Archive for the ‘The Van’ Category

Why The New York Book Fair Matters – To You, Me, and Everyone We Know

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 by Lorne

FULL DISCLOSURE: Among various administrative and advisory roles I occupy in the book trade, I’m a member of the Public Relations committee of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America – a position I’ve filled with, at best, desultory results, but which you nonetheless may wish to bear in mind while reading the following comments.

I didn’t take any pictures at the New York Book Fair this year. I’m not much of a picture taker in the most relaxed of times, but at any given book event I can usually be counted on to snap a shot or two of my favorite booksellers in action; another few of my booth (mostly to remind me how I want – or don’t want – the booth to look next year); and another batch recording my after-hours activities, which generally involve intemperate helpings of food and drink at the sorts of restaurants which, though generally above my pay grade, seem suddenly (alas, illusorily) within reach after a day spent selling high-priced rarities. But in New York I never had the chance, or even the inclination, to take any of my customary photos, despite the fact that I’m toting a spanking-new iPhone with what’s reputed to be the best built-in digicam on any phone anywhere. (Well, okay, I did take one accidental snapshot of my left shoe while fumbling around looking for an old picture to show a customer…but that was it). No friends, no booth, no food – nothing. Why? you ask. Well, call me paradoxical, but the reason is simple and clear: the New York Book Fair is too important to be photographed.

Sure, okay, some of what distinguishes New York from any other book event can be captured on camera. It’s true, for example, that the New York Book Fair is an order of magnitude bigger than just about any other similar event in the United States – 210 dealers participated in this year’s show, while most other “large” fairs top out at around a hundred exhibitors. That’s a photographable fact. It’s also true that the New York Book Fair attracts more of the very best dealers in the world than any other book fair anywhere – legendary firms like Maggs and Quaritch of London, Reese and Heald of the U.S., Lynge of Copenhagen, Chamonal of Paris, to name just a few – along with a host of lesser lights like myself who, though we operate in the deep shadow of such august companions, work all year to put together a book fair inventory that won’t make us feel embarrassed to be in the same room with them. It’s even true that there are celebrities – real ones, I mean, aside from the big-shot booksellers. Steve Martin, Yoko Ono, Lucy Liu, Chelsea Clinton – all were spotted at this year’s fair (though none, I confess, were spotted by me: I wouldn’t be able to pick a movie star out of a police line-up if my life depended it). The presence of these giants (and dwarfs) of the rare book world is another easily documentable fact, and you’ll find that most of those who do take the time to document the event with pictures concentrate their efforts on portraits of these greater and lesser luminaries, a sort of biblio-papparazzic exercize which to my mind misses the point entirely.

Because what the cameras can’t capture is precisely what makes the New York Book Fair special. From the opening bell at 5:00 on Thursday to the dimming of the lights at 5:00 on Sunday, the Park Avenue Armory throbs. It vibrates in a way I would have thought no longer possible for an event that, after all, caters primarily to the antiquarian, the librarian, the scholar, the bibliophile – entities not widely regarded for their, er, vibrational energy, engaged in a trade that is supposed to be dead, the first great casualty of the digital revolution. You couldn’t prove it by me. The energy is, on the one hand, literally palpable, an audible, sensory thrum that bubbles up from the floor of the show, bouncing and bumbling among the venerable rafters of the Seventh Regiment Armory like a swarm of intellectual bees. It is, on the other hand, existential, intangible, neurological: an invisible haze of astonishment and joy generated by the presence of a thousand people having one of the best days of their lives. There are very few places in the world where the true bibliophile can count on seeing – on handling, even owning! – something she’s never seen before or, better yet, something she never dreamed existed. The New York Book Fair is such a place, is perhaps the place. But it’s not its size, not the stature of its dealers and customers, not even the substantial transfer of wealth that takes place within its walls that make it so. These are only the preconditions to its greatness. It’s the simultaneous snap of countless synapses registering surprise and excitement; the intersection of the right books with the right minds in the right setting at the right time: that’s what energizes this place, and makes it, for four days each year, the dense center of the rare book universe.

But wait – as the late-night pitchmen will not hesitate to tell you, there’s more, much more to it than that. In my headline I made a promise to explain why this event is important, not just to the rare book universe but to you, too, gentle reader, who for all I know may be a jet-ski salesman in Dubuque who’s never handled a book more out of the ordinary than a Tom Clancy novel (nothing against Dubuque, or jet-skis, or even Tom Clancy, you understand – I’m just reducing you to a stereotype to make a point. Don’t take it personally). Why should you, Floyd, give a tinker’s damn what goes on inside these Upper East Side walls one weekend a year? What possible bearing could this world – my world – have on yours?

Well, Floyd, consider this: somewhere in the middle of America there’s a flea market. Near the flea market lies a suburban subdivision, of the upper-middle-class variety. One May morning a bereaved widow, nameless, too depressed to make better arrangements, puts all her late husband’s books and office files on the curb. He had been an engineer. He had lots of books, lots of papers. She doesn’t want them around – they’re heavy, they take up space, and they remind her of him. Better they should go to the dump than sit around depressing her.

On his way to the flea market that morning, your namesake, Floyd (the other Floyd), who has been setting up a stall at the flea market every weekend for the past twenty years, spots an enormous pile of books and papers on the curb. Being (like all Floyds) a polite and upright fellow, he knocks on the door and asks if he may take these things to sell at the flea market. “Be my guest,” says our widow. “They’re of no further use to me.”

At the flea market, another fellow – oh, hell, let’s just call him Floyd – looks things over. The books don’t interest him very much, but those old engineering drawings – they’re interesting, even if he doesn’t know what they are. He buys two boxes-full for twenty bucks and leaves, smiling. He knows exactly what to do with them: he heads straight down to the local country auction house, where he puts them in the queue for next week’s sale. He figures to double his money, at least.

In fact, he does better: as it happens, a professional picker (I bet you’ve already guessed his name) shows up at the country auction and senses something unusual, maybe even important, about these drawings. Being an out-of-towner, he’s spotted immediately as a shark, and the local lads run him up a bit. He has to pay $200 for the two boxes, but he still leaves happy. Immediately he gets on the phone to a colleague, a guy he’s known for years who sells old books and paper. He describes the drawings and his buddy says to send them along and he’ll see if he can get a decent price for them.

The boxes arrive, and the dealer recognizes immediately that he’s onto something good: in addition to schematics and nicely-done renderings, there are notebooks full of equations, some patent documents, and even some photographs of what appears to be a finished, working prototype. They’re not really old, but given the subject – jet-skis – they are certainly old enough to possibly be foundational. In fact, that’s exactly how he describes them in his quote to another colleague, a specialist in books and manuscripts on science and engineering, who snaps the archive up at $1500. A steal!

Next stop: the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, where our specialist, after careful research and cataloguing, has devoted an entire glass display-case to the Archive Relating to an Early (1930s) Prototype for the Modern Jet-Ski, Previously Unpublished, Including Working Drawings, Renderings, and Photographs. The price is, by Floyd standards, astronomical – $30,000. But that doesn’t even raise the left eyebrow of the curator of a major New England research institution, who immediately sees the necessity of adding this archive to his collection. Notebooks, drawings, and photos of some 1930s swimsuit model on an antediluvian working jet-ski – what’s not to like? The deal is done, and, lo and behold, what was once a useless, depressing pile of paper on the sidewalk is now an important archive in a major research institution.

And this, Floyd, is where you come back into the picture. Are you ready?

One day a customer comes into your dealership complaining that every time he hits the wake from another jet-ski or a speedboat, water gets into his carburetor and his motor croaks. Serious bummer for a jet-ski enthusiast, especially on those big, ugly midwestern lakes where it’s really no fun to be stranded looking out over hundreds of yards of carp-infested waters between you and the cottonwood trees. Can’t someone do something about it? You hem and haw, say it’s really not your problem, and send the fellow on his way. But in the middle of the night you get to thinking. That carburetor thing really is a problem. You’ve been left stranded a few times yourself. Why hasn’t anyone addressed it? Someone must have thought of this somewhere along the line, mustn’t they?

You can’t sleep, so you get on the internet. You google “jet ski carburetors.” About a thousand hits come up. One of them refers you to a large New England university research library which has assembled the largest extant archive on the history of the jet-ski. “Really?,” you think. “Librarians give a shit about this kind of thing?” On a whim, you drop an e-mail to the curator of the collection and ask if it might be possible to see the Floyd Papers next time you’re in Boston. The curator (who is frankly relieved that someone has taken an interest, since he was beginning to get some friction from his boss over this whole jet-ski fixation) says “Sure, no problem, we’d love to have you. Just drop me an e-mail before your visit so I can retrieve the boxes for you.”

God only knows, Floyd, why a jet-ski salesman from Dubuque makes regular visits to Boston, but let’s not argue the fine points. For whatever reason, there you are, in a Special Collections reading room in one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the country, and spread out before you is a veritable treasure trove of documents that no one in the world is more qualified than you to interpret. And interpret them you do. Who would have dreamed that, in 1938, an unknown engineer would have solved the whole water-in-the-carburetor thing so elegantly, so adroitly, so…cheaply?

Fast-forward two years. You’re in a penthouse office suite, chairman and CEO of the Floyd-U-Retor Corporation. Your net worth is twenty million and climbing, and as you recline and gaze out your window overlooking Greater Dubuque, you wonder: to what do I owe this tremendous good fortune? Well, I’ll answer that question for you, Floyd: you owe it to the rare book trade, which from its very lowest to its uppermost ranks is engaged in the task of preservation. You owe it to the collectors – in this case, the prescient librarian who saw the utility in making the history of the jet-ski available to the public, even if that public consisted of only one person, you. And you owe it to the one place in America where the two come together to achieve an apotheosis of knowledge-sharing, imagination, and creative enterprise. And guess what? It’s not just jet-skis! (for yes, Floyd, there is a world beyond jet-skis). Imagine an enormous room full of such transactions, many with equally humble beginnings, involving medicine, art, printing, politics, ornithology, eschatology, scatology – the whole universe of knowledge compressed into a few million cubic feet filled to brimming with the murmurs and exclamations of a thousand enthusiasts.

Now: is the New York Book Fair the only place where things like this happen? No, not at all – just as there are thousands of booksellers, ranging from flea market hawkers to Park Avenue salonnieres, there are hundreds of book fairs around the world, some no more than swap meets, others bringing together the best dealers and collectors the world has to offer. But New York in April is the one place you can be sure, every year, that the very best books will have migrated into the hands of the very best minds in the business, to be seen and appreciated by the most sophisticated collectors and curators in the world – and from there, eventually, circuitously, sometimes incrementally, even imperceptibly, back to you. There’s nothing like it.

Enjoy your cigar, Floyd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wonderful Zhenya Dzhavgova!

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 by Ashley

Lorne and I both met Zhenya at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar where she quickly became a great friend to both of us.  We have kept in contact since the seminar; I have greatly enjoyed all of our fun and crazy conversations.  Since Lorne and I decided I would not be joining him for the San Francisco fair, Zhenya who lives right outside San Francisco kindly offered her assistance.  Zhenya wrote a fabulous blog  for us about her experience  working with Lorne at the Book Fair, check it out below!

“It all began less than a year ago. I met Lorne and the rest of the faculty members at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar which I attended on an ABAA scholarship. Lorne has always had a way of graciously answering rookie questions while restraining himself from rolling his eyes and heaving exasperated sighs. Thus, late last Fall, when I heard that his assistant (and my friend) Ashley Loga was not coming to the San Francisco Fair, I decided to risk it and offer my help in exchange for firsthand experience in the world of antiquarian book fairs while remaining on my home turf and avoiding most of the stress associated with arranging, lugging, packing, shipping, and tracking precious books across the country. I am still mystified a bit as to why he so readily agreed.

Friday setup started out smoothly. I was happily pulling books out of bubble wrap and arranging glass cases while Lorne and our side-by-side neighbor Jim Arsenault roamed the concourse in search of that one incredible find that would make the fair more than worth it for them. Faculty members from the seminar came to say “Hello” and dealers stopped by to introduce themselves. It was just the beginning of the first day and I had already started feeling like one of the inner circle. I knew I was going to be OK.

The fair opened its doors to a very large and enthusiastic crowd. It was an awesome rush to see the people surging and spreading through the booths. Lorne unfailingly introduced me with my name and specialty to every customer and colleague. I was not merely the assistant but an individual young new dealer. One of the best memories I will always keep was that great big smile on his face every time I engaged a buyer, made a deal, and sold one of his books on my own. I was given ample time to make the rounds. I saw quiet booths and meticulously arranged ones. Others were dignified and somber. Ours was a fun one – colorful, beautiful, and full of constant friendly banter and frequent raucous laughter.

And then there were the nightly after-fair shindigs in the City. The troublemakers group consisted of Lorne, Kevin Johnson, Jim Arsenault, Ian Brabner, my very close friend Kara McLaughlin – a young dealer from Florida who also worked at the fair, and I. Dinners were followed by bar rounds. The guys stoically endured the constant chatter, the “Oh, come on, you really don’t need to go to sleep right now,” and the loud and sometimes slightly obnoxious atmosphere.

Time flew by. The caravan of books and dealers moved on to Pasadena. I was very handsomely compensated for my work. Though, the truth was and will always be, as cliché and sickly sweet as that sounds, that the money will be spent and forgotten while the experience and the lessons I have learned will remain forever. Hats off to you Lorne – this is how it is done and I am looking forward to the next one!”

Check out Zhenya’s lovely selection of books for sale on ABE.com.  She specializes in Antiquarian Eastern European Literature and Slavic Languages Materials.

An Exciting Country Auction

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 by Ashley

Yesterday, Lorne took me to my first country auction. It was great! I have a feeling auctions are going to be one of my new favorite things to do. When I was young, I was frequently taken to antique malls and consignment shops by my mom; we would spend hours slowly sifting through the items and hunting for something unique. I remember my mom leaning over to me whispering tips and good bargaining techniques; “At antique malls the cheaper items are always in the back” “You must try to bargain. Never accept the stated price” (This one I’m stilling trying to get the hang of) and lastly “when shops mix new collectibles with antiques… don’t bother going in. Only go to true antique stores.” Whenever I am out shopping for new treasures today, I still follow her advice and when I’m shopping with friends, I lean over and share my mom’s advice to them. While shopping with mom, I was constantly learning new things such as the names for antique nautical bits and kitchen gadgets, soaking it all up like a sponge.

This is perhaps partly where my love of antiquarian books comes from; the hunt for a good book amongst a dozen bad and the desire to learn new tidbits of information.

Lorne and I arrived a half an hour before the auction to register. Already the place was full of people mingling about, scouting for items to bid on. Lorne and I made one final sweep of the selections, finalizing what items we were going to bid on and what our price limits were. As I walked around the room, I noticed one determined woman camped out with a cooler filled with food and a cushion for her chair; she was ready to stake out the whole day. I also happened to notice that I was the youngest one in the room by far…this seems to be happening to me a lot lately.

I chose to bid on a set of copper canisters, needing them for my new apartment; and a particularly enchanting item for my mother whose true nature will not be disclosed in this blog since she might read it. Lorne decided to bid on two pieces of artwork; a beautiful etching entitled “Le montage du Dragon sur le Beffroi de Gand” by De Bruycker and a wood print by Jean MacKay.

Headley, the auctioneer, had a melodious voice and rhythm. Lorne and I took pleasure in guessing how much an item would go for before it was bid on.

The lovely copper canisters I wanted sadly surpassed my top bid and went to someone else. But the gift for my mom was a success. The wood print was also won.

As it came time to bid on the most desirable item for us, the etching, Lorne instructed me to bid. As it started, I waited to bid until someone else had placed a bid on the item first as instructed by Lorne and then the bidding was off… 150…nod…160…nod…200… nod…250… nod. I was nodding my head so frequently I felt slightly silly. But all the while my pace was racing and I was nervous and excited all at once. At last, we won the item for a great price! We slightly suspected that we got the etching at such a price because no one wanted to outbid a “young and innocent” bidder such as I. Being the youngest one in the room does have many benefits. No one suspects that you may just be knowledgeable, leading them to be easily charmed and fooled. Antiquarian book dealers beware.

Here is an image of the etching we purchased.  It is a lovely piece of art by Jules De Bruycker entitled Le Montage du Dragon sur le Beffroi de Gand. It is definitely something I would like to own.


Jules de Bruycker (1870-1945) was one of the great Flemish etchers at the turn of the 20th century. Known for his architectural and socialist themes, De Bruycker drew inspiration from open air markets, theaters and grand buildings.

In 1913, De Bruycker’s home town of Ghent renovated the Ghent Belfry in preparation for the World’s Fair. Cast in the ominous shadow of the belfry, the workers in the foreground are straining to hoist a fierce bronze dragon to the top of the towering belfry. This foreboding and incredibly detailed scene captures Belgium and the rest of Europe on the cusp of WWI and De Bruycker’s subsequent flight to London.

And So It Begins

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 by Lorne

With this post I conclude the first day of a new era at Lorne Bair Rare Books. Having said good-bye over the weekend to my treasured colleague of two years, Jordan de Butts, I now give welcome to Ashley Loga, a young person who in addition to having already demonstrated a great capacity for charm, wit, and good humor, appears to be truly possessed of a trait I find to be almost universal among great booksellers: the desire to know everything. She and I talked about that today, and about much else, too – about how one should talk to good customers (politely) versus bad customers (too politely) versus telemarketers (one obscenity or two?). We talked about D.T. Suzuki’s concept of “Beginner’s Mind,” and how it is best to approach every new task with no expectation of success or failure – but with our minds open to the possibilities of the task and to the delights inherent in discovering the path to its mastery. We talked about why some booksellers charge arbitrarily high prices for books they haven’t even bothered to describe, while others lavish hours on cataloguing a forty-dollar pamphlet. And we talked about why what we do is important, even though the rewards are modest and most people have no understanding of our work. Despite all this talk a remarkable amount of work got done. I’m sure I droned on a bit — it’s my nature. But if I bored her, Ashley was a good sport about it. Her last words, as she was packing to leave, were (if I heard her right) “I’m going to love this job.” I agree. She is going to love this job, and I have a feeling it’s going to love her back.

But all this talk put me in a ruminative mood. I spent most of the evening nursing a tumbler (well, okay, two tumblers) of bourbon, wondering a little about the wisdom of tempting a bright, ambitious twenty-something into the rare book business at a time when so many seasoned booksellers wonder whether the trade will even sustain us through our lifetimes. Wondering whether, confronted twenty years ago with what I know now about the book business, I would have taken the same headlong leap. And wondering, frankly, having just turned fifty — the point of no return, I think, in my mind if not most people’s — whether I could have done better for myself by sticking to the rules and doing what was expected of me: a PhD, a teaching career, the books I never wrote…

Yeah, well, you know. Maybe. Maybe not. There’s the tumbler half-empty answer: the jig is up, run away and don’t look back; you should’ve listened to your father – too late now, dumbass! – and how’d you get to be fifty, for chrissake? And there’s the tumbler half-full answer (which, come to think of it, sounds like a good idea…but just a half…): follow your dreams, and the rest will follow; the book trade might be in trouble, but without an infusion of young, talented and energetic booksellers it will surely fail; you love what you do and you would hate that other life–haven’t you learned anything in fifty years? And so goes the conversation, ad infinitum, with the two sides trading places every other day or so. I suspect it’s the same for many of my colleagues. We’re not so much contrarians as we are conflictarians, our better and worser instincts in constant war with one another while we look on, trying to figure which is which before choosing sides.

In the end, everyone I know who does this job well does it because they would be less happy doing anything else. Those for whom this isn’t true usually turn out to be no more than casual visitors to the shores of Bibliopoly – there are an infinite number of better, more predictable and more efficient ways to make a living than selling rare books, and those whose heart isn’t really in it soon find this out and move on. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the booksellers I know share a somewhat melancholic disposition, so that the notion of a “less happy” bookseller is a melancholy notion indeed, and it might perhaps be fair to say that the trade is the only thing keeping some folks from suicide. You may not take comfort in such a notion, but I do: I like booksellers, almost all of them, and anything that keeps them around awhile seems good to me.

If I have any regret about my choice of profession, it’s that I waited so long to begin: I didn’t start selling books in earnest until I was almost forty years old. In the interim I’ve become a pretty good bookman, albeit in a very small way, in an artificially-delimited universe of my own devising (I was unable, as it turns out, to know everything; so I settled for knowing anything.). But just think if I’d gotten started when I was twenty-two! I’d be among the grand old men of the book business by now – hard to imagine that I wouldn’t be at least a little bit better at it, with an eighteen-year head start. But alas: when I was twenty-two I would have had nothing but a contemptuous lip-curl for anyone who said he “collected” books. I suppose I’d heard of something called a “first edition,” but I would no sooner have been caught dead looking for one than I would attending a Hall & Oates concert. Oh, I was a wild young thing, all right. It was all about the text, dude. Never mind the paper. And yet…

And yet, here I am. Fifty years old, irredeemably a bookseller, and more happy than if I’d…if I’d what? Well, than if I’d just about anything, I suppose. I’ll put it this way – if I were to win the lottery tomorrow, the only thing that would change would be the quality of my inventory. I just can’t imagine doing anything else. Even in those moments of blankest regret, when all the bills come due at once and my stock looks like it could have been chosen at random by a blind, crack-addicted three-year-old; when the office hasn’t been cleaned in a month and the coffee jitters set in because I forgot to eat my breakfast which is still sitting cold on the kitchen counter six hours later; when the phone rings and it’s some flea-market guy asking to “pick my brain” about a “real old book” he found buried in cowshit in his granddaddy’s barn; even when I get home after a house buy and realize that every book I just overpaid for smells irretrievably of cat piss…even then, I can only imagine one way forward: more books. And then, more books after that and, for dessert, more books. More books. More books. More books.

All of which is to say: welcome to the book biz, Ashley Loga. You will love this job.

 

 

 

 

Introducing the latest acquisition at Lorne Bair Rare Books

Monday, November 21st, 2011 by Lorne

Introducing the newest member (and perhaps one of the youngest at 22) to the Antiquarian Book World…Me, Ashley Loga or as my better half likes to be called, Daphne.

I’m replacing the infamous Jordan as Lorne’s assistant.  Some of you may know me already from the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar but I’m sure most of you don’t.  I met Lorne at the seminar where he was one of the faculty members.   I have known I wanted a career in the book business since I was sixteen and have been slowly working my way towards this goal for the past few years or in the case of the past few weeks, skyrocketing towards it.

In August, I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar.  I went to the seminar thinking I would learn how to run a used bookstore and sell online.  You see up until the seminar I had only ever wanted to own a bookstore and café; the antiquarian book trade was a complete mystery to me.  Learning about the antiquarian book trade, tossed my world upside down.  Everything about it sounded amazing and exciting to me.  I like to imagine one of those comic strip moments with a little light bulb clicking on above my head.  My dreams of owning a used bookstore and café were quickly replaced by the antiquarian book trade.  After being wrapped up in a whirlwind of an auction for a dinner with the faculty of the seminar, an auction I wasn’t even planning on bidding in, Lorne offered me a job.  I jumped at the chance.

Move from Jackson, MS to Winchester, VA over 14 hours away… no problem.  Move for the 3rd time in less than 6 months…I got this.  So here I am in Winchester, VA.  For the past two weeks, the wonderful Jordan has been training me in all the many things she does and I know I have some big shoes to fill.   I still have much to learn but I’m definitely excited.  I know this is the right job for me.  And since it is close to Thanksgiving, it is pretty obvious to me that I have much to be thankful for, particularly Lorne for seeing something in me that would cause him to hire me after only knowing me for a few days.  So many thanks  to him and everyone else that has helped me.

Let’s shift this minivan into gear and head out ?

– Ashley (Daphne)

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Friday, November 18th, 2011 by Lorne

 

I can’t let today pass without noting that my assistant and best friend for the past two years, Jordan de Butts, will clock out for the final time this afternoon. She’s going on to great things.  Because they’re things she barely even knew existed when she came to work here, I will selfishly take a portion of the credit (and blame) for whatever comes next. Grad school – that’s a fait accompli. After that, who knows? Real careers in rare books are hard to come by and even harder to sustain these days. If anyone can do it, she can.

What I know for sure is that our loss is the rest of the world’s gain. We – I – will miss her far more than words, especially words on a public blog, can ever say. But I take comfort in knowing that she’ll be out there, somewhere, doing important things in her own wonderful way. And that no matter what she’s doing, the world will be a better place because of it.

Goodbye, Jordan de Butts. Visit when you can, and keep us in your life.

 

 

 

Announcing Two Streams Press, The Publishing Arm Of Lorne Bair Rare Books – And, Our First Publication!

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by Lorne

I’ve been contemplating a publishing enterprise here for a number of years — after all, what better way for a lapsed poet and one-time editor to compensate for his creative deficiencies than to start publishing books of his own? But despite the obvious attractiveness of the idea,  I was never able to quite work up the energy or enthusiasm to make it happen.  It finally took my great and talented friend Winslow McCagg, who’s been producing amazing paintings out here in the wilderness for the past twenty years, to point me in the right direction. When Winslow told me he’d been offered a one-man show at the presitigious Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, Virginia, my first question was: “who’s going to produce your exhibition catalog?” When Winslow allowed as how he hadn’t really given it much thought, the question turned into a statement: “I will produce your exhibition catalog.” And so Two Streams Press was born (don’t try to find the link – we haven’t finished the website yet).

 

 

The result, after months of photographing and editing more than fifty of Winslow McCagg’s paintings, securing essays from a number of eminent scholars and authors, another month of pre-press, layout, editing and proofreading, is Winslow McCagg: Recent Paintings, an ambitious, 52-page full-color catalog that includes text by Howard Means (most recently the author of Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011); Raul Zamudio (independent curator & art critic, author of more than 200 published critical works); and Martha Gehman (prolific stage & screen actress and a noted collector). We’re exceptionally (and justifiably, I think) proud of this first effort, which we hope will bring some much-deserved recognition to Winslow’s work, which Raúl Zamudio calls “…a unique and masterful aesthetic métier that culls disparate forms with deftness and verve.”

 

 

And for those of you who would like to see McCagg’s paintings in person, please accept this invitation to join us at the Burwell-Morgan Mill on October 28th from 5 o’clock to 8 for what promises to be a spectacular and well-attended opening reception. More than 50 of Winslow’s works will be exhibited for sale, in one of the best art spaces in Virginia.  And so will copies of the exhibition catalog which, in all selfishness, I encourage you to snap up in quantity. And a free copy of the book to anyone who can guess the origin of the name of our press!

 

POSTSCRIPT: another great and talented friend, the videographer and film editor George Patterson of The Downstream Project, has produced a short-short documentary on Winslow’s work. It’s a great preview of the upcoming show, and a nice way to spend five minutes (though you’re welcome to fast-forward past a certain talking head!). While you’re at it have a look at the Downstream Project’s website – they’re doing valuable work and if you have any interestt in the conservation of the Shenandoah River basin I strongly encourage you to support them.

 

PISSIN’ INTO THE WIND: A Letter To My Republican Representative

Friday, September 9th, 2011 by Lorne

Sigh. Obama’s speech last night was good enough to prompt me to write a letter to my Representative, Frank Wolf. Wolf’s not a bad guy, given what he could be (read: Eric Cantor). But I still can’t avoid the distinct feeling of raindrops falling on my head. Anyway, here it is. Do I sound sufficiently like a guy in a suit?

 

Dear Congressman Wolf,

As a small business owner in Winchester (currently with two employees, and plans to expand in the coming months), I was heartened by the tone and content of President Obama’s address to Congress last night, announcing the substance of his American Jobs Act. The act is exactly the kind of bold proposal we need right now to spur growth, maintain jobs, and address the increasingly woeful state of our national infrastructure. As a business owner with two employees and revenues of a few hundred thousand dollars per year, the plan, if passed, will have a direct, positive and immediate impact on me and my employees. I urge you to support the President in the passage of this bill, and to encourage your colleagues on the right side of the aisle to do so as well.

Unfortunately, I have no doubt that the more conservative elements of the Republican Party will make every effort to discredit the President’s proposals in the coming days and weeks. I’m also confident, based on recent history, that the Republican leadership will make little or no constructive effort to work with the Democrats to pass the President’s bill. The time has come for this petty obstructionism to stop.

I will share with you my feeling, shared by many of my acquaintances from across the political spectrum, that certain elements of the Republican Party – particularly, but not exclusively, the so-called “Tea Party” members of the House of Representatives – have put their own interests ahead of the interests of the nation. That, in a blind desire to see the President defeated in 2012, they have resorted to subterfuge, misinformation, and intimidation. And that, at a time when what our country needs more than anything else is co-operation and problem-solving, they have insisted upon a course of obstruction and reactionary opposition.

Congressman Wolf, I’ve lived in Winchester for fifteen years, and though I’m a registered Democrat I’ve voted for you in every election. You’ve been an excellent representative to the people of this city, and you’ve managed to keep yourself above the harshly partisan fray fomented by some of your colleagues. I urge you, as a man of faith and courage, to take this opportunity to lead your fellow members of Congress in a reversal of course. Search for common ground, and take action now: first, to pass the President’s jobs bill; second, to restore some civility to our national politics.

Sincerely,

Lorne Bair
Winchester, Virginia

 

 

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I Came, I Saw, and I Collated the S*** Out of Some Antiquarian Books

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 by Jordan

It has been brought to my attention by the power/s at be that I have failed to write a blog entry for…almost three months. The lack in, let’s call it artistic expression, has not just been mentioned once, or twice, but several times. And the most recent time there was talk of revoking my Pandora privileges, so I believe there is no better opportunity than present to tell y’all that SUMMER IS OVER. Labor day is Monday. Jump in the pool, wear white, and drink as many gin and tonics (or mint juleps if you prefer bourbon, as I do) as you can before time runs out.

But, to ease your mind from those evil penetrating thoughts such as orange and gold foliage, pumpkins, and (hold your breath) snow flakes, let me fill you in on a few things I did during the summer drought. Well really, it’s just one thing in particular.  It’s called Rare Book School; everyone’s doing it, and it’s a lot more fun than your grandma’s meatloaf, or heroin.

For those of you who didn’t just read the Washington Post article above, and don’t know what Rare Book School is (since the only people that read this blog are other booksellers and my mom, I’m pretty sure you know what RBS is, but…), it is a school founded by Terry Belanger, now headed by Michael Suarez, intended to provide continuing education for those currently (or aspiring to be) in the library/scholarly/book trade world.

The class in which I chose to enroll, Introduction to the Principles of Descriptive Bibliography, fondly called DesBib, was one of the few courses which assigns homework.  So much homework, in fact, that the Clemons Library is open until 10:00PM nightly for the use of DesBib junkies and DesBib junkies only (see how it’s better than drugs? You can call yourself a junkie without actually being a user!).  To receive the most benefit out of resources and instruction, we were separated into small groups, or cohorts (because really guys, we’re a big deal, who uses the word “groups” anymore?). My cohort consisted of two other members of the book trade, Brian Cassidy, a bookseller in DC and Jeremy Reidel from Books Tell You Why, and our lab instructor, Gerald Cloud who recently hopped coasts to UCLA.  By a miraculous suggestion from Brian (that we skip lunch and all half-hour breaks to work on our homework) we never stayed in Clemons past 7:00PM, and I strongly encourage any and all future DesBib students to follow suit. Charlottesville, though most days the temperature is over 95 degrees at the end of July, has too much to offer to spend your entire day in a nice, cool basement.

I don’t want to go into it again, but I stayed in a dorm on the Lawn, which, regardless of the fact that there is absolutely no A/C and I was woken up regularly from the hours of 1:00 to 4:00AM by the shrieks and laughter of late-night drunken streakers, is not only the cheapest, but best housing RBS could offer. Though my room wasn’t Edgar Allen Poe’s dorm room, it did have a long legacy of students names from the 1800s in plaque-form mounted to the closet door. In addition to the romantic historical connection, I met some fantastic friends with whom I enjoyed dinner and drinks after long collating sessions, I took every opportunity for conversation, and was inspired at every turn by almost every experience (including the one below).

Of course, I have to mention one experience that I am not necessarily proud to say occurred during my week at Rare Books School, but am completely proud to say it did, in fact, occur.  After a considerably steep bar tab on booksellers’ night, my new and dear friend Zoe Mindell and I performed a fantastic rendition of Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart during a downtown restaurant’s karaoke night.  I later sang Say it Ain’t So by Weezer with another person that earned the comment, “Wow, I would marry her if she could take care of me financially,” from the drummer of the karaoke band. I don’t exactly think any praise was given based on my vocal talent alone, but I did put a lot of energy and love into my performances… which is really all that matters when you don’t know anyone else around you.

Comparatively, the rest of the summer can’t really hold a candle to my week in Charlottesville, oh except for my grandmother’s (everyone calls her Nannie, you should too) 100th birthday, an earthquake (that happened on Nannie’s 100th birthday), and a hurricane.  All significant in their own right.  Now, don’t forget what I mentioned above. Monday is Labor Day.  And do you know what that means? Oh yes, our annual Labor Day catalog in support of workers everywhere (huh, has the same ring as our May Day catalog…) is due!!  Watch out, it will be on your doorstep sooner than Jesus’s second coming, because remember, that’s scheduled for mid-October.

 

“A GAME-CHANGING EDUCATION FOR ASPIRING BOOKSELLERS”

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 by Lorne

 

 

Greetings fellow passengers. The Minivan of the Revolution, Official Pace Car of the Great Petit-Bourgeois Liberal Reformation, has just pulled into her driveway, marking a triumphant return to her humecto-fascist* Southern homeland following a ten-day sojourn in the snow-capped and reactionary reaches of Colorado. I know you missed us (all three of you), but fear not! – your captain has not abandoned ship, but has rather returned to you filled with new-found energy and a sense of renascent wonder. Amazing tales of adventure, peril, and deep personal sacrifice await you! Fasten your seat-belts.

Allow me quickly to dispense with my first few days in Denver, which were spent scouting – to remarkably good effect – at the Rocky Mountain Antiquarian Book Fair, where among other treasures I unearthed a collection of 20th-century Czech avant-garde books (courtesy of Acequia Books of Albuquerque; both Acequia’s uber bop-hipster-owner, Gary Wilkie, and these thoroughly remarkable books will be the subject of their own blogposts in the near future). And thanks to Sacramento book maven Jim Kay I also came home with a fistful of legendary rarities: the first three published books by the great Cleveland underground poet D.A. Levy, all written in the space of a month (February, 1963)  and each, unbelievably, signed.  These pamphlets were originally published in editions of only 100 copies, but Levy is reputed (by his bibliographer) to have destroyed all but about fifteen copies of each. When he committed suicide in 1968, aged just 26, Levy left behind an oeuvre of more than 30 works, most published and distributed by himself using a mimeograph machine and a mailing list comprised of fellow poets, high-school radicals, and assorted Cleveland-area hipsters. The Levy cult has continued to grow in the intervening 40+ years, spawning a cottage industry of reprints and imitations, but Levy material published during his lifetime has remained universally scarce. I’ve never seen a signed example. These will be exciting books to catalog!

But fellow travelers, bear with me: I did not venture here just to spin you tales of Splendid Acquisition, as thrilling as these may be.  I have, rather, something more wondrous still to give you: a narrative built on anachronisms — of days spent in the shelter of ideas and their apprehension; buffeted from without, perhaps, by the winds of digital and unfeeling change, but supported from within by a thousand rapturous exhalations; by pillars of human and humane interaction; by love, and by an indefatigable meshwork of conjoined intelligence and shared experience. I can be speaking, of course, of none other than the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, now in its thirty-third year and still going strong, even in lo these latter days of Babylon. If you’ve never heard of this six-day retreat into the wilderness,  then I urge you to pay attention. As I’ve written elsewhere, I regard this week each year, as exhausting and unremunerative as it is, as one of the most important things I do. This despite the fact that I’m not entirely sure why I do it — though some of my ideas about that are beginning to come into focus. Read on.

Equal parts summer school, military boot camp, and corporate planning retreat, CABS is a full week of 14-hour days devoted to absolutely nothing other than talk of books. Not abstract talk, though – this is hands-on stuff, and what we strive to impart is everything we know of the art and science of selling books: not just selling them: but selling them well, with honesty, scholarship, and good attention – the way they’re meant to be sold and would be sold in a better world. That books are almost never sold this way these days (vide the typical Amazon listing) is argument enough for the existence of the Seminar, which like a tiny moon-base of Jedi knights does what it can to protect the universe from an Evil Empire of mega-listers, eBay hucksters, print-on-demand ‘specialists’ and careless amateurs. We’re doubtless fighting a losing battle, and it’s likely that no one in the universe knows we’re out here. But most booksellers are hopeless romantics anyway, and given the pseudo-heroic mythology we’ve created for ourselves we probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

Following a keynote speech by the redoubtable Katharine Kyes Leab on Sunday night, the Seminar convened promptly at 8:30 on Monday morning. For my part, I had prepared in advance three hours of lectures to be delivered over the course of the week – an hour each on pricing, scouting, and selling books at book fairs. My colleagues – an eminent assemblage of booksellers, scholars and librarians that included Terry Belanger, Dan Gregory, Dan De Simone, Kevin Johnson, Nina Musinsky, Rob Rulon-Miller, and Steven Smith (all of significantly greater eminence than myself, I should point out) – had each done the same for their own subjects, subjects as diverse as database management and the collation of 17th-century books. But because the nature of the Seminar is discursive, and topics inevitably come and go at random (as topics will in a roomful of intelligent equals) we all found ourselves constantly re-thinking our presentations in order to avoid needless repetition. I was up each morning at 5:30, hastily revising, re-writing, and editing – usually right up to the moment before presentation – and I’m sure most of my colleagues were doing the same. Classes went until 5:15 each day, then more talk at supper and still further presentations in the evenings. Five hours of sleep was the rule. The end result, in the words of one seminarian, was “…a game-changing education for the aspiring bookseller;” another called it “the most amazing and life changing week” of her life (a sentiment echoed generally by attendees every year). The cumulative effect, combining elements of exhaustion, irritation, ennervation, and dissipation….was euphoria. I’m still in its throes today, perhaps excusing my cheesy Victorian diction and this already wordy and overlong post. Soon enough the euphoria will surely dissipate, as euphoria is wont to do, to be replaced by all of its aforementioned constituent parts which are the daily lot of the self-employed; and further to be joined by that general sense of panic and economic uncertainty which seem now to be the specific province of the 21st-century antiquarian bookseller. And  once euphoria’s veil’s been lifted I reckon I’ll be left to ask myself: Why do we put ourselves through this? Why, as one seminarian put it to me at the farewell cocktail party, “do we give away, at personal expense, over the course of one week, every secret we’ve learned over our long careers, to people we don’t even know?”

It’s certainly not because of the honorarium, which doesn’t even begin to pay for our time and trouble or for the money we lose by being absent from our businesses for the better part of two weeks, and which most of us donate back to the Faculty Scholarship Fund anyway.  Neither is it  for the opportunity to buy or sell books: for, though almost universally gifted, most of our students are recent entrants to the world of bookselling, not full-time professionals, and with a few exceptions we can expect no commerce with them in our or their immediate futures. Nor can it be for prestige, because as far as I can tell, no particular prestige, not of the marketable variety at least, attaches to the position. Were it even possible to include something in one’s bookseller resume to convince the world that he is a man of stature, “Faculty Member, Colorado Antiquarian Booksellers’ Seminar” probably wouldn’t be it.

This would be the time for me to say – if I planned to say it – that we do it all out of the goodness of our hearts; out of an altruistic love for any who are willing to love us back. I can assure you that’s not what I was planning to say. I know my booksellers, and I know their many virtues; and I know that among those virtues, altruism ain’t.

The real answer has layers. The outer layers don’t strike me as very interesting – they’re probably the ones you’d expect: there’s vanity, a little; there’s the bookseller’s natural love of hearing his own voice, oft-noted and oft-lampooned; there’s the need for affirmation; there’s the longing for community shared by all who toil in this lonely and generally misunderstood profession.  But none of those things would keep any of us coming back for very long, because in the end we’re all businessmen, and as businessmen we know that neither concessions to vanity, nor willing ears, nor friendship, nor external affirmation can be relied upon to pay the rent.

But peel those layers away and you arrive at what I think is a fairly profound, if perhaps somewhat obvious, point (can a point be simultaneously obvious and profound? I think so). It’s just this: as professionals who love and understand (or at least try to understand) what we do, we know that the business of antiquarian bookselling really is in trouble. Faced with an ever-shrinking customer base on the one hand and an ever-expanding (if generally barbaric) vendor base on the other, we who would lavish time, money, and tears on Old Books (and their offspring) won’t have much of a future if we let nature take its course. The larger world wouldn’t notice much if our profession simply ceased to be — at least not right away, it wouldn’t, though it would surely be impoverished in ways we can only guess at in advance — but we would surely notice! We would be – could be, will be – out of a job if (when?) our trade goes the way of the professional sheep-shearer, the cooper, and the wheelwright. There’s been endless talk recently about the pending demise of the physical book. It doesn’t concern me, really — books, especially old ones, are hardy things, built to last. Of much greater concern to me is the future of the bookseller. For even if books continue to exist, as I think they will, it doesn’t follow that they’ll continue to be marketable commodities. In one of those unfathomable Zen paradoxes, verging on tautology, the only thing that can assure us of a lively book trade tomorrow is a lively book trade today. By lively I don’t mean large, and I don’t mean democratic. I mean a trade capable of educating and servicing its potential customers the way that booksellers have educated and serviced their customers for centuries: by sharing their own expert knowledge; by exercising their own taste and judgment, developed over years not weeks or months; by forming personal and long-lasting relationships with the dealer-colleagues, collectors and librarians with whom they do business. A swift current is bearing us in the opposite direction from all these imperatives; we’re not so far from shore that we can’t swim for it yet, but I sense that the moment is not far away where we could easily give up hope and simply let ourselves vanish out of sight, into the depths.

So rather than let that happen we gather each year with thirty to fifty aspirants to the trade and we suggest to them how to be something more than anonymous cogs in the wheels of the electronic widget-merchants. We disconnect them from their bar-code scanners, put our own rare and fragile books in their hands, and teach them to love and experience the physical objects in front of them. Not all of them do, but most leave knowing immeasurably more than when they came. Not all will stay in the business, but many do: 80% of our graduates over the past ten years are still, on some level,  involved in the larger world of books. Some are still part-timers — hobbyists, really, but now at least educated hobbyists; some others are librarians or collectors. But a great many have joined the ranks of bona-fide, full-time professional booksellers, and of those many have gone on to achieve eminence and high reputation. That strikes me as a remarkable achievement.

“A game-changing education for aspiring booksellers.” So it is. And so, we hope, the trade will continue. At least for our lifetimes, hopefully for theirs – but we’re no altruists! For now, our immediate concern is us; our successors are our students, and it will be up to them to see this thing through for another generation. I don’t envy their task, but no doubt some among them will turn out to be our betters – they’ll need to be, I suspect, the way things are moving — and we’ll rest easy knowing they’re on the other side of the table.

 

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*For those of you unfamiliar with my theories of humecto-fascism, or weather-based totalitarianism, I urge you to stay tuned for an explanatory post in the near-future.

 

 

 

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