Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair: Placing a Bet on “First Annual”

The title says all – or does it? Fifty-five years later, the borough seems full of life.

Title sez all? But fifty-five years later, the Brooklyn brand is back.

THE HIGH-PEAKED ROOM WITH DARK EXPOSED BEAMS was small, off the beaten track, and crowded, but otherwise the antiquity of the Old Stone House made a perfect venue for the  “first annual” Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair on Saturday; never minding its oxymoron, it promised “rare, vintage, out-of-print books from independent booksellers from all over Brooklyn.” Brooklyn Artisan went to the BHBF not quite knowing what to expect  – like the young couple who lugged their formidable twins stroller all the way up the narrow stairwell and almost immediately right back down  – but BA had a happy time browsing among the second-hand and out-of-print science-fiction books from Singularity & Co., admiring Prints Charming‘s sweet old-fashioned florals and maps posted on two walls, and chatting with the vendors when they had time between customers.

Heather O’Donnell, owner of Honey & Wax Booksellers and the moving force behind the fair, had the best location, the classiest display and snazziest catalog by far. Small wonder, then, that BA’s favorite find was at her booth, a book called Manners for the Metropolis in which to read such things as this: “It is customary, in alluding to ladies in the ultra-fashionable set (provided they are not present) to speak of them by their pet names: ‘Birdie,’ ‘Baby,’ ‘Tessie,’ ‘Posy’; but, when face to face with these ladies, the utmost formality had best be observed.” Manners indeed.

Smart set social advice from 102 years ago.

Smart set social advice from 102 years ago.

The author, Frank Crowninshield, was the editor of the original Vanity Fair from its birth in 1914 until 1936, when it was folded. This book, published in 1910, was undoubtedly one of his qualifications for the job. The book sports stylishly smart illustrations. Heather obligingly held open the book so that BA could photograph one.

A used-book store specializing in New York history and culture, eight-year-old Freebird Books offered a well-selected group of old books about Brooklyn and the Outer Boroughs, along with copies of a book of recent photographs of Gowanus. In spite of its vulnerable-sounding location on Columbia Street “on the working South Brooklyn waterfront,” it escaped damage from Superstorm Sandy. Freebird likes to make things happen, with movie showings in its backyard and its “post-apocalyptic book club” meetups once a month.

P. S. Bookshop calls itself “the best book store in Brooklyn” for what it does. And that’s quite a bit. Owner Yuval Gans has given himself the broadest mandate, “buying and selling used and rare books, first editions and reprints, fiction and non-fiction, high-brow or low, children’s and young adults book, books in print and out of print, in English and other languages, scholarly books, art books and catalogs, magazines and other printed matter.”

This "Chelsea Edition" of Clement Clarke Moore's poem shows Santa landing on a proper flat Chelsea rowhouse roof.

“Chelsea Edition” of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem shows Santa landing on a proper flat Chelsea rowhouse roof.

The family-friendly bookstore was established on a side street in Dumbo in 2006. P.S. Bookshop had a modest start, but “since moving to Front Street in 2009 we have a steady flow of business,” Yuval told BA. In its expanded corner location, P.S. Bookshop opens at 10am and keeps early evening hours (til 8pm seven days a week) and a children’s corner.

Also six years old,  Unnameable Books has a counter claim on its blog: “We are the best darn bookstore on the whole long island,” owner Adam Tobin proclaims. Also in a new location, with long hours (11am to 11pm) and a seven-day schedule, the store – now located in the heart of Prospect Heights – buys new and used books and has, according to New York Magazine, “an idiosyncratic mix.” That fairly describes what was on show at the BHBF. The blog boasts a nice roster of past events on site, though nothing new is announced for this holiday season

Another relocator: Books are only part of the inventory at Open Air Modern, which did begin out of doors (thus its name) in 2009 but now has a roof over its head in Williamsburg, shared with furniture, lighting, “small objects” and staging props. Mid-century is its middle name in books as well as stuff. (Suggest wearing a narrow Rooster tie while shopping.)

No camera hog, this vendor sat back and let shoppers browse.

No pitchman, this vendor sat back and let shoppers browse to their hearts’ content.

Hipster or hipsta’, Book Thug Nation‘s very name has attitude. So, in a way, does the blog for the business launched in 2009. It still sports the “Hello World” dummy post for sites, and the Upcoming Events section says flatly “There are no upcoming events.” (Right in line with the reclusive image of the business, the young man at the vendor table at the Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair was less than enthusiastic about having his photograph taken even with his book display, and after finally getting his permission, Brooklyn Artisan dared not seek his name.) An important “however,” however: The site says invitingly that “the Book Thug Nation pays the highest prices for collections of quality books and records.  Please bring what you have to our storefront, or, if your collection is large, contact [us] to arrange for pickup.” That strikes a friendly note, doesn’t it?.

Interestingly, born-yesterday Human Relations was sharing a table with Book Thug Nation. This store, founded in 2012, is perfect for a “first annual”: The “new (used) book store” is in Bushwick. Its web site hits a plaintive note. “Human relations are difficult, especially for book people. Nevertheless, we are bringing you the best quality used fiction, philosophy, film, foreign language, pulpy noir, history, art, science, food, drama, and pretty much everything else. (In order to make human relations even harder.),” it observes.

Also brand new, Singularity & Co. is run by “a team of time traveling archivists longing for futures past.” That is the coolest capsule description of the whole bookselling group, so good that BA wondered if the founders thought up a business just to support the mission.

Not so over at Honey & Wax Booksellers, famously started in the owner’s dining room with 100 books. Her explanation for the choice of that business name is a bit complicated, but its mission embraces “the idea of the social life of the printed book”  – that is, the shop attends not only to the authors but also the book’s prior owners, suggestively tracking how giving and sharing books can foster relationships.

Heather O’Donnell is a woman with lots of ideas.  “The book trade has given me a much broader and truer sense of what the well-read life can be,” she told one interviewer and, in explaining her very glossy catalog, added: “I wanted to feature the books in the context of a real home, not floating in space.

“We shot the catalogue on a sweltering August day in Brooklyn, borrowing my friends’ house and much of their stuff,” she said. “My one regret is that I had intended to get a Kindle or Nook into one of the shots, to show the printed book and the e-reader coexisting in peace. I’d love to do that in future Honey & Wax catalogues, so that when readers page back through them, they can date each catalogue by the comparative obsolescence of the gadgetry.

Full disclosure: This writer's bedside book collection.

Full disclosure: This writer’s bedside books.

“Books age better,” she concluded.

And Brooklyn Artisan concluded after covering this new event that having a very young Brooklyn industry spearheaded by just such a person can add a very vital force. The potential customer base needs educating to become motivated collectors. We look forward to the next annual Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair.

Anne Mollegen Smith is editor & publisher of Brooklyn Artisan. Pictured is her actual books-to-read stack.  


  1. bueno (as my fruit-stand co- workers would say)

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  1. […] goy at Park Slope Jewish Center in the 1940’s, for reading “The Gift of the Magi” at the Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair at Old Stone […]


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