New York Book Fair

March 10th at the Park Avenue Armory.  It’s the 58th Annual New York International Antiquarian Book Fair.  There are about 200 exhibitors from the United States, Europe, Japan.  I wander the aisles among collectors, agents, booksellers, scouts and browsers.  Although a devoted reader,  I myself am none of these.  I am not drawn to signed first editions with their original jackets, fine copies, leather bindings, author ephemera or novelty publications.  But, to my surprise, I almost buy a book.

I spot it at the Kelmscott booth on Aisle E.  It’s a small, handmade, hardbound limited edition with the curious title To Protect and Serve.  Did it have something to do with law enforcement?  I pick it up.  Inside I find reproductions of 1960s and 70s-era ads for everything from electric frying pans and Crock-Pots to the Chevy Nova and Boeing 747.  Turns out it was inspired by a call for entries to a contest with the theme “vessel.”  The bookmaker, Karen Hamner, includes wry commentary with each illustration gleaned from her memory, imagination and, yes, Wikipedia.  Did I say it was priced at $350?  I am enchanted but, in the end, do not buy.

Why?  I could have afforded one extravagance.  Now that the impulse has subsided, I realize that this was not the kind of art that would feed my soul over time, not something I wanted to possess so that I could reach for it again and again.  It gave me what my mother would call a shock of happiness, the only one to do so among the thousands of books in that hall.  I’m glad Karen Hamner made it.  I hope someone will buy it.  As for me, I kissed the joy and let it fly.