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Oh, the life of a bookseller

There’s a store here in Walnut Creek where I have an arrangement with the owner to have about 300 of my books for sale in her retail shop. I do most of my business on-line, at book fairs, and through quoting my regular customers, so this arrangement exposes some of my books to a retail audience.

A gentleman came in looking for a book as a gift. He found one of my books. It’s one of those home remedy medical books so common in the 1800s when your doctor might be a five-mile drive from your house via horse and buggy.

I was busy in the back of the store working on some books, so the owner and this gentleman were involved in conversation about the book. She called to me to explain a bit more about the book, and I was able to relate a few stories to him, so he knew this book had some “heft” to it irrespective of its actual size.

“How much?” he asked?

“Jim,” the owner called to me, “four fifty for this book?”

“Yup, four fifty.”

“Great. I’ll take it,” he said, smiling while still admiring this great black book which is about the size of one of those huge dictionaries.

“There’s a bit more for the government,” the owner warned about the sales tax.

“Not a problem,” he said, handing her a $5 bill.

“I’m not sure we’re on the same page,” she said. “Jim,” she called to me again, “it’s four hundred and fifty dollars, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, thinking that I thought the price was clear, but I guess he was hearing only what he wanted to hear. Four dollars and fifty cents?  Really?  He ended up declining the book.  All I could do was smile a wan smile.

All this reminded me of a situation very early in my career as a bookseller, c.1982, when I had the best looking copy of Gone With the Wind that you’ve ever seen, a first edition, first issue, with the first issue dust jacket, signed by Margaret Mitchell, in immaculate condition.

I had taken the book to a local book fair where it was sitting on a table, looking as pretty as can be. Well, Ma and Pa Kettle stood in front of that table, admiring the book and discussing it in hushed tones. They asked its price.

“Twelve fifty,” I replied.

They looked like they wanted it, and sure enough, Pa Kettle nodded to Ma Kettle who fished a five and a ten dollar bill out of her purse and handed them to me.

I stared dumbfounded at the bills and finally looked up to say, “It’s twelve hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Oh,” Ma Kettle said in surprise, taking back the bills rather quickly.

“No problem,” I said, trying hard to suppress both the rejection and the laughter that was trying desperately to billow out my mouth.

About 30 seconds or so went by when I saw Pa Kettle smile a slightly mirthful smile at me and then said, “I guess at that price I’d want to buy them all.”

Dealing with the public. You gotta love it.

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Herb Caen

Herb Caen was a legendary and long-time daily columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for his columns that covered what Bay Area residents call The City. He wrote about the characters that inhabited his adopted city whether they were down-and-outers or high flyers, as long as they were interesting. For many Chronicle readers, Herb’s column was the first they read in that newspaper, eschewing the sports page, fashion reports, local news, and national. No one captured the allure, the fascination of San Francisco better than Herb Caen.

Herb Caen

Herb Caen

Herb published many books about this city with whom he had a love affair, often calling it Baghdad by the Bay. Those books were often accumulations of his daily columns. Whether you were a writer or a personality or a restaurant owner, you knew you had made it when your name reached his column.

Some collectors want his books just because Herb wrote them. Others might collect his books because of their own love affair with San Francisco. Still others might collect his books because their favorite writer found his exploits discussed in a Herb column.

One writer he often favored was John Steinbeck. Caen mentions Steinbeck several times in his One Man’s San Francisco published by Doubleday in 1976, once in connection with one of Herb’s favorite people, an advertising genius named Howard Luck Gossage, one of the many characters that could be found only in Caen’s City by the Bay.

Herb Caen's book

Herb Caen’s book

Caen’s book describes Gossage as having an ingratiating stammer, a man with flowing white hair and “the sad-sweet smile that seems to be the signature of so many Irish philosophers.” He goes on to say, “Like most of the best men I’ve ever met, he never haggled over a bill and he over-tipped recklessly….I never met a more unbigoted man, even about bigots; the worst he would say about anybody was, ‘Well, I can t-take him or l-leave him — not n-necessarily in that order.’”

In his One Man’s San Francisco, Caen recalls a meeting between himself, Steinbeck, and Gossage. It occurred when Steinbeck had made his way south from Seattle to San Francisco as he navigated around this country doing his research for the book eventually published as Travels With Charley. This small group had met at Enrico’s Coffee House. Steinbeck was recalling one of the highlights of the trip — not for him, but for his beloved Charley. They were moving through redwood country in Northern California.

“I looked around till I found the largest redwood in the area — an absolute beauty,” Steinbeck told them, “probably 2,000 years old, a considerable tree before Christ was born.

“And then I let Charley out of the camper so he could go and pee on that tree. Now I ask you, what is left in life for that dog?”

“Well,” Gossage ventured, “he could always t-t-teach.”

Only in San Francisco.

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Dennis Murphy

The Sergeant by Dennis Murphy is an example of a book with many cross-over book collecting components.

The Sergeant

The Sergeant

The book was published by Viking in 1958. It became a bestseller. Murphy also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation and went on to work as a screenwriter for 30 years.

The book is a psychological drama set in a post-World War II army camp in France in which a veteran sergeant and a French girl vie for the soul of a young draftee.

So why is the book collectible? It is his first book. It was the source for the film that followed. It won the Joseph Henry Jackson gold medal for a first novel in progress in 1957 and the Commonwealth Club’s medal for the best work of fiction by a California writer in 1958.

Dennis Murphy

Dennis Murphy

And then there is Murphy’s connection to Hunter S. Thompson, John Steinbeck, and Wallace Stegner.

Let’s back up a bit. Murphy was born in Salinas in 1925. There is another, slightly more famous writer who was also born in Salinas. That would be Steinbeck, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his The Grapes of Wrath who went on to become a Nobel laureate. The Steinbeck family and the Murphy family were friends. In fact, Murphy’s grandfather was the physician who delivered Steinbeck. Murphy became friends with Hunter S. Thompson, known later for his Gonzo journalism, well before anyone knew who Hunter S. Thompson was.

Murphy went on to college at Stanford University, the same school attended by Steinbeck. He was a student in the creative writing program run by Stegner. In fact, the rear dust jacket panel of The Sergeant carries a blurb by Stegner in which he describes the book as “…a novel with a strange, almost a hypnotic, intensity….The tension never slackens. In its kind, it is close to masterly….It indicates a talent that is serious, devoted, and under quite extraordinary control.”

Steinbeck also penned a blurb about the book which is printed on the front panel of the dust jacket. Steinbeck calls it a remarkable book with “none of the faults of a young first novelist….Most impressive is his ability to put believable people on paper and then to relate them in scenes which happen. There is a great deal of truth and beauty in this book.”

In 1985 San Jose State University published a letter from Steinbeck to Murphy titled Your Only Weapon Is Your Work, one of 500 numbered copies issued in wrappers that was used as a fund-raiser.

Your Only Weapon Is Your Work

Your Only Weapon
Is Your Work

Murphy completed a second novel, The Lions of Big Sur, shortly before his death in 2005.


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This Is Not A Rant

So I see some books I would like to buy an ABE, otherwise known as Advanced Book Exchange, the Canadian company that is probably the best book selling site on the internet.

Now when I say it’s the best, you might think it is without fault, but that is far from the case. Ask any bookseller what they think of ABE and once they tell you how it sells more of their books than any other site, they will also tell you that ABE is replete with problems, that the people there just don’t get it, that talking to them is like talking to cable TV idiots who seem capable only of corporate-speak.

But let’s cut to the chase. The book dealer from whom I made my purchases was not responding to my follow up e-mail questions, including my plea to have him send me his phone number so I can resolve my issues. He eventually sends his phone number, but tells me not to call for a few days because he lives near Buffalo, NY. He informs me of his ice/snow/roof problems that he needs to resolve quickly.

No problem. I wait about three days and then call him. The dealer is at least 80 years old and a nice old guy.  I’ll probably be there myself someday, so I bear with the fact that he can’t hear well. Asking and answering questions is…difficult, despite changing phones. He hears better on one vs. the other.

In the end we strike a deal. He says I can get his address from ABE. I think this is a good idea since our communications were so difficult. So, I look up his address on ABE, or at least I tried to look him up on ABE. ABE, which doesn’t list his phone number, also doesn’t list his address — just the city in upstate New York.

So, I call ABE. The otherwise pleasant person on the phone gently tells me ABE cannot give me his address since the transaction he and I completed was accomplished without ABE which wants its cut. That’s true I counter, but I did buy books from him, via ABE, just a few days previously. ABE did get its cut.  Once these books arrive, I’ll have his return address. I just don’t want to wait until then. Since he and I struck our deal, I’m thinking it would be bad form to wait a week or two to send the check I just promised moments before.

This debate continues with the ABE rep until I point out how ludicrous its position is and ask to speak to a supervisor. Smiling through gritted teeth, she says someone will have to call. I ask when, since this was on a Friday and ABE not only doesn’t work on weekends, their offices actually close around 2:30 Pacific time.  While wishing I had those hours, I wait for the supervisor to call me back.

It’s been about three days now. What do you think my chances are of ever receiving such a call? Or ABE coming to its corporate senses? Okay, maybe it is a rant. But jeez….


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Old Ocean View Avenue, also known as Cannery Row

800 Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, California is a legendary location. It’s also known as Cannery Row. In his novel of the same name, John Steinbeck famously wrote that Cannery Row “is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

Cannery Row Steinbeck's novel

Cannery Row
Steinbeck’s novel

800 Ocean View Avenue had a lot to do with Cannery Row, both as a place and a novel, for it was the address of Pacific Biological Laboratories run by zen master and marine biologist Edward Flanders Ricketts, commonly known to many as “Doc.”

Pacific Biological Laboratories

Pacific Biological Laboratories

Ed Ricketts was not only “Doc” in Steinbeck’s novel, but he also appeared as Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, the houseboy, Lee, in East of Eden, and as a character in several other Steinbeck novels. He was Steinbeck’s best friend, alter ego, and philosophical mentor.

Edward Flanders Ricketts, also known as "Doc"

Edward Flanders Ricketts,
also known as “Doc”

He, Steinbeck and first wife, Carol, famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, their friends Ritchie and Tal Lovejoy, Bruce and Jean Ariss, Henry Miller, and others were part of the first Lab group that dates back to the 1920s.

Cannery Row was then beginning to transform itself from a small fishing village to the world’s largest sardine canning operation on its way to its present renaissance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is right across the street from the Lab.

That first Cannery Row group was succeeded by another after the death of Ricketts in a car vs. train accident near the Lab in 1948. That second group started when Harlan Watkins invited Eldon Dedini, Gus Arriola, Hank Ketcham, Ed Larsh, and others to come to the Lab in 1951 to listen to jazz. They met every Wednesday for six years.

This group turned Doc’s lab into a sort of men’s club, preserving the Lab just as it had begun, a place for intelligent people to meet, to party, to brainstorm, to listen to music, to commune with their muses, to love their lives as part of a community.

There were about 20 “owners” of this men’s club that sold the Lab to the City of Monterey in the early 1990s. Cartoonists Ketcham and Arriola were among these owners, along with Dr. Ted Stotler, Dedini, Frank Wright, and Ariss.

For those interested in learning more about cannery row as a place and Doc’s lab, try reading Doc’s Lab Myth & Legends of Cannery Row by Larsh, one of 1,000 numbered copies published in 1995 by PBL Press and also A History of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row by Tom Mangelsdorf published by Western Tanager Press in 1986.

Doc's Lab by Ed Larsh

Doc’s Lab by Ed Larsh

And oh, by the way, Steinbeck’s book is pretty good, too.


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Miniature Books

There are many ways to collect books. You might even be a book collector without even knowing it. You might acquire a book here and there and then suddenly you need more. Collectors of children’s books, for example, often start their collecting habit by acquiring that special book they read as a child or that grandma read to them. And then it dawns on them. What started out as an accumulation has turned into a collection.

Collectors of miniature books might also fall into that category. Maybe they made an impulse purchase because they had never seen a miniature before. Maybe they thought it was cute. And then it grows on them. They have to have more.

You might even collect some miniatures as a sub-set of your main collection. Let’s say that you collect John Steinbeck. You definitely want all his first editions, but then maybe you decide to expand the collection to his appearances in anthologies, or maybe film posters from films made from his works, and then you want books about him. You realize that this collecting business has taken on a life of its own.

132 Central Avenue (actual size)

132 Central Avenue
(actual size)

And then you spot a miniature. Maybe it’s 132 Central Avenue. The book is a touch more than 2.5 inches wide by 2.5 inches tall. 132 Central Avenue happens to be the address of the Steinbeck family home in Salinas where the Nobel Prize-winning author was born and raised.

Frontispiece and title page (actual size)

Frontispiece and title page
(actual size)

In fact, there is a color photo of the Victorian-style home used as frontispiece. The book was written by and published by a miniaturist named Robert F. Hanson in Bradenton, Florida in 1985 via his Opuscula Press. Hanson had visited the Steinbeck home in 1982. His book reports on it and some of the other homes Steinbeck occupied in that area. As you can see by the colophon, 500 copies were printed and hand-bound by Hanson.



Hanson had earlier published Collecting Steinbeck authored by Maurice Dunbar, a long-time teacher and collector of John Steinbeck, but rather than bind the book in wrappers as he did with 132 Central Avenue, Collecting Steinbeck is a cloth-bound hardcover. It is just a touch wider than two inches and just short of three inches tall. It too has a photographic frontispiece, in this case a b&w photo of an aging Steinbeck. Hanson’s Opuscula Press published the book in 1983. He printed 250 numbered copies signed by himself and Dunbar.

Collecting Steinbeck actual size)

Collecting Steinbeck
actual size)

Photo frontispiece (actual size)

Photo frontispiece
(actual size)

According to its prospectus, the book has 62 pages of Dunbar discussing holographic material, galley proofs, first trade editions, limited editions, pirated books, paperbacks, anthologies, biographies, etc. In addition to the frontispiece, there is a tipped-in reproduction of Steinbeck’s Pigasus, a spoof caricature of the Greek flying horse Pegasus. Steinbeck’s pig with wings symbolized how Steinbeck categorized his own writing — earth-bound, but with aspirations.

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Report on the Oakland book fair

There was a lot on the line at the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair sponsored by the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America (ABAA). Not only had the fair moved from the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco where the fair took place for what seemed like forever, but it moved out of San Francisco altogether — to Oakland, a city that has a certain amount of stigma.

No one was familiar with the new venue, the Oakland Marriott City Center. No one knew the logistics of load-in and load-out. No one knew what kind of crowds would be generated. No one knew what their sales would be like. Many dealers decided to wait for the results of this fair before giving it a try the next time around, including at least four local ABAA members who exhibited the last time the fair took place in Northern California two years ago, but who opted out of the fair that is essentially in their back yard this time. For them, there were just too many question marks that couldn’t be answered in advance. They didn’t want to take a chance, fearing failure. Oh, and it rained and was supposed to rain for the entire weekend. One more nail in the coffin?

There was a lot of consternation within the Northern California chapter of the ABAA. All politics are local, as Tip O’Neill once said. What would happen if this fair fell flat? Would it be mortally wounded, or just crippled for a few years? I was among the many who asked a lot of questions, but who were unable to find answers. My daughter asked me before the fair what my expectations were. Normally I would respond with something like, “I have low expectations and hope to be surprised,” but in this case all I could say is, “I don’t have the slightest idea.” I had no answers, only questions, but there were enough clues so as to enable one to lean toward negativity, despite my having a very good booth location.

My results may not be typical, but I had the best dollar results of any fair in the 35 years I’ve been buying and selling rare and collectible books and related items. No one was more surprised than I. An objective analysis indicates that I achieved my rarified numbers for four reasons. One big ticket item sold because of its extraordinary condition. Another sold because of its incredible rarity. Another sold because of its uniqueness. And one sold because of my salesmanship. But even if all this was true going in, it didn’t mean that the correct buyers would be there.

But they were. I don’t have final attendance figures but at no time did I ever think the crowds were too thin. The venue itself is damned near perfect. All exhibitors were in one room, all on the same level. The room is large. The aisles were spacious. The lighting was excellent. It reminded me of the venue in Southern California (Pasadena) where this fair takes place in even-numbered years.

Load in was dicey only because I wasn’t familiar with the territory. I was lucky to have seen Bob Haines standing on the sidewalk arranging his load in on Thursday before the fair when the exhibitors set up for the three-day weekend event. So, I pulled over, made my own arrangements, which included having my car off-loaded within a very few minutes. By the time I parked my car, traveling up that treacherous, long, narrow ramp, registered at the front desk and walked to my booth, my books were there ready for me to rock and roll.

On Friday the fair opened at 3 p.m. Within the first hour I had made a five-figure sale that far exceeded my entire sales at the last California ABAA fair a year ago in Pasadena. Jimmie was becoming a very happy boy. I also met a man that many told me was the foremost collector of Rudyard Kipling in the world. He wanted the unique Kipling item I brought, but he hesitated. I sold it the next day to someone else, also an extremely advanced collector. I was transitioning from being not sure about the fair to being perky.

I had many good conversations with interested, intelligent collectors. Many of the attendees were young. I even sold a few items to young collectors. This is speculation on my part, but I believe that by being more centrally located to the nine county Bay Area we attracted more people, younger people, people who might not have wanted to go to venerable San Francisco. Oakland stigma? What stigma?

And all this was achieved without the Baumans or the Harringtons making stacks of purchases which then usually enables the dealers from whom they are buying to spread some of their wealth. I saw no stack-making by either and certainly didn’t experience it myself with either. That would have been the cherry on the top, but it wasn’t necessary. And going in, if I had suggested that neither the Baumans or the Harringtons weren’t going to make stacks, many would have groaned even louder about the impending doom and failure of this fair.

Michael Hackenburg, chairman of our local chapter’s book fair committee, risked a lot on the change of city, change of venue. His anus must have puckered more than once or twice, despite repeating his message of positivity like a mantra. He is now letting it be known that he prefers expensive single malt scotch. I don’t know if he’ll be getting a bottle from me, but I am happy to report that now I can afford it.


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More on the Cool Factor

One of the joys of being an antiquarian bookseller is finding items that are blockbusters, or important, or unique, but not every book or item falls into those rarified categories. Some bring joy just because they are so cool.

One recent acquisition has that cool factor. It’s a bound volume of a periodical called Pacific Weekly published out of Carmel, Califiornia. It was established in late 1934 by W. R. Bassett and his wife, Dorthea Castlehoun. It was a weekly that published left-leaning journalism, essays, criticism, fiction, and poetry, often illustrated with woodcuts, some by Giacamo Patri. Contributors included John Fante, Carey McWilliams, Langston Hughes, A. I. Bezzerides, George Albee, and Nathanael West. Locating any issue of this periodical is quite a difficult task.

Lincoln Steffens, the well-known muckraker, seized control of the magazine in June 1936 seeking a more hard-line communist agenda. He acted as editor and publisher until his death in August 1936. The November 9, 1936 issue was essentially a memorial issue for Steffens. Contributors in that issue include Steffens, Robinson and Una Jeffers, William Saroyan, Louis Adamic, Granville Hicks, Upton Sinclair, Sara Bard Field, Ella Winter, and a guy named John Steinbeck who contributed a sketch called Breakfast. It was the first publication of this brief “story” which eventually was included in Steinbeck’s 1938 book of short stories, The Long Valley, published by Viking.

This issue is extremely difficult to find. In my 47+ years being involved with Steinbeck material, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. Even Adrian H. Goldstone, whose Steinbeck collection is the basis for the Goldstone & Payne bibliography of Steinbeck, didn’t have a copy. It is cited in G&P as C21 via a photocopy from the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel.

The recently-acquired bound volume includes 26 issues from Vol. V, No. 1 (July 6, 1936) through Vol. V, No. 23 (December 28, 1936), all of which were the personal copies of Carey McWilliams who is probably best known for his Factories in the Field. McWilliams was an associate editor of Pacific Weekly. Most of the issues have his address stamped on the upper left-hand corner of the rear cover. There are some minor notations in his hand in some issues and the front pastedown of the bound volumes carries his full signature.

Cool? You bet. Salable? It sold in less than a handful of minutes to the first person to whom I offered it.

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A Book Fair That’s Controversial?

There’s battle lines being drawn….

You wouldn’t normally think that the staid, old-fashioned world of book collecting and book selling would be controversial, but a convergence of events has rocked the book world.  Will it all turn out as planned, or will the largest antiquarian book fair on the planet be a complete dud?  Stay tuned.

The event in question is the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers of American (ABAA).  This fair alternates between Northern and Southern California.  The North conducts this massive event in odd years and the South in even years. For years and years the event in Northern California took place at the Concourse Exhibition Center at 8th and Brannan in San Francisco, as it did in 2013.  Everyone knew where it was, how to get there, what the parking was like, where the shuttles ran, etc., but the Concourse closed. So, where to go?

The book fair committee of the Northern California Chapter of the ABAA, which is responsible for putting on the event, narrowed its choices to two locations.  One was Fort Mason.  It’s still in San Francisco, but it lacks taxis, hotels, restaurants, and easy access.  Instead, the Oakland Marriott City Center was chosen, meaning that for the first time in its long history, according to the ABAA national, the fair would take place outside of San Francisco. That’s the beginning of the controversy, but it ain’t over yet.

The fair itself is always fantastic.  The best booksellers in the world bring their best books, manuscripts, letters, maps, and other printed material including incunabula.  There will be fine bindings, children’s and illustrated books.  The fair is scheduled for Feb. 6 (3 to 8 p.m.), 7 (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.), and 8 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  The featured exhibition, in addition to the materials for sale, will focus on books and manuscripts at Mills College in Oakland.  The featured seminar will be Feb. 8 at 11:30 a.m. on Jack London, photographer presented by Sue Hodson of the Huntington Library.  There will be three other seminars, plus Discovery Day Feb. 8th where attendees can have up to three books informally appraised.

Oakland Fair

All good, but there are problems.  Whenever there is a change of venue, attendance goes down.  That’s not good news for the exhibitors who will plunk down in excess of $3,000 to exhibit, some of whom depend on this fair for a sizable chunk of their annual income.  Lower attendance usually means lower bottom lines.  Not good.  But this fair is not only changing venues, it’s changing cities.  Will that also translate to lower bottom-lines for exhibitors?  Probably.  And while there are bright spots in Oakland, it’s not San Francisco, and, for some, the idea of Oakland and the baggage it carries, true or not, triggers a gag response.

White Rain Productions, the fair’s promotion company, counters that the venue is across the street from the 12th Street BART station, with easy access to diverse cuisine, historic Old Oakland sites, museums, Lake Merritt, and the waterfront at Jack London Square. White Rain also points out that Oakland was recently listed by the New York Times as the No. 5 destination to visit in the world, that Thrillist lists it as America’s fifth most “hipster” city, and that ArtPlace America lists it as one of the top art destinations in the world.

But let’s look closer.  The NYTimes article ran in its Travel Section —  three years ago.  Is that “recent?” The Thrillist article was two years ago. So, what has been the response from the dealers?  In 2007, there were 243 exhibitors.  In 2009 there were 237.  In 2011 there were 222.  In 2013 there were 217.  This lowering of the number of exhibitors could be pegged to the Great Recession, but as of this writing the Dow is at more than 17,000 and the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.6%.  Most economic indicators point up for the first time in a long spell.  So why has the population of dealers from 2013 (217) dropped to only 184 for 2015?  There will be a total of 174 booths (some are shared), but the Marriott can accommodate 225 booths, according to White Rain. More troubling is that in 2013 there were 26 dealers from the Bay Area, but only 22 signed up for 2015  —  for a major book fair that’s essentially in their back yard?

I contacted those four dealers.  Two didn’t respond.  One said that the internet has killed book fairs.  The same dealer can’t or won’t acquire enough new stock on a regular basis so that his wares are new, fresh, but he also blamed the locale of the fair.  “Oakland is a new, untested venue so I will let others test the waters.”  Another dealer who has eschewed Oakland also blames the locale.

At first the book fair committee reported that there would be a $63,000 savings in the rental of the Oakland site vs. the Concourse, indicating that at least some of that money would be used to promote the new venue in hopes of offsetting a decline in attendance.  That seemed to calm tensions.  It was hoped by some that this savings would have resulted in a lower booth fee for exhibitors, too.  This would have made sense.  A lower booth fee might retain the level of dealer participation.  And the more dealers that exhibit means a better bottom-line for the ABAA as a national entity as the ABAA gets a flat $150 fee per booth.  It needs that income to fund itself.  Besides, the booth fee for a fair in Oakland couldn’t possibly cost the same as a booth in San Francisco.  Or could it?

According to White Rain, “The Marriott has a lower rental fee, but it’s not an apple-to-apples comparison as there are various requirements such as a guest room and catering commitment, service taxes and miscellaneous labor/City/electrical fees.”  In short, the cost of the Marriott as a venue is about the same as the Concourse.  Thus, any funds thought to be used to promote the fair more than in the past because of the venue/city change have disappeared.

“We do need to stick with the same budget although we had hoped to spend more.  The exhibitor registration just isn’t there this year to support more on advertising.  We are increasing our viral marketing, local partnerships for promotion, on-line marketing, and other lower-cost marketing.”

What does it all mean?  For the attendees, in the short run, not much.  The dealers who will exhibit will still be among the best on the planet, bringing their best items, although there will be fewer of them.  In the long run, what will happen if this fair is a bust for too many of the dealers?  Exhibitors the next time around will be even fewer.  The amount of money available to promote will be less.  One can envision this fair circling the drain.  It might not die suddenly, but it could suffer a long, lingering illness from which it might not recover.  Local politics within the Northern California chapter of the ABAA might result in regime change, although apathy would probably dampen that.  The ABAA national would probably have to tighten its budgetary belt a couple of notches because it wouldn’t be making the income upon which it has always counted the California fairs to deliver.

But the internet will save us, right? Obviously not.  What will save dealers and buyers alike is good, solid sales, taking advantage of incredibly low interest rates, an ever-increasing stock market, and our growing economy.  There has never been a better time to buy books and related collectibles, but there has never been a more dangerous time for those supplying those paper treasures we all love so much.


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John D. MacDonald

Long before there was Sue Grafton with her mnemonic-driven alphabet series (“A” Is for Alibi, “B” Is for Burglar, etc.), there was John D. MacDonald.

John D. MacDonald

John D. MacDonald

MacDonald was a prolific writer of stories in many genres. He was first published while a soldier in World War II. He moved from short stories to longer fiction with his first novel, The Brass Cupcake, a paperback original published by Gold Medal in 1950. He published a number of paperback originals in the 1950s.

The Brass Cupcake, a paperback original

The Brass Cupcake,
a paperback original

Several of his books have been made into films or television programs. His The Executioners was filmed first in 1962 as Cape Fear. It was re-made in 1991 with the same title. He also wrote in the field of science fiction. His Wine of the Dreamers was published by Greenberg in 1951. He followed that with Ballroom of the Skies in 1952, also published by Greenberg.

Ballroom of the Skies

Ballroom of the Skies

Wine of the Dreamers

Wine of the Dreamers

But he is probably best known his novels of crime and suspense starring his famous character, Travis McGee. MacDonald employed a similar mnemonic device with this series using a color in each of his novels, starting with The Deep Blue Good-By published as a hardcover by Lippincott in 1964.

The Deep Blue Good-By, the first Travis McGee novel

The Deep Blue Good-By,
the first Travis McGee novel

In all MacDonald published 21 titles in the Travis McGee series, ending with The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985. In between, he published such “color” titles as Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying, Darker Than Amber, The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, and Dress Her in Indigo, among others. But it was more than the clever use of titles that kept him in print. He wrote really good yarns, although some believe his earlier work, which they describe as darker, was better than the Travis McGee series. Those who were fans of MacDonald including Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dean Koontz who has a character in his Odd Apocalypse that finds himself in 1920, worried about the world with no penicillin, no polio vaccine, no Teflon cookware, and no John D. MacDonald novels.

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