Author Archives: tavistock_books

A Reference Book Workshop Q & A with our Master-and-Commander Vic Zoschak

As it is fall and us book folk cannot seem to help ourselves when it comes to books and study, we decided to do a little sit down Q&A with Vic Zoschak… leader of Tavistock Books, previous ABAA President, awarder of Rare Book School Scholarships, all-around mentor and teacher of a popular Reference Book Workshop! Due to unforseen circumstances (after all, who could have possibly forseen 2020) we haven’t been able to hold our Reference Book Workshop in a number of years. So this week we decided to answer some important questions for those just beginning in the business of bookselling!

 

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Q: V, you’ve been in the business of bookselling for a few decades now… and you’ve mastered plenty of roles within it! You own your own store, you’ve advised and trained employees, given Rare Book School scholarships, been the President of the ABAA, and offered several years of workshops at Tavistock Books on Use of Reference Books for beginning booksellers… How many years have you been mentoring others, and how did you begin to do so?

Well, Ms P, mentoring isn’t something I consciously sought out, rather opportunities to lend a helping hand came my way…  besides a personal wish to help a given individual, as you know, I’m a long-time advocate for the ABAA, and in many of those beginning booksellers, I saw a potential ABAA member.  As a result, many whom I’ve aided over the years are now ABAA colleagues as well.

As to my workshops, I started those about 2 decades ago…  I think the first was on “First Edition Identification”, and was offered to help new IOBA members in this particular area.  The workshops then morphed into a day long seminar on the use of Reference Books in the Antiquarian Book Trade, where, besides reviewing trade jargon & condition descriptors, I mainly tried to expose newbie booksellers to the standard references they’ll encounter / need in a few basic subject areas: Literature,  Childrens; Americana, with an emphasis on Western Americana & Californiana.

Now that the pandemic is waning, perhaps time to think about hosting another.  We’ll see.

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Q: If we had to pick the most important lesson you could offer an up-n-coming bookseller, which would it be?

Actually two:

-  with a nod to Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind”

  •  in my bookselling experience, there are two key success factors; Who you Know, and What you Know.

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Q: What do you think is the most difficult lesson, or learning experience, that new booksellers go through when they’ve just entered the field? On a side note, what was your toughest lesson learned?

To my mind, one of the hardest lessons for new antiquarian booksellers to grasp is this: there are always more books.  New booksellers will often overpay for something just to “get it”.   That said, there are occasions when you pay what you have to.  A mature bookseller [hopefully] knows the difference between those two situations.

The “toughest lesson” … ?  In thinking about that I recall a situation quite a while back, not too long after opening my shop in 1997 where I offered an individual $200 for a book.  The individual countered with $250.  I declined.  I didn’t have enough experience at the time to know that had I paid the $250, I would have quickly made back that additional $50.  Today, it’s a bit different, in that much more pricing data is available, between viaLibri & RBH, it’s a truly rare book that doesn’t have some sales history.  It’s then in those instances that one’s professional knowledge & experience comes in… is this book rare because no one cares, or is it a desirable book that is rarely seen on the market?

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Q: What do you think or feel about people beginning their bookselling journey today? What are they bringing to the field, what can they work on?

Good question.  I’m encouraged to see others, younger others, enter this trade I love so much.  I think, no I know, they bring a new perspective to such questions as “What is collectible?”  I’ve been pretty mainstream my career… I mean I specialize in Charles Dickens material, not that he hasn’t remained collectible, he most certainly has, but such collecting hardly breaks new ground.  Other booksellers younger than myself have a different vision, which, as I write this, I think of two of my SoCal colleagues, Brad & Jen Johnson, who, a few years back, put together a “Heavy Metal” archive & sold it to a major institution.  Not something I would have considered.

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Q: Due to Covid and the sheer amount of time and energy needed to offer our Reference Book workshop, until we decide to hold it once more – what is your advice to new booksellers on where they can learn the basics? (Any book recommendations, course recommendations would be welcome!)

My advice…  Invest in yourself, both the “Who you Know & What you know” aspects I mentioned above…  take CABS.  Attend Rare Book School.  Build a reference library [e.g., another bookseller's ABE listing is NOT a valid source for bibliographic information].  Join clubs like the Book Club of California where you can meet like minded souls.

Trust me, investing in yourself is an investment that will, long term, pay dividends.

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The Significance of Don Quixote

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In honor of Miguel de Cervantes’ (assumed) birthday, we wanted to dig a little deeper into this masterpiece of Western literature, to find out why it carries the weight it does in the book world. How can such an early work (the first part having been published in only 1605!) be considered the first modern novel? How can one work be considered social satire, comedy, tragedy and social and ethical commentary all at one time? Let’s find out!

Fairly little is known about Miguel de Cervantes. Remember, he lived at roughly the same time as Shakespeare (who, surprise surprise… we also know fairly little about). We know that he was the second of 7 children, with a father constantly in debt and a mother confident and literate enough to support herself and all of her children while the father was imprisoned for debt from 1553 to 1554. Miguel obviously learned a few things from his mother, as he worked a myriad of jobs as a young man (including being arrested for dueling, having a military commission, being an intelligence agent and as a tax collector) and though he was never an extremely wealthy man, he was not often out of work!

quixoteThroughout this time, Cervantes published a few plays and some poems, none of any great significance, and none that provided a living for the man and his family. By 1605, Cervantes hadn’t been “properly” published in almost 20 years! Nevertheless, he began writing a work he considered a satire – he challenged a “form of literature that had been a favourite for more than a century, explicitly stating his purpose was to undermine ‘vain and empty’ chivalric romances. He wrote about the common man. He used everyday lingo, normal conversation rather than epic speeches – it was considered a great success. Though there was a great amount of time between the two parts of the work, its popularity did not wane. The first part is considered the more popular of the two, with its comedic characterizations and its hilarity, while the second part is considered more introspective and critical, with greater characterization of the individuals in the story.

There are differing opinions on the Don Quixote of the time – it held popularity with the masses, and garnered financial success for Cervantes, but was considered a financial failure in the long haul… we aren’t sure how that works but are willing to trust the experts! The great interest in the work came during a resurgence in popularity during the mid 18th century, when literary editor John Bowle argued that “Cervantes was as significant as any of the Greek and Roman authors then popular”, and proceeded to publish an annotated edition of the work in 1781. Ever since, Don Quixote has been considered a staple of modern literature. Why, you may ask?

Our London 1749 holding of Don Quixote, published into the English by Charles Jarvis and only the 2nd edition of its kind!

Our London 1749 holding of Don Quixote, published into the English by Charles Jarvis and only the 2nd edition of its kind!

Author Edith Grossman published a new English translation of the novel in 2003 and noted how the novel straddles both comedy and tragedy in the same moments… “when I first started reading the Quixote I thought it was the most tragic book in the world, and I would read it and weep… As I grew older… my skin grew thicker… and so when I was working on the translation I was actually sitting at my computer and laughing out loud. This is done as Cervantes did it… by never letting the reader rest. You are never certain that you truly got it. Because as soon as you think you understand something, Cervantes introduces something that contradicts your premise.” And thus is the beauty and genius of the novel… Part I introduces enough comedic elements to amuse and hold your interest in the characterization, with Part II garnering strength and empathy for the characters you’ve come to love, feeling their pains and their moments of humility. Truly a work ahead of its time, today we honor Miguel de Cervantes and his inimitable hero Don Quixote (and the loyal and true Sancho Panza, of course). Happy Birthday (maybe) to Miguel de Cervantes!

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A Different Look at Hans Christian Andersen

I know we’ve beaten into you all how Hans Christian Andersen once went to Charles Dickens’ home for a visit and became the house guest that would never leave (though we can understand his obsession with Dickens, our inner Ms. Manners obviously cannot condone that sort of behavior), but there is much more to this author than a once-off lack of ideal behavior! More than meets the eye, that’s for sure. In honor of the 146th anniversary of his passing, here we offer a few fun facts about this fairy-telling Dane.

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via Notable Quotes!

1. At Andersen’s baptism in Odense, Denmark, he had not one, not two, but six Godparents present at the event.
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2. Though his family were quite poor, and his mother was an illiterate washerwoman, Hans’ father passed on a love of literature to the young Hans by reading to him from Arabian Nights. No wonder tales of wonder and amazement resonated with the author!
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3. Hans’ first job was as an apprentice to a weaver, then a tailor. At fourteen, he left for the bustling capital of Copenhagen, to find work as an actor. He was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but soon his voice changed due to puberty. His soprano voice no longer being what it once was he began to focus on writing, instead.
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4. At only 24 years old (in 1829), Andersen published a short story “A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager” and enjoyed considerable success with it – so much so that it allowed him to finally consider himself a writer!
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5. At age 30, Andersen published what would be the first of three installments of fairy tales. While some throughout the series are retelling of classic tales Andersen had heard as a child, for the most part they are brand new stories, all of his own creation. That makes Andersen unique when compared to other fairy-tale authors throughout the ages.
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6. At first, critics were quite severe about Andersen’s fairy tales. They disliked his style, and being rooted in a didactic time such as the mid 1800s they did not believe that literature for children ought to amuse, when it could instead instruct. While Andersen did not share in this belief, as he felt that the critics were biased based on preconceived notions about the purpose and necessity of fairy tales, their detestation for his work did give him pause and caused a slight delay in the publication of the third volume.
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7. The stories Andersen is most famous for writing are The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, and The Emperor’s New Clothes!
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8. As Andersen was one of the first authors to write original fairy tales and not only transcribe them from the oral tradition, one could argue that he (along with a few others, like George MacDonald) set the standard for modern day fairy tales and the entire fantasy genre.
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9. Andersen was also (like Dickens) a writer of travelogues and travel diaries! After finally achieving recognition for his fairy tales in 1845, in 1851 Andersen published his travelogues from his adventures in Scandinavia, calling it In Sweden. He followed it up with travelogues from Spain, Portugal and Swiss Saxony, among other notable places. As with his fairy tales, however, Andersen’s style was verifiably his own, and unlike other travel journals of the day. With his descriptions of the locales, he interspersed general philosophical questions and arguments, along with comments on life as an author and the fiction found in literary travel journals.
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10. Andersen passed away on August 4th, 1875 from complications of a fall and signs of liver cancer. At the time of his death he was so revered by the Danish government for his tales that they were paying him an annual stipend, as he was considered a “national treasure.”
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The Only Man Who Ever Hated Sherlock Holmes Also Happened to be His Creator

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On this day in July 1930, a true visionary breathed his last. Of course, he wasn’t born a visionary, he was born simply… Arthur. And as often as people assume his last name to be Conan Doyle, it is simply Doyle… Conan just one of his middle names. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22nd, 1859, and died on July 7th, 1930, almost a hundred years ago… yet he is a common household name still today. However, he is known to have said that in a hundred years if he was only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, he would consider his life a failure. So let’s remember him for more than that, shall we?

 

Conan Doyle (for as much as we may know his last name is simply “Doyle” we also feel strange writing just Doyle to refer to him) was born to poor Irish Catholic parents, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father spent a good deal of Arthur’s early years suffering from alcoholism and mental illness, which had a great influence on his later works. Throughout his school-life he noted that he severely detested staunch religious practices in schools, disliking the lack of compassion and warmth, and favoring a more forgiving and compassionate atmosphere (which inspired his predisposition for spiritualism later in life).

 

From 1876 to 1881, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and botany at the Royal Botanic Garden, studies which would help mold his future writings in the Sherlock Holmes series – boggling the minds of civilians with science! It was during this time that he wrote his first short story, The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe, and tried (unsuccessfully) to submit it to Blackwood’s Magazine. A later story was published however, along with several scientific articles in different magazines and journals in Edinburgh. Upon graduating from medical school with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Master of Surgery, Conan Doyle became a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during their voyage to West Africa. Just a year later he found himself setting up his own independent medical practice in Portsmouth, with less than 10 pounds to his name. His practice did not prove entirely successful, neither did a stint in the field of ophthalmology, and in his free time Conan Doyle found himself drawn back to writing fiction.

 

doyle4Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes installment, A Study in Scarlet, when he was only 27 years old. Written in just under three weeks, it is amazing to think that on how this work has endured and began a legacy, a series the likes of which may be unparalleled in fiction. A Study in Scarlet was popular and successful, and Conan Doyle was commissioned to write a sequel in less than a year. The next work, The Sign of the Four, was no less popular when it appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine. Amusingly enough, even early on in his Holmes works Conan Doyle felt contradictory emotions towards his most famous character. He wished to kill Holmes off after just a couple years, but was dissuaded (more like forbade) from doing so by his own mother! He raised the prices for his stories hoping to dissuade publishers from paying for them, but found that publishers were willing to pay exorbitant sums to keep the stories coming… consequently Conan Doyle accidentally became one of the best paid authors of all time. In all, Conan Doyle featured Sherlock Holmes (often against his will – public outcry was so great after Doyle had Holmes and Moriarty plunge off a cliff together that Holmes was forced to resurrect his famed detective in The Hound of the Baskervilles years later) in fifty-six short stories and four novels – a long and eventful life for a fictional character!

 

During the same years as his publication of Holmes’ adventures, Conan Doyle also worked on several historical novels, works which are commonly considered in academic circles his best, and were his favorite to write. Some of his historical novels include popular titles such as The White Company and Sir Nigel, both set in the Middle Ages. He also wrote dozens of short stories (some set in Napoleanic times), and even dramas for the stage. Later on in his life, Conan Doyle wrote the Challenger Series, a science fiction and fantasy series featuring Professor Challenger as the protagonist – a character that couldn’t be further from Sherlock Holmes if he tried! Where Holmes was calculating and quiet, Challenger was aggressive and hot-tempered. One could imagine writing about a character that was the antithesis of all that made Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes was a great enjoyment for Conan Doyle.

 

Similar to our main man Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (as he was knighted by the Queen in 1902) was one of the most prolific authors of the modern world. Not only that, but he was much involved in the justice system, fighting for those wrongly accused to be exonerated (succeeding in at least two cases, his work inspiring the setup of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907), and he was a staunch supporter of mandatory vaccinations! He stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist, and became a figurehead for the spiritualism movement that swept through England in the 1900s. While he was far from perfect (as we all are), he was certainly an intelligent, resilient individual who should go down in history for a lot more than simply inventing one of the most notable and fascinating characters of all time!

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The Virtual RBMS Showcase: One Bookseller’s Experience

This past week saw another virtual book fair “hit the e-shelves”, so to speak. After over a year of Covid, we are more than ready to return to normal, in-person book fairs! Here the Master and Commander of Tavistock Books, Vic Zoschak Jr., gives his opinion on the matter of virtual book fairs, the RBMS Booksellers’ Showcase in particular.

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Well, that’s another one in the books.  “What?”, you ask…   that would be last week’s ABAA-RBMS VBF, held in conjunction with this year’s virtual RBMS conference.  When in person, the ‘ABAA Booksellers’ Showcase’, as it is called when held attendant to the real event, the number of exhibitors is usually in the ~ 35 range, primarily due to physical limitations imposed by conference venue, so a positive for the 2021 rendition was the ability to expand the number of exhibitors that could participate, so in this instance I understand that approached 60 [or more?].  However, given this expansion, a question then comes to mind, did the size of the [revenue] pie stay the same, such that average sales per exhibitor decreased…?  

I’ll never know the answer to that particular question, as others’ sales data is only anecdotal, and in this instance, results shared tended to mirror that of an actual book fair, which is to say, mixed.  A few of those that did well are happy to publicly proclaim same.  Those who have more modest results, more often than not, tend to stay silent.  Tavistock Books, as well as a few more frank colleagues, reported ‘soft’ sales, i.e., for us, 5 items sold, which was 10% of our total listings.  So hardly robust, but nevertheless, we were content to have a presence, keeping our name in front of the librarian community.

What about VBFs in general?  My view…  there seems to be a number of them every month these days, with Marvin Getman, bless his heart, the primary promoter hosting same.  But as a result, I see a ‘devaluation’ taking place, somewhat mirroring the public’s view, and subsequent demise, of physical book fairs that took place over the last 2-3 decades.  For example, I not only didn’t exhibit at Marvin’s last event, I didn’t shop it.

All this said, I recognize, this is just one bookseller’s view.  And this bookseller is nearing the end of his career, so I acknowledge my ‘aggressiveness’ level in pursuing the VBF trade somewhat less than many others.  Which is to say, this take of mine on VBFs may, or may not, represent the majority of the trade.  But these views do represent me, and I’m looking forward to once again having the physical interaction that comes with real events.

With that in mind, see you in Oakland, February 2022.

Vic

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For the Love of Thomas Hardy

 

A phrase I have said for literal years of my life is this… “well, for the love of Thomas Hardy”. I used it in situations when another might say “Oh, for the love of god.” Now I was not equating Thomas Hardy with anyone’s god by any means, I just picked it up somewhere and used it fairly frequently. Assuming that this was a well-known idiom, I never stopped to question the quizzical looks from people on the receiving end of the strange turn of phrase.

Turns out that it is NOT a real expression. I looked it up online, expecting some awesome intellectual to have done the dirty work for me and found its origins. And nothing, nada… zilch. I felt vaguely certain that I had heard someone say it before, some classy lady, somewhere. It turns out I had! After extensive research, I found it was a phrase said by none other than Helen Mirren in the movie Inkheart, which came out in 2008, based on the book of the same name. So my embarrassing question is this… why are we not using this phrase more often? Try it out, if anything we can guarantee it’s good for a chuckle (on your end, of course… don’t forget the quizzical looks from the receiver).

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Thomas Hardy was born on June 2nd, 1840, in a small hamlet east of Dorchester in Dorset, England. His family was of modest means, and though his father was a local builder, Hardy’s mother was well-read and literate and taught Thomas to read at an early age. He did well in school, but upon graduation at the age of 16 Hardy did not have the means to pursue a University education, and became an apprentice architect to a local man for several years. At the age of 22,  Hardy had worked enough to foster a move to London to attend King’s College where he did design work with his architectural skills. Despite his success there, Hardy never felt truly at ease in the city – he was keenly aware of the class divisions and became extremely interested in social reform – a key element that would make itself known in his later works. In 1867, after only five years in London, Hardy chose to return to the countryside and settled in Weymouth while beginning his writing career alongside working as an architect.

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Our beautiful 1958 copy of Far from the Madding Crowd put out by the Limited Editions Club and signed by the illustrator!

Hardy began writing novels the same year he chose to leave London. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, could not find a publisher willing to work with it due to its highly political nature. In fact, Hardy’s friend and fellow author George Meredith even concluded that attempting further to get the story published might harm Hardy’s ability to have work published in the future. Deciding the cons outweighed the pros, Hardy shelved the book and went on to publish several novels in the 1870s, including Desperate Remedies (1871), Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) – a work he is well-known for today. Hardy, beginning by being published anonymously, quickly took credit for his works and was a prolific writer through the rest of his life. He went on to publish ten more novels after Far from the Madding Crowd (including Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure - other popular Hardy titles), dozens of short stories, and several books of poetry.

Hardy’s written style has been classified as Victorian realism – he used his own experiences in London, seeing the detriments of such a classist society in England, to fuel his writing and criticisms of the social constraints found in all aspects of Victorian life. The human suffering caused by these limitations set upon people are constant themes in all of his works. In his own way, Hardy wished to banish the conventions found in society, religion, romantic relationships and friendships and live a freer life. Hardy also full-heartedly believed in fate, and its ability to change destiny, another theme commonly found in his characters’ journeys.

Hardy and his work were an influence on many, many creatives and authors both in his time and ever since – some of the more notable ones include D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, John Cowper Powys and W. Somerset Maugham. His courage to bring attention to the disadvantages of common societal roles was admittedly brave for his time. He is a great example of an author who broke literary norms to help lead us into modern day life. (Which, despite the myriad of problems we still face and propagate, has the advantage of being a much more liberated, independent society where anything is possible.) So a very Happy Birthday to him… and for the love of Thomas Hardy!

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Entering a Post-Covid Bookselling World – Q&A with Vic Zoschak

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Well, all… this year has been a doozy for almost everyone! We don’t know a single soul that was completely unaffected by this global pandemic, and many sadly affected in traumatizing ways. The bookselling community has done its best to stay connected and functioning during this time, and we thought it might be a good idea to pick the brain, almost a year later, of our fearless commander Vic Zoschak Jr. on how Tavistock Books was affected by these past many months and what he sees for bookselling in the near, vaccinated future!

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Q: So Vic, over a year of bookselling during a global pandemic has passed us by! How did you, personally, fare, and how did your patterns or habits change throughout this time?

It’s been a YEAR has it not Ms P?!  Despite the retail challenges posed by COVID to many businesses, it’s my understanding that most in the antiquarian book trade did ok.  I know that’s true for Tavistock Books.  Sales were stable, but expenses declined significantly [no travel, and no employee expenses], so revenue actually increased over 2019.  And to be honest, the lack of general public foot traffic in my shop turned out to be beneficial, in that I was better able to concentrate on cataloguing, & quoting, material from my backlog.

The one significant habit change for me came about mid-summer last year…  after Samm left to head back East, I started closing up the shop at 3 pm.  I’m getting to be of an age when I just want more leisure time!
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Q: Did you see any shift in what was being purchased (less of one thing, more of another)?

Not that I could readily point a finger at…  my sub-specialities haven’t changed, so those continued to be patronized by those interested in that sort of thing.
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Q: What are your thoughts on the many virtual book fairs (in terms of both selling and buying), and how do you think they impacted the world of antiquarian bookselling and book collecting this year?

I think they are here to stay.   While a VBF can’t offer the same breadth of material in one’s ’stand’, that’s counteracted by the fact that expenses are but a fraction of what you would spend to exhibit at, say, an ABAA fair.  For example, the Feb 2020 ABAA fair in Pasadena cost cost me, with booth fees, display cases, travel, meals, etc, etc around $10K to exhibit; in contrast the most recent ABAA VBF was under $1K.  As a result, just in terms of $$ & ¢¢, the most recent ABAA VBF was much more profitable.

What is missing from the VBFs are the intangibles…  dinner with colleagues, the chance to personally interact with customers walking the aisles, that sort of thing.

I suspect in the future, once the nation has moved beyond the COVID restrictions, we’ll have a hybrid schedule of both types of fairs.

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Q: What do you see for the book world going forward? For example, do you think virtual book fairs will become a new norm in a post-Covid world? Do you think people might have taken up collecting during this time? Any insights you may have in the shifts of our little corner of the world we’d love to hear about!

I’m of the opinion the recent VBFs proved the viability of digital book fairs…  I remember, oh over a decade or so ago, there was an attempt at an ILAB on-line only fair.  I participated.  The mechanics were a bit clunky & it was poorly attended.  I did not sell a book.  I don’t think another such was planned until COVID made it necessary to do so.

So again, I think VBFs are here to stay, though it seems they’re popping up every time I turn around.  I don’t participate in all of them, and to be honest, I don’t shop them  with the same diligence as I did a year ago when they first came on the scene.  Probably that’s to my detriment, but to be honest, I find I’m very much missing the real thing.  I loved hoping on a plane to Boston in November, primarily just to shop the fairs …  I’d spend an hour just in Peter Luke’s booth, flipping through all his boxes.  That is, me, and at least 20 other customers/booksellers.  I currently don’t have that motivation for the VBFs.  But still, I’m also appreciative of not having to pack/schlep/unpack/display/repack/schlep/unpack & re-shelve 15 boxes of books.  I’ll try to find a happy balance that works for me.

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Q: So tell us… what’s coming up next for Tavistock Books?

The $64,000 question!  Well, I did sign a lease extension through 2022, so we’ll continue to be at 1503 Webster Street for a bit…  as to the immediate future, Jim Kay has said he’s planning an in-person Sacramento fair for September, so given I’ve gotten my shots, I’m inclined to exhibit there [presuming no big COVID surge between now & then].  And theirs a couple VBFs coming up in which I’ll participate, the next one being the WESTERN STATES, April 29 – May 2nd.  Come visit!

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Find out more information on the Western States Book & Paper Fair at www.rarebookla.com

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