By Ashley Wildes
I have spent a total of 3 days of the approximately 9490 that I have lived at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. That amount of time might seem trivial; a brief episode that could come and go easily in a string of events that make up a lifetime, but it is not.
When you walk into the Park Avenue Armory with it’s Tiffany stained glass windows and beautiful staircases before entering into a vast array of 200 plus sellers who have been toiling for two days to present their most interesting material, it is awesome, as in the original dictionary meaning of that word.
It is a foray into an event of almost Gatsbyesque splendor but which simultaneously gives off the exotic flavor of a Persian Bazaar. Sweeping through the landscape of every variety of bindings, paper, and fashion, it feels as if you are wandering through a Neil Gaiman novel. The newly erected metropolis of books and booksellers glitters under the fluorescent lights and the weekend has just begun.
There are interesting bookish places all over the world: other fairs, other bookstores, other buildings. What makes so many plan their year around this gathering, be it to sell, buy, or just to see or be seen? Last April I jumped at the chance to work there. After hearing tales and war stories during the year that I had been involved in the rare book world, the hype could have easily lead to disappointment. It did not. Booksellers use this as a time to put together a showcase of the most fascinating finds that they have been able to muster together for collectors to peruse, honing the skills that mix trade knowledge with the intuition that they have developed to inform each piece, while literary enthusiasts flock, hoping to find the elusive item that might complete their current search, or maybe initiate new ones.
Last year I spent three days observing the booksellers converse with collectors, discussing their pursuits, and happily sharing their own enthusiasms. The thrill of the hunt is a great motivator, but it pales in comparison with the feeling of satisfaction of telling people about your own discoveries!
This coming week which we all quietly anticipate, until that moment a week before it looms over us and the entire shop has a collective panic attack, accompanied by frantic preparation, is important for a myriad of reasons. Selling, buying, wearing rad shoes, are all very good motives to invest time into this happening once in your life.
It is the ability to draw people back every year that makes this event pretty incredible. I can only think to sum it up with “these are my people.” That feeling never gets old and probably never will, although I’m not a soothsayer so I can’t really speak to the future.
53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair
April 11 - 14, 2013
VIP Preview: Thursday 5 – 9 pm
Opening hours: Friday noon – 8 pm, Saturday noon – 7 pm, Sunday noon – 5 pm
For more information visit the official website and join the 53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair on Facebook.
Ashley Wildes is cataloguer at Between the Covers and lead singer and guitarist of Dear Althea. Read and hear more:
>>> ILAB Punks Out
>>> An Ideal Career, or: How to become a rare bookseller