Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tales From the Third Annual Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 8:55 AM

HF1_Book_Cover.jpg
Courtesy of our friends over at Chapter 16, there's this charming story about the Third Annual Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair. Everything about the story makes me sad I missed the Fair, from the description of the location —

Cowan was settled in 1852 as a station for the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, but has been economically depressed since the railroad’s passenger service ended in 1972. Local points of interest include the Railroad Museum, which is located in the original town depot and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and nearby Cumberland Mountain tunnel. This 2,200-foot-long railroad tunnel, which is still in use today, took three hundred men working with picks and shovels three years to complete and was the longest tunnel in the world at the time of its completion in 1851.

— to this anecdote about Huckleberry Finn

At the same booth was a beautiful first edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Slicker pointed out that the original page 283 had been replaced in this copy, which is one of the identifying points designating a first edition. In 1885, during the original U.S. printing of 30,000 copies, an unidentified engraver took some high-spirited liberties with the illustration of Silas Phelps that appears on that page. Liberties involving the fly of his trousers. Once the infraction was discovered, new copies of the corrected page were made and substituted into the already printed but not yet released copies. (It was too late to recall the salesman samples of the novel, but sales agents were directed to tear the offending page out of their copies and return it to the publisher or suffer termination.)

But the part I've been mulling over most is the idea that a home library will once again become a sign of wealth. I think there's something to this. In a culture where most reading can be done cheaply — both the low cost of e-books and the lack of expense of having to store and move them — book ownership will signal a kind of luxury.

I've been thinking of the rise of ebooks much like the rise of digital music, but maybe that's not the only metaphor that works. What if books are like wine? Sure, you can get a passable wine for under $20, just like you can get a perfectly fine ebook to read for under $10. But there's something appealing to a certain segment in showing off your wine collection, in opening a particular bottle from a certain region, of a specific vintage.

Is it so hard to imagine a connoisseur of fine books cracking open a new book and recognizing whether it's been printed off-set or digitally, just by smell? Is it so hard to imagine that the experience of reading a physical object will become something of an acquired taste, a sign of a refined pallet?

It's a little weird, but it doesn't seem that far out.

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