Fairs | February 2010 | Chris Lowenstein

2010 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, Part 1, Or, Maybe I Should Just Stay Home

Alright: It's more than a week overdue and I am still swimming in oceans of work to do after returning home from ten days on the road. Still, it's high time I wrote a little report of the 2010 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair. I put the boxes of books to be re-shelved to the side for the moment. Part 1 of my report appears today with more to follow tomorrow.

Two years ago, I wrote about selling books at the San Francisco show. It was only my second book fair.

I was quite excited and quite nervous.

This year's San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair is book fair number ten. I've gained a lot of experience and made a lot of progress since the 2008 fair.

I was quite excited and quite nervous.

Not only would I be selling books at this fair, I'd be personally handing out a lot of copies of Book Hunter's Holiday Catalogue #1 to customers and to other booksellers. What if no one liked the catalogue? What if they wanted to know why all of the "serious" Dante books from the 1500s are not in my catalogue? I had just mailed out the catalogue three days before the fair, and people's reactions were just beginning to trickle in. So far so good, but watching people examine the catalogue in person could potentially be gut wrenching.

Added to the catalogue anxiety was my usual lack of sleep the night before a fair, when I am kept awake by the nightmarish thought that I have since learned haunts most booksellers: "What if no one buys any of my books?"

Did I mention that Tom and Huck's school also gave them a 10-day "ski week" vacation, beginning on Friday, February 5, the set-up day of the fair? Not only would they be home from school for the duration of the fair, but they wanted to leave for the snow on Monday, the morning after the fair ended. The plan was to come home on Thursday night and then for me to leave Friday to attend (but thankfully not to also sell books at) the Los Angeles International Antiquarian Book Fair. That's a full calendar, and it would require that I be away from home for about 10 days. I was exhausted from getting all of the catalogues in the mail, too. I was beginning to feel a little bit overwhelmed.

Maybe I should just stay home.

"Not on your life," said Thoughtful Husband. "You've worked on this catalogue forever. You love book fairs. Get out there and sell some books!" He took Friday off of work to stay home with the boys. I got a hotel room in the City so I could focus on the fair.

My room in the literary-themed Carriage Inn -- the Lawrence Ferlinghetti room. The Carriage Inn and its neighbor, Good Hotel, were home to many of the booksellers for the weekend of the fair. It's near the fair venue and the rates are affordable.

My room came with its own Remington typewriter. I loved that.

In trying to sort out all the details for my travels, a remarkable thing happened. Tom, who is almost twelve, is looking for ways to earn his own money. He wanted to know whether I would pay him if he came with me to help unload boxes and book cases and to get them set up in the exhibition hall the day before the fair.

Absolutely relieved to have help with the heavy lifting, I said, "Sure. I'll pay you. But you really have to carry a lot of stuff and you can't go home until Dad can come and pick you up in the afternoon. It's hard work to set up at a book fair. I don't want any complaining." Secretly, I was happy he would get to see that the life of an antiquarian bookseller involves more than sitting at a computer in a tiny corner of our dining room.

Tom rolled his eyes, said, "I'm strong," and joined me. He wouldn't let me take his picture because I told him that, as my employee, he had to wear a collared shirt. What's a mother for, if not to bust her kids' chops once in a while? :) We compromised a little bit. He was allowed to wear jeans. It is set-up after all, and it's sometimes dusty and messy work.

We loaded up the Bookmobile and set out for San Francisco, about 30 minutes from our house. Though rain was in the forecast, it was shaping up to be a pretty nice day.

To be continued . . .

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