Incunabula in the Shadow of the Swine Barn

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My sister was wondering if we should attend the Fort Worth Book Show (in our alternate guise of the Aldredge Book Store (actually, she's been the one continuing the family business as an on-line entity, and I'm just occasional back-up)). I hemmed and hawed, putting things off until the last minute. I finally said, yes. Hauling inventory to a trade show can be a major pain, and I knew she'd not do it if I didn't agree to help out. We both are (perennially) strapped for cash, so we decided to gamble.

I drove up Friday morning. Probably I should have contacted the friends I still have (or hope I still have) in Dallas, to arrange some quality time. But I've not been feeling very sociable lately. Nonetheless, I loaded up about 125 “collectable” books (chiefly on Texas history) and pointed my Ford F-150 north — I entered the Interstate flow of drunken jackasses who were headed to the Texas / OU Weekend. For those who aren't cognizant of the north Texas folkways, the Texas / OU Weekend is when two college football teams (University of Texas, in Austin, and the University of Oklahoma, in Norman), along with boozy boosters from these two worthless institutions, descend upon Dallas, a neutral town which lies at the midpoint between the two campuses. They play their big yearly game in the Cotton Bowl during the State Fair of Texas. Dallasites, throughout the generations, have hunkered down, shuttered themselves inside, and, like Kansas farmers waiting out a tornado or a locust swarm in the deepest recesses of their root cellars, would only cautiously emerge on Sunday morning to assess the damage, count up the dead and the outrages committed against their young’uns foolish enough to be abroad during the spirited and unfocused bacchanal. What a way to pimp a city. The local news outlets play it up all fiscally fluorescent with the smiley faces wearing dollar signs for eyes by gushing that this pestilence generates over 17 million dollars into the local economy. Lovely. Thumbs up for the sports industrial complex — a big foam thumb.

Add Columbus Day to the mix to provided a three day weekend, and was it any wonder that on my morning drive to Dallas, I had to navigate three major accidents? It did make the drive entertaining. There were some very creative lane-changing strategies involving staccato horn-blasts and extended digits.

I'm not so irrational as to propose extermination for sports fans. That's just nuts. But I do feel a certain affinity with British 19th century jurisprudence. They managed their social undesirables via “transportation.” Australia's fairly well settled. And the Moon and Mars is still a bit in the future. One day … ah, one day. Currently, Antarctica seems the perfect place. Just set up a guacamole and beer pipeline along the sea floor of the Drake Passage, and make sure that a stable satellite feed of ESPN can be secured year-round to the plasma TVs of the dormitory Quonset huts at Faraday Station. And they can probably do something useful as they sit there watching their sports. Perhaps manufacturing tube socks. Or maybe spell-checking transcripts of congressional hearings. Probably they can never be made whole enough to enter into the complex society of the 21st century. But they can still provide a service, even if it is meager.

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An Antiquarian Book Show (or, Book Fair, as they might say back East) is far from the snooty affair one might imagine. Especially in Texas. Some of our bibliophiles hail from regions such as Balch Springs and White Settlement where the citizens have only recently learned to walk erect, or so my sources insist. But we welcome their custom and commerce, as well as the inbred older-monied folks from the magnolia ghettos of the 75205 postal code within Dallas County. As for the book dealers, all we need is enough to rent a table on which to display our choicest items. Hardly the recipe for elitism.

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The sad fact is that the antiquarian book market is just shy of flat-lining. In the good old days, it was unheard to not cover your overheard for the show. But now, we're all gambling. You're just as likely to make a profit as to incur a loss.

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For the last decade or so, the Fort Worth Book Show has been held in the wonderful deco-styled Will Rogers Complex. This charming architectural gem was built for the Texas Centennial in 1936. (The State Fair grounds in Dallas, a similarly deco-styled project on a much more massive scale, was also created to help celebrate the state's centennial.)

During a lull at the book show, I strolled around the grounds. This is where they celebrate the annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show — formerly the Texas Fat Stock Show. The Fort Worth fat stock show isn't until January, but there was still a critter-related event: they were having a miniature horse show just across a side street in one of the livestock buildings. These are huge buildings with pens for cattle, sheep, and swine. I missed out on those little horses. But, over in Cattle Barn #1, the weekly flea market was in progress. Treasures amide the manure.

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Next I headed over to the Will Rogers Auditorium. Well, actually it's three attached buildings: the Will Rogers Auditorium, Coliseum, and Pioneer Tower. The tower is in the middle and is visible for miles around.

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There was nothing going on inside these buildings, but I tried the door into the tower building. Surprisingly, it opened. I'd forgotten how laid back it is in Fort Worth. I wandered around and snapped some pictures.

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By the second (and final) day of the book show, it was clear that we would do okay, but nothing to get too excited about. Too bad. Both me and Paula had each brought a personal prize book, because we need money more than we need books, no matter how personally valuable they might be. Neither book sold. A mixed blessing, I guess.

Here are two of my favorite book-dealers, Dennis and Dennis of First Folio in Paris, Tennessee.

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It was nice to see many of these people from my previous life in the book business. But the ranks are thinning every year. Back in April of this year we lost Tom Munnerlyn, a respected and beloved fellow bookman. It's really the passing of an era.

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