By Greg Gibson
A colleague approached me on the floor of the New York Book Fair and asked if I’d composed this week’s blog yet. I told him I had not. He kindly offered to write it for me himself. It’d be a snap, he said – first the obligatory picture of booksellers slouched around the bar at Donohue’s, then a photo of an unhappy dealer at set-up, surrounded by more books than he had room for, a shot of the eager line at opening, and two or three more showing people in the act of purchasing things. Add a funny story about something that happened to one of our colleagues, and a picture, with price and description, of a really neat item that I bought at the show, and it’d be done.
I was tempted to take him up on his offer and give myself the week off, but then I realized that my colleague’s blog-by-the-numbers would not tell the remarkable story of this year’s New York Book Fair.
Thanks in part to the efforts of book fair committee chair Don Heald, the floor area at the armory has been expanded, allowing us to accommodate another dozen dealers. We now have a show approaching San Franciscan proportions, of over two hundred dealers.
The added exhibitors may have been the cause of some logistical hang-ups this year. A shortage of folding bookcases prevented several dealers from getting their booths arranged until the second day of set up. Also, the usually excellent lunch served to exhibitors on Wednesday seemed done on the cheap this year. Promoter Sandy Smith proved himself no Savoir when it came to feeding the multitudes.
But back to the numbers.
About a third of this year’s exhibitors - seventy-four dealers by my count - hail from outside the continental US. Obviously, the foreigners have figured out that New York is where the money is at the moment, and they’ve brought Europe’s best and finest books with them. The results are spectacular. I don’t think there’s ever been a more breathtaking display of rarities than are on exhibit at this year’s New York Book Antiquarian Book Fair.
A veritable museum. And it’s all for sale!
Wonderful viewing, but at what price to the American trade?
All these fancy continental dudes in their skinny pants and leather soled shoes, taking our jobs, confusing our customers, stealing our women. We’ve GOT to get this immigration thing under control. A fence, maybe…
Many of the high end dealers brought big books – elephant folios two or three feet tall. They look gorgeous, with their pages fanned like peacock tails inside their glass cases.
Furthermore, there have been numerous reports of actual sales of these behemoths, with eyewitness accounts of sherpas staggering out the front doors under two or three hundred pounds of vellum.
The stellar array of material makes it more obvious than ever that there are two levels of customers attending this show. On a good day, the blue collar, lunch-pail types might stop in booth D-21 and drop ten or twenty thou on Respess or Ten Pound. Then there are those customers (known as “clients,” actually), who think nothing of spending ten times that amount on some high spot of western thought. But we never see them in booth D-21. They never see us. They exist on a different vibrational plane. Like nuons, quarks. Strange particles. Over the years I have been able to deduce their existence by carefully measuring the degree to which certain booths bend light rays. Reese and Heald, or any of those dozens of Dutch, Swiss, French or Italian firms.
A corollary of all this splendor – perhaps expectable, or even inevitable – is the absence of dealers who sell primarily to the trade. Back in the 80s and 90s many dealers on the floor brought goods that were meant to be sold to their colleagues. These days, aside from firms like DeWolfe and Wood, or Caliban Books, nobody is set up to sell primarily to the trade. Simply a matter of economics. The real estate is too expensive.
Of course “selling to the trade” is what the downtown Shadow Show is supposed to be all about, but this year the event was a little less than the usual mosh pit. There seemed to be fewer dealers, and more dealers with oversized booths, so that there may have been somewhat less on display.
From a visitor's point of view, the Shadow Show’s 5PM opening on Friday was a problem. Those of us who wanted to shop the fair had to leave our booths back at the Armory and schlep downtown during rush hour. Why they don't have set-up all day Friday and open Saturday morning, before the ABAA fair opens, is a mystery to me. Certainly, the promoters at Flamingo Eventz depend on the gate for income, but is the crowd that much bigger on Friday and Saturday than it would be on Saturday only?
More disturbingly, change has come to Donohue’s. Bartender Jerry is out, after decades of stalwart service, replaced by Bruno of the Croatian growl who, like seemingly everyone in this city of 8 million stories has his own fascinating back story, including a career at McCall’s Magazine when it was the biggest women’s weekly on the planet. Here, he is seen charming Lin and Tucker Respess. I cannot tell you for sure at what hour the picture was taken. I think it was not the Last Hour.
Worst of all, for the first time in sixty-two years, they were out of lamb chops on Saturday night. Maureen says it will not happen again.
(Posted in Bookman’s Log, published here by permission of the author.)