Prison Ship Manuscript. (see below)
Maybe it’s something in the air down here, or maybe it’s the dark side of that laid back Southern California ethos. I can’t quite figure it out. But for some reason the retrieval of boxes and shipping crates at the end of SoCal Book Fairs has been a problem for decades.
Once, years ago, I waited more than an hour while Neanderthal union guys searched for my boxes in a distant storage facility. When I complained to the manager - I think his name was Hugh - he said, “It’s not my problem.” and walked away from me as fast as he could. A fellow in a shocking pink cashmere sweater and canary yellow tie thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. I was ready to knock his block off until I found out they’d lost his boxes, too. That was how I met John Windle, and it was the beginning of a friendship that’s lasted all these years. Funny how things happen.
Windle, his wife Chris Loker (a topnotch dealer in her own right), and I had an excellent dinner at Roxolana, a Ukranian Restaurant in Pasadena on Thursday night, and we agreed that the book fair venue was close to ideal. Pasadena Convention Center is a new facility, and it has been intelligently designed to accommodate events such as ours.
The move-in couldn’t have gone any smoother. We had wide aisles, good lighting, easy parking, and proximity to an abundance of retail outlets. The hotel was literally next door to the book fair. It all seemed pretty wonderful, though I should add that the extraordinary Polish vodka martinis at Roxolana may have added to our positive assessment of the day’s proceedings.
I’d always thought of Pasadena as a city of blue hairs and Reagan republicans. In fact, it’s a pretty groovy place. Generous, wide streets and pleasant downtown architecture house a wealth of boutique adventures, pocket gyms, jazz clubs, and the like.
I couldn’t find the Senior Center for my evening Bingo, but I did make my way, each morning, with John Thomson of Bartleby’s Books to the foothills of the Angeles National Forest for some spectacular hill walks.
Back at the venue during setup, things proceeded pretty much as expected. I’d seen two thirds of the exhibitors at San Francisco the week before, so both buying and selling Thursday and Friday morning were slow for me. The gates opened to a substantial and serious crowd, thanks in large measure to extensive advertizing and LA Times sponsorship – both the result of extra effort by the book fair committee.
The crowd continued strong on Saturday. In fact one committee member told me that Saturday attendance alone exceeded the total attendance of the mordant 2010 Century City LA Book Fair.
That said (Ever notice how the phrase “that said” has caught on? It’s made great progress in the language, despite the fact that it’s nowhere near as interestingly malign as the equally popular “with all due respect” which, of course means, “with no respect at all.”), much of the Saturday crowd were what I call “molecules.” Molecules are attendees who bump around the floor in a sort of random Brownian motion, occasionally bonding to a low valence book. Some molecules also form new compounds by bonding with free catalogs or other molecules. Also, there was some minor complaining – no, maybe “observing” would be a better term – that West Siders, those legendarily affluent Angelinos for whom Pasadena is a schlep, tended to stay home.
This observation was countered by the majesterial Don Heald, who snorted, “Anyone who lives within an hour of a major event such as is one and can’t get it together to attend is a… a…”
“Molecule?” I ventured.
He regarded me charitably. “With all due respect, Greg…”
Having said that, a little later the equally majesterial Ben Weinstein told me, “Every old customer I ever had who doesn’t buy my books anymore stopped by my booth.” Including several folks from the West side.
I managed to sell about $4000 to people who hadn’t been to my stall last week, and bought about $8,000 worth of reasonably interesting pirate books, shipwrecks, sailors’ narratives and the like. Retail sales amounted to only a few hundred additional dollars. So, by the Weinstein method of tabulating book fair results I had a $12,400 weekend. Which, I suppose, does not qualify as a great book fair. However I did meet some new potential customers – if Hong Kong Harry comes through, I should be good for an extra five figures a year – and am expecting another $15,000-$20,000 in residual orders and after-show business. Anyway, the venue was so excellent, the crowds so steady, the staff so helpful, and the weather so splendid, I really had to struggle to find anything to be grouchy about.
They were out of coffee in the dealers’ lounge on Sunday morning. I’m pissed! (There. That’s done.)
Michael Thompson and his colleagues on the book fair committee took a risk escaping from the familiar but mordant Century City location and, to their credit, they met all the naysayers and nervous nellies head on. They believed the new Pasadena venue would work, and they stuck to their guns. I think what surprised everyone was how right the book fair committee was. By any measure of success dependent on matters under our control, this event was a success. Even those of us who didn’t have particularly great fairs seemed to have delightful weekends. And the perennially gnarly box situation got straightened out by the hard working floor staff in relatively short order. The place was just about empty within three hours. Those escaping by red-eye made their flights, and the rest of us enjoyed quiet, drowsy dinners, and an early bedtime.
Now, I think, it will be important to build on this success. We’ll need a credible non-ABAA event here next year, and another strong ABAA fair here in two years. As time goes on, this show should get traction and may attain its true potential. Just imagine what would happen if all those West Siders showed up.
Great job, book fair committee and Winslow Associates. Thanks!
Dring, Thomas. (edited by Albert Greene) RECOLLECTIONS OF THE JERSEY PRISON SHIP. WITH GREENE MANUSCRIPT OF THE BOOK. Providence, RI. 1829. b/w folding frontis. 167 pp. Dring was mate on the Chance, an American privateer, which was captured in 1782 by H.M.S. Belisarius. He was imprisoned, with other Americans, on the Jersey prison ship anchored off Long Island. This is the narrative of his experiences, with an 1888 newspaper article tipped onto back blanks. A scarce account. The folding plate shows a view of the ship and plans of 2 decks. Harbeck p. 29. Howes D 303. Greene’s account of Dring’s narrative is accompanied by Greene’s manuscript of the book, and by the first edition of the book itself. Both $1750