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Book Hunting Down in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair & Aboard The Magical Mori Van

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I was off in Colorado last week to attend the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS). Heeding the advice of CABS alumni, I gave myself a couple of extra days on the front side of this epic bookseller education to rest up for a week of adrenalin rushes, high altitude and sleep deprivation. I flew into Denver airport on Friday, August 1st, surrounded by flat grasslands and wondered where the vaunted Colorado Rockies were. It wasn't until after I had an early morning stroll around my hotel the next day that I caught a glimpse of the spectacular Front Range looming off to the West.

I caught the hotel shuttle to the Denver Mart, where the Rocky Mountain Book Fair was being quartered and happily browsed the 80 booths of booksellers from near and far. I was happy to greet former acquaintances and lots of new ones. I chatted about the Bibliophilegroup email list with Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books, bought a Hemingway bibliography and some bookseller memoirs from the delightful Richard Chant of Abacus Bookshop; 

applauded Clausen Books' brilliant idea of displaying their travel books in a vintage suitcase;

and admired the Brobdingnagian ear decorated with acupuncture points displayed in the booth of Lori Hughes, Cookbook Lady, of El Sobrante, California, where tasty titles abounded- everything from the incomparable "Eat a Bug Cookbook" to antique gelatin cookery pamphlets;

I also scored a good illustrated horseshoeing title and a couple of other history titles from Orrin Schwab  and chatted about antique children's books and illustrated books at the booth of Ken and Shirley Donner (yes, they are related to those Donners).

I was delighted to meet some of my fellow CABS classmates, including designer Barbara Mortkowitz and book fair exhibitor Gail Santfleben of Read'em Again Books, gushing about our forthcoming adventures. I had the chance to hear bookseller Sally Burdon of Asia Book Room in faraway Canberra, Australia, one of the wonderful CABS faculty members, give the keynote address at the Fair, and looked over letterpress printing and book repair demonstrations.

Richard Mori, Road Warrior of the American Book Fair World, on the right, in one of his trademark fancy shirts (this one had Maxfield Parrish-esque scenes)
Instead of only spending a couple hours at this Book Fair, I lasted the full 7 hours on Saturday. I do regret that I never did get to penetrate the force field of constant customers and fellow booksellers that encircled larger-than-life bookseller Ken Sanders. His exploits in hunting down book thieves are outlined in two excellent books I had previously read ("The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Allison Hoover Bartlett, and "The Poet and the Murder" by Simon Worrall). I'll have to wait until another book fair.

When things cooled down about an hour before closing, I managed to get the attention of my New Hampshire bookseller colleague Richard Mori, who had offered me a ride from Denver down to CABS in Colorado Springs by Sunday.  I never did get a firm idea from Richard about how we were actually going to get my carcass, suitcase and now a heavy bag of book purchases down to CABS.  Richard had remained steadfastly and unnervingly vague about the logistics of this travel when I was in the planning stages of this trip.  He just told me check in with him at his exhibitor's booth at the Book Fair on Saturday, the day before CABS officially started. Not wanting to pester him with any more followup emails, I made sure I got to the Fair shortly after it opened. I kept circling around his booth, but, consummate bookseller that he is, he was constantly busy! How unsettling for me, if lucrative for him.

Finally, I butted into a conversation that I was certain was going nowhere (the "customer" was asking for advice on how to get a fellow bookseller to go way down on the price of one of his really great books, which Richard wisely kept redirecting into advice on pouncing on good books when they present themselves to you). Richard just cryptically stated that we'd "work it out" after we had packed up his booth. That took a really long time (he was the third to last bookseller to leave the Denver Mart) because I kept gasping at the amazing books he kept nonchalantly showing and describing to me as we packed up his wooden shelf boxes and loaded them strategically into his Magical Mori Van. Understand that Richard's the Mad Max of the American Book Fair World, impressively showing at 50 BOOK FAIRS PER ANNUM). His van ALWAYS has room for more books, since he buys almost as much as he sells at each weekly book fair.

When we were done he offered me a tour of Denver's neighborhoods topped off with dinner (an awesome green chile burger) and more bookseller advice. So much for resting up for CABS, but Richard, like most other members of our book trade, was so generous with his time, advice, encouragement and book lore, that I just couldn't beg off early.

The next morning he picked me up from the hotel which amazingly still had room for me and my suitcase and we were off on more book adventures, having breakfast with the lovely Lois Harvey, a longtime Denver bookseller and mentor. Lois was instrumental in helping found the Denver Book Fair and was on the CABS faculty for many years, so I was impressed already. They showed me more of downtown Denver by car and on foot, including the many streets that are named after authors (Lowell, Tennyson, Alcott).

Richard was off to buy Boy Scout books from someone who had stopped in his booth the previous day (would they fit into the van?) so I was free to shop in Lois' handsomely stocked and creatively adorned bookshop, Westside Books, housed in a former auto garage.  The shop had a wealth of unusual titles and in the seemingly short burst of time before Richard returned, I managed to purchase an armload of books about books, and a book for my own personal collection, I'm Papa Snap, a children's book by Tomi Ungerer, whose wry text and illustrations always make me laugh.
Westside Books in Denver with the Magical Mori Van parked in front
By now I was really barricaded into the passenger seat, holding my suitcase with my left arm so that it wouldn't clonk me in the head every time we made a right turn and gripping my new book purchases between my shins in the Magical Mori Van. Unbelievably, there was always more room for book purchases in this Van of Infinitely Expanding Space. I expect that a student of quantum physics might like to examine this van and would make discoveries enough for a spectacular dissertation thesis.

We stopped at four more Denver bookstores, all of whom were hosting a welcome brunch for CABS participants: Broadway Book Mall (bought a matted print of a screaming librarian), Fahrenheit Books (bought local history, Tasha Tudor, cookbooks and Gladys Taber), Gallagher Books (took advantage of their one-day CABS discounts to pick up some wonderful regional history titles and a book on wassail.) Plus they shipped it all back home so I could fold back into The Van.

Sue Gallagher, Scott Austin and Don Gallagher at the beautifully appointed Gallagher Books in Denver

After our Gallagher Books haul, Richard and I headed next door to Printed Page Bookshop, a group shop, where I traded cash for books about caving around the Helderberg Mountains and more regional history. From there, we entered the special time-space continuum of The Van and made our way to Colorado Springs, where I checked into the CABS dorms at the University of Colorado. I  burbled about books with my new roommate, Libby Ware of Atlanta's Toad Lily Books until the kickoff lecture with noted book collector Michael Zinman later that evening.

Phew. So much for saving my mental and physical strength for CABS.

To be continued......

This post first appeared on THE BOOK TROUT, please read the originial post: here

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Book Hunting Down in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair & Aboard The Magical Mori Van


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