Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Booksellers' back rooms

Today I've been rootling around in my back room, the place I store books destined for home (since I can't fit more books on my shelves at home, they accumulate here instead, in towers and windrows), books destined for the Goodwill, books I am hoarding for the next bookfair, books I don't know what to do with, books awaiting further research, book catalogues, book shipping supplies, and at least one of everything else. I have to walk through this area to get to my washroom, so every few weeks when things have piled up to the point that I can no longer walk to the washroom without serious contortion or fear of knocking over a pile of books, I have to clean it out. Trash, empty boxes to break down into flat pieces of shipping cardboard, books to somehow find a place for at home, some general neatening, and I'm fine for another few weeks, or at least until I buy another batch of books and it fills back up.

Whenever I clean out, I inevitably come across books I'd forgotten I bought. It's like buying them all over again, but even better because of course I haven't had to spend the money twice! The find of the day, bought last spring in Massachusetts, and sitting in a pile since then: The London Bookshop: Being Part Two of a Pictorial Record of the Antiquarian Book Trade: Portraits & Premises by Richard Brown and Stanley Brett (Private Libraries Association 1977). It consists primarily of black and white photographs of booksellers and their natural habitats. Here, for example, is one of the back rooms at Maggs Brothers Ltd at their old Berkeley Square building:
The other photos of the shop proper are much more orderly, but this one reflected to me the soul of the shop, and the soul of most shops - no matter how tidy and polished the sales floor is, there must be a room like this behind it, because this is the gentle chaos of the used book world.

When I rediscovered this terrific book, I immediately sat down and re-read it, which brought further cleaning to a halt, and then I remembered that when I bought it (at Titcomb's on Cape Cod) I intended to find a copy of volume one, which was published a few years prior to this one. Which I then did - the internet is so good for finding the specific object, is it not, much as we love to browse in actual shops. I can't wait to see volume one, if it's as good as volume two I'll be happy. Volume two has sections on Francis Edwards Ltd, Frank Hollings, E. Joseph, Maggs, Marks & Co (of 84, Charing Cross Road fame), Henry Southeran Ltd, Henry Southeran Ltd, Harold T. Storey, and Thomas Thorp. Each section contains a brief history of the firm (a few paragraphs at most) then five or so photos of the owners and/or establishment, with plenty of views of rooms positively bulging with old books. Which we love, don't we - if we can't go back in time to look at the books themselves, a book about old bookshops is hard to beat.

I wonder what else is back there...?

Speaking of re-discovery, this being Pynchon Day in the launch world of New Titles, did you sell a fine first edition in fine jacket of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon ?

That was a cut 'n' paste from one of your August posts. The url came up in a blog search just now. (BTW, navigating from your archives to the homepage was not intuitive -- you are on Beta-Blogger, right? Did they miss something there?)
Yes, I did recently sell a lovely fine copy of The Crying of Lot 49. Crisp jacket, book and jacket very fine, almost as new. The kind of book I love to buy and sell - when I can find something that good, that is.

I just switched to the new beta blogger (blogger is making everyone switch over to the new version) but I don't know the details. Computers are mostly non-intuitive, where I am concerned! I like those little oblong papery things so much better.
Good going, that you sold a lovely copy of vintage Pynchon, and pre-Vineland at that. I hope the buyer treasures it. For a reading copy, there are more out there than I would imagine, at least in paper.

My first edition paper, a mere Good (thanks to a tiny closed tear, etc) would fetch about US $18 if anybody were buying in a buyers' market.

When even thinking paper for Barth, Vonnegut, Pynchon . . the notion always pops up that very few copies survived campus life, moving, living out of boxes; you know '60s existences. I get a chuckle looking at the lack of books as 'clean' as the one you brokered there. I'd call that Pynchon you sold 'squeaky clean' in this context.
Hi Cy, thanks for commenting. Yes, this copy was very fine - the person I bought it from had owned it since a friend sent it to him in its year of publication. His friend was a reviewer, and had been sent this copy as a review copy (though it didn't have a review slip to subtantiate this).

Best way to keep good books fresh and in collectible condition - place them upright on a bookshelf in a dimly lit room, and leave them there for decades. Of course they must be shown some love occasionally, too...
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