An international book fair is worth a little travel, and so this past Saturday a friend and I arranged our schedules to meet for the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay.
Coats and umbrellas dutifully checked at the door, we entered a book lover’s dream. Briefly we checked our notions of frugality and economic realism at the door as well. The price of admission had purchased us the right to handle some remarkable first editions and old maps and manuscripts. We practiced nodding sagely at booksellers’ courteous presentations, letting some of the higher figures like $20,000 and $35,000 elicit from the two of us the merest roll of the eyes.
The love of reading is a strange catalyst in a setting like this. A favorite author or two and many authors who had never figured in our favorites’ list got us wondering whether we might be willing to part with a couple of hundred dollars for the ownership of a first edition with dust jacket virtually intact. With such a purchase we would have felt entitled to weave a narrative with which to entertain and possibly impress future guests to the house and friends at work.
“It was a little bit of a surprise to see this volume by Auden and Isherwood at the book fair last November…”
“I know I don’t need another edition of Anne Sexton…”
“Yes, see how well the print in this early edition matches the coarseness of the paper on which it appears…”
The book itself as object of reverence and desire and even financial speculation – how far from the experience of reading with which some of us first experienced the liberating potential of an articulate author’s view of life! I still remember what freedom had seemed possible when I first saw a television production of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie. I had realized that my own stifled sense of home life was not unique in the lives of men and women who were considered intelligent and successful.
Almost three hours after we entered, we were at the door ready to leave. I suddenly asked for five minutes. Briefly postponing the falafel sandwich I pictured waiting for me at nearby Cafe Jaffa, I hurried down the aisles and rows of book fair stalls, looking down one and then another for a certain booth at the edge of the conference area. Earlier I had seen something that seemed an affordable memento of the day – and even an enjoyable if quirky read.
Within the requested five minutes I returned to my friend waiting at a booth near the exit. I had decided to purchase for fifteen dollars a 1960 children’s book titled Amelia and the Angels by Muriel Hooper. It was designated “scarce” in the bookseller’s pencil jotting on the flyleaf. Appropriately, it seemed to me, it was about a church mouse named Amelia.
I looked forward to the simple pleasure of reading the tale later at home, but for a short time I could relish the satisfaction of walking out of the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair with a brown paper bag secured by a yellow sticker identifying the contents as a purchase made at the fair. No one needed to know whether those contents had cost me fifteen dollars or fifteen thousand dollars.
They simply needed to know that I loved books. Seriously.