People don’t shop like they used to. Take, for example, the sorry state of used bookstores in Montreal.
“In the last few years, five second-hand bookshops in the downtown area here have closed,” said Adrian King-Edwards, owner of The Word bookstore on Milton St. “It’s a general trend in North America because a lot of people are doing their book shopping online.”
But King-Edwards has faith that a book fair might remind people of the joy of shopping offline. The 28th Montreal Antiquarian Book Fair is coming to the McConnell Library Building this
Saturday and Sunday, bringing together 26 used bookstores and individual dealers passionate
about antique, special edition and fine-binding books.
He explained that the Antiquarian Book Fair offers people the chance to reclaim book shopping
as an experience that includes browsing, chance, and discovering new interests.
“When you search on the Internet, you’re looking for a specific book but you can’t come into a
store, wander around, and say ‘Ah! This is neat’, because you didn’t know about that book before,” said King-Edwards. “I’d like to break the stereotype that many people have that we’ve only got very expensive books.”
With books in every genre, prices beginning at $20 or $30 and topping off at $15,000, and a paltry $1 entry fee for Concordia students, the Antiquarian Book Fair attracts collectors and book lovers of all interest groups, budgets, and professions.
Dealers at the fair carefully curate their collections, and are highly knowledgeable about their
merchandise, specializing in categories as diverse as Helen Khan’s array of 17th century travel
books and Wilfrid M. de Freitas’s autographed collection of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill, all of which, as King-Edwards explained, are handpicked.
The Antiquarian Book Fair offers visitors the chance to handle rare editions and printings. Displaying some of his stock for the fair, King-Edwards produced one bookâ€”T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday.
“It’s one of only 600 copies,” he said, revealing the title page. “And the nice thing about it is that it’s signed by T.S Eliot. This is a real gem and it’s the kind of thing that will turn up at the fair. You’ll only ever see this once in your lifetime.”
King-Edwards related the anecdote of his best book scout, who visited an estate sale, where he found a damaged copy of poetry by Gregory Corso for $1. He bought it, intending to fix the book.
Once home, the scout opened the book and a small paper fell out. It was a postcard written in 1959 by famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
Overhearing King-Edwards’ story, Dr. P.J. Walls wanted to relate his own story.
“I was in a little bookstore opposite the National Picture Gallery in London,” said the Irish doctor, returning to The Word nearly 20 years after his last visit. “I asked the owner, ‘Say, there’s a little underlining in this book, how much of a reduction can I get?’”
“‘I’ve got to tell you this story,’ said the owner. ‘A friend of mine recently had this very underlined book and as he was reading, he was rubbing out all the underlining.’”
Walls smiled as he delivered the punch line, serendipitous as it is terrible: “But when he got to the end, he found it was a personal copy of T.S. Eliot’s.”
Hearing the stories behind the acquisition of books and ephemera, it is evident that the
Antiquarian Book Fair will fascinate visitors because of the spirit and humour that permeates in
the book trade.
“The reduced entrance fee for students is our way of repaying Concordia’s support,” said King-Edwards. “And if the young students get a sense of the wider range of books, it’s good for the future: they may be interested in becoming booksellers themselves later on.”
The Montreal Antiquarian Book Fair is taking place Sept. 24 from noon to 6 p.m. and Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the McConnell Library Building’s groundfloor lobby. Entrance for Concordia students is $1 and regular admission is $6.