Samantha Hoffman

Author Samantha Hoffman at her home in Chicago, Ill., on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. (Andrew A. Nelles, Chicago Tribune / September 9, 2013)

“I like to think I have been a writer my whole life,” says Samantha Hoffman.

She had written through childhood in Toledo, while working in the sales business and as a personal assistant for the last five years (one of her clients was the actor John Cusack), and through three marriages. The results were modest: a few published stories, in print and online, and a very lively blog.


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But now her first novel, "What More Could You Wish For," has been on shelves for a while, and her second, "The Ones You Left Behind," is in the hands of her agent.

"I have started to feel like a member of the community," she says, mentioning such writer friends as nonfiction author Arnie Bernstein, and novelists Renee Rosen and Kelly O'Connor McNees.

"What More …" came in the wake of her father Oscar's death in 2000. He was 90.

"He was my hero, and I was just reeling after his death," she says.

She was 50. She quit her job, sold her house in the Jefferson Park neighborhood and married a man (at the Palmer House) with whom she was not in love.

The marriage was over in a year, and she began to write her novel. The first draft was "so cathartic," she says, "and the second was much less autobiographical." That version was sent to publishers and agents. A lot of rejection letters later, she decided to self-publish and self-promote in such innovative (if not lucrative) ways as handing out free copies to people on Michigan Avenue and sending them to friends.

One of those passed the book along to a bigwig at St. Martin's. The bigwig loved it, and it was published last year. It's a love story and love triangle swirling about a compelling character named Libby Carson, who is forced to reassess what she considered a pretty good life. It might be called a coming-of-age-at-50 tale, written with style and maturity ("Night seemed hardest of all with its silence, and the sorrow that pulled at my body.")

"My dad?" she says. "He would be so proud."

Can antiquarians exist in this Internet age?

"Our book fairs have had their share of rough times in the past few years," says Chris Rohe. "The Internet has turned the entire industry on its head."

And he would know.

He is the Chicago book fair manager of the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association, a nonprofit association of booksellers who promote and sell old books, maps, prints and other items. "I followed in my dad's footsteps," Rohe says. "I started working in his bookshop, Paul Rohe & Sons, Booksellers in Evanston, about 30 years ago. Then we moved the shop to the Belmont and Clark neighborhood. We closed it in 1997, and I've been continuing as an antiquarian bookseller on the Internet and at local book fairs."

When you are in the business of selling old books face-to-face, you may be "boats against the current," as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in "The Great Gatsby." (FYI: Just found a first edition of that online for $4,850). I have long had a thing for old books, believing, as I once wrote, that "the pages of an old book are warm, literally warm, as if they had captured and retained the heat of the hands that previously turned them." The late Florence Shay, who owned Titles Inc. bookshop in Highland Park for more than four decades and co-founded the association, once told me, "There is an enchantment to old books."

The association's 52nd Chicago Book and Paper Fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5 at Chicago Journeymen Plumbers' Union Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd. Admission is $6; parking free.

Here's association President Hank Zuchowski with the last word: "Holding an historically significant book is a unique experience that can't be duplicated in this digital age."

Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.

"What More Could You Wish For"

By Samantha Hoffman, St. Martin's Griffin, 256 pages, $14.99