Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Road trip report

Well, I'm back in the shop and am slowly getting caught up with phone messages, email, snail mail, and finally, this here blog. Some brief highlights from my weekend in Massachusetts: my fleet-of-foot husband ran like the wind (3:09:26) despite the freezing cold, and qualified for the Boston Marathon, so we'll be heading south again in April; I found mightily good books at three of the four bookshops I wanted to visit; and I saw many flocks of geese headed north, so spring can't be far behind them. Over the next few days I'll be posting some of my favorite book finds of the trip. Here is the first one:

Clarion Press, London 1901. It's a small fat book, pleasingly chunky being one of my favorite formats, and the gilt lettering and design on the cover is so very nice. $25 at Brattle Book Shop. I hope it's as good to read as it is to look at. At first glance Mr. Blatchford's prose looks a mite purple.

I bought two bags of books at Brattle, two bigger bags at Titcomb's, and just one lonely book at Commonwealth (although there were many more I wanted). The Hyannis bookshop I went to last year is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I think that today the proprietors must surely be wiping my nose prints off the plate glass window in the front of the shop. I stood up close and gazed at all the books I couldn't get my hands on. How frustrating. The good news is that this means I didn't spend the rent money, tomorrow being the first of the month and all.

Off to work, I'll post more about my trip tomorrow.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Champion of small presses

One of our fine local papers has a good story this week about Bill Henderson, who is about to receive the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle. Henderson is the founder of The Pushcart Press. He lives part-time in Sedgwick, Maine, and runs the tiny Pushcart Bookshop there in the summer. I haven't been there yet, but I hope to visit this summer. I hear good things about it from both customers and bookish friends.


Look out, Massachusetts...

...here I come. My husband is running the Hyannis Marathon on Sunday, and I'm coming along as support staff/carbohydrate gel dispenser/gym bag holder/photograph taker/all-around running fan. This is his second marathon, and his race goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. At his first marathon (in 2005) he missed qualifying by a mere three minutes, and he's been training hard since then, so barring trouble, fingers crossed, he should be fine.

What does this have to do with books, you say? Well, of course we are going to visit several used bookshops both before and after the marathon. I can't remember the name of the shop on Main Street in Hyannis, but I visited a year ago and it was pretty good, so we'll go back. I'm also hoping to stop at Titcomb's in East Sandwich, and, in Boston on the way home, Brattle, and Commonwealth Books. I won't be back in the shop until Tuesday, so have a great weekend everyone, and think of me anonymously wandering the stacks of used bookshops other than mine, greedily eyeing good books left and right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


A wee beastie

Here's a little colophon beastie from a book set in the Granjon typeface; the colophon states that Robert Granjon began his career as a type-cutter in 1523, and that he was one of the first to practice the trade of type-founder apart from that of printer. Between 1557 and 1562 Granjon printed around twenty books in types designed by himself. He lived and worked in Paris, Lyons, Antwerp, and Rome, where he worked both for the Medici and the Vatican presses. The Granjon typeface was designed in homage to him by George W. Jones (in the 20th century), and is based on the classic letterforms of Garamond.

All this information and more, and the beastie, appear in the colophon for the novel Corn in Egypt by Warwick Deeping (Knopf, 1942), and I happened across it because I was nosing around in the back of the book while checking for a bookseller's ticket. I enjoy reading colophon information, I always learn something, and once in a while come across something as good as this.

The word colophon comes from the Greek for summit or finishing stroke, and I tend to regard a colophon as the pleasing and appropriate end to any good book. Colophons started out as a way to place in the book all the information that is now found on the title page or copyright page, but the tradition has held over among many presses, if not just for a note about the typeface. I think we are all the better for it, as readers.

I've got an entire book on European printers' marks and devices. I'll have to bring it in to the shop so I can add a few more to this blog; many are quite elaborate and very beautiful. Marks were printers' ways to show their uniqueness and talent, and hopefully make their books memorable to customers and patrons. One of the most famous printer's marks is that of Aldus Manutius: the anchor and dolphin. I never did get a tattoo during my punk phase as a teenager and twentysomething, but if I had, this would have been it.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Monday tidbits

It's taking all of my self-control today to not run to the bookshop shelf where the abridged Bleak House is sitting and skim through it at top speed to find out who shot Mr. Tulkinghorn. It's killing me, I tell you. My husband and I talked about it after the episode ended last night, and we've come up with seven very good possibilities (best bet: one of the characters you'd least expect it to be). So much motive, all over the place. The suspense! I know who I want the murderer to be...

So, the antidote until the final episode next week: distraction. I went book-shopping yesterday and found a few new-to-me books to read (also bought a big stack for the shop). And, thanks to Paul Collins and his fine blog (which was the one that made me want to start my own blog, by the way), I now know that the British sit-com Black Books is finally available in the USA. I've only ever seen one episode - which a friend taped for me off BBC America last spring, and it was just great, although I wanted more bookshop-humor. For those who don't know, the show revolves around the hapless, drunken Bernard Black and his used bookshop. I'm ordering it today.

More distraction: I listened to an interview online with David Foster Wallace. He talks at one point about how he's changed as a writer as he's grown older, and how he is now less willing to hurt other people's feelings by default by writing nonfiction social commentary. This is in response to a caller's comments about the essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." (which he says parts of make him wince now) vs. his recent writing. Good stuff. I read his book of short stories Oblivion (Little, Brown 2004) over the weekend, and in this interview he reads selections from two different stories in this collection. People either hate or love his linguistic gymnastics. I love, because there's real meaning in there, he's not just being clever for the sake of cleverness. His structures enforce prolonged concentration, which for this reader is an optimal state of being. Recommended.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


David Foster Wallace is soooo good

I've put Samuel Pepys down after a scant two evenings of reading (what is happening with that I do not know; I have the very best of intentions), and picked up Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown 2005). It's been sitting on my "me next" pile for two months. Boy howdy, it's good. I skimmed the first essay, largely because of the subject matter. Call me old-fashioned, I know it's out there, but it's just not what I want to read about. But the essays on John McCain, American usage, 9-11, and the title essay about the Maine Lobster Festival are nothing short of fantastic. I'd read several of the book's essays in their original magazine-article-forms, and it was a pleasure to revisit them in this new collection. I've read two recent blog accounts by folks attending readings given by David Foster Wallace: the first at Return of the Reluctant and the second at Counterbalance. Wish I'd been able to be there too. Most of the time I thank my lucky stars that I live in Maine, but living on the edge of the north country does mean I routinely miss great events such as this.

His essays and stories (I still haven't read his novel Infinite Jest) are written the way I think people actually think - about many subjects, all at once, fast and furious, with tangents, asides, digressions, moments of great despair right next to moments of elation, and the red warning light of the b-s detector flashing on and off in response to appropriate stimuli. Every time I read a book by someone roughly my own age, and the book is stupendous, I thank god that the spirit of my generation wasn't totally crushed by materialism, money, greed, advertising, television, politics, contemporary culture, call it what you will. There are still great writers who care about the same things that humans have always cared about: humor, honor, duty, humility, intelligence, love.

My favorite David Foster Wallace book is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Little, Brown 1997). I'm a big fan of nonfiction written by fiction-writers, which I may have mentioned in previous posts. Anyway, the title essay describes in funny and excrutiating detail his paid vacation on a behemoth cruise ship. The crux of his argument is that everything that promises happiness on a trip such as this actually induces despair - the reverse of what one is led to expect from the lovely brochure. A tidy summation of materialism.

Speaking of which, I've got a shop to run. It's been a slow week, but I've sold a few good books here and there (by Melville, Poe, Hamsun), which keeps my spirit warm, in cold cold February.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Book towns

I think Bangor would be an ideal location for a book town. We've got a great old brick downtown with oodles of character and relatively cheap rental space, a few good eateries within walking distance, the primary campus of the University of Maine just a few miles away, Acadia National Park less than an hour away, and an international airport. Oh, and the world's best-selling author lives here for a good part of the year. I keep encouraging bookish friends to set up shop near me, but no one's taken me up on it, yet. My little shop is a few doors down from a much larger antiquarian bookshop, then across the street is a children's bookstore (new books, games, and toys) and a comics/graphic novels shop. At the end of our block is a fine independent bookstore (new and some used books mixed in), and around the corner a new age/spiritual bookshop is moving in as we speak. We are all only two blocks from the library. There is a big chain bookstore out in our mall-sprawl area, and the fellow who manages it once was a used bookshop owner himself, and is a very good poet. Bangor is a very bookish town, with a lot to offer, if any other aspiring booksellers want to join us. All we need now is a literary festival (and someone to organize such a thing, someone other than me, because I'm too busy reading), and perhaps a castle, and we can be the next Hay-on-Wye. Who doesn't want to go there? The books, the books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


"'Omnia uincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.'"

From Virgil's Eclogues, translated thusly by David Ferry: "'Love conquers all, and all must yield to love.'"

I've returned to Samuel Pepys, after a long hiatus, and am particularly taken with how Valentines were treated in his day. Apparently names were drawn among friends, and the name one drew became one's Valentine for the coming year, a person on whom to bestow small gifts of affection (gloves, lace, an embrace) from time to time. Pepys wasn't always pleased with his Valentines, either, but graciously bowed to tradition in public, only to vent about it in his diary. A man after my own heart.

Speaking of hearts, here is yet another book from the shelves of my book-room at home:

The author, Carolyn Wells, was well-known for her poetry and satire, and this lovely little book dates from 1912 (Stokes Company). The endpapers are maps for this imaginary travel guide through the land of love; place names include Elysian Fields, Fools Paradise, the River Lethe, Twolip Court, the Hearticultural Gardens, the Course of True Love, Primrose Path, Great Joy Street, and, of course, Lover's Lane. Illustrations (including the fine cover) by A.D. Blashfield.

Advice for the traveler entering Arcady, at the Custom House:

"Hearts... are dutiable articles, and should be declared as such.

Worn on the sleeve, they are easily examined by the Inspector, though a dishonest smuggler has sometimes gone ashore with his heart in his boots.

Hearts are appraised by weight, so heavy hearts should be avoided and light hearts should be carried whenever possible.

Broken hearts are not dutiable, unless they have been repaired and are quite as good as new.

Stolen hearts may be confiscated by the Customs Inspectors and returned to their original owners. Stony hearts are exempt.

Passions should always be declared." (pp.24-26)

Monday, February 13, 2006


Post-blizzard clean-up, and weekend reading

The snow mostly missed Bangor. We had only a few inches to scrape around this morning, for which I am grateful. I spent yesterday inside reading and working on various projects, while my darling husband managed to get a good long run in before the flakes started to fly (sixteen miles, god love him). We've gotten used to not having anything on the ground for the past month, so he's been running outside almost all winter. I miss snowshoeing in Acadia National Park, which was wonderful last winter, but I'm not crushed that I haven't been able to go this year.

I finished The Education of Henry Adams yesterday, which I'd been ingesting great swaths of all week. I will treasure this book always for the inside look it gives at the world of nineteenth-century politics, a subject I knew next to nothing about, which I found fascinating from this close-up vantage point. Adams makes it come alive, and holds nothing back when offering his opinions about the corruption and disintegration that inevitably follows money and power.

"...private secretaries (himself) never feel candid, however much they feel the reverse, and therefore they must affect candor; not always a simple act when one is exasperated, furious, bitter, and choking with tears over the blunders and incapacity of one's Government. If one sheds tears, they must be shed on one's pillow." (p.130, about the early Union disasters during the Civil War)

"'You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!'" (p.261, an aide to the president tells Adams this)

"Senators can never be approached with safety, but a Senator who has a very superior wife and several superior children who feel no deference for Senators as such, may be approached at times with relative impunity while they keep him under restraint." (p.354, about his friend Senator Cabot Lodge)

The book is extremely introspective, and Adams spends several chapters ruminating on his theories of the development of humanity and the universal energies that sweep us up, over the centuries. These chapters are dense thickets of reading, with some very strange twists and turns. I found myself at sea several times, but I also found nuggets of gold such as this:

"...since Bacon and Newton, English thought had gone on impatiently protesting that no one must try to know the unknowable at the same time that every one went on thinking about it." (p.451)

I'm not sure where to turn next. I tend to feel bereft after finishing a long, engrossing book such as this. I accumulated new books to read from the book sale Friday night, but none of them will do. I suspect I'll have to take a break and perhaps read a little poetry. And tonight the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to town, so I'll be seeing that instead of my usual two or three hours of evening reading. Banff is great, so if it comes to your town, dear readers, put the books down, get out of the house and go. The only time I've missed it in the past seven years was the one time I neglected to get tickets early and it was sold out. Don't let this happen to you!

Friday, February 10, 2006


Pros and cons of a small town

Bangor, Maine is by some standards a small town, yet most folks from the outlying villages and hamlets refer to it as "the big city" (albeit with a tinge of derision). Yet one of the things about Bangor I like best is its small-town feel. My bookshop is in the center of the old downtown area, on the second floor of a brick building built in 1911. I took a break today, put a note on the door, and went to the bank (deposit), the library (return OVERDUE library books and PAY SMALL FINE), and the post office (mail one personal package and two shop packages and an insurance bill) and I was back in no time flat - ten minutes tops. I walked - well, jogged, actually because it's five degrees with a cold breeze from the north - but still. It's great to have everything handy.

I'm closing early today for yet another cabin fever booksale. This one's in Ellsworth, half an hour away, and starts at 4:00. I've only had three people in the shop today, so I'm not too worried about all the business I'm going to miss.

I don't know why I ever think that I can check books out of the library and then actually return them. They come into my book room at home and some strange lock-down occurs and they are suddenly mine for life. The fine was only one dollar, for two books, but I fall for this again and again. Dear oh dear. At least I'm not as bad as a friend of mine who keeps his library books long, long, LONG overdue, and finally a posse of the good librarians comes to his door to ask for the books back. Oh, the shame.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Speaking of the hard sell

I mentioned in my last post that I hate the hard sell. Well, visiting Bookninja just now brought me this charming tale: BMW and Random House have joined up to produce short stories featuring certain BMW models. The stories are meant to be listened to while driving said models. "The audio books take a traditional creative process and twist it into a unique offer for a forward-thinking audience," says BMW UK Marketing Communications Director Richard Hudson. As a second-hand bookshop owner, "a forward-thinking audience" is the last thing I want (or want to be). I'm backward-thinking: Dickens, Twain, Austen, Keats, Homer, how far back is far enough? I guess the whole concept isn't much worse than featuring products in films. It just turns my stomach in a new way, and makes my eyes go all narrow and squinty. Are the stories any good, I wonder? Can they be? Am I out of step here? No, no I'm not.

I'm trying to come up with any traditional books that do this (rather than audio), and the only thing I can think of is a great antiquarian children's book my friend Sue showed me recently, from her collection, in which each story features a popular household cleaner doing its necessary work. It's actually very droll, we were chuckling over it, but it's not trying to be literature, just straight propaganda. Also, perhaps the short story collection printed on pink paper called Mondo Barbie. But in that, Barbie is treated as a cultural icon that we all are imprinted with in some way, and the stories were not collected or written to sell more Barbie dolls. Intent is everything, I guess. This is looking sadly like a rant, so I'll call it a day.


One more steamship dust jacket

A few people have emailed in that they like the last two jackets, so here's another from my collection. This is not a scarce or valuable book by any means, but just look at this cover:

I read a book recently about the sinking of the Lusitania, and seeing this jacket illustration again afterwards sent chills up my spine. It's a short novel published by Harcourt, Brace in 1931, about an ocean liner disaster in the Atlantic, and is based on the real-life mysterious sinking of the S.S. Vestris. James Gould Cozzens won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his novel Guard of Honor (another book I haven't read - there are just so many).

Gary from North Carolina tells me that yesterday's mystery author Constance Butler was indeed a real person, she has a listing in an author's Who's Who he's seen. One mystery cleared up, thanks!

These books are not for sale at my shop, by the way (sorry, folks, but thanks for asking). This blog is not for promotion, advertising, or the hard sell in any shape or form. I hate the hard sell, and I am not a chaser of the dollar, above and beyond what it takes to keep my shop open and the bills paid up, so the blog will remain solely about books, reading, book-love, collecting, and keeping shop. Or whatever I feel like, but I really will try to stay on all topics bookish.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Another steamship dust jacket

This novel from Houghton Mifflin (1935) has a great jacket and a great premise. The front flap of the jacket reads in part: "In the lovely Illyrian littoral on the Mediterranean, the bright lights of the literary world were converging for the annual congress of the P.M.S. (Pen is Mightier than the Sword) Clubs, of which peace was to be the by-product.... a fast-moving narrative that the sophisticated reader will be quick to appreciate." Now, not only does the plot center around a group of writers at a literary conference, but the back flap has an ad for a book entitled Impersonation of a Lady. If I was the curious type, this might lead me to believe that this book was a roman a clef written under a psuedonym. I've had the book for a long time and can find out next to nothing about the author. Then again, the writing itself is so very bad, that this may have been her only novel. I found a citation for another book with the same author, but can't tell if it's fiction or fact. Hmm.

By the way, the jacket flap tells us that the cover illustration is by Pruett Carter. Thanks, Pruett, I love it, all these years later.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Too busy to blog at length...

...but here is a great dust jacket cover design from a Horace Liveright book from 1936,by Sutton Vane: Outward Bound, a three-act play originally performed in 1923. A death-ship story. One of my favorite steamship covers of all time.

I hope everyone's weekend was fine? On Saturday I bought three more cartons and two bags of books for stock at another library sale, this one in Blue Hill, Maine. Spent $85. Highlights include hardcovers by David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson, etc., and two copies of 84, Charing Cross Road (one paperback and one hardcover), plus a book on the history of the bagpipes. I also found seven new booksellers' tickets in nondescript 1930s and 1940s novels. They were worth the dollar each I had to pay! And also for me: Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading (editor Steven Gilbar, Godine 1995), which I will take home this evening. Too busy, more soon...

Friday, February 03, 2006


A rationale for blogging?

I started reading The Education of Henry Adams last night. He writes:

"Although every one cannot be a Gargantua-Napoleon-Bismarck and walk off with the great bells of Notre Dame, every one must bear his (and her) own universe, and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their neighbors have managed to carry theirs."

(pp.4-5, Houghton Mifflin 1918, I've added the words in italics)

This seems to me to encapsulate why writers write, and why readers read, both books and now blogs. Our internal worlds are huge and varied (and we are the stars, the main attractions), and not usually shared with others. Books offer a chance to move through someone else's universe. Blogs do too, in miniature.


A look back at the week's sales slips...

...yields hope and encouragement all around. Some of my favorites:

- The Grammar of Colloquial Tibetan - a Dover reprint; someone's learning Tibetan!
- The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (lovely illustrations by Kay Nielsen)
- Life in Renaissance France
- The Golden Bough (abridged) by James Frazer
- Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (this was on the shelf for less than a day before it sold)
- Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White
- Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- The Haunted Tea Cosy by Edward Gorey (this book features one of my favorite character names ever: "Edmund Gravel, The Recluse of Lower Spigot")
- Gods of the Egyptians
- Bartlett's Quotations
- The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
- It's a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray
- Sidetracks by Richard Holmes
- The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
- Diaries of a Young Poet by Rilke
- Thurber Country
- Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- A Dictionary of Existentialism
- The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases

Not bad, not bad at all, a fine mix of the modern and classic, fiction and nonfiction, the weird and the wonderful. Thanks particularly to Ben, Todd, Monica, Marc, and other people whose names I don't know. How happy I am to be one of your book providers.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Winter projects

Every winter I take on some big project that consumes many of the long dark months. I wish this year it had been starting to learn Latin, which has been on my mind for a while, but it wasn't. Of course, it's been writing, this winter, both in this blog and on paper. So I read in translation. I was reading Virgil's Eclogues (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999, translated by David Ferry) last night, and came across this, on writing:

"When I began to write, my Muse did not
Disdain to play Sicilian games nor did
She blush to live in the woods, and when I thought
Of singing of kings and battles, the god Apollo
Tweaked my ear and said to me, 'A shepherd
Should feed fat sheep and sing a slender song.'"

A very early phrasing of the "write what you know" tenet. And how lovely...


Book collecting obsessions

I've heard a lot of people say over the years that you can't be both a book dealer and a collector. To these folks, I say HA. I've also known a lot of dealers who were only interested in books as money-making objects. Ha HA. Many customers ask me how I can "stand to part with these great books" as they pay at my check-out desk. I hesitate to tell them that I can stand it perfectly well because I have much better books at home. Now, I don't want to give the impression that I hog all the great books for myself, because I don't. I only hog all the great books in the fields and subjects that I am personally fascinated with. Subtle difference.

Ian's recent post "On the virtues of owning books..." has got me thinking about why I collect. The simplest answer possible: joy. I don't think that cognition enters into it that much. And I'm certainly not out to impress anyone, because no one ever sees my collection except my family and the very very very occasional visitor at home, but that is a mighty rare occurence. I see so many people at the shop, that home, and my book-room in particular, is my fortress of solitude. If I really stop and ponder my collection, I have very few concrete answers (at least that I'd be willing to share with others, I should say) about why I have accumulated books on the British Raj, particularly the massacre at Cawnpore, as well as books about hoboes, books about tramp freighter travel, books on very long walks, memoirs of members of the British Royal Navy, of course books about books, and many other topics. I'm interested to hear from others on this: what odd and often unexplainable subjects are you drawn to collect?

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