Monday, February 09, 2004

I'm back to work again today, after four days in Los Angeles to visit our friend Robin and to attend the LA Book Fair. It was a very pleasurable long weekend, with some quiet downtime in Robin's very peaceful house, high on a hill in Highland Park, near Pasadena, with views of the snowcapped Sierras in the distance and a yard filled with cactii and succulents, flowering and fruit bearing trees. The warm weather and green surroundings led Samantha and I to have some serious misgivings about our plans to eventually move to Maine, where our porch plants would spend most of their lives indoors, waiting for their short season.

The fair was much more promising than any of perhaps the last ten fairs I've attended. For those who have looked to this fair as an indicator of business to come, sellers seemed relatively upbeat about the level of sales and attendance and morale were, in my view, up significantly. My own buying was modest, as I'm trying hard to stay focussed on eliminating my older accounts payable, but I did find a handsome Pontus Hulten designed exhibition catalolgue from the Moderna Museet in Stolkholm as well as a few reference books. The highlights of the fair were many. Here are just a few selected purely subjectively:

John Windle's booth held a copy of an old favorite of mine, The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid, (London, 1847), designed by Oliver Byrne, which uses colors and shapes to simplify the mathematical explanation of the work. I first ran across this work in Rauri Mclean's Victorian Book Design & Colour Printing, and have sought it out at book fairs ever since, just to spend a few minutes with one of the most beautiful of 19th Century books.

While Ursus is best known for art books, particularly the grand livre d'artistes, their counter case held a small, unspectacular volume which on closer inspection was a presentation copy of Madison and Hamilton's Federalist. All I can say is wow.

Ars Libri, with David Stang manning the booth, had a wonderful selection of important art material, including illustrated books from the Roumanian avant-garde, and a collection of material for an unpublished livre d'artiste by Jim Dine, which was marked sold by the time I got to the booth.

For poetry, James S. Jaffe had the booth to visit. Samantha and our friend Robin spent more than a bit of time admiring the manuscript poem by Emily Dickinson and corrected typescript of Sylvia Plath.

My old employer John Wronoski of Lame Duck Books had distinguished copies of books by Nietzsche, Kant, Thomas Mann, Rilke, and his spectacular collection of manuscripts and inscribed books of Jorge Luis Borges. I had seen most of these items before, but he was offering for the first time a very pretty copy of Garcia Lorca's first book, Impresiones y viajes (Madrid, 1918), an account of a trip to Castile with his art class.

Antiquariaat Forum of the Netherlands has stunning early books, but I was most interested to see the complete three-volume edition of their magnificent catalogue, The Children's World of Learning, 1440-1880, that they have been working on for many years. The complete set is over 1500 pages, with nearly 1200 illustrations; it is now the indispensible reference work for early children's literature, and includes an essay comparing the new work to the previous standard in the field by Gamuchian.

Collegiality at the fair was as appropriately high as the prices, and it was very nice to see some friendly faces from the European fair circuit, including Torgny Schunesson and Borje Bengsston or Antikvariat Kulturbryggarna in Sweden, Julius Steiner of Asher Rare Books, Charlie Unsworth of Unsworth Booksellers in London, Laurens Hesselink of Forum, and many others.

For my good friend Dan Wechsler of Sanctuary Books, NYC, it was his first ABAA fair, one for which he had prepared for some time. His planning paid off, and pre-show sales were excellent, including a handsome first of Jane Austen's triple-decker Pride & Prejudice, a first of Gone with the Wind, and signed first of Abbie Hoffman's Steal this Book, which he had purchased from me the night before the fair after a meal and some wine. Dan's experience encouraged me to expedite my application to the ABAA. While I don't expect my experience will mirror his, mostly because of my specialization, it's got to beat the other fairs which remain good places to buy, but lately haven't been good for much else.

All in all, this years LA Book Fair was one of the most upbeat fairs I've attended in a few years. One can only hope that the big fairs are finally pulling out of the slump incited by the economic downturn and reactions to the chaning role of the internet in the business. We'll have to wait and see what happens in April in New York.

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