When I arrived in Grass Valley, CA last Friday to set up for the Gold Rush Book Fair, the first thing I noticed was the heat. Though the climate is usually temperate in these California foothills, an unusual spring heat wave had hit the region. It was 100 degrees, fahrenheit, and we sweated as Thoughtful Husband and I moved eight portable (but heavy) bookcases and eleven boxes of books from the Book Mobile to the exhibition hall. This time, I had no Rudy-esque aspirations of grandeur; I merely wanted to get out of the sun. Instead, I felt more like Lawrence of Arabia, and, while hot and thirsty, envisioned a mirage of customers transported by cool breezes to the entry gate of the exhibit hall, checkbooks at the ready to purchase the treasures offered inside the bazaar.
I was fortunate in that Thoughtful Husband had come along on this trip (on our wedding anniversary) to see a book fair firsthand and to help me. Between the two of us, the books were unloaded fairly quickly. I was also fortunate that my boothmate, Jeanne Jarzombek, of The Book Prowler, remembered to bring an electric fan to our booth. Whew! That helped a lot.
We set up our books and shelves, hoping that the building’s air conditioning would be turned on for the fair the next day. Since I hadn’t followed my usual superstitious ritual of setting up test shelves at home, it took me a while to arrange my books on the shelves and in the glass trophy case we used for display. Finally, at 5:00 p.m., as the exhibit hall was closing for the night, I was ready. Note to self for future fairs: It is well worth the time spent at home to set up test shelves. You’ll save set-up time you can use for shopping the inventory of the other dealers setting up.
We left for the pre-bookseller-dinner libations at the charming Toad Hall Book Shop in neighboring Nevada City. Exhibiting booksellers overflowed out the door of the shop and onto the sidewalk. We went upstairs from Toad Hall to the Masonic Hall, where we were served dinner and asked to (gulp!) stand up and introduce ourselves over the microphone to the other 100 people in the room. The heat in the room was palpable.
By now, you are probably aware that I fear nothing more than introducing myself to people I don’t know. And now I had to publicly introduce myself in front of a large crowd of booksellers who have sold books much longer than I have — all the while feeling too hot from the weather and the temperature of the room. What on earth was I going to say? My mind raced through all the possibilities as the booksellers each passed the microphone from one to another.
I could take the Alcoholics Anonymous route, hoping for the empathy of the other dinner guests:
“Hi. I’m Chris Lowenstein and I’m a bibliomaniac.”
Or, I could try to emphasize the paltry experience I do have:
“Hi. I’m Chris Lowenstein and I am an experienced bookseller. This is my — count it, people — third book fair.”
Pathetic. And arrogant.
Perhaps I could try this:
“Hi. I’m Chris Lowenstein. I specialize in Dante Alighieri and Pioneer Women.”
No. Though true, that statement sounds downright disparate. It might scare some people.
What to say, what to say?
After some self-editing, here’s what I said when the microphone finally reached me:
“Hi. I’m Chris Lowenstein from Book Hunter’s Holiday. I want to thank those of you who’ve done this fair year after year for welcoming those of us new booksellers who are here for the first time.”
Pretty generic, but neither bashful nor boastful. And, it was true. One of the highlights of the fair was the amazing booksellers I got to meet and how willing they were to talk books with me.
Standing up to introduce myself, I looked around the room. I saw that I knew several of the booksellers there already. There was my boothmate Jeanne, for starters. There were also Michael Ginsberg, Ed Glaser, and Chris Volk, who are on the faculty of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I had met the booksellers in the neighboring booth, Bolerium Books, earlier in the day at set-up. Jim Kay, of Sacramento’s bookbomb.com was there, and Steve Blackmer of Sonoma’s Chanticleer Books waved a hello. Peter Siegel was there from Oregon. Thanks to attending the Colorado Seminar and selling books at previous fairs, I had actually met these booksellers at least once before. Dare I say it? Looking around the room, I almost felt comfortable, and I certainly felt welcome.
I looked forward to the opening of the book fair the next morning.
Tomorrow: The Fair Opens