The soft economy continues to be a 3-year-old head cold that the rare book trade hasn't been able to shake. But through one dose of design and one of happenstance, the 43rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair opens Friday at the Hyatt Regency in Century City with some newfound energy.
Pushing soft-sales worries to the background for the time being, the buzz heading into this show revolves around two topics: this year's Oscar-driven movie theme and high intrigue in the wake of the passing of the fabled recluse of American letters, J.D. Salinger.
With more than 200 dealers from the U.S. and around the world, this biannual event is the largest and most prestigious commercial book fair that comes Southern California's way. It's a showcase of thousands of items of printed material -- books, manuscripts, maps -- spanning hundreds of years. Everything, pre-Gutenberg to post-Grisham, is on the block.
The main theme of this show is timely and site specific. "From Author to Oscar" works off the fact that a majority of best picture Oscars -- 52 of 81 -- have gone to films that originated in published form, either as books or plays. Along the way, Oscar-winning source material has come from the fabled (Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward), the famous (Margaret Mitchell, Mario Puzo, Larry McMurtry) and the forgotten (read anything from MacKinlay Kantor, Charles R. Jackson or Pu Yi lately?).
Four of this year's 10 best picture nominees began as books:
* Walter Kirn's 2001 novel "Up in the Air"
* "Push," by Sapphire, a 1996 fictional release that provided the story for "Precious"
* "The Blind Side," Michael Lewis' 2006 nonfiction bestseller about football player Michael Oher
* "An Education," Lynn Barber's memoir that first appeared in an English magazine in 2003 and was published there in 2009, but has not been released in the U.S.
Copies of 41 of these best picture-winning titles will be on display at the fair. And at 3 p.m. Saturday, a panel discussion will turn the pages on the whole list, and the films made from them, as well as explore the impact of the movies on book collecting. Moderated by Stephen J. Gertz, on the dais will be Times film critic Kenneth Turan, as well as prominent rare book experts Kevin Johnson and James Pepper.
Pepper, a longtime Santa Barbara-based dealer exhibiting at the fair, has also edited books about Orson Welles' screenplays, among other works. Among the films on the list he has a special affection for is John Ford's 1941 "How Green Was My Valley," from Richard Llewellyn's 1939 novel of the same name.
"[Twentieth Century] Fox did this book justice," Pepper noted. "A really top-job adapted screenplay by Philip Dunne and a terrific cast, pulled together by Roddy McDowall. Some of the older films that won have taken on a vintage look, not in a good way [1951's 'From Here to Eternity' was mentioned as an example], but for me this still sparkles."
Beyond the movie tie-in, rampant speculation about a potential trove of unpublished works from Salinger is spinning book circles.
Few American writers were as unique as Salinger -- both in his prose and his life -- and literati attention is keenly focused on a safe in his New Hampshire hermitage, which may hold unseen stories written in the last half century of his life. From 1940 through 1965 Salinger published only a single novel -- (But what a novel! Along with Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," "The Catcher in the Rye" is considered among America's most influential works of fiction) -- and 31 short stories.
Disgusted at his mounting celebrity, Salinger stopped publishing. But reports from confidants over the years strongly suggest he kept writing; a piece in this week's New Yorker magazine quotes Salinger before he died intimating that he was tempted to produce an autobiography of sorts.
As a result, his few published works are generating renewed attention. Copies of "The Catcher in the Rye" will be front and center on dealers' shelves at the fair, with prices ranging from hundreds of dollars for later editions in less than pristine condition into the tens of thousands for more desirable copies.
Pepper sees "The Catcher in the Rye" continuing to connect with readers and buyers.
"This is a book young people have cared about for half a century. It's still taught in schools. That theme of the screwed-up nature of youth struggling to find itself, the seesaw-ness of becoming older, that continues to resonate.
"Here's the thing with collectibles: Baby boomers and the next generations collect their past, what is remembered and loved. So you tell me about a book that a lot of people cherished when they were young, and that's a book that will sell for a long, long time."
As to financial woes plaguing the book-collecting world, Pepper seems resigned to them.
"Rare books are discretionary purchases," said Pepper, with a "what-are-you-gonna-do" shrug of his shoulders. "The entire economy continues to be under assault."
But while the volume of sales remains down, Pepper isn't seeing a free fall in pricing, especially for unique copies.
"I think people who collect books have a sense of history, they see how things are mutable, can change for the bad and good, and they're into books for the long haul."
Book fair What: The 43rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair
Where: Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars,
Los Angeles When: Friday, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Price: Friday, $15, good for readmission all days. Saturday and Sunday, $10, good for readmission. Students with ID, $5