Pete Hamill joins vintage bookseller at Old Stone House holiday fair
As sales of paper books decline, some bookstore owners are trying a different marketing technique: presenting the book as an artisanal object. Brooklyn’s Heather O’Donnell is one bookseller who’s betting that the borough of all things vintage has space for vintage books.
On Saturday, O’Donnell presided over the first Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair, which she organized with eight local bookstores. Book lovers of all ages packed the Old Stone House in Park Slope to browse photography books, first editions and author-inscribed copies. Pete Hamill’s reading of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” capped the event.
“Brooklyn has a book culture,” O’Donnell said. “Appreciating the craftsmanship of the press is part of that.”
Zane Curtis-Olsen, traveled to the fair from New Haven, Conn., to browse through vintage ’zines. He said he often shops for books in Brooklyn.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere else that you have so many great bookstores,” said Curtis-Olsen, 30.
O’Donnell, who has lived in Park Slope for a decade, pointed to a spate of recent bookstore openings – Singularity, Human Relations, Molasses – as evidence that Brooklyn’s artisanal culture is ripe for a return to hand-crafted books.
“People who love books are very loyal,” she said. “It’s not a fad.”
O’Donnell opened her rare book dealership, Honey and Wax Books, after working seven years at Bauman Rare Books in Manhattan. When she started to stock her shop earlier this year, O’Donnell said, she was surprised to find almost no accredited rare book dealers in Brooklyn — a void she hopes to fill.
“A lot of these have never been put online,” O’Donnell said, pointing to the offering in her booth.
Books with a history of being passed from one writer to another — known as “association copies” — are particularly prized. One such book for sale at a nearby table was a first edition of John Cheever’s “Falconer,” dedicated by the author to Hope Lange, his longtime mistress.
Yuval Gans, the owner of PS Books in DUMBO, said he was surprised by the big turnout at the fair. Still, he wasn’t optimistic about the future of paper books.
“People come into bookstores because they love books, but then they’ll order online,” he said.
“Bookstores are becoming more and more events spaces,” he added.
Not all the visitors packing the small space shared his sentiment.
“I’m more interested in the reading than whatever particular binding I find it in,” said Benjamin Miller, 24.
Visitors to the event were encouraged to touch and live with the books – but not too much.
A small disaster was averted when a girl, about seven, tried to read an antique Chinese accordion-book. The text slipped from her grasp, falling six inches and flopping onto the table. The bookseller winced.
“I’m sorry, it’s very fragile,” she said, and put the book flat on the table in front of the girl, who twirled away a few moments later.
Shopper Alanna Okunsaid she loves the feel of books –but she wouldn’t be able to care for a vintage tome.
“I’m a bath reader,” she said.