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Why Congresses? - A veteran’s ramblings by Keith Fletcher

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You ask  “why congresses?” - the short answer is surely Amor librorum nos unit; and what better than to meet with people who know what you are talking about rather than experiencing the blank looks of one’s ‘lay’ friends when one mentions “old books”.

Of course there are two distinct aspects to ILAB Congresses, the commercial and the social. My mother and father made their first visit to New York in 1955 for the ILAB Congress and it could be said that it was one of the defining events of my father’s career.

I quote from my obituary of him: In 1955 the congress was in New York. Once again it proved a wonderful opportunity to meet booksellers and make friends. This was the heyday of the ocean liner and my parents crossed over on the S.S. France. They started many friendships in New York, but none so close and enduring as that with Howie and Phyl Mott, which continues, I am proud to say, in the second generation and to this day. It was also on this first visit that the ‘great American legend’ of my parents prowess on the dance floor was born. It continues to be whispered of to this day among oldtimers at booksellers social gatherings! Of course, New York wasn’t all dancing; my father also bought a few books - he couldn’t resist! And when he got them back to Cecil Court he announced, with a look of delighted amazement, “You know, if I went back and really worked I think I could make America pay handsomely”. He went back in 1956, and at least once a year for the next 25 years, and pay handsomely it certainly did; in books, in excitement, in profits, and above all in the friendships he made and the fun he had with such as David Magee, Barney Rosenthal, Warren Howell, Jake Zeitlin, Father Bill Monihan, Norman Strouse, Frances Hamill, George Goodspeed, Jack Bartfield, Nat Ladden, Dave Kirschenbaum, Harold Graves, Mike Papantonio, Harvey Brewer, and of course our dear friend for more than fifty years, Kate Gregory.
That congress was indeed the start of a long, and very profitable, business with America, both buying and selling with dealers, librarians and collectors.

The Paris congress of 1950 had made my father realise that such proficiency as he had been able to attain in the French language through working in Paris in 1930, was still there, dormant waiting to be used. During those few days in Paris he got to know various French dealers, polished his French and from then onwards there was a steady stream of French and Belgium dealers arriving in Cecil Court because “Bill, il peut parler francais!”

In 1957 the congress was in Munich and it was here that my father first met Fritz Neidhardt and the beginning of a friendship which resulted in my working for Fritz in Stuttgart in 1960.

In 1973 the ILAB Congress was in Japan, attended by five Fletchers, my mother and father, myself and Marina, and my sister Valerie. We became known as “The Five Flying Fletchers”. We made a great friend in the late Jose Telles da Silva who helped me enormously when I was subsequently called in to advise the English College in Lisbon on the disposal of their library. It was also at this congress that Mitsuo Nitta appointed me Yushodo’s agent in England; a very profitable arrangement which lasted some 15 years. On the way home from this congress, the English contingent spent a couple of nights in Hong Kong, crossing paths with the French party. On 2nd October, the mid point between my parents’ and our wedding anniversaries, we held a dinner party for some twenty booksellers on the Tai Pak Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen Harbour, and it was at this dinner that Arturo Pregliasco showed us pictures of his new house on a small island off the coast of Sardinia and invited us to stay the next year. We still visit regularly to this day.

The social aspect of ILAB Congresses has had a major impact on the lives of the whole family; from my sister’s working in Paris befriended by Jean and Odette Polak; my parents annual summer holidays with the Polaks in Fontainbleau; my frequent invitations to the Motts in Sheffield, Mass. when I was working at Yale; our long friendships with Claude and Marie-Francoise De Nobele and Dieter and Anita Tausch; and above all our very close ties with Arturo and Umberto Pregliasco, not only 15 summers in Sardinia and countless other visits, but also 30 years of ski-ing together in Montgenevre.

The friendship between the Fletchers and the Pregliascos began at the ILAB Congress in London in 1955 when Arturo’s father discovered that my father was one of the few in the ABA who spoke French. When, a few years later, he sent his son Arturo to London for the first time he advised him to go to see Bill Fletcher because “Bill, il peut parler francais”, and for the first 15 years it was all in French; Arturo only started to speak English on our first visit to Sardinia.

The League, as it was known before the rise of the acronym, was founded from an initiative by Menno Hertzberger with the state aim to reverse the effects of the Second World War and bring nations together again. This was made difficult by the state of communications in those early years but the annual congress (yes! every year in those days) began steadily to improve things with some 4-500 delegates ‘networking’ face-to-face. By the 1990’s, however, having achieved their aim, congresses were showing a marked decline, their networking role being taken over by bookfairs. Then came the internet; arresting the growth of the book fair, causing the closure of many a bookshop, and even hosting online auctions at the expense of an auction room full of people.

Now is the time for a revival of the ILAB Congress; for us to come out from behind our computer screens and meet and get to know our colleagues.

As a veteran of some 26 ILAB Congresses I can vouch for the fact that they can be great fun, commercially advantageous, and a much better way of getting to know your colleagues than meeting at book fairs. A last anecdote by way of illustrating this - A prominent and very successful London bookseller, whom I had known for a number of years and met regularly at book fairs, came to his first congress in 2000 in Edinburgh. Not only did he enjoy it hugely and has been to every one since, but sitting next to him on a coach, having a drink after hours in the bar, we (Marina and I) got to know him and his wife infinitely better than would ever be the case meeting at book fairs and looking over each other’s shoulder at the books behind. We now meet on holidays.

Keith Fletcher

Further information about the upcoming ILAB-congress 2018 in Los Angeles can be found here.
This article was originally published via ILAB in april 2017.

Veröffentlicht am 27 Apr 2017

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