I should probably just reblog this entire site:
A splendid read:
There was panic on the streets of London in 1760, and the city’s newspapers weren’t helping the situation. Hundreds of column inches, for week upon week, were full of terrifying reports abou…
The New York Shadow Fairs take place concurrently with the main Armory Fair every year.
Admittedly it sounds like they should be taking place concurrently with some sort of imminent apocalypse from which we can only saved by borderline perfect teenagers who can see into other dimensions…but that only happened that one time, couple of years back, no big deal.
They are colloquially known as the Getman and The Flamingo in deference (at least I think it’s deference) to their respective organisers. This year I was at the Getman, at St Ignatius Loyola up at 980 Park Avenue, less than a mile from the Armory and serviced by a regular shuttle bus, no less. The Flamingo fair is across the street from the Armory at the church of St. Vincent Ferrer; so we’ve got Jesuits versus Dominicans in the battle of ecclesiastical architecture and they are both doing very well..
I like both fairs, I have bought well at both in the past and mostly the competition between the two is fairly friendly. I have one minor issue with the promotional material for the Flamingo fair though…just saying…if you look at their flyers and posters there’s a monochrome skyline of New York city, which is all well and good until you look slightly closer and realise that the clipart skyline is actually a forest of gun barrels, which is either deliberate, and wrong on a number of levels, or accidental, and thus not terribly impressive either.
There’s a peculiar phenomenon with shadow fairs in general; the PBFA ILEC fair in London that runs concurrently with Olympia would be a good example of this; they are often where all the surprises are. The main fairs have the weighed and measured, lovingly selected and carefully catalogued crown jewels of the book world sitting there like carefully polished fruit in a Whole Foods. The shadow fairs are a Farmer’s Market, big piles of stuff, some of it a bit grubby and misshapen, some of it thrown on a truck the night before and carried straight from the source. There’s a lot less specialisation, the dealers are as eclectic as their stock and frequently just as eccentric. It’s a welcome contrast to the polished layout of the main fair, carefully spotlit cabinets give way to great, glorious heaps of ephemeral oddity and enormous flip racks of everything from daguerreotypes to carnival tickets, to flyers from a Klan Rally. It’s one of the things that emphasises the enormous diversity of the rare book trade and how much the perceived upper end desperately needs the input and participation of the people it occasionally and rather precipitately considers lower down the pecking order. That “lower end” of the pecking order produces some insanely high quality material.
There was the polished, beautifully bound loveliness of First Folio, always immaculate and adorable. Amir Naghib was present…committing the supremely courageous act of doing TWO fairs at the same time; this is the type of brave impetuosity normally associated with invading Russia in the winter, or being LGBT in North Carolina. Kara Accettola of Little Sages had some fabulously diverse and intriguing stuff from 19th century naval exploration to mimeo’d erotica and all points between. I picked up a hefty wodge of circus related material and a couple of other bits and pieces and roundly swore at the Kahn/Schwenk Axis of Opportunity for laying hands on the deliriously seditionary (not to mention beautifully bound) Chevalier D’Eon before I could. Janine Veazue was there indispensably from the start helping set up the booth I was sharing with none other than Abby Schoolman. It was a strangely workable contrast; my random collection of bits and bobs ranging from an inscribed first of Moonfleet to a magic lantern show of Peter Pan and a rather beautifully coloured engraving of a mandrake root; and her immaculately presented and described fine art bindings, each one unique, intriguing and challenging. Lord knows that people thought, probably that she’d been given her booth in a rather sadistic lottery.
With the multiplying glories and virtues of the book trade come its besetting sins:
“I’m not talking to you! I’m talking to the guy in charge!” Is the overly loud, finger jabbing rejection directed at my female colleague who, a native New Yorker, is very reasonably attempting to help the man in question solve his parking and setup problems.
First off, looming, finger jabby behaviour and shouting at women who are half your height and, conservatively, a quarter of your weight are the marks of a weapons grade twat, stop it. Secondly, if the person you are referring to as “the guy in charge!” is ME, you are going to be helpfully and very politely given directions to park next to the nearest fire hydrant, and gradually over the course of the fair you’re going to spend a lot of time looking for your chair, your rubbish bin, and any other bric a brac, the absence of which is going to irritate you. You’re also a blithering idiot.
As a trade incorporating both highly professional, motivated women and men, and the legion of young enthusiastic apprentices, interns and assistants who accompany them, the rare book trade definitely isn’t the most aggressively sexist and misogynistic one out there; it’s increasingly held up and best represented by female booksellers.
This manifest velocity will only increase, the majority of students coming through YABS, for example, and subsequently making a noise in the trade, are women.
It has its moments however, and although I am reasonably certain that they will become fewer and further between as the blisteringly smart (and considerably more socially aware) new crew establish themselves, it’s really a case where any is too many.
If there’s a woman on a book fair booth she’s there to sell books to you…she’s not decoration, eye-candy or there because there’s a diversity quota. I can guarantee that regardless of how much ink she has, what colour her hair is or how she is dressed, she knows her shit.
Just experiment with joining the 21st Century by asking her a question or two before gesturing at her male colleague and saying “That’s ok, I’ll wait for the book guy.” The first thing you’re going to learn is that she probably has an MA or two from Princeton or Oxford and could beat you up and down the room with whatever you consider your area of speciality, the second is that she’s probably too polite and professional to do so, and the third is that you are the one who needs to up their game, not the other way around.
Also, for any who are wondering, the above example of galactic crassness is the most often repeated comment directed at some of my female colleagues, and I swear one of the few actually repeatable ones. I know this, because I did a survey.
Admittedly I’m kind of on the other end of the spectrum; I was having a conversation about something I’m supposed to be good at with a female colleague recently and half way through I realised, with a humbling mixture of shame and gratitude, that she was deliberately simplifying concepts and details that she was very keenly aware I knew far less about than her.
This is rather obviously not something that reflects well on me, but hey, that material is thin on the ground these days…basically there is no universe in which she should feel she has to do that.
I wonder about her interior dialogue throughout the last two decades or so: “How come I know this and you don’t, despite you being the guy with the big sign saying this is YOUR thing and the status to back it up?” endlessly repeated through a myriad of dispiriting professional encounters.
I’m sure there’s a number of my male colleagues who have refrained from pointing out that I’m a muppet…but I can assure you that number is smaller, and have the bruises to prove it.
That’s what institutionalised sexism basically ends up with; you can’t teach and you can’t learn, because you’ve abandoned your common ground.
That PSA was brought to you by Jonathan’s understanding that he misspent his youth and should have paid attention in school.
Next…The build up to Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair will be a blizzard of goth. In the meantime…Retaliate first.
The final part of the Lux mentis rundown on the New York Book Fair:
Kim Schwenk of Lux Mentis throws her hat into the ring regarding the New York fairs and bookselling in general:
One thing, dearly beloved, one thing above all that I must share in order that anything makes sense. How other people are with their families, I am with books and booksellers.
Not just the job, the job is great, but it’s a job and often I don’t understand it; it’s an occupational hazard that the more successful you are, the less intuitive as a bookseller you gradually become because your biggest fear becomes not that you will never lay hands upon the book and pass it on as a more worthy item, but that you will mess up the accounting and the numbers won’t work. Business is what kills you, smothering the light of the things you deal in until your only recourse is to rather deride untrammelled enthusiasm as slightly naive, whilst you deal with the proper grown up business of making sure the columns balance.
There are notable exceptions; booksellers you can still get a smile out of simply by pointing out a specific book they have a long history with, or engage in an hour long conversations over the idiosyncrasies of an item that might only be worth $100 but is priceless to them for some private, arcane reason.
In the case of one bookseller, if I show him anything, no matter whether its value be $90 or $90,000 and it elicits the response “Brutally cool.” then I’m doing Jonathan right.
In the main though, the true evangelism of the book trade, the alchemical process by which a lump of base rag pulp and leather is transformed into an item that the purchaser would not exchange for the moon, is not carried out by the man or woman whose name is over the door, but by the people who work for them.
So my look at the New York Book Fair week begins with a very sincere thank you to the crazy, often very young, smart and undeniably dedicated people that work for the Faces; they don’t get paid much, they work very long hours and you can frequently find them, male or female, crying in a corner for a couple of minutes before getting up and getting back to whatever mammoth task they’ve been given that needed to be done 30 seconds ago and that in any other trade would be done by a team of six. Apparently that’s how you find out whether or not someone loves their job; when it visibly hurts them and they keep showing up.
Apart from anything else this probably means I need to employ someone luminous before my own light goes even dimmer.
In my own personal case heartfelt thanks would be due to Janine Veazue, who manned my booth at my very first independent US fair and without whom something that was already difficult would have been way harder.
So, New York; naked city of a thousand stories etc. I love the place, come the middle of April the chunk of Manhattan from East 64th up to 84th contains literally 95% of everything I love in the world, the people I would gladly walk into traffic for, and is the annual event horizon for the trade that I have been working in for 20 years.
This year is the end of my first as a solo bookseller under my own name, it has been distinguished by some giddy successes, many crippling losses, and more oscillation between despair and renewed hope than is experienced by someone hearing a repeated rumour that Firefly is coming back.
You’ve got three fairs, on top of the Grolier exhibitions and the rest of it. The Emerald City of the whole thing is the Armory show; The New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Over 200 of the world’s most prominent dealers bearing with them every form of treasure from books, through maps, prints, manuscripts and a blizzard of delicious ephemera. It’s a huge deal; Paris has panache and dignity, London Olympia has a certain Neverwhere complexity lacking elsewhere; you never know when it has finished producing secret treasures from its many pockets, the West Coast has, well…the West Coast; a languid, sunglasses indoors, Lana del Rey, smooth, knowing, cruise of creativity.
New York is motherf***ing New York; a head down, chin tucked, bare knuckle fistfight of a book fair that every year leaves a couple more hats on the ground. From a bookseller standpoint it’s brutal, from its genteel champagne opening gala on the Thursday to the frenzied get out of Dodge pack up on Sunday evening. We like to think we’re smart, really we just carry smart things with us, and the Virgin Atlantic lounge at JFK on the last night looks like a bunch of shell-shocked people waiting for the last chopper out of Saigon.
Those books though.
That’s the reason that from the minute I walk through the doors on Thursday clutching my begged ticket (thanks B&B Rare Books, and Lux Mentis!) I’m a giddy mess of butterflies. The first thing I see is the outrageous illuminated manuscript orgy taking place at Phillip J. Pirages, off to my right is the achingly gorgeous expanse of Maggs Brothers with their all black stand and their bloody Cicero bound in antiphonal vellum and their inscribed Virginia Woolf malarkey. John Windle rocked up with William Blake under his arm, Kelmscott brought W.B. Yeats. My mates at Lux Mentis brought a kaleidoscopic array of weirdness and sedition from dangerous women, an aggressive pile of punk, the Gisela Amati vaudeville archive to an early 19th century travelling toilet in the form of a book (Ian Kahn thinks military, I think obnoxious Grand Tour gap year libertine). Lux Mentis also brought Kim Schwenk, for which we are all sincerely grateful.
Apparently Biblioctopus had a full run of the Sherlock Holmes stories in their original Strand Magazine issues, but I didn’t get to lay hands on it because of the inexorable maelstrom of people making their way to Heather O’Donnell’s (Honey & Wax Books) very first Armory Fair booth. She didn’t disappoint; in fact her stand was a triple share between Honey & Wax, Simon Beattie, and Justin Croft; which is a lineup of such mind-searing ability it’s a wonder the rest of us weren’t just walking up and rubbing them for luck. I actually did, which apparently I am NOT allowed to do again…sorry Simon. Heather showed up with a promotional poster for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, consummate professionalism and a fair invite that pointed out her stand was closest to the bar…A smile and a gun, indeed.
Simon brought a very rare first Russian edition of Byron’s Manfred, which I never got to see, amongst all the rest of his stock which I also couldn’t get near, because it was amazing. Justin Croft, who is the kind of person you might get reincarnated as if you live a really good previous life, turned up with a gorgeous sheet of uncut 18th century playing cards and a 17th century heraldic manuscript with seven silver clasps which had elicited no small amount of attention pre-fair.
Alongside this glittering collection you have the long list of booksellers who constitute something that hovers between my favourite people and a voluntary support group: people like Josh, Sunday and Julie of B&B Rare Books, who not only ensured that everyone got fed during setup this year but also provide a safe haven for anyone who fancies a drink and a chat, it was at their pre-fair reception that this happened:
Then there’s Lauren Avirom of Sanctuary Books, without whom a decent book fair is incomplete; Bruce McKittrick’s early modern wonders (which sounds like a supergroup); and Brian Cassidy, who was exhibiting the Besancourt watch factory samples album…hundreds of gorgeous French enamelled watch-faces in an enormous velvet lined binder which is the kind of thing that makes me absolutely certain that money is wasted on the wealthy and should be given to me so that I can own things like that.
It has to be mentioned that gathering stock of this quality in the tenuous and changeable environment of the modern book selling world takes guts. There’s lots of times when you think you have to sell that thing that you were counting on to stand out at the fair, often it can be the one cool book that people go away remembering…lots of the smaller dealers whom you encounter at these fairs will have been living off ramen and adrenaline in an effort to get there; and the items they display are the crystallisation of hope and the evidence of going without. Nobody sells books because it’s easy money.
Buttressing all this shenanigans quietly you have some of the keystone players of the modern book world, two in particular; Tom Congalton of Between The Covers, and Lorne Bair of Lorne Bair Rare Books, are directly responsible for me being an independent bookseller, without their support and encouragement I wouldn’t have been able to manage to get even this far and I will always be tremendously grateful. Also if you visit Lorne’s booth you get to hang out with Helene Golay and Amir Naghib, which is basically just a gift that keeps on giving.
Part 2, dealing with what we rather floridly refer to as The Shadow Fairs, will follow.
Firstly, a quick run-down of some of the other blogs by my esteemed colleagues, then I’ll tell you all about my experiences, because let’s face it, what’s a book fair without me blabbering on about it:
A Trans-American rundown of the West and East Coast Book Fairs from the mighty Kim Schwenk, wearing her Lux Mentis hat
The newly published giant brain of Rebecca Rego Barry at Finebooks
Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books
A further account from stuffnobodycaresabout
An account of the Shadow Fairs, also including a picture of me, for those of you who feel the need to be traumatised.
My account, filled with both love and vitriol, will follow shortly.