Saturday, December 31, 2005


Resolutions for the new year

I don't have resolutions, I have RESOLVE!

Raise a glass with your beverage of choice this evening to celebrate not only the coming of the new year, and your firm resolve, but also the birthday of Holbrook Jackson, born this day in 1874 in Liverpool - author of the classic The Anatomy of Bibliomania (Scribner, 1931). Styled after Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Unfortunately, some might say, as Jackson's prose is a downright dense thicket. Great information within, but man oh man, have you tried to read this straight through? Bibliophile A. Edward Newton said of Holbrook Jackson: "Of all the books in praise of books ever written, this is the most exhaustive and the best. One wonders if Jackson be a man or a whole regiment of men. It would seem that no man's reading could have been so extensive." (originally quoted in the Atlantic Monthly)

With that, it's been a busy week at the shop (people home for the holidays, in here trying to take shelter from their relatives, perhaps?), but no one's around today and I'm headed home early. Happy New Year...

Friday, December 30, 2005


Last best-of-the-year list

A few friends and colleagues have emailed in with some favorite books of the year (again, books read this year, not necessarily published this year). Barrie says she is in heaven with The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (Penguin, 2005). Niki says that this year she's read one of the best books she's ever read: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (Random, 2004). Spats says Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (Harvest, 2004) is good. Andrew says he didn't like Larry McMurtry's Roads: Driving America's Great Highways (Simon & Schuster, 2000) because of some celebrity name-dropping, however "...he also devotes a lot of ink to his bookstore in Texas" so read it anyway. I'm always looking for more bookshop narratives in print, and I want to visit Archer City myself, so I include it here. And Sandy is snowed in up in northern Maine reading Lillian Beckwith's books about moving to and living in the Hebrides. These have recently been reprinted by House of Stratus (with very lovely covers, I might add), and I believe the first in the series is The Sea for Breakfast.

I've read exactly NONE of these books, and am looking forward to seeing copies come across my desk in the year ahead. Anyone have anything to add to this list? What should I (and you) be reading next? Comment below if so moved - what was so good this year that you repeatedly pressed it on friends, and couldn't stop yourself from talking about it? I've already mentioned Mark Helprin's The Pacific and Other Stories below, but I am silly over this book and have been all year, so here it is again.

Meanwhile, I've just read with great pleasure a narrative about the rare book trade in Maine - A Backward Look: 50 Years of Maine Books and Bookmen by Francis M. O'Brien (Anthoensen Press, 1986). And onward with Samuel Pepys! I still haven't found affordable copies of volumes VII and VIII, so am anticipating a reading crisis in mid-January.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Booksellers' tickets revisited

Greg Kindall commented below on my post about booksellers' tickets, and directed me to his fine site. What a labor of love, and how very very pleasing to be able to browse through his alphabetical galleries of tickets and binders' labels! He also has links to bookshops that feature collections of tickets on their sites, and a few bibliographic references for more information. And a blog with quotations in Latin. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the best of the internet...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


This is a first, for me

A fellow unbeknownst to me came in this afternoon and browsed for a bit, and while he was paying for the book he found (Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, seven dollars, if you care to know), he said "Um, are you the one that's blogging...?" Yes, yes, I am the one that's blogging. I guess this means that blogging actually creates something real in time and space, instead of being just purely cerebral and internal. Most interesting.


I'm in the doghouse

I came home last night and my usually charming and sanguine husband was looking at me with a distinctly fussy pout. In response to my raised eyebrow he said, pointedly, "I read your blog today. Did you forget that I gave you a book for Christmas, and that I gave you another book for your birthday?"

Oh dear. I didn't forget, when I said people never dare to give me books I was of course thinking of my parents, sisters, in-laws, out-laws, and a few friends. My guy is an entity unto himself. Or rather, we are an entity. But to make matters worse, he even carefully conspired with the bookseller down the street from me to find books that would both surprise and delight me. Which they did. So, to right a wrong:

Birthday gift: Bookstores Can Be Saved by Adolph Kroch, Booksellers Catalog Service, 1952. A small hardcover book with the author's fourteen proposals to save the book business from financial collapse. I particularly like "Proposal Number 9: Sponsor bookselling schools." "Successful graduates of the school should be given the degree of 'Book Counsellor' to denote creative work in an honorable profession." (p.46) Interesting book overall, because the same problems the author is responding to are what is still happening in many new bookstores today: deep discounts, cheap editions and remainders, and of course underpaid and undervalued clerks.

Christmas gift: Hand-Bound Books by Clara Buffum, self-published, Providence, 1935. Binding techniques and the history of making books by hand. Scarce and very lovely in its printed paper wraps.

Thanks, sweetie-pie. To quote Cole, "You're the top, you're a Waldorf salad, you're the top, you're a Berlin ballad..."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


No one gives me books as gifts

They don't dare. They know that if I want it, I already have it. Or that I (and they) can't afford it. Say, for instance, off the top of my head, the OED. How can any true booklover not swoon while holding a volume of this fine set?

So I end up buying myself books throughout the year, as I come across them. I just bought this at one of the other used bookshops in town: The Book-Lovers' Anthology edited by R.M. Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1911. Seven dollars. The editor's goal, as stated in the preface: "In bringing together into one volume the tributes and opinions of a galaxy of writers, my object has been the glorification of books as books, a book being regarded as a real and separate entity, and often as an end in itself." He goes on to say that book-love " incommunicable: it comes but happily seldom goes, as the wind which bloweth where it listeth; it is perfectly sincere, and knows nothing of conventions and sham admirations." (p.v) Sigh. I mean, really, who has published better books, throughout their long history, than Oxford University Press.

I'll be quoting liberally from The Book-Lovers' Anthology over the next few months. It's full of gems like this: "When I speak of being in contact with my books, I mean it literally. I like to lean my head against them." - J.H. Leigh Hunt, from My Books. (p.233) Something else I covet is the recent Leigh Hunt set, and while not published by Oxford, it is also priced beyond my comfort zone. That's not to say that if I wasn't leading a somewhat penurious existence I wouldn't snap it up immediately, of course.

Meanwhile, I'm putting away the fine gifts I did receive: a deluxe Scrabble set, various art supplies (I'm a painter as well as a bookseller), clothing, crockery, comestibles, and the like. Anyone receive any gifts you are especially pleased with, books or otherwise?

Friday, December 23, 2005


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

For the many many fans of Victorian cloth bindings that surely must be out there, here is a Christmas book from 1874, printed and bound in Maine: The Christmas Tree and Other Poems by F.M. Ray. Simple blindstamped rules, and a gilt candlelit tree device on the front cover. I'm thankfully too busy at the shop today to write more than this: Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


More books of the year

Looking back in my commonplace book, I find quite a few favorites from this past year, from really stupendous to plain old good satisfying reading. Here's another short selection of my books of the year, in no order other than the order I happened to read them in:

An Almanac of Reading by Charles Lee, Coward-McCann, 1940. Gentle, funny, bookish. Includes literary quizzes and authors' birthdays and the like.

Nick Hornby. Last spring I read all of Nick Hornby's books (except Fever Pitch, which I'm searching for in a good hardcover edition). I've already mentioned The Polysyllabic Spree. It's so good I happily bring it up again. Read it! It's all about acquiring and reading books, as it really is! (p. 43: "A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am now cheered by the realization that if I've forgotten everything I've ever read then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.") His Songbook (McSweeney's, 2002) is also quite wonderful (find the edition with the music cd included). I revisited High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to Be Good, and I bought and read his latest, A Long Way Down (Riverhead, 2005) the week it was published. His books all have rather hapless characters (and in his essays it's just himself) trying to piece together meaningful lives, often with books and music featured as necessary support systems.

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin, Hyperion, 2003.

Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins, Bloomsbury, 2004.

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs, St. Martin's, 2004. No, I have not read Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking yet. I may.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, Norton, 2004.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, Anchor, 2000. (p.213: "Who was it who said that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past?)

The Pacific and Other Stories by Mark Helprin, Penguin, 2004. Helprin is concerned with Truth, Honor, Justice, Redemption, and Beauty. His metaphors are unexpected and lovely. I consider him a writer's writer. (p.12: "...Milan is where you busy yourself with the world as if what you did really mattered, and there time does not seem to exist. But in Venice time seems to stop, you are busy only if you are a fool, and you see the truth of your life." And p.244, I love his description of a bookstore as "...mysteriously inactive." "Many stores manage somehow, day after day, to exist without customers, and so did this one.") I hope to find out someday that Mark Helprin has been writing poetry for years in secret, just for himself. And also writing his autobiography.

A Reader's Delight by Noel Perrin, University Press of New England, 1988. I want to give this book to all the real readers I know.

Material Witness: The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter, University of Michigan, 2005.

Supercargo: A Journey Among Ports by Thornton McCamish, Lonely Planet, 2002. He calls himself "... a seasoned connoisseur of other people's bookshelves..." (p.203). After I read it, this book made itself at home on my shelf of travel narratives relating to steamer and cargo ship travel.

The original Horatio Hornblower trilogy by C.S. Forester, Little, Brown, 1939. A re-read. I can read this, and The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, at least once every two years, just for the pure enjoyment of it.

New and Selected Poems Volume II by Mary Oliver, Beacon, 2005. Oh, the beauty. How I love these poems. I'm memorizing a few, just to be able to always have them handy, if I need them.

There are so many others, but this post is getting long. Plus I've still got another week to go until the official end of the year, and I've got David Foster Wallace's new book of essays Consider the Lobster, a copy of Jarhead, and Gilead sitting on my desk to take home and read (I'm taking another break from Pepys, as must be obvious at this point).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Pure pathos

I was browsing the other day on my own shop shelves and found this, the tale of little Rose, who lives and works with her elderly grandfather in his failing bookshop.

From the opening chapter: "There was no denying it that the trade was bad in the little tumble-down old second-hand bookshop in a poor street of London. Even little Rose Burnley, a ten-year-old lass, with large, wondering eyes, and a smile which was more often sad than merry, knew that things were not going on prosperously in grand-dad's shop. I think she troubled more about them than he did; for he was always reading. I suppose he thought that, as he could not sell the books, he might just as well read them and make some use of them. It was a pity they should lie there idle. They were not good-looking books; they were old, and grubby, and worn, and had several names of the past owners written inside, and the second-hand price scratched in pencil on the title page. Nowadays, when one can buy new copies so cheaply, these fusty, musty old things do not seem very attractive, do they?"

Hm. Well. The book, for anyone interested in pursuing the story further, is Little Rosebud, or, Things Will Take a Turn by Beatrice Harraden, Dana Estes, 1898. The story is a strange mishmash of elements from Heidi, various Frances Hodgson Burnett stories, and a dash of Tiny Tim for good measure (including: no parents in evidence, a crippled or mysteriously sickly girl who needs a companion, a rich benefactor with a fine library that needs tending, a talking parrot, and a few kindly old gentlemen). The cover of the book isn't pictured here, because it has no relation whatsoever to the story inside. Instead, two little girls are making mudpies in a Jessie Wilcox Smith-ish scene. But I rather like this illustration - little Rose's slumped-over dolls are in the foreground. They are named Jane Eyre and Robinson Crusoe. Thank god this isn't also a Christmas story, it would just be too much.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Thought for the day

When I first opened the bookshop, this dropped out of a book as I was pricing and shelving it. The book is long gone, but the marker has been on my bulletin board since then. It sums up very neatly how I feel about laying out money for books. It's as necessary as buying groceries, isn't it...

While this was certainly put in by the book's publisher, it put me in mind of Michael Atkinson's pleasingly long article on the paper detritus he's searched for and found in books, "Other People's Bookmarks: Fellow Wanderers of a Forgotten Republic - in which we
consider the lives of strangers by way of what they leave behind in books" from the November 2005 issue of the Believer magazine. It's available online, although I recommend buying the paper copy of the magazine, for the great color illustrations of the best of the bookmarks. Bizarre and often poignant ephemera. (

The good people of Bangor are putting this adage into practice by continuing to shop for bookish gifts. Another sampling from the sales slips this week: All Quiet on the Western Front, Jack London's South Sea Tales, Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin, Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them (full of handy advice for collectors who want to maintain good relationships with family members while continuing to amass their objects of desire, applicable to more than just tractors - say, for example, oh, I don't know... books), as well as books by Nick Bantock, Jeanette Winterson, Anne Lamott, Gene Logsdon, and Rumi, a Koran, and an Oxford Book of English Verse. All full of good ideas. More justification for books as the best possible gifts, as if we needed any.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Two Christopher Morley books from 1931

Another great thing about collecting Christopher Morley: he was very fond of books as objects, and released many oddments and essays in limited editions or as gift books. These have the happy combination of good design and good content, and can keep a collector hunting for years. I pulled two off the shelf at home this morning, both from 1931.

The first, a collection of quotations chosen by Morley, one for each day of the year. Reading this, we become aware of exactly what Morley thought was good literature, what he thought actually meant something.

He chooses a quote from Chekhov, June 3: "He was a rationalist, but he had to confess that he liked the ringing of church bells." And Chekhov again on June 7: "'Masticate your food properly,' their father told them. And they masticated properly, and walked two hours every day, and washed in cold water, and yet they turned out unhappy and without talent."

Don Marquis, June 9: "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you."

Joseph Conrad, Sept. 23: "Hang ideas. They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back door of your mind, each taking a little of your substance, each carrying away some crumb of that belief in a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently and would like to die easy."

John Mistletoe's Journal (Morley himself), December 11: "If there is any appalling and spiritually murderous sensation on earth, it is the knowledge that on a certain date or at a given time and place you have got to be somewhere doing some set, prescribed, definite thing. This winter we shall keep our horizon perfectly, absolutely, crystallinely open, ready every day for the scouring gales of impulse."

And his selection for today, December 19, which happens to be my birthday, Louise Imogen Guiney: "The truth is, very few can be trusted with an education. The best to be said of any knowing one is that he does not readily show what deeps are in him; that he is unformidable, and reminds whomever he meets of a distant or deceased uncle. Initiation into noble facts has not ruined him for this world nor the other."

Also included are Virginia Woolf, Montaigne, O. Henry, Aristotle, Andre Gide, Keats, Ben Jonson, Leigh Hunt, Katherine Mansfield, Hobbes, Thomas Hardy, many others, with humor and seriousness lightly balanced. And the book itself is small and thick, pleasingly chunky to hold, in lilac bookcloth with green tempus fugit devices, and bold red and black ink and fine typography throughout. What a book. Or, at least, my kind of book!

The second, a grim little story of Santa Claus at home after he finishes delivering gifts. He's been drinking grain alcohol with prohibition rum runners and thinking about the state of the universe: "He still thought hungrily of that miracle he had seen: the grave airy dancing of creation, treading softly its dark measure to unheard, undreamed music." (p.25)

Find a copy for yourself, but remember that it's remarkably bittersweet, so save it to read on a sunny June or July afternoon. It goes down hard this time of year.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Catching up with the "books of the year" lists

Large ice pellets fell from the sky for most of yesterday, so business at the shop was understandably slow, and I put my feet up and browsed in the year-end book reviews. The TLS has Frank Kermode on page seven noting that one of his picks is Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, (Faber) "...not because it is the best of his books, which it isn't, but because it led me to read the others and discover, belatedly, the magnificence of The Unconsoled." This is how real readers read, isn't it: according to highly personalized chainlinks of books, leading from one to another, not just following some "best" list.

That said, of course I have my own best of the year list - meaning best books I've read this year, which seemed to be the case in the TLS also, not just what was newly-published in the past twelve months. So this year I read widely in the Jonathans: Lethem, Franzen, Safran Foer. I would add Ames, but I have yet to read one of his novels, or his autobiographical book. I particularly loved the essays in The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, 2005). He speaks a language I understand. I respond well to books that have as a main component the search for meaning in life through reading and books, and the resulting melancholy that often arises as the authors figure out how to survive in our generally less-than-friendly-to-the-life-of-the-mind society.

Hence my love of The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (Believer Books, 2004). I'd already read all the articles this book contains, in the Believer magazine, but that doesn't compare with the satisfaction of having them in book form (as he says, "Books are, let's face it, better than everything else..."). One of my absolute favorites.

I also read widely this year in what I call the Hyphens: Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Rupert Hart-Davis, Alec Clifton-Davis (read the wonderful Buildings of Delight, Gollancz, 1986), and James Lees-Milne (Another Self, Hamish Hamilton, 1970, one of the best memoirs of a British childhood I've read).

Back to Frank Kermode. He's one reason I read the TLS. His memoir Not Entitled (FSG, 1995) is another favorite book. “The Manx… like to stay at home, but they have not always been able to.” (p.262) I myself am of Manx descent, so the memoir is meaningful to me above and beyond its intelligence and interest.

More year's best books soon. I've got to tend shop...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Derailed from Pepys again... by Jeremy Mercer

Ok, I saw this recently-published book and had to drop everything else to read it immediately: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (St. Martin's, 2005). His recent article on the world's great bookshops in the Guardian got my attention (,6109,1659513,00.html). His book has a different title in the U.K., the U.S. title is more warm and fuzzy, I suppose, but I like it.

So, I bought the book yesterday and read it last night. The luxury of reading a book cover to cover over several hours is a true luxury. The longer I spend with books the more I think that being rich, having a sense of luxury, means being able to call your time your own - and reading all you want to. You can't buy more hours in the day, you can't buy time. Jeremy Mercer knows this, and I like what he says about the nature of time, how it was soft during the months he spent living as a bohemian writer and hobo clerk at Shakespeare and Company. The book is not so much about books and book-love as it is about human relationships, being a writer hanging out with other writers, living on next to nothing, and above all a loving biography of George Whitman, owner of the bookshop. George says: "'People all tell me they work too much, that they need to make more money, ... What's the point? Why not live on as little as possible and then spend your time with your family or reading Tolstoy or running a bookstore?'" (p.90)

The book made me sad for what I didn't do in my 20s (namely, go live at Shakespeare and Company), and grateful at the same time, because Jeremy Mercer doesn't idealize the life he led in Paris. There's some gritty illegal nasty stuff in there, amidst the bookshop chaos tales, and it isn't pretty, even if you think being a hobo writer could be romantic. Aside from the occasional clunky sentence written in the passive voice, I'm glad I read this book, and it will take up residence at home on my shelves of bookshop narratives. I'm looking forward to his next book, and will keep track of him here: ( The Guardian article mentions that he is taking up residence near or at Atlantis Books ( on the island of Santorini for the next few months to write. Sounds nice - did I mention it is seven degrees out this morning, in Maine? I wonder what the weather in Greece is like this time of year.


Patrick O'Brian books vs. film

As a rabid Patrick O'Brian reader (how many times have you read the Aubrey-Maturin series?), I dreaded seeing the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but I had to, I am so in love with that era I just couldn’t resist seeing it brought to life. And I trust Peter Weir as a filmmaker. I was able to disconnect the books from the film somewhat, and see the film as a stand-alone entity. Russell Crowe was a good Jack Aubrey, but he’s not my Jack Aubrey... The books-into-film genre is often unbearable for a viewer, I can’t imagine what it’s like for an author.

I can come close, though. John le Carré says this: “ Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” Patrick O'Brian didn't live to see this happen to his books. I thought the film was great, but of course it pales beside the books themselves.

On a recent trip to California, I unexpectedly discovered (by driving by the waterfront in a taxi and doing a double-take, thinking What is that??) that the Maritime Museum of San Diego ( is the home of the H.M.S. Surprise, formerly the H.M.S. Rose, the replica wooden ship used in the making of Master and Commander. So I got to go on board, see props and costumes on loan from the film studio, and (steadfastly ignoring the cruise ships nearby) imagine what it would have been like to sail on such a vessel. My heart was thousands of miles away, though, because this trip was shortly before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and I wanted to be in Portsmouth, England, to see the Victory. Instead, I was in Southern California, on board a replica of a Royal Navy frigate of the same era, recently used in a movie based on a series of books, themselves loosely based on the adventures of one of Nelson's real-life frigate captains. I felt so very American.

I recommend all three (the series of books, the film, and the Maritime Museum), by the way, if you have any kind of an affinity for the Napoleonic era. Peter Weir said the series was “…one of the great reading experiences of my life…” Me, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


On reading other people's diaries

Last winter I got lost in the highly wonderful doorstop The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Great Diarists by Irene and Alan Taylor (Canongate, 2000). I found my copy in a used bookshop on Cape Cod. The title comes from this quote from William Soutar: "A diary is an assassin's cloak which we wear when we stab a comrade in the back with a pen." Oh dear. Among the many other entries, this fine book contained selections from Pepys, and when my husband found the first three volumes of Pepys's diary at a library sale this past summer (one dollar each), I took them home. I've since tracked down all the other volumes except for VII and VIII, if anyone has them languishing aound unread (University of California hardcovers in dust jackets, please - but I will resort to the recent sofcover reprints if I must). I'm now in the midst of volume V. His voice is so distinct and alive, and he is as candid as can be. He's worried about his wife, the people renovating his house, his job and co-workers, his digestion, how to better himself in the world, and how to keep his impulses in check. The immediacy with which he relates these concerns makes the diary a page-turner three and a half centuries later.

Pepys on Shakespeare's "Midsummers nights dreame": "...which I have never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life." (vol III p.208)

I'll post more at a later date on Pepys and his book collection. Some of my favorite entries in the diary so far are, of course, those that mention his visits to his booksellers.

I don't particularly enjoy the illicit thrill of reading another's private diary. For me it's more that the diary writer shows the totality of the self. How people really think and act. This is one reason that The Assassin's Cloak is so good, the selections that the editors chose are so telling about basic human nature.

Now if only some worthy publisher would reprint the complete diaries of James Lees-Milne...

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Authors with websites

It's worth googling your favorite authors to see if they have their own websites. You find things like this:

"This page will feature news about books, tours, and new articles. As a news cycle the frequency will be less than CNN and more akin to that of the Fourteenth Century." (

And this:

"I was what I would be if I wasn't a writer: a clerk in a used-bookstore. No other possibility." (

And how about this, which applies to used bookshops too, I think:


Saturday, December 10, 2005


Christmas gift suggestions from 1928

Friday's lovely snowfall has me thinking about my Christmas list. I turned to the Christmas Bookman from 1928 (Vol. LXVIII, No. 4) from my shelf of old book catalogues, to see what reviewers were recommending back then. In the "Notes on New Books" section: The Outermost House by Henry Beston (Doubleday), a "new" edition of Persian Pictures by Gertrude Bell (Liveright), and Memories of Books and Places by J.A. Hammerton (Houghton Mifflin), even though the reviewer says, "The books and places are irrelevantly mingled.... the memories of a varied life in many corners of the world and of as varied reading done in strange places..." (p.xxii) I'd like to write a book like that, come to think of it. The catalogue is full of advertisements for the kind of novels that are now the bane of used booksellers - they are what everyone wants to sell us, and what we do not want to buy...

Other items of note within: an ad from Dutton for a Maine-related book I've never seen before - Wits' End by Viola Paradise ("Set in a gorgeous summer home in Maine is this tale of a writer harried by beautiful ladies" - can that be the author's real name?); and in "The Book Mart" section, a few columns on the upcoming auction of the library of Jerome Kern. Quoted are Miss Belle daCosta Greene, director of the J. Pierpont Morgan Library, A. Edward Newton (who says "...if he cannot transfer a few choice items from the Kern library to his shelves at Oak Knoll he will be a broken-hearted man") , Christopher Morley, Dr. Rosenbach, Harry B. Smith, and others (pp.lxvii-lxviii), all praising Kern's books and book-buying acumen, and indeed this sale went down in history as one of the great rare book auctions ever. How I would have loved to be a fly on the wall.

Gift suggestion for the booklover: The Fortunes of Mitchell Kennerley, Bookman by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. Many used copies are available online ( Kennerley was the auctioneer at the Kern sale, and a publisher and rare book dealer. He met a tragic end, and this book is his biography as well as a fascinating look at the book world of the early twentieth century.

Customers have been buying Christmas gifts here at the shop, bless them. Sold this week: books by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Billy Collins, Clifton Fadiman, Steve Almond, Edward Gorey, Chekhov, Julia Child, Daphne du Maurier, Paul Collins, Dostoyevsky, the list goes on. People do still read!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


More than merely Morley

Christopher Morley said, “Literature, everything ever written, is addressed to Me. By Me I mean You; and by You I mean Us; and by Us I mean Everybody.” (Letters of Askance, Lippincott, 1939, p.275)

Today Morley is primarily known as the author of Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. Both of those sweet bookish novels are widely available and can be fairly described as "whimsical" - as can much of Morley's poetry. Not the happiest of adjectives, as far as a serious literary career is concerned. But anyone who digs a little deeper will be richly rewarded. His essays, editorial columns, sonnets, and occasional writings are full of literary gold dust, and he wrote over fifty books, so there's a lot to mine. He also edited successive editions of Bartlett's Quotations, in 1937 and 1948. Rumour has it that Morley inserted several fake quotations in the 1937 edition.

Two of my favorite Morley books: a collection of snippets about poetry and poets, Inward Ho! (Doubleday, 1923), and his beautifully-written fictionalized autobiography, John Mistletoe (Doubleday, 1931).

I've been Morley-hunting for over a decade. At one used bookshop I visited several years ago, the visibly grumpy proprietor said, “No, I don’t have any Christopher Morley, no one wants to read him anymore.” I retreated to the essays section feeling like chopped liver (I want to read him…) and promptly found a signed Morley book for $8, and a nice one at that, Ex Libris Carissimis (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932). I put it on the top of my stack at the checkout and paid, and he didn’t say a word.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


On books published by bookshops

Many bookshop owners over the years conclude that they can supplement their incomes by also becoming publishers. I'll leave you, dear reader, to decide if this is a wise business decision. Suspect what you will.

This 1913 reckoning book published by Leary's in Philadelphia measures just over three by five inches. Consider the tiny book itself vs. the advertisement on the back cover for the Largest Old Book Store in America, which ends with this: "We invite every one to pay us a visit, and spend an hour inspecting our vast collection; information is cheerfully given without the inquirer feeling under the slightest obligation to purchase."

The tables within allow you to calculate in general, as well as find the weight of cattle, measure the weight of bushels of various grains, learn square measures ("useful for fruit-growers"), and figure the wages of your hired help (from one to twenty-five dollars per week). I hope the book was a best-seller - I have family members and customers with fond memories of the hours they spent browsing at Leary's, years ago.

Monday, December 05, 2005


So, you want to open a used bookshop, you say?

Here's my short list of the best books to read if you've ever wondered what being a bookseller is really like, or if you've ever dreamed of having your own bookshop, as most booklovers eventually do:

The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter by Charles P. Everitt. Little, Brown, 1952. Hands-down, my favorite bookseller memoir of all time. Rollicking, joyful, it makes me want to have been his apprentice. A brief foreword states that he died just after finishing the manuscript. "...rare-bookselling is almost the last remaining trade with the charm of leisure." (p.118)

Trafficking in Old Books by Anthony Marshall. Lost Domain, 1998. Droll collection of articles on keeping his used bookshop (in Australia). He's published a second volume that I have yet to track down, which I hear is equally good. "The best pencils (like the best chocolates) are soft and dark. A 2B is good, a 4B is better, but the 6B is the queen of book-pricing pencils.... A pox on HB pencils and the booksellers who use them!" (p.22)

The Side Door: Twenty-Six Years in My Book Room by Dora Hood. Ryerson, 1958. Great memoir of a dealer in rare Canadiana (this is more interesting than it sounds at first...). "Do not expect from me advice on how to become a book collector. The libraries are full of books on this very subject. I have dipped into many of them and remain convinced that you cannot make a true book-collector out of a person who has to be told how to go about it." (p.184)

The Seven Stairs: An Adventure of the Heart by Stuart Brent. Reprinted by Simon & Schuster, 1989. He sold new books and jazz records at his shop in Chicago. "Is it possible that a human being may be altered or set free through the written word? Are books important? Is it important to be a bookseller?" (p.54)

Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling by Madge Jenison. Dutton, 1923. Long on dreams and short on practicality, but wonderful nonetheless. "There is a special and curious situation in the book trade different from that which exists in any other undertaking where buying and selling are carried on. It does not support the people who do it." (p.6)

Dukedom Large Enough: Reminiscences of a Rare Book Dealer 1929-1956 by David A. Randall. Random House, 1969. Gossipy, rich, the New York City rare book world during its true golden age. "...I have found very few graduates of library schools who were competent rare bookmen or who could pull their weight with a good bookstore clerk." (p.13)

Complete Guide to Starting a Used Bookstore: Old Books Into Gold by Dale L. Gilbert. Upstart, 1991. Nuts and bolts. How to build good shelving, stock your shop, deal with customers, and the like. "Just on the off chance you neglected to earn a Ph.D. in literature or library sciences, don't worry about it. So did I, along with just about everybody else who's successful in this business." (p.15)

Of course there are many others. I'll list more of my favorites if anyone tells me that they've actually read any of the above.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Anniversary of the death of Robert Louis Stevenson

My desk copy of A Book of Days for the Literary Year (editor Neal T. Jones, Thames and Hudson, 1984) notes that RLS died on December 3rd, 1894, in Apia, Samoa. So it's been 111 years. He was only 44 years old. Last month I read Kidnapped and its sequel David Balfour, after watching the dramatic and swashbuckling PBS Masterpiece Theatre adaptation:

I love Stevenson, and over the years have read and re-read his poetry and travel narratives. His very fine Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes ends with this:

"You may paddle all day long; but it is when you come back at nightfall, and look in at the familiar room, that you find Love or Death awaiting you beside the stove; and the most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek."

Thursday, December 01, 2005


What I collect besides books

Between the shop and home, I am caretaker to thousands of books. Books taking up all the space they do, often exasperatingly (as there's never enough shelf space), I find some relief in simultaneously collecting miniature items. I have an album that I am slowly filling up with booksellers' tickets, those diminutive bookshop labels often found inside the front or back covers of old books. Here are a few of my favorites:

I love their size (most are postage stamp-size or smaller), the different designs and fonts, the colors, their ephemeral nature, and of course their overall general bookishness. I've found around 200 so far, from all corners of the globe. They're the luggage labels of the book trade.

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