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.
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.
The 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.
As 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:
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.