Book fair: 'An oddly intimate business'

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BENNINGTON, VT. — The great Roman statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero once nicely summed up his view of the spiritual:



"A room without books," Cicero mused, "is like a body without a soul."



Regional bibliophiles of all stripes will have an opportunity to channel Cicero on Sunday, Aug. 13, in Bennington at the 2017 Vermont Summer Books and Ephemera Fair.



The fair, which is sponsored by the Vermont Antiquarian Bookseller's Association, will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Grace Christian School on Kocher Drive.



This is the second time that Bennington will host the event. Typically, the association holds two book fairs a year: one in the north and the other in the southern part of the state.



Organizer John Hess, owner of Catamount Books in Arlington, Vt., said that last year's inaugural appearance in Bennington was such a success that VABA decided to hold it there again.



"The spot on Route 7 where we held the festival last year, and where we will return to this year, is like a gateway," Hess said. "Last year we had a considerable amount of visitors from the Berkshires to the south, and New York to the west, as well as locals from points north and east. It's a very accessible location with easy parking for day trippers and other visitors."



Patti McWilliams, owner of Hermit Hill Book in Poultney, Vt., agreed with Hess.



"Last year's Bennington book fair was well organized, fun, and successful," McWilliams said. "The venue was perfect and welcoming. As a native of Berkshire County, I was delighted to see so many people from that area visit us. I'm truly looking forward to it"



McWilliams added she will be bringing choice Vermont and Massachusetts subject books, including town histories, cookbooks from the late 1800s to early 1900s, and the true first privately printed "The Joy of Cooking," early illustrated children's books in English and French, and history, poetry, and literature.



There will be 15 book and ephemera dealers on hand, with maybe one of two more to add by the time of the fair. While they have their niches and specialties, all carry a range of wares, which include postcards, maps, prints, letters and other such gems.



While the VABA is the fair organizer and sponsor, not all the dealers are from Vermont; some are from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire. All books and ephemera will be priced, but few prices are fixed.



"It doesn't hurt to ask for a discount, or to negotiate a price," Hess said.



Ruthellen Weston, co-owner of the Bookmobile in Rutland, Vt., and also vice president of VABA, is one of the "newbies" at the fair, with her store having opened its doors only five years ago.



She said the price range is broad and can appeal to all readers, with "such amazing books at the show that you won't see anywhere else."



"All of the booths have some books in the lower price range so you are able take something home if you are on a tight budget," Weston said. "It's so uplifting to see how many people still love books. I come home from every show totally psyched and it renews me for another year."



Weston gushed about how some older books can be works of art due to their bindings and the illustrations.



"Newer books just don't contain the same character," Weston said. "There are books you buy to read and books you buy just to have something special."



In that same vein, Lisa Bouchard, owner of Melrose Books and Art in Melrose, Mass., said that one of the best things about getting bibliophiles together at a fair is the inevitable poignant human vignettes that emerge.



"At one fair, I had a vintage copy of `The Secret Garden,' probably from the 1930s," Bouchard said. "An older woman came to my booth with her grandchild and I overheard her talking of a long-lost copy of this book from her own childhood. It had been a gift to her from her Aunt Edith. The woman took the book off my display shelf to show the child — and turned very pale."



Bouchard said the woman turned the open book to her with this inscription "To My Niece Margaret, From Aunt E. Dec. 25th, 1936." Then the woman said: "My name is Margaret and I was born in 1930."



"We'll never know if that was actually her book, but it brought such joy to everyone there," Bouchard said. "She purchased the book, and needless to say in our business, she asked for a discount! It's an oddly intimate business as books and ephemera always have personal histories to share."

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist, and a VABA member who neither participates in its annual fairs, nor received VABA compensation for this article. Reach him at tchalkias@aol.com or @TellyHalkias on Twitter



If you go ...


What: The 2017 Vermont Summer Book and Ephemera fair

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13

Where: Grace Christian School, 104 Kocher Dr., Bennington, Vt.

Information: 802-282-9769 or visit: vermontisbookcountry.com




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