On Being a Bookseller

Talking with other booksellers who came of age before the internet, I find that most of us share similar stories: we started as collectors; we haunted used book stores; we read dealers' catalogs; we shadowed, or formally apprenticed with, established figures in the field; we loved to share stories with other collectors and dealers. When our collections outgrew our homes or interests, we began dealing, slowly at first and perhaps only duplicates, but the excitement of making sales, traveling to shows, and meeting new customers cemented the deal. We were booksellers!

I used to own two other companies, both library/education-related, that kept me on the road at professional conferences several months each year. I planned each trip with an extra day or two before the event or afterwards in order to hit the used book stores in town. My favorite companions were David and Susan Siegel's Used Book Lover's Guides to different regions of the USA. Each guide gave the name, address, phone number, specialties, and explicit directions to out-of-the-way used bookstores in each town, large and small, within driving distance. 

As the 1990's progressed, it became more and more common for me to arrive at an address and see a sign on the shop, "CLOSED." By mid-decade, the Siegels stopped publishing their guides, the internet had fully arrived, and anyone with a computer and access to eBay had become a bookseller. Technology evolves, things change, and one adapts to the times. The Wonderland100 site provides potential access to more customers than a shop on 5th Avenue in NYC would have in the old days. I'm not complaining (too much).

But bookselling in the modern era has lost a couple of vital human components.; foremost among them is a lack of personal interaction between buyer and seller. The internet has stripped away the minutes (and sometimes hours) that we'd spend talking about books, collecting, great finds, and the ones that got away. Back when, bookselling was as much a means for us to develop friendships and share passions as it was to make a buck. The world wide web has reduced all that to mere transactions.

Which brings me to book fairs. I'm delighted that you found my web site (and even more so that you're taking the time to actually read my blog!), but there's nothing like attending an antiquarian book show, meeting and talking with dealers, holding a book in your hands, and making a purchase (or not). With so few used book stores around, book fairs have become increasingly important to the trade and it's important that both dealers and customers continue to support and attend these functions. I just set up a booth at the Akron, OH fair this past weekend and purchased several remarkably rare and desirable items for VERY reasonable prices...better purchases than I've made on the internet in months. I could see them, and smell them, and verify that they were really as described, rather than ordering from an unknown source with an unknown track record. 

Plan on attending. Look up a local fair at www.bookfairs.com and mark the dates on your calendar. We'll be attending at least three more this year: the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, April 20-22, in St. Pete, the Movable Book Society convention, September 27-29, in Kansas City, MO, and the Cleveland Antiquarian Book and Paper Show in October (date to be determined). If you're close by, please stop in and introduce yourself!

In anticipation of the Florida fair, I was invited to be part of the Rare Book Cafe to talk about pop-up, movable, and novelty books. My segment starts about 8 minutes in, but the entire program is worth watching. The thrill of the moment led to a couple of misstatements on my part, but hey, that's part of the fun of live television. Enjoy!