Spring Fever among the Stacks (part 1)

April brings rain and Book Fairs. It’s not hot enough to drop everything and head to the beach. It’s just warm enough to get you out of the house and unpredictable enough to force you inside when the weather turns. For Book Fair attendance, this is a perfect storm.

Be warned — it’s not a free library lunch. Book Fairs charge a nifty fee (usually about 20 bucks). If you are taking your family, grab a pretzel or hot dog before you go inside. Parents who take their kids to museums — you know the drill already.

For us book hunters, it can be like stepping into dark matter. We don’t know if we will come out the other side in one piece; there is a good chance we will be leaving our credit card karma behind. Things tend to go black when you look at the RETAIL prices. But, everyone is showing off the best of their stock. You might not get another chance for that…that…whatever it is your customer wants!

For me, the big Book Fairs hit just when I’m coming down with Spring Fever. NOT allergies. Genuine Spring Fever. I get quite irrational and impulsive. My eyes tend to wander from one pretty book to another. Sometimes, even the ugly, 19th century brown ones. I lose focus. My hand is constantly hovering over my wallet.

Don’t let this happen. I have trained myself to pull back. My trick is to actually try to LEARN SOMETHING while I’m scouting. (Also, my first stop is always the food area. Yes, I’m a child. I need to feed before I hunt.)

After feeding myself, I usually attend one of the fair’s programs or lectures. Listen, these are usually free events included in the price of your ticket and some of these lectures are worth paying for. In April, New York City hosts the most important Book Fair in North America, The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. Spring for tickets on the first day or wait until the very last day (when tickets are discounted) and bring the family.

Post-Pandemic Spring Fever will be great for the Book Fairs!

Warning: The preview and first day are for serious collectors and hunters. Both attendees and booksellers tend to be ON! They have become rare book killer robots, running on pure capitalistic willpower. If you are just a beginner, wait until the last day when folks are more relaxed and the wine is flowing.

Here are 5 things I always try to do at Book Fairs:

  • There is usually ONE ITEM that is a must-see. I try and see that exceptional item first. During the thrill of browsing, I often forget that there is history in the room!
  • I do try and visit every booth. I often walk in concentric circles for hours but I will eventually get to all of them.
  • Both collecting and hunting are social activities. I talk with booksellers and other hunters. I socialize and ask questions and make connections. It’s important to be human. Booksellers don’t want to do business with an anti-social jerk. (Sooo 2019.)
  • I put my hands on books. Don’t be afraid to ask to handle a book; booksellers expect a good collector to inspect their items.
  • Be courteous to everyone. Most people are there just to enjoy being around like-minded people. A fair of any kind is designed to be fun.

If you do go to the Big Fair, prepare to be overwhelmed — in the very best way.

Stay Beautiful.

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