In Praise of Book Fairs and One in Particular
By Bruce McKinney
On Saturday July 12th, at around 6:00 am, a scouting party of motivated book buyers will prepare to head off for the Friends of the C. H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut. Some will have travelled hundreds, a few even a thousand miles, to be here this morning. As book buyers they are fulfilling a necessary and in fact one of the final roles in this centipede-like process that has involved forty library volunteers in preparations for a year and will now incorporate another sixty to complete this annual library book fair over the next five days. On this morning inveterate book buyers, who will number in the hundreds in a few hours and in the thousands before the sale is over, drift in between 7:00 and 9:00 am to plunk down their ten bucks and line up for first crack at what is one of the more interesting book fairs in America. This is the five-day C. H. Booth Library Sale: an event first organized when Richard Nixon was President that continues to prosper into its fourth decade. Here where recently there have been UFO sightings the only moving vehicles attracting attention the first morning will be the expectant vans, pregnant with hope, that soon fill nearby parking spaces in anticipation of victory in the "I search for bargains" sweepstakes that will be underway at 9:00 am sharp. In a year that has seen 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes and 31,536,000 seconds pass by since the 2007 fair ended the opening bell is about to sound on the 2008 event.
Nothing this morning is going to happen by accident. Material has been solicited and collected from several states around. The canvassing, begun as last year's sale ended, has induced material across state borders, over in-state county lines, and from out of inventories, collections, basements and attics in and around Newtown, to arrive for massing, sorting, culling, assigning and allocation. Some lucky books have gained bragging rights born of selection to the rare book room, while others, more pedestrian but possibly simply over-looked, have been shunted off to the gymnasium or cafetorium [the love child of school planners who long ago combined cafeterias and auditoriums]. So much for the old dictum "do not take food into the auditorium."
Years ago it was mostly book dealers who showed up early but increasingly collectors understand the rule: first come first served. When the doors swing open on the 12th the first-in will, by the direction they take, betray their buying preferences. The place is divided into fiction, non-fiction and rare. Eighty-five percent will heed the siren call of Hemingway, Wolfe, Twain and Updike if fiction and Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, Arendt, Frank and Bloom if non. Others will head straight for the coffee. Twenty or so will make a beeline for the rare book room where 500 or more items, culled from the roughly 120,000 pieces collected for the sale, will be available for inspection and purchase. The material they encounter will have been set aside for a variety of reasons under the general umbrella of "rare, collectible and signed" books. The word "expensive" won't be heard much. The word "quirky" and "hard to get" could be. Among this year's material is a collection on weight lifting that is mostly pamphlets, a run of religious tracts that go back to the late 18th century, vintage paperbacks, in particular science fiction and mysteries, and a collection of sheet music. There are of course many other things that will be left undiscussed so that those attending can make discoveries and take home their prizes. To participate you have to be there. This is not an eBay auction. It's more like first day of hunting season.