Category Archives: Book Fairs

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By Kate Mitas

One thing has become abundantly clear since I worked my first book fair a year ago: these post-fair blogs have gotten harder to write. I’m no longer the wide-eyed book fair ingenue I once was, after all, fresh off the bus (or pickup truck, as the case may be) from Ohio and armed with a stranger’s gaze at life on this side of the display cases. The same array of minor catastrophes, clothing fails, relentless anxieties, and even, on occasion, small triumphs, still happen, of course, and I can only assume will continue to do so at every book fair I work, ever. Vic will go on being grumpy and morosely pessimistic before every show; other booksellers will, invariably, be helpful and generous, not to mention gratifyingly abundant in their teasing of Vic when he wanders off to scout other booths or simply dozes in his chair while I sweat through the set-up. We’ll do well, or we won’t, and I’ll probably never fully understand why. It’s not that these details are unimportant, just that they’ve lost the sheen of novelty. The honeymoon, in other words, is over. And yet, on this anniversary of my first year on the book fair circuit, having just closed out the Fall 2016 Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair with its usual vendors, in their usual booths, visited by many of the usual customers, what strikes me is not that all book fairs are essentially alike. It’s that the more things stay the same, or appear to, the more they change.

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The Sacramento fair is a well-run local show, tirelessly promoted by Avant Retro’s Jim Kay and reliably filled with customers. Free pizza and cold beverages on set-up day ensure a moderately happy (or at least, not overly cranky) group of booksellers, and Jim opens the doors bright and early on fair day proper for any latecomers. Dealers come to buy as much as to sell, manage their expectations accordingly, and are generally not overly disappointed one way or the other. As fairs go, it’s a steady workhorse, no more and no less, and this year was no exception.

kate-at-the-sac-fairThe temperature was already inching over 90 degrees when we pulled into the parking lot at the Scottish Rite Temple on H Street, but Q (Queue? surely that would be too ironic . . . ) and his fellow crewman were undaunted as they wheeled load after load of books and bookcases into the venue. Vic promptly went off to prowl any exposed stock, and I started in on cleaning out the display cases, sorting, and, in general, making myself useful. Bill Bastick of Asian Steppes, whose booth was situated as usual across the aisle, joked about my slave status, as is his wont; Michael Good (Michael Good Books) stopped by to ask what was taking me so long; Judith Mason (Cultural Images) pointed out a nonexistent fingerprint I’d missed; James Dourgarian (James M. Dourgarian, Bookman) asked if I’d brought any ice to soothe Vic’s aching muscles after his herculean labors on our booth; Kim Hafer Herrick (The Book Lair) gave Vic bourbon and me chocolate, thus ensuring both of our lifelong friendships; Taylor Bowie (manning the booth for John Michael Lang Fine Books) and I discussed books; and . . . er, well, both Laurelle Swan (Swan’s Fine Books) and Kol Shaver (Zephyr Used & Rare Books) pointed out that customers would have an easier time reading the titles of our books if they weren’t upside-down, observations they kindly made while Vic was out of earshot, and which I speedily remedied. All in all, it was the usual delightful camaraderie, and, eventually, I even managed to get the booth set up. And sold something while I was at it, too, getting our fair off to a promising start.

img_3235As you may know, Tavistock hasn’t always had the best of luck at book fairs, shall we say: my first Sacramento fair was resoundingly dismal, in fact, as were most of the following fairs we exhibited at. So I’ve learned to approach these with a certain amount of trepidation. Nevertheless, as the fair opened on Saturday with a steady stream of visitors to our booth, and purchases poured in from Vic’s successful scouting, I began to feel cautiously optimistic. I even had a good find, at least for myself: a copy of Books and Bidders snagged for a whopping $4, and now next in line on my reading list. Sales and crowds continued throughout the day, and while not all of the dealers I talked to had a successful fair, Tavistock did . . . really well. On all fronts. It was strange and wonderful, and for the first time, we left a fair with a spring in our step.

Does this mean we’ll magically do well in Seattle, too? Of course not. When I say I have no idea why one fair is better than another, I’m not joking. I’d like to think, though, that this might just be the beginning of a run of successful fairs for the good ship Tavistock, or that at the very least Vic will have more finds like this lovely 1976 poster supporting the land reclamation and establishment of the Mohawk community of Ganienkeh, in New York:

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To be catalogued shortly… if interested, please send us an email!

And as for that pesky problem of having become an old hand on the book fair circuit? I’ve lost my privileged outsider status, it’s true. But you know what? It’s more of a privilege than ever to get to hang out with fellow booksellers and bibliophiles for a day or two.

See you next time.

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We out!

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There and Back Again: a New York Book Fair Tale by Vic Zoschak

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New York, New York… a hell of a town!

So you have now attended your… what, 27th New York ABAA fair? How does it feel?

Well, perhaps not quite that many, but have gone, either as an exhibitor, or as an attendee, pretty much every year since becoming an ABAA member in 1995.  I haven’t exhibited at the fair since sometime in the early 2000s [2005?], so the last decade has been as a shopper, and like years past, some wonderful things were on exhibit, and I even brought home one or two!

 

What was different about the New York fair this year as opposed to years past?

In my experience, the New York fair has been a strong fair for a good while now, considered by most members to be the Association’s flagship event, and, in my view, this year continued that trend.  The Armory, at 66th & Park, is a lovely location, and perfect size, for our book fair.  We have an international, cosmopolitan exhibitor base, and as a result, the same is true of the fair visitors/shoppers.

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       Photo credit: John Schulman of Caliban Books

Does it make any difference when you walk about knowing that by this time in a two years you will probably, if tradition holds, be President of the ABAA?

Well, to some degree, for in my opinion, that position shoulders a bit more responsibility for the continued viability of the Association.   And the association faces a change of venue for the fair, either beginning next year, or perhaps in 2018, and so there is the uncertainty associated with a move to a new locale.  Will it be as successful?  We will assuredly do our best to ensure it is, but sometimes the capricious hand of fate doesn’t necessarily embrace your vision of what you hope will be.


What was the most interesting item you laid eyes on?

Oh my, that’s so difficult to pick just one, however, since I have it in front of me as I write this answer, I will say I bought one of the most interesting things I saw-  the first miniature book published in Ohio [1815].  According to Rare Book Hub, one hasn’t been on the market since 1964.

What was the neatest item you purchased, if different from the above?

In addition to the miniature described above, I bought a collection of 50+ British broadside ballads, mainly 19th C.  While individually they’re not particularly uncommon, to come across a cache of this number is decidedly so, and I just couldn’t resist.  It will be fun to research the individual titles, hopefully with a few or more ending up with “Not previously recorded” in the catalogue entry.

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        And here come the crowds!

What’s your usual book fair routine when you aren’t exhibiting, such as in NY or in Boston? Do you run around, eyes glued to glass cases at first…. do you saunter with a glass of wine or a manhattan and allow the items to come to you (by knowledgeable booksellers who probably brought it with you in mind, of course)?

Usually, on the fair opening, I walk the aisles to see who is exhibiting, while letting serendipity catch my eye.  During this meandering, I tend to make it a point to stop with colleagues who I know will most likely have the unusual, non-dust jacket material that I find so interesting.  This year was no different.

How were the shadow fairs?

Due to the ABAA’s annual meeting being held Saturday mid-morning, I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get to the Getman show uptown, but did have the opportunity to visit the 2nd shadow show, across from the Armory on Lexington.  I did find a few things there, though not as much as in times past.

Did you have fun?!?!

Always!  :)

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Who cares that Gold was found near Sacramento? Check out these Gems we Mined at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair…

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Circa 1869, this pamphlet titled “God is Love. A Sermon” was authored by George Storrs – one of the leaders of the Second Advent movement, affiliated with William Miller and Joshua V. Himes. After a fair amount of study, Storrs preached to some Adventists on the condition and prospects… for the dead. OCLC records no copies of this pamphlet, nor is it found in the NUC! See more on it here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 6.38.53 PMThis set of 5 Nursing Student journals were written between 1923 and 1926 by one Mildred Godwin, a class of ’26 nursing student at Crozer Hospital, Chester, Pennsylvania. Within these journals the young lady records diverse class notes beginning in September of 1923 from lectures by her professors – Dr. Crowther, Miss Burkhard, Dr. Gray, etc. The subject of her entries range widely across the medical spectrum, from items such as Social Service to “Why Cases are Referred.” A very interesting archive of post WWI nursing education! Check it out here>

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.05.56 AMThis is no ordinary promotional photograph album or scrapbook… at least, not in terms of subject! The Alaska Blue Fox Company seem to have produced this interesting documentary album, providing an invaluable historical look at a very successful fox farming venture (yes, you read that correctly. No, there’s nothing I can do about it) on Bushy Island, in the Southeast Alaska Islands. After WWI there was a rise in fur prices, giving some eccentric entrepreneurs an opportunity to lease the island in the Tongass National Forest off the coast of Alaska and stock it with some 20 breeding pairs of foxes – all for your wearing pleasure. Be unnerved here>

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.06.36 AMThis 1929 Promotional Project Photograph Album details the Western Maryland Railway – a (primarily) coal & freight hauling operation – with images of the diverse aspects & views of the port facilities & docks, of the ‘up-to-date’ buildings & even some freight moving mechanisms (spiral chutes & cranes, etc). An outstanding, possibly unique album documenting local pre-depression Baltimore history, as well as the capital improvement efforts of one of Maryland’s major transportation firms! Love automotive and locomotive history? This is the album for you…

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It’s Always Sunny in Sacramento

Our main lady, the lovely Kate Mitas, reports on the recent Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. That’s not all… perhaps I should call it (for Tavistock Books, at least) the most recent and successful Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Stay tuned!

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By Kate Mitas

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m willing to bet that by now, if you’ve been following Tavistock’s less than stellar performance at the past three book fairs, you probably don’t really give a damn about the progress of this latest fair. All you really want to know is if we finally, finally managed to have a decent book fair, or if we’ve had to slink away with our tail between our legs yet again.

Now, if this were any other book fair, knowing that wouldn’t actually stop me from forcing you to sit through this entire blog, anyway, while I regaled you with comic misadventures and newbie impressions until, at the very last minute, revealing whether or not we’d succeeded. But just this once, I’ll spare you the suspense. 

Because this isn’t just any old book fair: at long last, and for the first time ever in my short antiquarian bookselling career, Tavistock Books actually had a good book fair.

Yeah, you read that right: we had a good book fair! We sold books! And we even made some money! Hurrah!

Well, that is to say, we mostly had a good book fair. And then again, we almost didn’t. Because, in fact, we nearly gave up before we began, and the good ship Tavistock, languishing in the doldrums for so long, seriously considered dropping out of the fair circuit altogether. 

See? There’s always a story to tell. 

So, for any who are still curious, procrastinating, or otherwise willing to fritter away a few more minutes of your time: here is your tale of book fair woe and triumph, as soberly and matter-of-factly told as I can manage right now.

Once upon a time, in a land rather a lot like this one, but slightly more drought-stricken, a wee lass of a bookseller-in-training traipsed off to Sacramento to work her first-ever booth at an antiquarian book fair. Let’s say, for the sake of this story, that it was a bright September afternoon in 2015, and that, although the hills and fields were brown and had been for some time, the sky was blue and cloudless and full of promise. This young bookseller and her not-so-young boss barreled up Interstate 80 in the shop’s trusty van, which was filled with what seemed like good candidates for a regional book fair: loads of Californiana and Western Americana, interesting ephemera, and, of course, helpings from some of the loveliest books in the shop’s specialties. The iron mesh door behind the front seats rattled quietly as they drove, and the side panels of the folded wooden bookcases in back occasionally let slip a muted clack whenever the van hit a bump. These sounds were oddly soothing to the young bookseller’s jangling nerves.

Our heroine was but five weeks into the antiquarian book trade, then, and ignorant of the sometimes cruel vagaries of the book fair circuit. She had high hopes for the shop’s success at the fair, though she kept them to herself, not wanting to jinx it. And yet, as perhaps a few of you may recall, those hopes were thoroughly quashed by the nearly unrelenting cacophony of crickets in the Tavistock booth that weekend. 

Three mournful, but plucky, blogs, two increasingly painful unsuccessful book fairs, and one wrecked van later, and the mood in the shop during the days leading up to this past weekend’s biannual Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair was decidedly grim. A kind of preliminary dread set in. There was talk of abandoning the fair circuit. All of our books looked crummy. Never mind that a second look might at them might steal our hearts all over again — no customer would want them. It rained all week, adding to the gloomy atmosphere. In short, we had the pre-fair blues.

Nevertheless, despairing naps and weeping under one’s desk are generally frowned upon at work, so, naturally, we went through the motions of packing and preparing. And while we were doing so, it occurred to me that if we kept on this way, we were definitely going to have another bad book fair. And I wasn’t having any of it, not this time.

“Hey, Vic,” I announced, “you know this is going to be my first successful book fair, right?” (This is true — you can ask him.)

The lucky title that perhaps played a hand in Tavistock Books' successful Sacramento fair! See it here>

The lucky title that perhaps played a hand in Tavistock Books’ successful Sacramento fair! See it here>

He seemed doubtful. And who can blame him? But instead of packing “The Dying Californian,” the songster that had served as my first Sacto fair’s sorry mascot, I decided to bring along our copy of Fred Fearnot and the Errand Boy; or, Bound to Make Money. Sure, maybe it was silly, but maybe it’d bring us a bit of much-needed luck, too. Plus, if things worked out, it’d make for a good blog title. “Kate Fearnot” has a certain ring to it, after all . . . 

Okay, if I’m honest, I can’t really take credit for the success that followed. Clouds continued to loom as we left the city, but the sun broke through around Vacaville. Thanks to Jim Kay’s tireless efforts, booth setup went smoothly, for the most part, and any flagging spirits were topped-up by free pizza in the afternoon. The company of what has become the usual crowd on the book-fair circuit was splendid, as always, and even Ms. P. (aka Margueritte Peterson) made an appearance, and may yet have room in her busy schedule for new clients for her social media/ catalogue design business. The crowd trickled in early Saturday morning, then grew quickly and remained steady throughout the day, and although not all of the booksellers I spoke with were happy, few seemed to regret having made the trek. At the Tavistock booth, we sold a range of material to both customers and dealers, ranging from a $9 children’s book (haggled down from $10 out of what, I’m sure, was merely compulsive bargaining) to considerably more expensive items, and everyone seemed happy with their purchases. Even the buying was pretty good for us.

Kate hasn't seen Vic so excited a book since she’s been here! He says he’s never seen a dedicated lending library binding! More details coming soon...

Kate hasn’t seen Vic so excited a book since she’s been here! He says he’s never seen a dedicated lending library binding! More details coming soon…

I wish I could say that it was a huge success, of course, making up for the preceding lackluster showings and then some. Certainly not enough to merit a Kate Fearnot blog title. Are they worth it then, these fairs? All that effort and agony, all the expense and risk just to gather, however briefly, with colleagues and book lovers of all stripes? Are they bonanzas, migratory communities, or refuges of a book trade that keeps losing physical stores? And what would we do, how would we swap knowledge and ideas and, it goes without saying, books, if we didn’t do book fairs?

Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that I have a catalogue to get ready for next week, and a stack of cool things to catalogue for it, and a pile of fair items to finish putting away, and a tally sheet on my desk pointing out our modest profit, in black ink, for the first time. It feels an awful lot like being a bookseller.

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Be on the Lookout! Come to the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair for…

The Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair is coming up and as usual we will have some hot new items with us for your perusal! Check out our list below for the latest acquisitions that may be of interest. Also, please feel free to ask us to bring anything you may want to take a look at – we’d be happy to do so! Happy Book hunting to all!

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Check out this 1803 First Edition work of juvenile fiction, “The Preservation of Charles and Isabella”, (set in Lisbon during the great earthquake) by an author better known for his satirical works. This isn’t just any first edition, however – this title is very scarce, OCLC locating only four holdings in libraries worldwide! (Oxford, Princeton, Indiana & NY Public… in case you were interested!) This from the library of either 1st or 2nd Baronet (both have the same name) Sir David Salomons, Bart. from Tunbridge Wells! See it here>

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.30 AMGot a Special Collection that needs some spicing up? Look no further! Up for sale is a Lot of 35 Shape Books and Die-Cut advertising cards, circa 1895 to the 1940s! A diverse collection – whose sizes, paginations and subject matter vary as widely as possible! All but two are American in origin. Most are also scarce in the trade, with limited or no presence in OCLC’s holdings! Interested? We are (and would keep them for ourselves but that defeats the idea of having a business). Check them out here> 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.45 AMThis broadside advertisement from the 1930s features a speeding train and a bottle of fresh milk (yes… an interesting combination). The Marin-Dell brand was the trademark of the Marin Dairymen’s Milk Company, Ltd. which operated out of San Francisco and sold only milk processed from Marin County dairies! Not only that, but they also only ever sold the milk to independent grocers in the Bay Area… talk about local history! See this advert here> 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.58 AMThe Blaw-Knox Construction Company is, to-this-day, one of the leading manufacturers of road paving equipment in the world, was originally a maker of steel and concrete forms. This 1920s Manufacturer Photograph Trade Catalogue is interesting indeed – being an uncommon primary source visually documenting this company’s work product of almost a century ago now! Interested in how normal things began to be made? This is one place to start! See more here>

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.11 AMThis political satire “Advertisements Extraordinary” is a 1st printing broadside, circa the mid to late 1830s. This Very Good condition, double-column printing lists 19 “Items” ridiculing government and politics in the United Kingdom! And if that isn’t enough to spark your interest… perhaps the idea that there are no holdings located on OCLC will be! Find out more information here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.21 AMAre you more of an absolutely-no-doubt-about-it-one-of-a-kind kind of person? Well have we got something for you! This 1912 MSS, self-published hand-made booklet is a one-of-one type of item by Minerva Mickle, inscribed to Ruth Spelman is unpaginated, though 12 pages. It is illustrated throughout with newspaper cut-outs and drawings, with a color pictorial onlay to the front wrapper. If you are a travel enthusiast, this is the item for you! See our “An Imaginary Journey” here>

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.33 AMArt aficionado? We’ve got you covered, too! This “Masterpieces of the Japanese Wood-Block Print” by Sadao Kikuchi is a 1st (Deluxe) edition in English, published in 1970. This 350-page work explores many different art-forms, heavily illustrated with a folding three-panel frontis, tipped-in color plates and 235 illustrations (of which 105 are color plates and the rest a mix of mounted b/w plates). Still housed in a Near Fine Publisher’s Box. Become a fan of the Wood-Block here> 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.53 AMDid you know that we have many items in the “automobile promotional material” category? (Vic has a “thing” for Porsches.. for those that were not aware.) We have a few nice automobile sample catalogues of a colorful nature from the last half of the 20th century, but here is something new! This letter and silver gelatin photographs show a few models from the 1930s, all clear and sharp in Near Fine condition (a rarity for items such as these)!  See it here>

 

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And last but certainly not least, an amazing Californiana item by Charles Quincy Turner! Published in 1902, this booklet has 70 pages and a fold-out map in the rear showing wagon roads and trails throughout Yosemite. 24 Sepia print photographs are mounted on heavy board, all with captions describing the scenes pictures. The pictures are fresh and show little to no fading, though the box is worn (we liked to call it “well-loved”). Very Good! Check it out here>

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Lurking in Person at the San Francisco (Mateo) Book, Print & Paper Fair

By Margueritte Peterson

I have done many “my first book fair” blogs for Tavistock Books. I wrote about my first ever book fair working behind the booth, I wrote about my first ever book fair that I had to fly to exhibit at. I wrote about my first ABAA fair. Unfortunately for you, this blog will be of a similar vein – my first book fair where I wasn’t working but I wasn’t not working either. I may no longer assist the Tavistock Books booth in person, but I am constantly lurking here – gathering information for blogs or for Twitter shout outs. And at the recent San Francisco Book, Print & Paper Fair (held in San Mateo, actually)… I lurked in person.

While this is not as creepy as I just made it sound for effect – to the outsider it looked like a young woman walking around a book fair, knowing quite a few people there but with no bags in her hands. The creepiness was felt solely on my part (I hope). I was once again in a strange situation of “firsts” for my book fair tally – the first time I walked around an antiquarian book fair not looking to buy, not looking to sell, not looking to do anything much but see some friends, evaluate the fair for my blog, and hand out to said friends some newly printed business cards (pretty useless when handing them to people who know your name and your phone number already – but I have to give them to someone otherwise it was a waste of $40). 

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.14.10 PMShould we get to the point? What I thought of the San Mateo Fair, for instance? Before I begin this brief discussion, however, let me point out a disclaimer – I only attended the San Mateo Fair for its last few hours on Saturday afternoon. For once, I cannot comment on set-up or on break-down, on sales or even on customers. What then am I going to comment on, you might ask? Well… Brad Johnson, Travis Low & Ken Sanders were all very impressed by the meat carving station.

Just kidding! (I mean, that is a fact but it is not the point). I will say that from an outsiders perspective – I was confused as to where the fair actually was, what dates it actually was (because of the Super Bowl the days of the fair were Friday/Saturday, rather than the typical Saturday/Sunday – and I would very well have shown up to a dead event center on Sunday afternoon if Kim Herrick of The Book Lair had not warned me, purely by chance). When I arrived after an hour long drive I was told I had to pay $10 cash to park – and (of course) had no cash with me. Then drove (accidentally getting on the freeway for the San Mateo Bridge, back the way I came) for 45 minutes just to get some cash out of an ATM and go back to my original destination. Now – does this have anything much to do with how well the fair went? No. But it does have some merit from the outsider’s perspective. I won’t lie, quite a bit surrounding the fair itself was a hint confusing and stressful. 

On this note, another disconcerting aspect… a lack of booth numbers on the signs for each booth (and by signs I mean pieces of white paper). I looked in the booklet once I had walked around what I thought was the entire fair, and saw that Antipodean Books was exhibiting! I adore David and Cathy Lilburne and thought I would rush over to say hi. After not finding them whatsoever I had to ask a kindly bookseller, who told me that, in fact, Antipodean Books was not exhibiting – nor were quite a few other booksellers listed in the booklet with booth numbers. 

See? Slightly confusing.

Now, on the other hand, while some of my book friends stated how slow it had been (“slow” in bookseller terms meaning a lack of customers or patrons), a couple others told me that they had sold quite a bit of material and had gone through more than one invoice pad. For those of you that don’t know bookselling, that is quite a good fair hint right there! Vic and Kate themselves walked out of the fair with smiles and arms heavily loaded with material purchased. So, as is usual for every one of these book fairs I have reported on, for some the fair was a success and for others it was not quite all they had hoped. In any case, good fair or bad the booksellers were there – and they are the main event. Also per usual, I got smiles and laughs from all, despite how they felt the fair was going. 

So what is the conclusion here? Perhaps just that, as an outsider looking in there were confusing aspects that I might never have seen or understood were it not for being the creeper that I now am! And perhaps I have learned a lesson – always carry cash when going to a new book fair!

Check in next week for our write-up on the Pasadena ABAA Fair!

 

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A Wonderland of Books, Indeed! Happy 184th Birthday, Mr. Dodgson!

By Margueritte Peterson

One of my most favorite Children’s writers of all time was born on the 27th of January, 1832. Scratch that – one of my most favorite writers, period, was born on the 27th of January, 1832. Many critics of great literature have commented on the fact that one of the most lasting kinds of literature is the kind that speaks to both children AND adults – writers whose works you can read when you are both 5 and 75 and learn something equally important at both of these starkly different ages. It is my super humble (though really awesome) opinion that the writer we honor today, on what would be his 184th birthday, is one of those writers. It is perhaps also appropriate that we honor his memory this week, as in less than a month there will be an ABAA Fair in Pasadena named after some of his most well-known work. The name of the fair? A Wonderland of Books. Can you guess who it is yet? 

lewisCharles Lutwidge Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll – for those readers that are having one of those really slow days) was the fourth child of what would be a family of 12 (just children, that is). He and quite a few of his siblings would suffer from an unfortunate stammer for their lives, a condition often thought to be brought on when a naturally left-handed child is forced to become right-handed early in childhood (though there is no specific evidence that shows this to blame for Dodgson in particular). This stammer would cause the author no end of misery as he felt inferior throughout life and led to his later relationships with children (sparking great work and no end of controversy to this very day). A (somewhat vague) problematic time in Dodgson’s upbringing would arrive when the 13-year-old Dodgson was sent to Rugby School – an independent boarding school in Warwickshire. Years after leaving the school, Dodgson would write, “I cannot say … that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again … I can honestly say that if I could have been … secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been comparative trifles to bear.” Though never expanded on, one can assume that Dodgson was either teased mercilessly or suffered even worse hardships at the hands of his fellow students. 

In 1850 Dodgson entered Christ Church College in Oxford, where he excelled academically, despite not always being the most faithful of students. He received first-class honors in Mathematics at the College, and continued teaching and studying the subject until 1855, when he won the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, a post he then held for the next 26 years. It was during this period that he began to be published nationally (having been writing poetry and satires, often humorous in nature, since young adulthood), in magazines like The Comic Times and The Train. It was during this period (1856, to be exact) that Dodgson first published a poem under the pseudonym “Lewis Carroll” – a work entitled “Solitude” published in the magazine mentioned above – The Train.

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The Liddell sisters – Alice, Lorina & Edith.

In the same year as the publication of “Solitude”, a new Dean arrived at Christ Church – Dean Henry Liddell. The Liddell family would feature heavily in Dodgson’s life for years to come, as he became an important influence and friend to the Liddell daughters – Lorina, Edith, and Alice. He would often take the Liddell children on short day-trips around Oxford – rowing or going for walks – and it was on one of these trips that he first began the story that would eventually turn into one of the most beloved children’s books of all time – Alice in Wonderland. His story of a precocious and questioning young girl was a story told to Alice Liddell, who in turn begged Dodgson to put it to paper for her. His personally illustrated manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” was completed in 1863. After Dodgson’s longtime friend (and fellow author) George MacDonald got ahold of the story, it was his persistence that led to its publication in 1865, with new illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. The book was an instant commercial success – with “Lewis Carroll” receiving attention from around the world. 

One of the most well-known Tenniel illustrations to the first Alice publication!

One of the most well-known Tenniel illustrations to the first Alice publication!

In 1871 Dodgson published a sequel to Alice, titled “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”. Though it was popular as well, it’s somewhat darker mood and gloomier settings did not garner the same amount of success as the first novel. In 1876, “Carroll” published his next great work – a humorous and fantastical poem – “The Hunting of the Snark.” Another work came even later, in a two-volume set of a fairy story titled “Sylvie and Bruno” – though not as well known it has remained in print ever since.

A great love of Dodgson’s throughout his life was photography. The first photographs that are attributed to the author date back to 1856 – around the time that he began his association with the Liddell family. Often, even today, Dodgson comes under scrutiny when fans find out that over half of his photographic subjects include little girls – sometimes scantily clad in what one might consider strange positions or situations. Though no evidence has ever come into question of an inappropriate relationship between Dodgson and any of the girls he came into contact with (as most of his “friends” were children – Dodgson was notoriously shy around adults), many continue to wonder whether he ever considered a more intense relationship with the girls in the photographs. Nevertheless, they are interesting pieces of early photographic work – all done with full knowledge of the subject’s parents and often commissioned by the families themselves! 

Dodgson is well-remembered for Alice and for the children’s stories he came up with, but it should be noted that this Mathematician also produced works that are still remembered if not used today in Mathematical sciences. He published almost a dozen books under his real name (not the pseudonym) on the science, and himself developed new ideas in the subject of linear algebra. He taught Mathematics in his post at Christ Church until 1881, and then remained in residence there for the rest of his life. On January 14th, 1898, two weeks away from his 66th birthday, Dodgson passed away from pneumonia following a bout of influenza, and is buried in Guildford. One thing is for sure and certain, whether you wish to remember him as Charles Dodgson or Lewis Carroll – this author remains, to this day, one of the most well-known names in Children’s Literature (if not the most well-known), and deserves to be celebrated on this his 184th birthday!

One of Dodgson's original illustrations in the manuscript "Alice's Adventures Under Ground".

One of Dodgson’s original illustrations in the manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”.

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