Fairs | October 2009 | Chris Lowenstein

"May we take pictures of some of your books?"

While I was at the Golden Gate Park Book Fair Sunday, I answered a lot of questions for those who visited my booth. I'm used to the typical questions asked at book fairs about old books, rare books, and bookselling. What I wasn't expecting was this question from three people who were wandering the fair together:

"Would you mind if we took a picture of that book?"

"Uh . . . I guess not. Sure, you can take a photo of it."

A few minutes later they were still wandering through the booth taking pictures of many of my other books.

I tried to figure out if they were bloggers, like me, who might be posting the pictures of the books in a post about the fair. Or, perhaps they loved the books and didn't have the cash to buy them so they thought a photo would suffice.

Since the four of us were squeezed in my tiny, 8?? x 10?? booth, I eavesdropped on their conversation. I know I shouldn't have, but I was curious (and maybe just a little bit uncomfortable) about why they would want to take so many photos of my books.

"Oh my God! Did you see this one? Quick! Get a picture of it."

"Check this one out!"

"Someone please tell me why don't we still make covers that look like this one! This title is hilarious."

Paranoia began to take over. What if they wrote a blog post about how not to sell books and used pictures of my books and my booth as examples? Or what if they were booksellers and what if they used images of my books to sell their own?

Paranoia is an ugly thing. One's imagination can make one's thoughts entirely irrational.

I couldn't stand by and smile silently any longer.

Finally, I said, "So, do you mind if I ask why you're taking pictures of so many books?"

"Oh. Sure. We're book designers. We work for Chronicle Books. We're at the fair to get inspiration."

What a relief!

"Take as many pictures as you like to inspire you," I told them.

I had to laugh.

When I was in college (aeons ago), I spent every summer vacation and winter break working as an intern for Chronicle Books. Back in 1987 it was a very small (I think about 15 or 20 employees) company owned by the same family who owned The San Francisco Chronicle. I loved working there. I used to take the train to the City every day and walk through the (then) gritty neighborhood to the office at Fifth and Folsom. As an intern, I rotated to different departments, sometimes working for Operations, sometimes working for Editorial, and sometimes working for Publicity. The people there were nice and took time to teach me things about publishing. Though I didn't work there after college, I still remember the people I met there and the days I spent there with fondness. It's fun and flattering to think that some of the books I'd chosen to retail for my own business might be providing inspiration to a former employer.

It's also nice to know that in this era of digital books and cheaply made mass-market paperbacks some book designers are looking to the past to design the future.

See you in the stacks!

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