I naturally like to regale the family over the supper table with all the latest news from the world of rare books. The family is slightly ambivalent about this: stifled yawns sometimes remain unstifled; eyes are exaggeratedly rolled; fathomless stupefactions of chronic boredom are elaborately mimed, and silent departures from the table to go and have a lie down are by no means unknown.
Imagine then my surprise, my triumph, when I announced the concept of Pop-Up Bookfairs – and not just one or two, but a worldwide rolling twenty-four hour programme to celebrate a World Rare Book Day – fairs popping up all over the place, time-zone by time-zone, on a single day – right across the globe and all backed-up by the full might of social media. Tweet-pop, tweet-pop, from Australia to L.A. and beyond. Pictures, videos and reports on the web, YouTube, Instagram and wherever else anyone can think of. “That’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant”, said Daughter No. 1. “Oh, you are soooo twenty-first century”, said Daughter No. 2. “We’ve got a trestle table”, said my dear wife, fondly imagining that the number of books in the house might actually decrease if I popped out for a pop-up. Incredible. I had managed to hold their attention for – oh – thirty or forty seconds. Well, twenty anyway.
I’d like to take credit for the idea, but of course it’s not mine. It’s the brainchild of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) – and it’s really going to happen. World Rare Book Day – 23rd April 2015. Shakespeare’s birthday (of course) – and already for the last twenty years or so designated as the International Day of the Book. Vladimir Nabokov’s birthday too, come to that. And J. P. Donleavy’s. And St. George’s Day.
The idea is that the venues will be somewhere unexpected, imaginative, quirky or newsworthy – where we can expect to meet people who would never normally find us. A hotel lobby, a theatre foyer, a railway concourse, a town hall, a banking hall, a shopping mall – anywhere where there are people in plenty with a few minutes to spare. Even a bookshop if imagination fails. An old woolshed in Victoria has already been earmarked.
It’s the brainchild in particular of the redoubtable Sally Burdon of the Asia Book Room in Canberra and the equally excellent Barbara van Benthem, who runs the very impressive ILAB website. Here’s Sally at the York Book Fair a couple of years ago (she was born on Tyneside and is really one of us) – and Barbara preparing to take yet another high quality picture for the website. They will be co-ordinating the event worldwide.
It will all present an opportunity for booksellers, whether or not they have a shop, to meet potential new customers face to face. And there really is no greater delight for a bookseller than to present someone with their first genuine encounter with a rare book.
A book they can handle, touch, fondle, smell and experience at first hand – the crackle of hand-made paper, the patina of a fine binding, the original edition of a favourite book.
And what riches we have to offer – you know we do, of course we do: here are a couple of beautiful bindings currently available from ABA members, each priced at around £500 – one a little more, one a little less. I could show you thousands more. Tens of thousands of fabulous books available from booksellers affiliated to ILAB worldwide.
Here are a couple of topical titles from Bernard Quaritch – ideal farewell presents for a soon to be failed politician we may think (naming no names and making no assumptions, but we don’t entirely live in the past). It’s an opportunity for booksellers worldwide, whatever the size, scale or style of their business, to combine together in a single if widely dispersed event, which is bound to be well publicised. We reach out to a new audience. We reach out to young collectors. We engage.
The ILAB World Rare Book Day pop-up bookfairs will be easy to organize – some booksellers, some books, some tables and a big sign. Just liaise with ILAB on the publicity. No-one has to travel far or be away from base for too long. They can last all day or just an hour or two. Imagination and invention are the only limitations.
It has not been confirmed yet but the idea is to tie it all in with an appropriate international charity – a literacy project of some kind would seem to fit the bill. Collectors all start as readers, after all. Each of the pop-up fairs will display a poster of a symbolically empty bookcase. Visitors will be offered the opportunity to ‘buy’ an image of a symbolic book (or better still a set of books) to adorn the poster and fill the bookcase – donating money to support the charity. ILAB will provide everything necessary: poster, book pictures, a price list, fundraising information, a press release and clear suggestions on running the event. As the day progresses there will be online reporting of how the global Mexican Wave of pop-up fairs is going and what they have raised.
As Sally says, “Pop-up fairs are great – you bring very little stock, just a few good books, put them out on a table and you are not exhibiting for long. The advantage is that they will be low or no cost for the dealers to take part in and will not require anything like the organisation of the traditional fairs”. So – it’s over to you. We know when – Thursday 23rd April 2015. The where is up to you. What can we come up with across the UK? Let’s get going.