Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever finish writing this book.
It involves a walk along the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College
to Hartford, Connecticut. (See "Bookman’s Log", January 29, 2012 for details.) I walked the first 70 miles of it back in April 2011. Then I went home and began writing – an activity that has been frequently interrupted by urgent research trips back to my route to re-walk certain passages. So far, I’ve written myself through the first day of the walk.
At this rate, I calculate, it will take me 10 years to reach Hartford.
Friday, on my way to the New Hampshire Antiquarian Book and Ephemera show in Concord, New Hampshire, I drove up to Dartmouth to do some research, then south on Route 5, retracing my walk, stopping frequently to walk interesting bits of the road that my earlier notes had overlooked.
Down the river in spring flood;
the generous, lush flatlands of Wethersfield Bow; Asher Benjamin’s brilliant Old South Church in Windsor; the historic Crown Point Road and Fort #4.
Coming to roost at the trusty Everyday Inn, then setting off again to walk the last two miles to dinner at the improbable Joy Wah
– a better than average Chinese food joint served carved into a splendid early 19th century house perched on one of the finest high spots on the river, overlooking Bellows Falls.
I’ve been up and down this stretch of road thirty times in the past two years. And it’s occurred to me that my obsessive need to familiarize myself with every inch of it is hindering, if not killing, my writing project. If I were in my twenties, aching for literary success, I’d cut to the chase or find a better project.
But the truth is, I like to walk. I like the speed, and I like what I see at that speed. The world, grain by grain. Moving down a tunnel of constantly changing visuals, the mind free to roam.
At my age there are many things I can no longer do. But I can still walk. My colleague Iain Sinclair, the best writer-walker working in Britain, recently advised me, regarding this project, “Take your time.” And I think I will.
Anyway, on to the New Hampshire Antiquarian Book & Ephemera show, managed ably, as always, by Laura Parr.
It rained to beat the band during setup on Saturday,
but that didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. As usual, buying was tough. Many people seem to be using these smaller shows as shelf clearing opportunities.
Sales fell within their usual range – Peter Luke sold $20,000; I sold $200. Sunday saw a gate of several hundred
– up from last year – and the kind of sleepy affability that characterizes events at the seedy Everett Arena.
Here’s colleague Jim Visbeck’s assessment which, I think, comes close to capturing the spirit of Sunday’s event:
“In New Hampshire Garry Austin was conspicuous. He looked great and overdressed. We think he may have come to work directly from teaching the catechism. This I think I may have proved since I observed that he was not set up next to the Heathen Hutch, which he usually (is). And, more to the point, when Garry was passing out contracts for his Vermont show… he printed it all in REALLY BIG PRINT. And he remains steadfast friends with Michael Daum, even though Mike insists on tucking in his Hawaiian shirt… Business? A pleasure.”
Unfortunately, this lovely post also raises the only melancholy note to mar Sunday’s proceedings.
The next New Hampshire show, sponsored by the New Hampshire Antiquarian Booksellers Association, NHABA, traditionally takes place in the fall. I can remember, back when book fairs were truly exciting events, this show would be held in the rambling Highway Motel, and people from all over New England would attend. It’s been running, at various venues and under various producers, for more than 30 years.
Most recently, Garry Austin produced the show at the Grappone Center (see "Bookman’s Log" September 19, 2011.) But when only 6 (yes, six) members of the NHABA, the association producing the show, actually did the show. Garry decided he wasn't getting enough support to justify his efforts, and terminated his contract with NHABA.
So production responsibilities reverted to the NHABA Book Fair Committee, who decided that, rather than risk a new venue (and the work that would go with developing one), they wanted the show back in the good ole Everett Arena.
As it turned out, the only date available was August 12 – the date of the Vermont Summer Book Fair, sponsored by the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association and promoted by Garry Austin.
Two barely-surviving book fairs going head to head. A conflict in dates that didn’t need to have happened.
So Garry is left feeling rather shabbily treated by NHABA, and the NHABA Book Fair Committee finds itself backed into an uncomfortable corner, while the 40 members of the NHABA continue to sit on their hands – at least as far as bookfair participation is concerned.
It’s a sad situation. Book dealers seem unable or unwilling to support their own book fairs, while the New Hampshire Antiquarian Booksellers Association and the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association, in the words of John Waite, “fight over crumbs.”
In honor of this, the 100th post on "Bookman's Log" I will be sparing you the customary Message from Our Sponsor. (Don't worry, I'll make up for it next week.)