In Search of Our Better Selves Part 2

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.


That year’s ABAA Book Fair committee were oddly different…

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.


A ticket…to the gun show

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.


One of the many pictures containing no hint of me

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.


A representative example of Abby’s booth


A representative example of mine


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.


Just saying…

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.


About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

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