by Chelsea Thornton (Staff Writer)
This past weekend, October 15th and 16th, Vancouver hosted its Antiquarian Book Fair for the first time since 1990. For its triumphant return, the fair was staged in the basement of the Vancouver Public Library. The fair showcased over thirty booksellers from across Canada; although many were local, some came from as far away as Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, and the lone American representative had traveled from California. It’s hard to imagine covering those kinds of distances while lugging a miniature bookstore. Amongst the more local representatives was Brian Murdoch, from Murdoch’s Bookshoppe in Mission.
In principle, the fair sounded like a lit lover’s dream – two large rooms packed full of first editions, rare copies, ancient texts and autographed books – essentially, a book nerd’s paradise. To a certain degree, the fair did fulfill the fantasy. I did manage to find some incredible books: The Works of Chaucer from 1704, leather bound beauties with pages that felt ready to crumble in your hands, a travel journal from the early 17th century, second printings of Kerouac’s On the Road and Dharma Bums, as well as signed copies of The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling and The Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan.
There was a little bit of something for every taste, although not necessarily every budget. The price tags on some of the books were startling, reaching into the three and four thousand-dollar range. One book was rumored to be selling from ten thousand dollars, although I never came across it. And that is where one of the major weaknesses of the fair arose: it was impossible to know what each seller had available without slowly perusing through every book at every booth. The fair would have been much more accessible if a catalogue of the sellers’ merchandise had been made available. It is incredibly difficult to search for a dreamt-of copy of Hesse’s Siddhartha when you have to contend with jostling crowds cramped into overly small booths (the event attracted a surprisingly large crowd) and shelves that were often neither alphabetized nor categorized.
The fair was about more than old books; it also showcased old photographs, posters, advertisements, and event listings. The vender from Montreal had brought along a small sampling of her collection of Vanity Fair caricatures, dating back to the 18th century. The magazine used to be a weekly newspaper, and each edition would include a sketch of one of the week’s newsmakers. A small poster advertising a reading by Charles Bukowski, circa 1968, arrested our attention – somehow a piece of 8×11 paper was worth two hundred and fifty dollars!
Overall, the Vancouver Antiquarian Book Fair was exactly what you would expect it to be: a bunch of book lovers milling around stalls filled with books both ordinary and exceptional. For a book lover with deep pockets it would provide the perfect opportunity to find a few significant additions to your library. For a student on a shoestring budget, the five-dollar admission seems a fair price to pay for a fair that doubles as a book museum – you don’t have to buy the books to appreciate them.