Congratulations to Betty Fulton and Julie Roper of Commonwealth Promotions and to Ken Gloss of the Brattle Book Shop – our “man on the ground” – for another successful Boston Book Fair. Thanks to their efforts this has become one of the best-run shows in the country. The Hynes Convention Center is a wonderful venue and its proximity to the Prudential Center (75 restaurants and shops accessible without setting foot outdoors) provides added value. Antiquarian books and their tweedy purveyors can be intimidating but Fulton and company have done an excellent job in making this a relaxed, welcoming event. Free admission Saturday and Sunday, a full schedule of lectures and workshops throughout the weekend, and robust participation in the ABAA’s Discovery feature, offering inexpensive books amid the splendor, make this event – dare I say it? – fun.
Brattle scrum pre-opening
Minor headaches? Sure. In response to a chillier-than-usual Friday the heat in the building was turned up to tropical levels. Vellum covers began to bow and exhibitors and visitors began to swoon. The cold weather, combined with free admission, made for some spectacular lines at the coat check booth on Saturday afternoon. It didn’t deter people from coming in, but our visitors might have had some difficulty getting out of the building on time.
Load-in is always a bit of a mess. Last year the loading dock people started the day one crew short, causing an early backup. This year, judging by the way people were bumping into one another, they had one crew too many. And move-out, the other point of maximum tension in a long and wearying weekend, was not helped by an officious twerp of a cop who insisted on asserting himself as the Mussolini of the departure zone. Thanks, officer!
But enough of this boilerplate reportage. Let’s talk about me.
Plenty of people went through the Ten Pound Island booth, but very few of them – and this includes my fellow dealers – demonstrated any interest in the material I had on offer. After a couple of days this sort of thing can get tedious, not to say depressing, particularly in light of the fact that I’d made every attempt to bring what I thought were my most interesting books, manuscripts and ephemera. As my paranoia and depression ramped up, the few thousand dollars I managed to eke out began to feel like charity. (Full disclosure – in the two weeks preceding the fair I’d sold about $25K, so this was more about ego than finance.)
By Sunday afternoon I was close to snapping – ready, in my impotent rage, to eviscerate some hapless passer-by. As I mentioned in last week’s blog I had brought an entire bookcase full of cheap books – books I’d marked down in price – to entice beginning collectors. And I sold quite a few of them –
to other dealers!
Then there was the Moby Dick problem. In the midst of my 17th-19th century leatherbound rarities was a copy of the Rockwell Kent trade edition of Melville’s classic, securely housed in a custom-made slipcase. Somehow the silver design on the backstrip had an irresistible allure – like human flesh to the zombies who shuffled through my booth. Time and time again – five times; ten times; twenty times – they’d pull the book from the shelf, extract it from its slipcase by yanking on the fabric at the very top of the backstrip, open the cover, crack the spine, exclaim”Ah” or, “Oh,” or even, “Duh,”look at the price written in pencil in the upper corner of the front blank – a modest $250 – then look at me with vacant eyes and ask, “How much does this book cost?” Then they’d lurch away in search of another arm on which to gnaw.
Finally, an hour before closing time on Sunday, a young fellow came into the booth and did the zombie routine with Moby. Then he departed, then he came back and repeated the ritual. By this time, in hopes of avoiding aggravated assault, I was standing outside the booth pretending not to see or hear what went on inside it. But of course I was listening intently. I heard him ask my boothmate, suave bookselleing veteran Ken Karmiole – how to go about asking me for a discount. I heard Karmiole advise him simply to ask in a polite and straightforward manner. Whereupon the young man turned to me and said, “Excuse me. I hope you don’t find this an insult, but would you take $220 for this book?” Whereupon I wrote him an invoice, took his photograph, wrapped the book up, and shook his hand warmly. No, he didn’t buy the Streeter copy of the pirate classic that I had on offer for $25,000,
Yes, it’s still available.
but that young man restored my faith in myself and in the material I represent. He saved that copy of Moby from almost certain destruction-by-zombie, and by his simple act of interest, he turned my weekend at Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair into a complete success.