The East is Red specializes in the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
By Karen Wright
Diversity! It's a word that is bandied about all the time nowadays in regards to people, music, and food. In February, at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair, it was the name of the game in books. In our eighteen years in the book business, I don't believe we have seen a more diverse or interesting conglomeration of books and booksellers.
Where to start, where to start? The weather was so perfect that it was hard to go indoors, but once we did, we began with Booth 100, PBA Galleries, to see if my pal, Justine Berkeley, was there. She was out, so we trekked on. There were booksellers from Tokyo, Japan, Oxford, England, Hay on Wye, UK, Amsterdam, China, and pretty much everywhere in between, including, of course, lots of California book dealers. There were manuscripts that were hundreds of years old adjacent to wonderful, tawdry, pulp fiction paperbacks. There were books on modern thought and philosophy next door to botany and cooking. I saw books about cowboys, Indians, and bad guys keeping company with Judaica, House at Pooh Corner, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, natural history and science, and beautifully illustrated kiddie lit. Alaskan and Native American art books were snugged up with science fiction and French manuscripts, and Victorian fashions were hand-in-glove with illuminated religious texts, historic photographs, and books as art. There seemed no end to the diversity of it all. If you can think of a type of book you like, it was probably there.
It would take a lot of space to name and talk about all the great folks we met and the books we saw, so I will give you some highlights. My husband and I were first attracted to the booths that had books of the type we sell in our store, but we are also very visually-oriented people, so next we most enjoyed booths with lots of color or proprietors who had taken the time to make them attractive or eye-catching. The prize, to my way of thinking this time, went to The East is Red. Dwight McWethy, "The Chairman", has lived in China for many years and has been collecting Mao-phenalia since right after the Mao takeover, or as he put it, "We specialize in rare and collectible books, posters and other artifacts from the Chinese Cultural Revolution (c. 1966-1976.)" The poster of two Mongolian ponies and their riders was truly a work of art. I wanted it SO much!
Another really nifty bookstore was Handsome Books. They specialize in elaborate, decorative publisher's bindings and Press Books from the 19th and early 20th centuries with lots of Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Arts and Crafts tomes. Similarly, John Windle of San Francisco had some amazing color plate books and children's books. Oh, dang, I wish I were really, really rich!
Because I was a botany major in college I carry a lot of books related to that subject in my own store. I was fascinated by the various botanical books and prints we found in many of the booths, but most particularly those of Robert Berg Antiquariat from Regensburg, Germany, and Eugene Vigil of Antiquariat Botanicum from Lynden, Washington. The exquisite, colorful plates made me want to go in debt up to my ears, but I knew I would never have the heart to resell them, so I slapped my hands and continued to wend my way up and down aisles until I had seen most of the 200 booths and chatted with some of the booksellers. I found several really nice western history bargains for my store at Eric Stetson Books from Flagstaff, Arizona, but more than anything else I just feasted my eyes on the delicious selections.
Eric Stetson Western History; Eugene Vigil Antiquariat Botanicum; and "Cookbook Lady" Lori Hughes.
Speaking of delicious, I guess one of the most unique and ghastly items I found was an unassuming octavo, ex-library book offered by Lux Mentis Booksellers of Portland, Maine, and it was quite extraordinarily expensive. It was A History of Gastronomy by Jay Jacobs, categorized under Deviant Psychiatry. What is so hot about that, you might ask? Well, there were two library cards still in the pocket and they were each signed by Jeffrey Dahmer, arguably the 20th Century's most infamous cannibal serial killer. The fact that he took out ‘A History of Gastronomy' twice shortly after killing his first victim is ...well...intriguing. They believe that Dahmer was trying to understand his aberrant desires. Yuck!
I chatted with Jeff Towns from Dylan's Book Store in Wales, UK; that would be Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan. He was there for the San Francisco fair and then going on to the Los Angeles show the following weekend, as were many of the other booksellers we spoke with. He said that if he could do both shows it was worth the time and expense. He noted he had been coming to the states for many years to sell books and had usually done quite well.
My husband, a retired tall ship's captain, was practically embedded into The Wayfarer's Bookshop from West Vancouver, Canada. They specialize in exploration, travel, and voyages. Wow, so many great pictures and books about square-riggers and travel in the days when travel was very difficult. Speaking of Canada, if you've never been to the "book town", Sidney, British Columbia, you should go.
We spoke briefly with Julia Jordan of Blue Ridge Books in Orlean, Virginia. I'm sort of dog crazy, and she had a great collection of dog and horse books, which I also sell and collect myself. She also had some lovely Oriental prints of birds and flowers, and a number of very good children's books.
I visited with Vince Koloski and David Silberman at the San Francisco Friends of the Library booth. I love Friends of Library stores because they usually have really good books for really reasonable prices. They are one of the few places where you can buy a book and actually make a small profit when you sell it. We later went to the Fort Mason store and came away with two boxes of good stuff, including a third edition Betty Crocker.
The best part of it all was the contact with book dealers. Just walking around listening in on some of the conversations was interesting. There was more talk about politics than usual. It is usually just books, books, books, but the 2008 election is engendering more than normal interest. Some of the stalls we meandered through were interesting just because of their locations; the people who have a bookstore near my daughter's home in Covina, California -- Jen and Brad at The Book Shop -- have several dogs that need to be groomed and my daughter is a dog groomer; they also had really nice books. Rannoch Books in Inverness specializes in Civil War books and I happen to have a really rare Civil War item that they will be interested in, I'm sure. H&H Book Services in Glendale, California, does restorations, conservation boxes, and custom folders for manuscripts, and I have a customer who needs to have a book restored and a gun collector who needs a conservation box. We are going to Utah in April, so we will drop in on Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake. Carpe Diem Books in Pebble Beach is looking for books on Monterey, California, of which I happen to have two. What fun it is to meet like-minded people and explore the amazing world of bibliomania!
My Book Heaven Pulp Fiction and Jen and Brad of The Book Shop in Covina.
No story about San Francisco is complete without a short discussion of food. The food at the show was utilitarian, at best. However, we had a few really good meals. Curbside, Too is a French restaurant near the Presidio...very unassuming, good service, good wine, and reasonable. Speaking of French, we went to Café Claude, which is about a block from PBA Galleries downtown. It's a cute little French bistro in an alley and they welcomed our dog, Ginger, with open arms. We also had several really good meals in Alameda, just across the Bay. We stay there at the Motel 6 on Embarcadero in Oakland because it's pet friendly and it's much less expensive than the City. They are about ten minutes from downtown San Francisco (traffic permitting) and because it's right on the shore of the estuary, it has a great view of the harbor.
If you go to Alameda and you like Thai food, try Toomie's on the main drag, and also, there is a nice pizza-pasta joint called Tomatina's that has these little garlic bread balls that are to die for. We did go to MoMo's in the City for lunch one day, but were rather disappointed. The food was okay and the service was good, but not exceptional and it was quite pricey.
Enough for now. I'm sorry I couldn't name all you wonderful booksellers we saw and met, but next year we'll have a whole new take on the show and a whole new list of fascinating people to see, places to go, and restaurants in which to nibble. If you are a bookseller, you might want to consider taking a booth next year or at least going to the show for the sheer pleasure of seeing so many delectable books. Also, there is going to be a smaller, but very tasty Gold Rush Book Fair in Grass Valley in May.