The final countdown is on for this weekend's Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago, my favorite festival of the year. This will be my fourth time to attend, every year since we moved to the area. Up until last year, it was called the Printer's Row Book Fair, but this year the name was changed. For some, it is all about the content of the books and the authors; for me, it is all about the physicality of the books, just what you would expect for the maker of mostly unreadable bindings. We don't need no stinkin' content to enjoy the books! Whatever they call the event, it is certainly a lot of fun and always holds fabulous discoveries and adventures for me.
The many different bookstalls are lined along the streets in the Printer's Row district of Chicago, home to the city's main printing industry back in the day. A few printers still reside there, alongside some good pub-style restaurants and specialty shops including several rare book stores. During the fair, you can stroll from tent to tent, browsing tables of books, prints, paper ephemera, and who knows what else you'll find to amuse. When you become weary, you can pop into one of the author's tents and take in a lecture or discussion panel, enjoy some music at one of the entertainment stages, or pop into a rare book store and gaze in wonder at the beauty contained within the shelves and cases.
It's also a great place to see and meet your favorite authors, up close and personal. Last year we saw (not so close, as it was in a large auditorium) Studs Terkel, just a few months before he passed away, still sharp as ever in his 90's. I attended a discussion panel with Lily Koppel, author of The Red Leather Diary (which I had just finished reading) and Deborah Rodriguez, author of the book about becoming a hairdresser in Kabul. In the afternoon, I wandered into a tent with a panel that included Tony Fitzpatrick, a mixed media Chicago artist whose work I had just discovered a few months prior. My authors' list this year includes seeing Elmore Leonard, Lynda Barry (What It Is), Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) and Chris Ware.
There are always some interesting booths of self-published poetry books, 'zines, and my new friends at the Chicago Calligraphy Collective (whom I taught this past weekend) will be lettering your name on beautiful bookmarks at their table. Book arts students at Columbia College sometimes sell their work at very reasonable prices, and a few other handcrafted books usually turn up in unexpected places.
My search list always includes looking for older books on bookbinding and related topics, ephemera that I can incorporate into my art, new titles from small press publishers, and stuff that just calls to me. There is an origami paper and book vendor, and you can always find old type drawers and wooden letters., postcards, posters, postage stamps, and more. Paperbacks and hard covers, new and used, rare and not really, it's all there for the finding.
The photos above include a few of the treasures I've found in years past, including books on books, an entire album containing hundreds of vintage non-postage stamps, silkscreened prints from old high school yearbooks, and French postage stamps on communication.
And now I'm off to plot my adventure for this year . . .