Criminal as it may seem, I have been back a couple of weeks now and I still haven’t shared the tale of my adventures at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. A fortnight standing in as a coconut shy for the more Luddite of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association will do that.
“But tell us your adventures!” I hear you clamouring, “Were there beautiful women, and strange narcotics, were there acts of great derring-do and sundry torrid and passionate encounters neath the sparkling dome of the big, big Colorado sky?”
Why yes, dearly beloved, yes there were…all these things and more.
So, background…every year in August the best, the brightest the fastest and the wisest in the rare book trade act as faculty for those lucky enough to be admitted to what is effectively “Bookselling School” at Colorado College, Colorado Springs.
Go here to find out more: Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. No, really, it’s awesome.
First off, Colorado Springs look like this:
Secondly; the faculty consists of people like Lorne Bair, Rob Rulon Miller, Kevin Johnson, and Terry “The Dryer” Belanger…and others, Nina Musinsky, Dan DeSimone…and there’s more! There’s also Dan Gregory (a man who has done more for the modernisation of the rare book trade than just about anyone else). And others!
So there’s that.
Anyway…3 flights, every one of them delayed, a giant terrifying (yet awe-inspiring) cliff of lightning-spewing cloud, clear air turbulence and nobody understanding a word I was saying until I said with a slight American accent, sharing the last stormy part of the journey in a very small plane with a very serene sniper who actually slept through the worst bits.
I arrive at Colorado Springs at about half eleven at night, my luggage lost in the unholy demonic puzzle box that is Denver International Airport, with half an hour to get to a place I don’t know, to speak to a person I’ve never met, about a key I really hope is waiting so that I don’t have to start my visit by being locked up for vagrancy.
By midnight I have my key, I have the run of an empty motel (weirdly not as exciting as you might think), I have beer and a microwave burrito and the guy with the ponytail in the 7-11 just spent ten minutes trying to get me to say things in an English accent because I “should totally be like, a bad guy on a TV show, man.”
I sat outside in the car park, alone at 2 in the morning drinking beer. It was a warm night, and I was struck forcibly by the understanding that having flown across the planet to be instructed on the subtleties, vagaries, tips and techniques of my chosen trade, I was suddenly, quietly, yet quite conspicuously…happy.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is presumably what they were talking about when they said “Try and do a job you enjoy.”
Anyway, long story short: A hell of a lot happened.
Day one: myself and Anthony Smithson (of Keel Row Books and the Eminence Grise of The York Antiquarian Book Seminar, the reason I ended up in Colorado in the first place) are lounging about in the awkward, pallid fashion of British men abroad in warm climates.
We are chatting to a bookseller from Seattle called Mark who bears a ridiculous (and quite annoying) resemblance to Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch.
A tall young woman of piercing eye, no-nonsense demeanour and awesome tattoo-age glides up, and announces she’s taking us to a pub. Obviously we allowed this to happen, because that’s what gentlemen do.
We discussed, over beer and various arcane US snacks, Mark’s business in Seattle, my own (well, Adrian’s) in London, Anthony’s flourishing Empire in The North, and then asked the young lady (whose name is Shannon) what place she had in the bookseller’s pantheon.
Half an hour later we were sitting there; goggle eyed and slack jawed as she laid down a tale of such blinding business acumen, hard work and devotion to her objective of opening and running a cool little bookshop somewhere nice ™, that we damn near just gave up on the spot and proclaimed her the winner of all Book-shoppery.
Seriously, she took a rundown, exhausted, ninety percent trashed bookshop in Guernville, California and turned it into a thriving, happy and profitable community bookshop with a strong local following and a very strong future. The bar-staff had to come ask me why I was clapping. It was absolutely the most downright encouraging story I’d heard in years, because this business can be a pig to get into and an even bigger pig to progress in.
So there was that. It wasn’t the first time that happened either, there were a number of people attending the seminar, ostensibly to learn, who were already making their way with admirable skill and dedication. It was a very inspiring crowd, and one that I was very happy to be a part of…
PART 2 to follow.