Setting off for a two week trip, flying into Boston then over to Toronto for the International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Art Gallery Ontario (AGO) on the 7th, 8th and 9th of November then back to Boston and the Hynes Exhibition Centre for the bookfair the following weekend. The thrill of stepping onto an airplane and the anticipation of what lies ahead never eludes me.

First stop on any trip to Boston is Peter Stern. Not only does he get some of the best books and manuscripts but he is generally in his office by 7am which, for the jet-lagged traveller who’s been watching repeats of Storage Wars since 4am, is a godsend. A quick and emotional catch up: “There’s some new things, couldn’t tell you what they are, but you know where to look,” and we’re off.

After Peter’s it’s over to Brattle Bookshop where the welcome is always warm and the opportunity to find good books is there, you just have to look, and look, and keep looking. They buy in such quantities that no sooner have you finished looking through one pile of new stock than another one or two has appeared next to it. I arrived whilst they were pricing new stock in the rare book room up on the third floor, so I picked up a few bargains which I hope to add to considerably from their booth at the bookfair (more about that later).

Round the corner is Commonwealth Books – nothing for me this time but always worth a visit.


AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario)

AGO, Toronto

First stop is Contact Editions: Wesley and Lucia Begg.

A lovely shop filled to the brim with books, art and ephemera which is particularly strong on literary first editions and children’s books. It was also the scene of last year’s “One That Got Away”. When walking past Wesley’s office I noticed a painting on the floor propped up against a bookshelf. I recognised it immediately as Rosemary Fawcett’s cover illustration for the first edition of Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts. Roald Dahl disliked the Fawcett illustrations and asked Quentin Blake to illustrate the book for the second and subsequent editions. Keen on all things Dahl related, especially primary and manuscript material, I couldn’t believe my luck to have found this, only to be told that it was already on hold for a customer. Doh! Anyway, back to this trip and a fine 1911 first edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden takes my eye, always loved this book so it is first on the pile. Kerrching!

Calamity James: left my wallet at Contact Editions, oblivious of course until the taxi driver told me just as we were pulling into my hotel (quick thinking on the part of the members of the Canadian Booksellers Association who phoned the cab company to contact the driver). About turn back to Contact Editions, got it! Back to the hotel. Very chirpy cab driver; we’ve become quite good friends in the 45 minutes we’ve known each other.

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Toronto, chasing a missing wallet

Set-up at the AGO starts at 10am of Friday and we get straight to work emptying trunks and deciding where each item will go. There is no particularly scientific method to the way we set up a bookfair, but each item has to balance with the next so it’s quite a lot of moving, adjusting, spine-on, front facing, up a bit and moving again before the stand shapes up and the shelves look nicely balanced with books and artwork.

moving, adjusting, spine-on, front facing, up a bit and moving again

Had a good look round the fair- some interesting books here. Bought a small pile which includes a fine UK first of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. A quick change into my suit and it’s 5pm: opening time.


Toronto Book Fair in full swing

CRISPS (potato chips)!? A huge bucket of them, free to all on opening night. I’m more than a little worried about all the greasy fingers flicking through the books. Disaster averted; I ate them all.

Now for a blow by blow report of the action on Day Two of the Toronto Bookfair:

Day Three:


Packed up and shipping out – Back to Boston.

“what do you get if you sit under a cow?”

Bye Toronto, it’s been an interesting trip, we ate well and saw some black squirrels (I took some photos with my phone camera. The results are less convincing than the Loch Ness monster images).

Black squirrel. Yes, really.

Loch Ness Squirrel


The Canadian dealers and fair management are good company and the fair has a lively vibe but sales: nada, niente, nowt!

“a pat on the head” (Louis Hallgate, 4yrs.)

Touched down in Boston Monday afternoon. Checked into my hotel on Commonwealth at the top of Newbury Street. Oooh a jogging map.

Tuesday morning 6am and I’m out of the door and running, a beautiful autumn morning, my Forrest Gump moment, 8.5miles, Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins on the iPod, 90 mins later I’m back at the hotel. And that’s all I got to say about that.