By Gillian Gold
In my sophomore year of high school, I listened with wonderment as my global history teacher explained the discovery of an underground city in Turkey. While a man was renovating his house in Cappadocia, he was shocked to find an entire room behind a wall he knocked down. Little did he know, as archeologists kept digging, there was the whole city of Derinkuyu 200 feet below the ground.
When I first walked into the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, I felt as if I just uncovered my own underground city. In a labyrinth of tables, hundreds of collectors displayed their printed treasures. I could not believe the mecca that lay before me.
I am seventeen years old, and I am not a collector or an expert in literature. However, I have always had a deep appreciation for the magic of books. Starting from a young age, the stories I read fueled my imagination. As I grew older, reading kept me engaged in my classes. No matter my age, my favorite thing about books has been their transformative power enabling me to feel connected. Stepping into the mind of an author or the life of a character has never been an escape for me. Rather, the many stories I read have helped me learn how to contextualize feelings and empathize. And, in this case, my passion for books was able to bring me physically together with other bibliophiles at a very unique book fair.
I did not know what to expect when my English teacher hooked me up with tickets to the fair. She had told me it was pretty amazing. That turned out to be an understatement. I was immediately taken aback by the rows set up with dealers sharing their prized possessions. The interior of the Park Avenue Armory was transformed into a world of its own. The name of the fair is misleading. I learned that this was much more than simply a book fair. As I made my rounds, I also stumbled upon rare maps, manuscripts, photographs, and autographs. The sheer magnitude of what was on display made me giddy to explore.
In a wild hunt to find the most exceptional piece, my eyes bounced from a copy of The Great Gatsby inscribed by F. Scott Fitzgerald to a letter written by Albert Einstein to his son. What really struck me was seeing memorabilia from my own childhood. The first editions of The Cat in the Hat inscribed by Dr. Seuss, Mary Poppins signed by P.L. Travers, The Giving Tree signed by Shel Silverstein. Just looking at each book with the author’s imprint evoked a feeling of connection to literary greats I have adored my whole life. These are all titles I still see on the bookshelves in my house and remember fondly from my early years when my parents would read to me before bedtime. I began to think about how these special books have been preserved through the years – and kept in much better condition than my dog-eared copies!
Maybe I should have been intimidated by the aisles and aisles of greatness, but, in reality, I felt welcomed by the multitude of connoisseurs eager to share their collections. I was surprised many of the sellers allowed me to touch their displays (it was just before the height of the pandemic, so, of course, I had hand sanitizer in my jacket pocket). There is a thrill in being so intimate with something preserved from the past. Admittedly, my presence as a high schooler was insignificant to dealers and buyers. Yet, the physical contact with precious treasures from antiquity was so unexpected that it had a profound effect, making me feel like more than just a meandering spectator.
In my right hand, I held my phone, on which I constantly receive messages, pictures, and alerts that quickly disappear into cyberspace. With my left hand, I was able to run my fingers along the tangible pieces that have been preserved for decades, if not longer. The richness of our collective history encapsulated by the Book Fair made it more than just a day visit for me; each artifact was a wondrous discovery.