Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I'm settled in again...

...after the general chaos of being away. My travel philosophy: I love leaving, and I love coming home even more. "Talk about the joys of the unexpected, can they compare with the joys of the expected, of finding everything delightfully and completely what you knew it was going to be?" (Elizabeth Bibesco, Balloons, quoted in Christopher Morley's Book of Days for 1931)

When I'm on a book-hunting trip I'm of course always keeping a weather eye out for Morley titles. This time, all I could come up with was this:

Which I of course already own, in other formats, but not in the Sun Dial Library (Garden City Publishing, 1923), with this great paper jacket. The back cover states: "The Vogue of The Small Book: Compactness is the modern note. In houses, cars, furniture - in everything we moderns possess - the smart thing is the small one. And now, the small book!" I found this at the Brattle Book Shop, for $1 (to balance out yesterday's $25 book). One Dollar, I'll say it again. Love it. The only other Morley book I was tempted by, but ended up not buying, was a good copy of his anthology Fifth Avenue Bus with a very nice gift inscription and signature by Morley inside the front cover. It was $48, and I'd already spent what I promised myself I'd stick to. Not to mention the fact that I already own a signed copy of this book. If anyone else is interested, it's downstairs at Commonwealth Books, on Boylston, in the literary criticism/authors shelves, alphabetically. Next to it is a little staple-bound pamphlet called something like Christopher Morley's Briefcase, which again, I already have.

Other favorite finds from the weekend: Four Talks for Bibliophiles (Free Library of Philadelphia, 1958), A Busted Bibliophile and His Books by George H. Sargent (Little, Brown, 1928, about A. Edward Newton), The Book-Hunter by John Hill Burton (Routledge, circa 1900), The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field (Scribner, 1896, I feel that I must always have at least one copy of this book in my shop at all times), a signed copy of Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and The Gotham Book Mart by W.G. Rogers (Harcourt, Brace, World, 1965), a signed copy of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel (Viking 1996), and The Love Letters of Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh edited by son Alexander Carlyle, with a nice long gift inscription by him on the front free endpaper (John Lane, 1909). All of these books were priced under $20 each, and most well under that.

The bookshops I visited, in a nutshell:

Titcomb's was very inexpensive, and many of their hardcover books were two and three dollars, but many of the books were musty, so check your books carefully before you buy. The owners had recently purchased several thousand books which wouldn't fit on the shelves, so there were boxes stacked neatly in several corners and aisles on all three floors, with large cloths draped over them. This is their down season, and one of the friendly bookshop ladies told me that they are working hard to get everything ready for spring/summer. The staff was very chatty and relaxed, and one of the shop cats apparently was hitting the intercom downstairs, which was a hoot. I had a great overall experience there.

Brattle Book Shop is long on good books and short on ambience. Love the building, but if it were my shop I'd put in wooden shelving (they have metal industrial shelves, and linoleum on the floors). The Saint Bernard dog on the third floor looks just like a bearskin rug, he/she's HUGE and flat. Rare books are on the third floor, and everything else is on the first two floors. Good sections on literature, poetry, books about books, ancient and classical history and literature, travel. Most average books are ten or fifteen dollars, but there's always the alley outside with the cheap books on shelving and book carts. It was too cold to browse outside, but I'm going to go back in April and troll out there for books with booksellers' tickets in them. I love Brattle.

Commonwealth Books on Boylston (they have two other locations, Kenmore and Milk Street at the Old South) has wonderful scholarly hardcovers. They also had just bought a huge load of books and the entry aisle was stacked with boxes. Storage is always a problem for used booksellers. It fills and that's that. Then what? Anywhere! I really had spent my allotted sum, so I only bought one book, but the last time I visited I bought a large bag-full. Great shop, and a very friendly and funny guy at the checkout, too, who liked the book I was buying.

Boston was soooo cold on Monday. The wind was fierce. We ran from the parking lot to Brattle to Commonwealth and back to the parking lot, and got out of town after that. I found a few books to keep to read, though most are for stock. Also, this is the time of year that I start to put aside good books for my booth at the Maine Antiquarian Booksellers' Association book fair (in Portland in June). Some of the books I found will go out for sale at the fair. I can't keep everything, can I?

Curses! Half of those books you listed are on my want (need!) list. And that edition of Morley is adorable. You got a steal.
Thanks, Sarah, for sharing the details on your trip. I agree the Morley find was a great one- a wonderful dustjacket. By the way, the Milk Street location of Commonwealth Books is the site of the old Goodspeed's Bookshop; most of the books were sold there and a second shop, on Beacon Street near the Statehouse sold prints, autographs, and related stuff. When my wife and I first moved to Boston in 1982, we often visited Goodspeed's, walking there from our small apartment in the servants' quarters of an old mansion on the flat of Beacon Hill. I remember Mr. Goodspeed, who usually was busy with his books and seldom seemed to be dealing with the common customer.

Congratulations on your purchases and your husband's qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But, inquiring minds want to know: have you seen the final episode of Bleak House?


Quillhill, I know, I KNOW! One measly dollar! I pulled it carefully out of the literature section and smiled like the Cheshire Cat. Of course I also saw a hundred other books I wanted that were waaay too much, so what's a book hunter to do...

Dan, have you read Goodspeed's autobiography "Yankee Bookseller" (Houghton Mifflin, 1937)? His slightly ponderous writing style makes for heavy going, but, that aside, the book is filled with great anecdotes of the Boston book scene. It has a few good photos of his Park Street location, I seem to recall. I notice that Commonwealth has some of the old Goodspeed's signs, the lucky bums.

Bleak House. Sigh. I mentioned in the comments yesterday or the day before that, yes indeed, the hotel we stayed at had every channel in the known universe EXCEPT PBS. I'm still fretting about it. I have a lead on a dvd I can borrow, however, so all is not lost!
Thanks for letting me know about Yankee Bookseller- I'll keep my eye out for it.

Does anyone know if there is any value in old Goodspeed catalogs? I have come into possession of over 100 old catalogs from the 1900s thru the 1930s. If you know of folks that collect these pass my email to them?

Mike Brouillette
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