife Heidi to tears. Surely this was not the first occasion that Jonathan has driven a woman to tears. Indeed, I’m sure he’s made grown men cry (not least of all, I think, his employer), and even, methinks, he has likely inspired a little incipient precipitation to well up in the eyes of certain over-sensitive pets. However, this might have been one of the more welcome occasions in which he has indulged these talents.
Greg Gibson’s account of his travels to the fair and what he found there were, as always, tempered by his long experience in the rare book trade. However, his salty and, dare I say, even occasionally curmudgeonly outlook was not untempered by the capacity to be pleasantly surprised by the comradery and goodwill that was displayed among the exhibiting dealers at the fair when, after a long day of exhibiting, most were forced to move their entire booths to another part of the Baltimore Convention Center when our little enclave was threatened by the predicted deluge.
And finally, Between the Covers’ own young Ashley Wildes provided a lively account of her first-ever book fair with a breezy and colloquial style, an insouciance not often associated with the purportedly staid rare book world (but really, it’s anything but staid), and an appealingly fresh and unprejudiced look at book fairs that seems unimaginable to those of us who have labored so long in the trade. For my part, I can’t decide whether I’m excessively proud that someone in my employe managed to capture the zeitgeist of the fair so well, or just jealous that she did it better than I could have. I guess I’ll just be both.
Presently, I’ve spent about a quarter century in the trade. When I become excessively bored, usually at ill-attended book fairs, I occasionally try to calculate how many of these events at which I’ve exhibited.
The definitive answer: I have no idea. My best guess: probably nearly 400 of them. Assuming an average fair is a couple of days (although obviously some are longer and some less), I’ve probably spent more than two years of my life at book fairs.
This is the sort of unhelpful calculation that is akin to toting up the amount of time that one has spent brushing one’s teeth (not enough for some booksellers of my acquaintance).
Mostly, however, these calculations indicate only that one has spent enough time on the planet to come up with stupid ways to occupy oneself with stupid calculations when bored at a book fair.
However, in this case it does indicate that I’ve spent a lot of time at book fairs.
Unlike Ashley, all agog at her first book fair and seduced by the siren call of expensive after-fair dinner parties and the company of booksellers rendered slightly more tolerable than usual by the application of strong drink, I am not fooled by gustatory fripperies or the far-too-few triumphant moments when some distracted billionaire wanders into my booth and decides on the spot that he or she wants to buy exactly what I’m selling.
So after all the tribulations, annoyances, and failures of this most recent event, would Baltimore be my LAST Book Fair?
Hell, no. I can’t wait for the next one!
The wise and great bookseller Louis Weinstein of The Heritage Book Shop once opined that antiquarian bookselling wasn’t a business so much as it was a lifestyle choice. Book fairs are for many of us a large part of that lifestyle: frequent and often amusing travel, the thrill of discovery, and most of all the pleasure of our colleagues.
I’m lucky to be a bookseller.
The article was published in The Between the Covers Blog. It is presented here by permission of the author.