So many books…

The York National Book Fair on the 13th and 14th of September is, believe it or not, the forty-sixth that the city has hosted, having grown from a modest gathering to a giant showcase. The first, in 1974 at the White Swan Inn, had 20 exhibitors. The latest, in 2019 at York Racecourse, has 220. With approximately a million pounds of sales last year and over 100,000 books this time, it is reputedly the largest of its kind in Europe. If you aren’t already, now is the time to get familiar with a city stalwart to be proud of. 

Tony Fothergill – owner of Ken Spelman Books in York and manager of the York National Book Fair. @ken_spelman_books

This year the York Book Fair enters its 46th year, and for most of that time I have been involved in its organisation. Looking back, I can see just how much the fair has developed, out-growing many earlier sites within the city walls, and now comfortably settled at the Racecourse. More than ever it offers York the chance to enjoy the touch and visual delights of tens of thousands of real books, from distant ages, as well as modern times.

In the past, most exhibitors would have had shops around the country, but now they are in the minority, so you could say that York is vital in preserving an ancient trade. The Fair brings thousands of visitors to the city and has engendered an annual Rare Book Seminar to teach bookselling, and events such as Women in the Book Trade, and the York University Book Collecting Prize.

It has also been encouraging to see so many more young people at the Fair. It shows that book buying is not just an on-line price matching exercise, but a three-dimensional experience, where you can come and get hands on for yourselves!

Janette Ray – owner of Janette Ray Booksellers in York and organiser of the York National Book Fair. @janetteraybooks

The fair attracts booksellers from throughout the UK and some from Europe and the USA as well. Some specialise in particular subjects whilst others have a wide range of titles on their stands. 

It is aimed at anyone interested in books and the printed word in all its forms, and attracts clientele of all ages. There is something for everyone, from the collector seeking the rare and unusual to the curious person seeking a good read. It is a special quality that all comers mingle under one roof. 

People are increasingly turning towards online purchasing but I prefer shops every time. There is the possibility of some friendly chatter, exchange of ideas and knowledge. Bookshops are destination locations and so is the book fair.

The Book Fair in York makes me feel that we’re a town full of enquiring minds, and I love the fact that it brings in collectors and buyers from all over the country, all of whom share a passion for books. The great thing about the fair is that it makes you realise that there’s so much more to books than the reading of them…. the look of them, with their covers, illustrations, lettering; the weight of them, even the smell of them. Today the physical characteristics of books are more important than ever in our digital age.

I became aware of James Audubon’s book on the Birds of America when I saw it at Liverpool Library. I was taken aback by the beauty of the illustrations – capturing the birds in their natural habitats, sometimes with added theatricality – and by the scale of the book. That was when I formed the idea of interpreting his illustrations with paper cut outs, thereby literally letting the birds fly by hanging them from mobiles.

I have cut out nearly a hundred of his birds – just a fraction of the number he painted – and have also interpreted the foliage: tumbling branches, leaves and flowers, to accompany the birds. The birds range in size of course, from tiny warblers to huge owls and eagles. I hope my mobiles will go some way to conveying the dynamism and excitement of these wonderful creatures, in the way that James Audubon has.

James Hallgate – owner of Lucius Books in York and exhibitor at York National Book Fair. @luciusbooks

York is a book town; it’s geographical location, the energy, innovation and collegiality of the local trade and their willingness to embrace technology to promote rather than replace has a lot to do with how it thrives.

At a time when bookshops are disappearing from the nation’s high streets at alarming rates, York is home to seven independent bricks and mortar second-hand bookshops and hosts two major bookfairs in January and September.

There has been an Antiquarian book fair in York for almost half a century and for half of that time I have been attending, initially as a collector and novice dealer, and for the last 20 years as an exhibitor.

As an exhibitor specialising in literary first editions, detective fiction, children’s books and counter-culture, the York bookfair is a rare opportunity to sell to and buy from a large and diverse crowd of bibliophiles under one roof over two exhilarating (and exhausting) days.

It’s not just books though, my favourite purchase of last year’s fair, one which as yet I am unwilling to part with, is a seemingly unique 2.5 foot tall, hand painted, die-cut steel Asterix, rescued by a fellow bookseller from the liquidated stock of a private museum in the south of England, now happily greeting customers in our Micklegate shop.

You just never know what will turn up.