Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Bike Ride and History: Inspired by Dead End in Norvelt

I just finished Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.  It was quite the ride, filled with laugh out loud humor and the kind of funny that will sneak up on you days later and spark a hardy guffaw when you least expect it.  It was also a history lesson, slyly delivered so that the reader won't even realize he/she is learning until the facts have already been absorbed.  A nice trick!

One character from the book, Miss Volker, is passionate about Norvelt and its history, as well as history in general.  She got me to thinking about all of the historic places that are all around us, how accessible some of them are.  So, I decided to take a few breaks on my bike ride to snap some shots of historic places I get to pass almost everyday.   What historic figures, events or buildings are close by to your residence?  Are they well-marked? Or did you have to do a little digging to find out a place has historical significance?

The actual building no longer exists, but here is the stone marker.

The actual law school is now a museum you can visit.

The actual home is a reproduction and is now a private residence.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A quick trip back in time: Happy Little Edward, 1850.

I rarely take the time to read little toy books from the mid-19th Century.  For the most part the writing is  dull and written with the purpose to drill morals or blandly presented facts into the minds of young children.  More often than not, the writing is preachy and condescending.

However, I looked into one of my glass display cases and saw Happy Little Edward and thought, "Well, how bad could it be?"

To my surprise, it wasn't bad at all.  I would not say it would appeal to today's child, but I can imagine that back in 1850 a child would have been most glad to read this as a reprieve from the drudgery of Sanford & Merton-type writings.  (If you're unfamiliar with Sanford & Merton, count yourself lucky.)

It is the story of Edward, a city boy, who takes a journey to the country to visit relatives.  On his journey he learns about different animals and birds, where rivers flow to and revels in the beauty of his surroundings.  The book reinforces kindness to animals, which is also refreshing for this time period.  Morals and instruction are presented in the story, but it is done subtly and within context, so it doesn't feel heavy-handed.

Below, I present the toy book in its entirety: Happy Little Edward, and His Pleasant Ride and Rambles in the Country. New Haven, CT: S. Babcock, 1850.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New England Book Fair Report: Selling, Buying and Giving One Away

Every book fair fills me with the type of excitement I used to feel the night before Christmas or my birthday when I was a child.  I have trouble sleeping on the nights leading up to the fair. I’m distracted from my daily duties by thoughts of the books I might find for my dedicated collectors or to fill the want lists of those people who are looking to replace a long-lost childhood favorite.  I agonize over whether or not I brought the right material to sell.  

This book fair was particularly exciting for me because I had taken a year off from exhibiting at book fairs (but not from bookselling in general) to produce a film.  I was certainly ready to get back on the book show circuit; I missed selling books face to face rather than through electronic devices. 

Over the past year I’ve had conversations with other booksellers about their experiences at various book fairs during these rather trying economic times.  The overall consensus is that attendance has waned, and the general public has certainly cut back on what they buy, but the good news is that book collectors and book nerds will always buy books, even if they have to skip a few meals to do so. 

There is a part of me that was extremely nervous about doing the show.  Would I sell enough to make expenses?  Will I buy enough to make the show worth it?

Come 10 o’clock Sunday morning, my fears were allayed as I saw a line of anxious patrons winding out the door of the Everett Arena.  At the front of the line stood the usual suspects, the hard-core collectors and “off-duty” booksellers standing on their tip-toes surveying the field of books with acute determination to pinpoint their prey before any of their competitors; Behind them, the casual book-lovers and general public in attendance out of curiosity. 

The first two hours of the show were filled with the usual flurry of excitement as customers rushed to their favorite bookseller’s booth.  After the initial rush, the atmosphere became more relaxed as the attendees leisurely browsed the show, their newly purchased treasures sealed in brown bags tucked snugly underarm or packed securely in shoulder bags. 
I sold books steadily throughout the day, firstly to those customers I had brought specific material for and then the surprise sales, as I like to call them.  My favorite responses from customers were:

“I’ve never seen anything like this before.” (in response to a strange little book called How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers).

“I have been looking for this book for years.”  (About an edition of Struwwelpeter).

“This isn’t for resale, this is for me.” (From a bookseller who purchased Space Cat).

My favorite moment of the day came when a father and his son were in my booth.  I understand that it can be frustrating for a child to see all of these children’s books and be told “don’t touch” by their parents because, for the most part, the books I bring to fairs are for collectors.  The father told the young boy not to touch, but he did show certain books to his son. I could see that the boy was disappointed to walk away empty-handed. 

I happened to have a stash of “reading” books with me and handed the boy a copy of My Father’s Dragon, which I had just read the night before.  The father was flabbergasted, and very grateful.  The boy’s eyes got really wide and he said,

“Really?  I can have it?  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He hugged the book to his chest and skipped away.  I may never see him again, but I hope he enjoys the book and continues to find joy in reading.

That is the moment I will take away from the fair even over good selling and buying.

A few booth pictures and a sampling of the books I bought for my upcoming catalog:

Grandmother's Spring by Juliana Horatio Ewing, Illustrated by R. Andre, Circa 1885

The Tale of Tim the Sailor-Mouse by Ernest Aris, 1910, per The Bookman Dec. 1910

Bluebeard, Illustrated by Walter Crane, New Series circa 1890s.

Italian Peepshow by Eleanor Farjeon, 1926.

Land fo the Lost by Allen Ayrault Green, 1908.