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Chittering Hordes – All Around the 37th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair 2013

Chittering Hordes – All Around the 37th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair 2013

By Greg Gibson

They were everywhere. Squealing, chittering hordes of them. Not as disgusting as crack house roaches or subway rats; vaguely humanoid in fact, with their funny knitted hats, backpacks, discrete piercings, and plastic communications devices dangling from their ears.

Utterly self-absorbed, concentrating intently on posting the next YouTube video of their friends in line at Starbuck’s.

I’m talking, folks, about teenagers. High school students from everywhere in America, come to the Back Bay to sit on floors, clog the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel, block access to elevators, and stand in line by the dozens at every food venue within half a mile.

Junior journalists in town for the National High School Journalism Convention. 6500 of them. The theme of the convention was, “The Revolution Starts Here.”

Don’t get me started.

They were cute, actually. And it WAS inspiring to see thousands of kids seriously engaged in the study of what I’d thought to be a dying profession. Just get your I-thing out of my face, OK?

Meanwhile, in a galaxy decades away, the 37th annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair was taking place. 

It was crowded too, I’m happy to say. Opening night seemed somewhat placid, but Saturday and even Sunday saw good crowds. It’s possible the attendees were just seeking relief from the journalist kids, but I suspect the real reason they were there was that Commonwealth Promotion and Boston booksellers like the Brattle Book Shop and Peter Stern saw to it that over 1000 free tickets were distributed.

Chittering Hordes – All Around the 37th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair 2013

Commonwealth Promotion deserves real credit for not being greedy about admission dollars and for working with the bookfair committee to attract students from local colleges and universities. Students got in free – which, we’ve discovered, only works if students want to get in. Commonwealth and the committee have been plugging away at this concept for quite a while, and this year saw the idea finally gaining traction. I personally heard of a $40 sale and a $25 sale to students. (Before you accuse me of being a wise guy, just consider what a chunk of a weekly budget $40 might be to a nineteen-year-old.) On Sunday afternoon I had a lengthy conversation with a young man about a $650 item. And I’ve got a strong feeling this is not the last conversation we’ll be having.

I think the Boston Book Fair is really starting to work.

In hard-nosed commercial terms, most of the reactions were upwards of “met my low expectations,” with some “excellent” ratings, but no “best Boston Fair ever” that I heard. For Ten Pound Island, buying was excellent, and sales met low expectations. But the three new customers I met made the weekend a success. We tend to forget that these trade shows are as much about advertising as they are about selling. I’m in complete agreement with the colleague who told me he had little sympathy for the dealer who comes to town, dumps a load of books in his booth, then gripes because people don’t flock to buy them.

Saturday morning a few blocks down Boylston, Marvin Getman was holding his annual 8 a.m. service at the Church of the Hung Over, as dozens of ABAA veterans tried gamely to focus on books. (Friday’s 9 p.m. closing time at the Hynes is invariably followed by a too-long dinner. It’s cruel.) With the dealers at Marvin’s show spread through half a dozen cave-like rooms, we felt like hung over Hobbits. But maybe it was that bleariness that made the books look so good. Deals were going down everywhere, and plenty of bulging bags staggered out of the Back Bay Center.

(Posted on Bookman’s Log. Presented here by permission of the author.)

Published since 19 Nov 2013