Young Dealers / Old Books - Book Fairs, Hurricanes, Puppies, Oh My!
By Ashley Wildes
On Tuesday, August 23rd I woke up late. I had set my alarm for 7 a.m., so that I could take a much needed shower and after hitting snooze for over an hour I abruptly woke up at 8:20, tied my hair up, threw on a dress and ran out the door. From that moment on it seemed as though all of Philadelphia was involved in a plot to keep me from my goal of an 8-hour work day. First the contretemps with my alarm, then loads of tourists crossing the street and finally the dreaded tour buses that haunt 5th and Market all summer long. I had just about given up when I finally reached the other side of the bridge. Five minutes to nine I get a phone call from Tom saying that Matt had gotten sick and did I want to go to Baltimore for the book fair? I know what you’re thinking, “Free trip to Baltimore! Where do I sign up?” I’m with you, friend. I said yes, turned around, and the packing began.
A few hours, a load of laundry, and an earthquake later, I was en route to beautiful Baltimore for my very first book fair. Now, for the last seven months I’ve heard about the infamous world of book fairs: hobnobbing, deals, and celebrities. Tom tells thrilling stories of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and various other book fair attending actors, directors, and rock stars; I imagine he does it mostly to pacify me and my need to live vicariously. Who doesn’t want Johnny Depp to walk into their booth? If you answered “me” then feel free to stop reading this. Anyway, I digress.
Driving down 95 in the Escalade like book fair hip hop moguls, Tom and I chatted about this and that while my mind went a hundred miles a second wondering if I knew what I’d gotten myself into. I did not. All I had to go on was some Facebook pictures, random stories, and a seminar, which really is not a lot. Of course it’s work, but what’s involved? Having a few hours to prepare for something that seems relatively important in your field leaves one a bit wary, so naturally I nervously approached my fate. Proceed with caution.
After checking into my swanky Day’s Inn hotel room, and making a vain attempt at looking human after a whirlwind of last minute preparation had left me a little worse for wear, I met with Tom, Greg, and the two owners of First Folio Books from Paris, Tennessee, Dennis Melhouse and Dennis Hatman, better known in the trade as “the Denni,” for happy hour. They definitely weren’t kidding about booksellers loving their drinks. Thus began my Book Fair 101 education.
Captain’s Log: Book Fair, Day One: Set up
I can never truly sleep in hotel rooms; who am I kidding I can never really sleep at all, but hotels are so sterile and quiet until 7:30 in the morning when some horrid child is screaming for their mother in the hall. Maybe it was the high-pitched shriek or the strange anxiety ridden dreams but I gave up the ghost around 8 a.m. only to realize that I didn’t pack any socks. Nope, not a one. Eight dresses but no socks, at least I have my priorities straight. This was not the first time I had worn Chucks with no socks (my red Chucks have been used instead of flip flops nearly my entire beach going career), but certainly it was the first time I had to work a floor with no socks. The trials and tribulations of being me. I concur Kermit, it’s not easy being green.
Sock crisis aside, but not averted, I walked over to the Hyatt to meet Tom so that we could drive his giant truck-car-vehicle thing over to the convention center to check in and unload. It felt a bit like Entrapment meets Ocean’s Eleven; flashing my name tag, surrounded by antiques, and clearly I am the spitting image of a George Clooney-Catherine Zeta-Jones’s love child. However, climbing in and out of the Escalade is not as glamorous as one would imagine, though I’m hardly above it. Once we made it to the booth we realized that we were sans tables and needed to join a texting network to ask for help. Hooray technology. I was sent as an ambassador to seek out tables for our small plot of convention center and was promptly put on a waiting list.
With tables eventually secured, Dan, who had arrived that day from scenic Gloucester City, and I went about the great task of figuring out a rhyme or reason for Matthew’s book choices while Tom went a’ scouting. After making a few stabs in the dark as to what categories we should put the books in I started alphabetizing “general fiction.” I soon found myself in the role of Between the Covers Chief Alphabetizer, a title I gratefully accepted and kept most of the day only stopping briefly to eat the best crab cake ever. Not even kidding.
That evening, Tom, Greg, The Denni, and I all went to Sullivan’s for more drinks and amazing food. I felt like a princess, which probably means I don’t get out much but there’s no need to judge, Judy. After a few cosmos I was willing to try escargot, calamari, and oysters for the first time. Fan-cy, I know! I followed that up with lobster tail and steak. All that set up really paid off; I love food!
Captain’s Log: Book Fair Day Two: Fair begins
Once again I was up at the crack of dawn when I didn’t need to be, what gives? At least I didn’t have socks to worry about that day as I was wearing a dress. Thank goodness for small favors.
It was back into the trenches for round two of the book fair. This included tidying up, which I was completely capable of doing, and sitting, also one of my specialties. The waiting game, however, can get a bit tedious, as I discovered. Luckily for me we were across-the-aisle-neighbors to the Adrian Harrington booth, so when Tom left me to man our corner to pursue more scouting I had the lovely company of one Mr. Jonathan Kearns. As Tom would later remark, between the two of us the booth was anything but silent.
Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any more exciting rumors started circulating around the building. There was a hurricane brewing in the distance and that meant water, things getting wet, and much to our chagrin, it meant almost certain leaks. The lucky booksellers in the fair had been placed right under the leakiest part of the ceiling and it seemed as though a move was coming. A great exodus would be had at 8 p.m. that night.
Of course news such as this is never taken calmly and the rest of the day was spent in speculation. I however occupied myself with Sunday and Josh’s puppy, Marlow, who I fell in love with. It is scientifically impossible to be sad about destroying all the work you did the previous day while holding a 10-month old Shih Tzu, seriously, try it sometime.
The book trade never ceases to amaze and at 8 p.m. that evening, after a long day of bookselling, everyone pitched together to make the move as painless as possible. Even those who were allowed to stay in their spots gave a hand. Thus, what was rumored to be the worst move since the Trail of Tears hardly took two hours. You know what that means! Celebratory food and drinks. Onward to Morton’s Steakhouse and bring the Brits! A lovely dinner and too many glasses of wine later everyone said their good evenings and it was a nice end to a strange first day of a book fair.
Captain’s Log: Book Fair, Day Three: Me? Drive Heidi’s Caddy back?
Friday morning I sat awaiting orders while eating animal crackers for breakfast and tidying up here and there from the aforementioned move. I said my good mornings to Jonathan and Jon Gilbert, my new English pals, perused the booths near ours and just generally tried to wake up.
This would be my last morning at the fair as I was getting out before the torrential rains – dun dun dun. Of course this meant driving the two hours back to New Jersey in my boss’s car which didn’t sit well with me, although Heidi tried to be reassuring saying, “Don’t worry it’s insured.” Not as comforting as you’d think.
Around lunchtime I was honorably discharged. I said my goodbyes to everyone who was around to say goodbye to (Marlow was not one of them, sad times) and was taught the mysterious ways of cars built in the 2000’s. My mustang was assembled in 1996 and is the newest car I’ve ever owned, but it has power windows, that’s something.
It was actually sad leaving. I had grown attached to my newly-minted routine and my new bookseller friends. It’s easy to see why so many people come out to fairs, even the slow, apocalyptic weather ones. Networking, interesting wares, the drinks if nothing else. Sure, the written word is going from ink to pixels and no one can read anymore and those who do have Nooks. It seems like a hopeless task to convince others of the value of the paper and leather you hold in your hands, but it’s nice to be surrounded by other crazy people in the same boat with the same passion. After going to a book fair I can only imagine two mindsets, either you love books or you hate them; I still love them.
The article was published on The Between the Covers Blog. It is presented here by permission of the author.