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State of the Arts: Page against the machine

Bookworms, collectors and screen-weary readers descend upon antiquarian book fair

Staring at flickering screens all day is propelling more young people to buy books for their leisure, says Don Stewart, who spends his days within a forest of them at McLeod’s Books.

And once young professionals find an author or genre that speaks to them, the proprietor of the nearly 40-year-old shop on the corner of West Pender and Richards streets says they’re keen to build a “micro collection” of special books.

“Often they end up working their way up from a paperback Ian Fleming to hardcover and first edition Flemings and so they move, as their income permits, towards collecting something that has significant meaning for them,” Stewart said.

Bookworms, design aficionados and history buffs can leaf through unusual tomes at the Vancouver Book Fair, Sept. 28 and 29.

Stewart, a key organizer of the fair, is rooting through his stock of 100,000 titles and selecting which antiquarian and collectible books he’ll exhibit alongside historical brochures and photographs, priced from $5 all the way to $13,500. His top-priced book was published in 1797 and includes 43 full-page engravings by William Blake. Stewart is also bringing a first printing of The Hobbit, priced at $12,000, collectible fashion books and children’s books in all price ranges.

Flashback Books, one of the other 30 exhibitors, will sling the hardcover, first edition of an Andy Warhol pop-up book alongside a copy of LSD: My Problem Child, signed by its author Albert Hofmann, and The Wayfarer’s Bookshop will sell an issue of the Cariboo Sentinel newspaper from 1865.

Booksellers revived the Vancouver antiquarian book fair after a 20-year hiatus in 2010 and decided to make it an annual event in 2012. This year, three authors will attend: Craig H. Bowlsby, author of Empire of Ice, The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, 1911-1926, author, illustrator and artist Charles van Sandwyk and Bruce Macdonald, author of North Star of Herschel Island about Canada’s arctic tall ship.

Stewart says some customers who’ve bought titles online for a lower price have returned to buying books they can hold in their hands first, having been disappointed by receiving books that are not as they were described.

Eric Waschke, book fair organizer and owner of West Vancouver’s The Wayfarer’s Bookshop, which operates globally without a storefront and specializes in unusual books and ephemera relating to exploration from 1480 to 1920, says the fair provides book businesses like his a way to connect with customers and develop their desire to purchase a collectible.

Waschke appreciates how exciting explorers’ tales were when much about the world was unknown.

“They were sort of the celebrity of their time,” Waschke said. “People didn’t have movies, they were just waiting for these accounts to come out, which were as dramatic as anything you could possibly imagine.”

He clearly remembers how he felt when he took a course on medieval literature and received photocopies of the illuminated manuscripts he’d seen.

“This was very, very unsatisfying,” Waschke said. “A photocopy, you’re so far removed from the actual history, whereas if you’ve got the actual text in front of you… The monk in the 13th century actually was sitting in front of this text creating the little illustrations and the little initials, writing out the text and you’re right there, the whole thing just comes alive.”

The Vancouver Book Fair runs from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, underground at UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson St.

For more information and to receive $2 off the regular $8 admission, see

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