Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Five go mad in California. (Well, 4 get a little giddy, actually)

I got back from my annual visit to California a couple of weeks ago and have thought several times that I must write some sort of Blog report about the trip. That is what the blog is for and as I have also been very busy over the last few months ( and have a lazy gene that would impress a sloth) I have neglected to write anything for a while.

Since my computer tells me that people actually read this stuff, and some even sign up for notification when my next pearl appears, I think it only fair to keep up my end of the deal and give some insight into the life of a bookseller while working overseas.

So, in the words of Justin Bieber (Paul Foster Books is officially down the the kids), better late than never.

I flew to Los Angeles with a three colleagues, including a chain smoker who spent the nearly 11 hours of the flight eating the equivalent of his own body weight in chewy sweets to keep the nicotine monkey off his back, a normally chirpy and confident young woman who turns to jelly the moment she steps onto a plane, and one of the North of Englands finest booksellers. These were to be my companions (the Nervous young woman only for the next week) for the next two weeks of book scouting (what the Americans call searching for books to buy, we don't have a word for it in England, but as we probably invented it we don't need one), searching out green tea, driving around California and exhibiting at two bookfairs.

California is pretty much a smoking free state these days. This included the enormous 7 seater people carrier we collected from the car hire depot at LAX (the name for Los Angeles Airport and not a brand name for constipation relief medicines), complete with its graceful electronic sliding doors for the rear passengers. Unfortunately these rear doors opend so smoothly and quietly that they couldn't be heard from the driver seat. This resulted in several near misses for our chain-smoking passenger as he would attempt to leap out of the car for a much needed cigerette as soon as he heard the bossy woman on the satellite navigation system tell us that we had reached our destination, something she usually did some 20-30 yeards before we actually got there. When people say that smoking kills I don't think that most are refering to being squashed under the wheels of a moving car.

Resisting the temptation to spend the day driving around Los Angeles on the Rastabus tour we set of to buy some books.

The first day started slowly with just 2 books bought in the first place we visited, 1 in the second and 2 in the third. We stopped for lunch and to re-think our strategy. Five books bought between four bookdealers is not a good mornings work, even though two of those books were sold on within a couple of days. The afternoon proved much more fruitful.


We arrived back at our Ocean front hotel to find 2 other English booksellers who had just flown in sitting on the veranda sipping drinks. Our smugness at having to enlist the help of the hotel bell boys and their trolleys to help get all the boxes of our purchases from the back of our car was not dampened by the new boys pointing out that we either had to sell all those books in the next 2 weeks or ship them home. I like a challenge.

Another day of scouting and then the set up day for the first of the two bookfairs, this at the Santa Monica Civic Centre, a large and dull building just a stones throw from the beach and famous Santa Monica Pier. Probably the most interesting thing about the Civic centre is the large (about 25 feet tall) anti-nuclear sculpture, Chain Reaction, of a mushroom cloud, made out of iron chains, by the artist Paul Conrad.

                                                                 War is, like, bad.

Not much to write about here. The bookfair passed off pretty much as expected with the first day being fairly busy and the second much calmer. Some of the books bought in the previous couple of days were sold and a few more were bought to fill their places in the boxes that would have to be shipped.

                                                           My Booth at Santa Monica.

After 3 days in the Civic building we were ready to hit the open road. The nervous flyer was rather cruelly left to fly back the the UK alone while the three of us headed north to Santa Barbara. After a day of buying books and experiencing the delight of lunch in a roadside supermarket with a fantastic Halal delicatessen we found a hotel for the night and headed out to get our free Margharita's at the bearest Mexican restaurant, courtesy of the hotel receptionist and her little book of vouchers. After a fairly ordinary Mexican meal, made worse by the regular interuptions from the restaurant staff to check how we were doing and if we were having a good time, we retreated to a bar for an un-interupted chat over a drink or two.

                                                                      Like, bummer.

This didn't last very long. I don't know if the three of us looked like we were about to start a good old fashioned bar-room brawl (although as we were only customers in the place it would have been difficult) but serving drinks in plastic glasses is a no-no for me. Rather than debate the finer points of the glass vs plastic arguments with the miserable looking bar tender we left and found the only party in town. The Karaoke night at the James Joyce bar. I kid you not.

A "replica" of a traditional Irish pub, it even had sawdust on the floor. Now I have done many years research on the pubs of Ireland. In over 30 years (they start you early over there) I have never seen sawdust on the floor in any pub in Ireland but I regularly see it in the Oirish replica bars in every other country. I don't know who is advising the owners of Vlad O'Brian's in Hungary, Xien O'Callahan's in China or Mordechai O'Reiley's in Israel, but you could probably save yourself a respectable amount of money each year by abandoning the sawdust.

After about as much Ironic cheering and high-fiving the appalling attempts on stage as I could take, bed was calling. For some reason the droning songs of miserabalist US rock band Creed were very popular with the Karaokers (Is that a word? It is now). Cheer up Santa Barbara. It can't be that bad.

Arriving in San Francisco the next day we met up with the glamorous wife/business partner of one of our little band of booksellers who had floown in for the main event that weekend. More bookbuying took up the next couple of days and then the main reason we were all here.

The fair, the largest of all the International Antiquarian Bookfairs, is vast and by the time I had set up my booth there was little time left for scouting (there's that word again) the other dealers books.

The bookfair being in an isolated part of the city the only choice for lunch is the small decrepit Susie's cafe opposite the rear entrance.
                                                               The infamous Susie's.

Many jokes have been made over the years about Susie's and the garage next door saving money by both using the same oil, but suffice to say that the food should not be attempted by anyone with a stomach ulcer, sensitive gag reflex or without antacid tablets nearby.

                                                    This is my appetising lunch. Hmmm.

                                                                       Like, Burp.

I was quite proud of myself that I managed about three quarters of it before having to take two of the antacid's that I keep in my bookfair emrgency kit, along with one sticking plaster, an empty Tic-Tacs box and a bottle opener, for some reason.

                        The relaxed calm of my booth during set up and before the doors opened.

The fair was busy on all three days which is a remarkable feat for a bookfair held in an old railway depot boasting 125,000 square feet of exhibition space. Many familiar faces turned up to say hello and some to buy books from me. I met several new customers as well, including one gentleman who asked how I was enjoying my first California Bookfair. When I told him that I had been at every single one of these fairs for the last 15 years he told me I must be mistaken. When I got home I checked my passports and I was definitely there.
Overall I sold a lot of books at the fair, even some of the new purchases which saved having to send them home. I am now sat in my ofice with piles of the others, all safely delivered and waiting to be catalogued.

                                                         Some people just don't learn.

After two weeks away from home and hundreds of dollars in parking fines (It took someone to explain to me, after the second ticket for the offence, that you cannot park on the oncoming side of the road in California. I disputed that I was more than 18" from the curb on my first ticket but when explained to me after the second I realised that I was, of course, much more than 18" from the curb on the right side of the road) I was desperate for a proper cup of tea, conversation with people who didn't drop the work 'Like' into each sentence several times, and to sleep in my own bed.

As ever, California was a lot of fun, hard work and I even got to see the sun for a bit. Next stop on the International merry-go-round of bookfairs for me is New York in April where I will be attempting to sell some of the books I bought in California (some of my books have flown more miles than Judith Chalmers) as well as giving out copies of my new catalogue and probably sharing a joke or two with my laugh a minute neighbour at Lucius books.

If you find yourself in New York on April 11th to the 14th and want to see my new purchases, get a copy of the catalogue or hear a dirty joke/some probably untrue, but still juicy, gossip, then do stop at booth B23 and sey hello.




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