Sunday, June 26, 2016

Antiquarian Book Fair

I'm the type of customer no one wants to chat with at a bookfair.

I enjoy looking at the books. And at the Twin Cities Antiquarian Bookfair, the environment of a cavernous state fair building with a concrete floor and vendors set up side by side at thirty-foot intervals makes it easy to browse, and then move on, without feeling bad about the fact that you haven't bought anything.

Most of the books are priced above $100. They're first editions, rarities, art books, collector's items. I was tempted by a book called The Theory of Knowledge by Ernst Cassirer ($40) but as I chatted with the dealer about Cassirer's diminished place in modern history, I was suddenly reminded of a book I already owned called Continental Divide, about the debate held in Davos, Switzerland, in 1929, between Heidegger and Cassirer, which I've hardly opened, much less read.

I took a look at an early edition of a novel by Jean Rhys, and the bookseller standing nearby struck up a conversation. He's a fan of hers. He's read more of her stuff than I have.  But I suddenly remembered I have an anthology of six of her novels. So nix to that.

With Jim Laurie I had the same conversation we had ten years ago, the last time I saw him.

He:  "Never sell a book."

I: "Occasionally, for domestic tranquility..."

He: "I know, but that's part of the thing."

I: "And once you start selling stuff, it puts you in a bind when you're looking for something. You have to ask yourself, 'Am I just not seeing it, or is it gone?' "

He: "Like I said, never sell a book."

I asked him about business at his new location in the North Loop next to Bev's Wine Bar, and he made a non-committal reply. Considering the stock a used book dealer usually owns, business could always be better.

I (trying to be encouraging): "Do you have anything by Novalis?"

He: (a little exasperated): "Stop by the shop." 

Of course, most sales are to wealthy collectors, other dealers, and institutions. I find it amusing to eavesdrop on "insider" conversations between dealers who've often known one another for decades. though it's also fun to handle fine editions and look at rare novels and chapbooks wrapped in plastic bags or sitting in portable cabinets under glass.

I came away from the event with a single book—a paperback called Immortal River: The Upper Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Times by Calvin Fremling (2005). The copy was as good as new, and the man from Terrace Books on St. Clair who was selling it had marked it down from $30 to $9.

I've never been to that shop, but I was reminded that there used to be a very good bakery on St. Clair—Napoleon's—and also a little shop where two elderly sisters sold items imported from France. They both had white hair, wore berets, and might have been old enough to have known Janet Flanner. (See the volume of her writings for the New Yorker collected under the title Paris was Yesterday: 1925-1939.) We bought a tin of biscuits from those ladies many years ago.

When I got home I took a couple of my "finer" volumes off the shelf with renewed appreciation: A three-volume edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson printed at the Curwen Press in 1938; a two-volume edition of Benedetto Croce's version of Giambatista Basile's Pentamerone; a half-leather edition of Sainte-Beuve's Portraits of the Eighteenth Century; a quaint Knopf translation of a novel by Spaniard Pio Baroja called The Lord of Labraz, complete with dust jacket.

And here's an interesting (if nondescript) volume I'd forgotten about completely: Five Miscellaneous Essays by Sir William Temple (U of Michigan Press, 1963). If you've read more than two or three of these blog entries, you can easily see why the subject would interest me. It's a red hardcover, set in the odd style of having the table of contents after the introduction, which puts it at page 43. This makes it hard to find and almost defeats the purpose.

The subjects Temple treats are as follows: the gardens of Epicurus, ancient and modern learning, some thoughts on reviewing the previous essay, heroic virtue, and poetry. I might just take a look at one or two of them later. But the book is made marginally more interesting from the get go because it's a presentation copy from the book's editor, Samuel Holt Monk, to someone named Robert E. Smith. I found a citation of an article by Moore in the Jstor collection of academic papers bearing the title "Henry Purcell and the Restoration Theatre."

Monk had horrible handwriting, but as far as I can tell, his personalized signing to Moore reads as follows:
Robert E. Moore, comrade in silk stockings and type-wigs: a book that does not aspire to a second printing, that need not be read by the writer of Purcell & Hogarth. In all friendship                                 SHM April 28, 1963   
By the way, I looked high and low for that anthology of novels by Jean Rhys -- but I couldn't find it.


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