Saturday, July 10, 2004

A Sad State of Affairs

My Bookman and I attended the 14th Annual Twin Cities Book Fair this morning. The event is held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. We've been going every year now for about 7 years. This year my dearest got an excellent first edition sans remainder mark of Stephen King's Nightmares in the Sky with photographs by f-stop Fitzgerald, and I got (for a buck!) a 1930 hardcover copy of a book called Modern Writers at Work. The book is a collection of writing excerpts by the likes of Bertrand Russell, Rebecca West, Carl Sandburg and others. According to the preface, the book was meant to "provide contemporary 'specimens' of composition for beginners," and "to provide a guide for more advanced students in the study of writers of our modern literature." It is a textbook of sorts, but I couldn't pass it up. The price was right and the condition pretty decent. We had a wonderful time as usual, but we noticed, and heard several of the dealers talking about, how few people were in attendance. We also noticed some empty spaces where no dealers were in attendance either. I remember the first year we went. The event was held in a huge building, unairconditioned and it was hot. To top it off there were throngs of people elbowing for breathing room. The dealers' tables were overflowing with biblio goodness. We were a bit poorer then and had to think long and hard before spending $40 on an out of print signed first edition by my favorite poet, Adrienne Rich. The following year was the same, and we drooled over a letter written and signed by Virginia Woolf that cost $300. We couldn't afford it and now I regret not splurging because this year several Woolf first editions unsigned, not even her "famous" ones, were going for $250. But it isn't really about the money we could make from buying and selling, we buy for our own pleasure authors we like to read. We are readers, not dealers. But still, it's really neat to be able to say you have something of value in your library. But alas, no Woolf for me. But I digress. The first several years we went to the book fair it was hot and crowded and the tables were crammed. It is in a different building now, a bit smaller and somewhat airconditioned. As the years have passed attendance has dropped, the number of dealers has declined, and the tables are not jam packed any longer. The books that are there are selected more and more for collectors and less and less for readers. Even the big boom in signed modern firsts has subsided a bit, though these are still well represented and not generally what I go looking for (except to see what I have on my own book shelf might be worth). I wonder which came first, the decline in browsers or the limiting of selection? It is hard to say. Both make me sad. But we will keep going every year as long as the book fair continues because it is always fun to search and we always leave with at least one new book.