Not "Night of the Living Dead" - it's the scrum at the booth of Brattle Books during setup, starring Nicole Reiss
This was, by most accounts, a good Boston Book Fair. Not an all-time great, but not a disaster. Pleasant weekend weather, vigorous promotion, and the lovely human capacity to ignore looming global fiscal catastrophe resulted in frisky, interested crowds all three days of the fair.
Not a convention of undertakers - it's the frisky crowd on opening night
Let us pause a moment to consider this “promotion” issue. Show promoter Betty Fulton (Commonwealth Promotions), and the show’s Godfather Ken Gloss (Brattle Books), were tireless in their efforts at outreach and education in the greater Boston area. Radio spots ran regularly on WBUR, the Boston FM station most attuned to the book collector demographic. Both Fulton and Gloss used October’s widely attended Boston Book Festival (new books) to publicize our own old book “festival” at the Hynes. Dealers like Peter Stern, Commonwealth Books, and Boston Book Co. added to the drum beat, and even non-participating firms like Buddenbrooks made sure their local customers knew about the fair.
Most importantly, promoter and local dealers distributed hundreds, if not thousands, of free passes to the fair. This resulted in a strong showing by the under-forty crowd, upon whom we pin so many of our hopes for the continued health of our trade. The way Gloss explained it, these people might not want to spend $15 to get in to an antiquarian book fair, but with a free ticket the event becomes a destination, a convenient downtown location at which to meet friends, have a drink, and see (perhaps even purchase) some cool books. All this, mind you, is coming out of the pocket of the promoter in terms of potential revenue at the gate. But Betty shrugs it off, preferring to concentrate her efforts on building a stronger event. In fact, according to one of my cub reporters, Peter Stern, attendance was up a bit this year, edging 3500.
The Hynes is a pleasant, roomy venue, and Boston’s location makes our event a convenient stop for European dealers, who invariably add interesting material and good looking women to the mix on the floor. For some reason, perhaps because of Boston’s slightly provincial character, the “pressure to perform” is less than at Los Angeles, say, or New York. Also, this fair’s excellent comfort level arises from the fact that we’ve been in the same venue, with the same promoter, for a decade. The men and women who work the floor during move-in and move-out know the drill because they’ve been doing it for years. Many faces on the staff are recognizable from past fairs, and their relations with exhibitors are likely to be friendly and cooperative rather than adversarial – as they are at a show like Baltimore, where the promoter is new and many of the workers don’t “get it.”
In any event, I would go so far as to say that there are moments when the Boston Book Fair almost seems fun.
Bernice Bornstein and Mardges Bacon
And speaking of fun, the “shadow show” over at the Park Plaza Castle Saturday morning was its usual goofy, poorly lit, but somehow exhilarating book-mosh. According to promoter Bernice Bornstein, setup was as chaotic as ever - saved, in the end, by the heroic efforts of volunteers Bill Hutchison and Garry Austin. The gates opened at 8 AM and a swarm of ravenous, slightly hung over dealers from the Hynes gobbled their way through the books on offer. Exhibitors I spoke with echoed the “good, not great” assessment coming from the bigger fair.
The only tussle I heard about involved a dealer who had a bone to pick with Bill Hutchison. It seemed, in this dealer’s paranoid version of how things proceed, Hutch had given him a bad booth and therefore he’d had a lousy show. Well, here’s a news flash, boyo. You had a lousy show because you had lousy books. End of story.
The end of the story for me came, fittingly, in the last hour of the book fair at the Hynes, during which time two hefty sales nudged my book fair questionnaire answer from “met expectations” to “exceeded expectations” and relieved, momentarily at least, that nasty old pressure to perform.
Here's one of my books that never quite made it off the lot:
LOG OF THE WHALING BARK JOHN CARVER. MAY 31 1875 - MAY 16, 1879. Folio, approximately 200 pp. manuscript entries. Complete log of a voyage to the Pacific and New Zealand. It has no whaling stamps, however two things set it apart. Midway through the voyage, a greenhand recruit named Joseph Fry went crazy, and the log follows his descent in dispassionate, grotesque, detail. This was a bad voyage for captains. The first Captain, Aaron Dean, died of a heart attack. All three of his replacements got sick and were sent ashore, and all of this is recorded in the log - including picking up Capt. Dean’s body at Talcahuano for shipment home, three years after his death. This log comes with original shipping papers, signed by each of the crew, with position aboard and lay specified, as well as a manuscript contract, signed by each crewman, agreeing to the terms of the voyage. These included charges for the medicine chest, insurance, interest on advances, guarantee of cargo and guarantee of pay (an astonishing 2½ %). Though such agreements were regularly struck with crews, particularly in later whaling days, documentation is scarce. $7500