Monday, April 14, 2008

Field Report: The Book Fair in Burlington, VT

It's been ages since Dan and I attended a book fair, as we are chained to our open shop like a quarto in a medieval scriptorium. Yesterday, however, St. John of God, the patron saint of booksellers, rearranged the heavens to allow us entry within the gates of the Burlington, Vermont Sheraton Hotel, where the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association (VABA) was holding its Spring Book and Ephemera Fair. We were on a research field mission for the day when our kids are out of the house and we are more into rare and antiquarian books than the general stock we carry at our open shop, Old Saratoga Books.

We arrived an hour into the Fair and it was nicely crowded, although mostly with grey-haired bibliophiles. Even at the stately ages of 46 and 48, respectively, we definitely skewed the median bibliophilic age downward, but there was a sprinkling of pre-Baby Boomers buying and selling books, which bodes well for the continuation of bibliophilia.

My book mojo was primed right at the ticket booth where previous VABA Book Fair posters were for sale for a mere $1 and feature the woodcut art of Caldecott Winner Mary Azarian. I got a great bookish design of a woman reading and reclining on a divan with her cat and dog to frame for our shop.

There was a nice range of book and ephemera in a variety of price ranges at this fair. One could spend thousands of dollars or under $10 for the VABA wares and this made it all the more interesting to peruse the tables closely for store stock and my home library.

We got a couple of books about the Battle of Saratoga to replenish the always-hungry local history section from some friendly dealers at the Book Shed (Benson, VT) and Hermit Hill Books (Poultney, VT) and then Dan scored Edward Hoagland's first book "Cat Man" from poetry and first edition specialist Mark Alexander (of Alexander Rare Books, Barre, VT). "Cat Man" is a novel based on Hoagland's experience as a wild cat tamer with a traveling circus and that should be some lively reading. That's Mark on the left chatting up modern firsts with a nice customer who pointed out a poetry broadside about a trout by Raymond Carver, which of course tempted the Book Trout no end.

We picked up a book on Adirondack Style featuring the great "camps" (think palatial, not rustic Army pup tents) from Speaking Volumes, who had the best business card of the whole show with a beautiful woodcut illustration of a Victrola, bookshelves and a vase of flowers. Speaking Volumes, interestingly, advertises and sells with a Myspace page, something to think about in this Internet age and to market books and music to the GenXers, Slackers or whatever young folks are called now.

There were lots of Vermontiana, hunting and fishing titles, gardening, and books illustrated by Edward Gorey in evidence, including a Son of the Martini Cookbook I'd never seen before offered Peter L. Stern & Co. of Boston. Dan and I also enjoyed seeing many books we've had over the years and nostalgically thought about buying some back, but remembered that we can't fall in love with our wares too obsessively or we'll go out of business. He and I kept a running tag of how many copies we saw exhibited of Vermont history volume "Mischief in the Mountains" (we saw at least five) and Lynd Ward's woodcut novel "Mad Man's Drum " (three without jackets, one fully dressed).

Rachel scooped up an interesting memoir by a Vietnamese-American writer, Bich Minh Nguyen, called "Stealing Buddha's Dinner" after visiting the Asian Steppes booth (Pittsford, VT), people by husband and wife world travelers Bill and Sarah Bastick. Bill was a consummate salesman, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his books and the Asian countries they represent. He was apologetic to me in describing the book, as he had not read it himself, as he apparently has read most of his stock, but our conversation was so interesting (and an English accent doesn't hurt, either) that I just had to buy it, even as my inner cheapskate yammered on about nabbing it more inexpensively in a year or two. Most of Asian Steppes books are antiquarian books on travel and Asia, although there are a few more contemporary titles in the mix.

Dan had a great time speaking with Alex Henzel (South Royalton, VT) whose delicious collection of lurid vintage paperbacks and eccentric titles was a treat to linger over. There was a curious wooden Indian Club-shaped item in one of his glass cases and he was kind enough to pull it out to show us that it was a tourist memento that accompanied an olive wood-covered book of snapshots from Jerusalem (circa 1920s?). He unscrewed the Club and showed that one end was a hash pipe and if you squinted into the other end you saw a tiny negative with the image of a Rubenesque naked woman! The Holy Land, indeed!

The highlight of the journey was meeting Donna Howard of the Eloquent Page Bookshop (St. Albans, VT) who was wonderfully busy making sales and chatting with customers and fellow book dealers throughout the whole of our book fair perusal. I know Donna from the Bibliophile List, so I was very happy to zoom in and speak with her during one of her infrequent breaks. She and her mother and business partner, Marilyn Howard, had a nice array of jacketed vintage children's books and had customers buzzing throughout my short interview with her. Here's her photo, showing off her impeccable fashion sense with her Edward Gorey T-Shirt.

Overall, an impressive turnout for this book fair, something that was seconded by the several colleagues I queried, although a couple did mention that attendance is not like the good old days (pre-Internet). I saw lots of happy browsers with purchasers in tow, so I assume the sales were good also. Donna noted that VABA also has a Summer show, so I would be interested in attending that also, given the diverse, interesting and reasonably-priced book offerings.

After a glorious couple of hours at the VABA Fair we headed into downtown Burlington, thinking it would be easy to find lunch for my gluten-free husband, but the restaurants were in full brunch mode, with muffins, pancakes, and extra-wheat-infused artisan breads in abundance. No great dining options presented themselves after a half-hour's walk, so we drove back south. It was a hour later when we staggered into Middlebury and I and my now extremely grumpy sweetie held forth at an Indian restaurant and ten minutes before they closed for their mid-afternoon break, but we wolfed down spinach curry and basmati rice in record speed. If anyone has a good gluten-free restaurant recommendation for our next visit to Burlington, Vermont I'd be glad to hear it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

City Market would have gluten free takeout, and chairs outside during the warmer months. It's a grocery store, though.