Remember the TV show, “Cheers”? It hasn’t been on television in quite a few years, but I was reminded of the theme song from the show recently:
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
The song is a bit cliched, but the lyrics capture the way I feel when I’m with the other booksellers I know. Of course, I don’t know a lot of other booksellers and most of the booksellers at the ABAA fair don’t know my name, but among those few who do, I feel at home.
Saturday, the second day of the fair, was busy from the time the doors opened. Mr. Z’s large booth, shared with Carpe Diem Fine Books of Monterey and located in the center of the first aisle, was a perfect gathering spot for interested bibliophiles and for booksellers taking a stroll. Hearing the stories behind some people’s collections and listening to other booksellers share their perceptions of the fair, I felt like a fly on the wall. I wrote up invoices, bagged books, and delivered checks to other booksellers for purchases made by Mr. Z and I listened. I tried to help customers find books that fit their interests and to answer their questions when Mr. Z was busy. Saturday was all a book fair should be: lots of people, lots of busy-ness and conversation, and consistent sales.
But the best part of Saturday was not just the book fair; it was being included in a small group of booksellers who met for drinks after the fair. I was happy to be asked to join them, but being rather shy around people I’ve just met, I was quite nervous about it as well. I would (gulp!) have to meet and talk to a few booksellers I hadn’t met before but who all seemed to know each other. These are serious booksellers, most of whom are in the ABAA, though most joined only recently . . . and me — probably perceived as a serious bookseller by my self only and not nearly enough experience to apply for membership in the ABAA. Would I have anything remotely interesting to contribute to the conversation? Probably not. But could I learn a lot from the talented people with whom I’d meet? Probably so. I was both excited and nervous when the time came to leave the fair and meet the other booksellers. I said goodbye the comfortable familiarity of Mr. Z and Carpe Diem and our booth and made my way to another part of the City alone.
Gathered at Vesuvio, next door to the well-known City Lights bookstore, everyone discussed the fair, bookselling, and, of course, books. I was introduced to those who I hadn’t met before, and I heard fascinating stories about how others had come to their careers in bookselling. I also heard fascinating stories of book finds and listened as a few sellers asked points-of-issue type questions of one another.
One bookseller who I’d heard of but never before met asked me about my business. I wanted to disappear under the table. I have never found a first issue Book of Mormon nor Shakespeare’s Second (or first for that matter) Folio nor befriended a published author. The story of Book Hunter’s Holiday has to date been one of fits and starts, of cashing in on serendipitous finds, and of learning as much as I can from others who have already blazed the trail. Resisting the urge to disappear for fear of admitting these things, I found myself excitedly explaining to him the concept behind the Dante catalogue and telling him about how I got my start in this business only a couple of years ago. He gave me a lot of encouragement and advice, sharing some of the experiences he had as a new bookseller.
As the night went on, I found I did have a few opinions and experiences of my own to contribute to the conversation. Before long, I forgot my nervousness with these new colleagues. Being at a table full of booksellers, all of whom had their own compelling stories to tell, several not unlike my own, I realized I had come to a place where, even if they hadn’t known me, everybody knew my name.