I sincerely apologize for taking so long to update you on this event. We had a great show and were completely exhausted when we returned on Sunday night. It has taken us a couple of days to catch up on sleep, paperwork, and staring at the wall. Now beginning to feel communicative again.
We packed the car up nicely. It was chock full. Five large Pelican cases, four cardboard boxes and a couple of bags. Needless to say there was the most minimal of room for the humans. But we shoehorned ourselves in and set off. We have loaded ourselves into and out of many book fairs since Rabelais came into being. Don has done the same with his previous business and for others many, many times. However the New York fair is a big deal, if I haven’t mentioned that before, we were both anticipating the event so each part of this trip was new and different. Load-in went smoothly. The car went in a garage and the unpacking began. There were some issues with the booth size and the fixtures we had ordered, but it was all sorted out. Don went back and forth between thinking we had way too many books and just enough. He settled on the latter with plenty of time to sparkle for the opening of the doors. I had baked a double batch of the lemon-rosemary butter cookies familiar to those who have visited the store in the month of December. We filled our copper fumiere with potted herbs. The new catalogue was stacked on the table. Suddenly, with no warning from the house, the doors were open and the flood began.
I’m not sure I can convey how impressive the floor of this fair was. Dealers were saying that the number of their brethren displaying was larger than in previous years. Everyone had brought their most special, most impressive, most favoritest books. You could feel the room vibrate with all the knowledge, information, expertise and color that a huge room of remarkable books will offer. There were certainly examples of modern technology everywhere, (our booth neighbors-Lorne Bair Rare Books- and us were both using the Square to process credit cards on our iPhones), and there were plenty of the craned necks of the gadget-obsessed. But the real star in that room was the books. Printed matter on real paper. Paper that in that collection was predominantly rag. Boards were wood in many cases. Vellum, Morocco and calf were everywhere. This fair really brings out the extraordinary items.
The crowd was thick and came in waves. The first night was only four hours, but they were full hours. These were the serious collectors. Many of them made straight for their favorite dealers. But others wandered, purposefully, from booth to booth. Our subject matter brought more than one or two collectors up short. “Cookbooks? really? All cookbooks?” For a few that meant a beeline out. But for many more it meant a new approach to a venerable practice. Over the course of the four days we met many new customers. Some were from institutions/libraries. Others were private collectors. One woman loves to cook but had never thought about collecting cook books. She came back after a night of tossing and turning and began her collection with a handful of our books. Some of our regular customers from other book fairs showed up in the big room. We were very happy to see them and catch up.
Many cookies were eaten. Both by dealers and by customers. One vertically challenged youngster kept coming back and back. His Mother was surprised because he doesn’t usually eat anything but chocolate. I took that as a compliment. Chelsea Clinton perused the floor on Friday for quite a few hours. Steve Martin and his gentlewoman companion shopped on Sunday, she bought a cocktail book from us. Yoko Ono was seen making a pile to take with her. I was particularly pleased to see the span of ages represented: a couple of toddlers seemed bemused by their parents obsessions; a pair of pre-teen girls asked me about good books to cook from; the young New York hipsters were on the scene. It was really cool. Yeah, cool. Smart people know that books are cool. We gave out dozens of catalogues, talked with dozens of people about food, books, life. By the end of the weekend we were both pretty talked out. We sold some books. Books that we had been honored to shepherd for a time. Books that had been with us for a stretch, and others that we had known for only a short while. We bonded with our fellow booksellers about our love of books (and food) and the trials and tribulations of making a living from the pursuit. Most who visit a book fair see wares on offer. The subtext is a social world of people who hold the printed word close to their hearts. Gathering that many dealers with that many books in one room, it is inevitably exciting, excitable, excited.
Various of our colleagues write about books and the life of booksellers. If you are interested in anything I have said here, you should read their words. Lorne Bair wrote most recently about this fair and the importance, to all of us, of books. You can read him on his blog. Sunday Steinkirschner has been enlisted to write about rare book selling for Forbes, her blog can be found here.
Your behind must be pretty flat from sitting and reading. You should get up and move around. I’ll write more later.
postscript: Bon Appetit visited us at the fair, see what they had to say.