Many California towns are strung by similar threads. There are your California beach towns and there is the undistinguished blending of the San Fernando Valley communities that spawned Valleyspeak. But Pasadena is different. You’ll see street after manicured street of lovingly landscaped stucco mansions and Craftsman bungalows, all with putting-green quality lawns where weeds need not apply. And as soon as we arrived in the residential neighborhood surrounding our hotel, the CE and I had the same 1-2-3 jinx thought: THIS must be where they filmed Father of the Bride!
I’m guessing that in Pasadena, you are nobody if you aren’t in the Garden Club. But two weekends ago, a different kind of club swept through town. It was the arcaniest of arcania, the esoteriest of esoteria: it was The 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, and, as card-carrying book nerds, we were in attendance.
Truthfully, I was relieved when the CE began collecting books awhile back. It made so much more sense than his saber-collecting hobby. So these days, when he’s not drinking tea with rug dealers, he’s page-turning with book collectors. The passion was kick-started when I showed him the weekly ad that Bauman Rare Books places on the back of the New York Times Book Review. Soon, the CE had made the acquaintance of knowledgeable Bauman staff member, Mazy, and suddenly we were the proud owners of a fine copy of The Old Man and the Sea.
Since books are very much like potato chips, one was not nearly enough. The CE now has a bi-coastal team of favorite book dealers. Jerry Jacob of Lost Horizon Bookstore in Santa Barbara is his go-to guy on the West coast.
It may have all begun with our shared appreciation for authors Willa Cather and Edith Wharton. That itch to hold a first edition in your hands, perhaps one even signed by the author, can be powerful. Our friendly UPS guy, a collector himself – of old bicycles! – was soon showing up more and more frequently with doorstop-sized parcels that arrived with postmarks from New York, London, and Paris – Paris, Tennessee, that is.
Why would anyone collect books at a time when the world has come to be ruled by the iPad and the Kindle? Good question! No good answer. We often wonder if the books of yesteryear are destined to be the buggy whips of the future.
Perhaps it is the collector’s delight of inhabiting a world apart from the mainstream, full of Delphian allure and shop talk. Like any other subculture, book collecting has its own language: words like foxing, octavo, “tipped in” and topstain. A collector cannot judge a book by its cover because there is no such thing as a cover, only boards and a spine.
Sometimes the the novelty of an exquisitely dressed-up novel is irresistible:
Can you remember the first time a book really moved you? I do. I have vivid memories of reading the poignant horse stories Blitz and Misty of Chincoteague and later being transported by Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. While rummaging around the basement when I was a teen, I discovered a wood-cut-illustrated copy of Jane Eyre that I still treasure. Like multitudinous other adolescents, my childhood friend, Nancy, and I transcended our prosaic Midwestern existence when our high school librarian slipped us copies of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. This was not just about reading – it was cartharsis. And that experience, perhaps, is (along with the pleasures of commerce) what drew upwards of two hundred vendors and many book lovers like ourselves to wander the aisles at the fair.
From The Cat in the Hat or A Tale of Two Cities, it was on display at this book fair, which drew vendors from as far away as England, France, Germany and Denmark. The Convention Center took on the appearance of a sprawling bookstore, as each bookseller set up a booth with bookshelves and glass cases.
Certain books have a universal appeal. You’ll pay dearly for a first edition of Catcher in the Rye or Gone with the Wind. A fine first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird can cost as much as a car. For many, the Holy Grail of book collecting is James Joyce’s Ulysses, a copy of which I saw at the book fair – priced at a hefty $425,000!