Guest Blog: At the Seattle Book Fair

Making My Way Through the 2012 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair

Guest blog by Jonathan Shipley




It started with me holding a first edition of Henry David Thoreau's Walden. It's like magic, that feeling of holding the physical embodiment of philosophical thought. Nearby, at another booth, I held a volume of Edward Curtis' seminal work, The North American Indian. The photographs are breathtaking. A few steps away, I smiled. There, at my fingertips, a first edition of Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Over there - the earliest printing of the Book of Mormon. And there - a signed Gone With the Wind. And The Hound of the Baskervilles. A book nerd heaven I was in last Saturday at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

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Featuring 91 exhibitors from seventeen states and Canada, the fair offered thousands of old, rare, used, out-of-print, and collectible books, maps, prints, manuscripts, photographs, posters, paper ephemera, art, letterpress books, and broadsides. I, a book nerd prince (I'm too young still to be a king), wandered in looking for something to bring home. What? I did not know. I just knew that it was out there somewhere. Out there - like Ahab's white whale (Oh, look, an edition of Moby-Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent!).



There's just so much to browse through. At the Nudelman's Rare Books display, there was a collection of Kerouac books. The Dharma Bums ($750) called my name. (Too rich for my blood, sadly.) There's a rare set of John James Audubon's Birds of America for $32,000. At the Cookbook Lady's booth, up from El Sobrante, California, Beard on Bread sat on a shelf alongside an early edition of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.



Louis Collins' booth (he is one of the fair's main organizers) had quite a lot of books on bats. Yes, bats. Not really sure why I wanted to buy a copy of Bats of Suriname ($45), but I did. I had thoughts of buying all sorts of books that suddenly struck my fancy - A Bloomer Girl on Pike's Peak, Scarabs, The Living Buddha, Applegreen's Bar Book, Camping and Character, a signed copy of Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness ($75), a first edition copy of the Fred Marcellino's illustrated edition of Puss in Boots ($125).

IMG_9967.JPGThe subject matter ran the gamut at the fair. It ran the gamut from booth to booth. Antiquariat Botanicum specialized in botany, medicine, and natural history. The Book Bin showcased rare fantasy titles. Fairlook Antiques offered postcards. John Howell for Books specialized in Californiana while Robert Gavora Fine Books had tracks of railroad books.



At the Chanticleer Books' booth I discussed the great, and oftentimes schlocky, Jack London. The proprietor lives a few miles from London's old ranch in Northern California. He showed me some of his rarer works, autographed works, and some promotional stills of a movie based on one of London's obscure short stories about a white man falling in love with an Indian squaw. The "Indians" look laughable.



I thumbed through book upon book - Edward Gorey's The Loathsome Couple, Howard Carter's The Tomb of Tutankhamum, Joan Didion tomes, Stephen King titles, books like Practical Basketry, Letters of the Slave Trade, The Complete Angler, Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Europeans, a pamphlet entitled "Do You Lose Your Temper?" - but nothing sang to me. Sure, they're all a chorus of wonders, but I hadn't found THE book.



And then I was browsing through some random stacks at Jim Kay's Bookbomb. From Sacramento, he has run the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair in the past, and he carries general travel and Americana books. Browsing, browsing, browsing. WHAT'S THIS?! A first edition of The Lincoln Highway, published in 1935 by Dodd, Mead & Company. WOW! I'm traveling the Lincoln Highway with my kid next year! Neato! "I'm getting this book for sure," I said to myself. And then I look at another nondescript, unattractive book nearby. WHAT'S THIS?! The Complete Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway. Holy moly! And it has still got its map inside! Of all the stacks I browsed through, of all the books I could have passed over, I found not one, but two antiquarian books on the Lincoln Highway. Gadzooks!



"I wouldn't have thought in a million years I'd sell these books to someone as young as you," Kay said as he rang me up. "No one knows about the Lincoln Highway, not even someone my age." He smiled. "I expected to sell 'em to some old white-haired man saying, 'I remember driving that stretch of highway years ago!'"

No, sir, I'm going on the Lincoln Highway myself. And, thanks to the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, I'm taking these books with me.

Photo and essay by longtime FB&C freelancer and Seattelite Jonathan Shipley.

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