The Park Avenue Armory is a vast preserve of space and air on a cramped island. I can imagine no better place for the Fifty-Seventh New York Antiquarian Book Fair of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). Open tonight and through the weekend, it boasts more than two hundred dealers, tens of thousands of items, and combined hundreds of years of experience and scholarship. More important, it offers oxygen to a reading public choking on alternative facts—among the most insidious of which, often repeated in print, is that print is dead.
This year’s fair illuminates a shift toward literary properties that live and breathe—manuscripts, letters, and original material, much of it defined by context. This is the stuff through which authors speak to us as they did to their publics and to one another; today their words sting in much the same way and in many of the same places.
Imagine rare-book dealers as hunter-gatherers of primary source material, heading out with spears and sacks, returning with troves that speak to our present political moment as much as they do to the past. Book collecting has grown from a traditional quest for bibliographic completeness—such that one collection could be more or less the same as another—into a hybrid of subjective, curated material contributing to larger questions: What was happening in the life Sylvia Plath while she wrote the Ariel poems? Why did Hemingway answer a call to social justice when he had seemingly sold out to Esquire? How real is Moby-Dick? When Duke Ellington wrote Black, Brown, and Beige, was he making a patriotic statement?
Below, some highlights from the fair. Read More