Friday, March 31, 2006
Escape in books
"The five-minute warning bell had rung. I sat with my ankles on the railing reading a novel about the Second World War. I should have used the time to do my homework, but the appeal of Nazis, French girls, K rations, and sunlight slanting through the forest while men attempted to kill one another was too great. I read four or five hours every night at home, but it was never quite as sweet as in school, when even a snatch read as I climbed the stairs seemed to protect me from my surroundings with an efficacy that bordered on the magical. And if the story dealt with questions of life and death, so much the better. How could I be seriously worried about having nothing to hand in at Math when I was pinned in a shallow foxhole, under a mortar barrage, a dead man across my back and an hysterical young lieutenant weeping for his mother at my side? I could not resist the clarity of the world in books, the incredibly satisfying way in which life became weighty and accessible. Books were reality. I hadn't made up my mind about my own life, a vague, dreamy affair, amorphous and dimly perceived, without beginning or end."
And here's a shorter passage about Frank Conroy's desire to be a writer, I particularly loved this:
"I read very fast, uncritically, and without retention, seeking only to escape from my own life through the imaginative plunge into another.... The real world dissolved and I was free to drift in fantasy, living a thousand lives, each one more powerful, more accessible, and more real than my own. It was around this time that I first thought of becoming a writer. In a cheap novel the hero was asked his profession at a cocktail party. 'I'm a novelist,' he said, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, my God what a beautiful thing to be able to say."
I'll cut this off without quoting Rick Bragg, but I may go back and re-read him soon. I love reading memoirs of childhood, particularly memoirs in which the author escapes or triumphs, no matter what form that escape takes (often success, fame even, or simply self-sufficiency), and I'm so glad I finally read Stop-Time - it's been on my mind for years. Looking at the beginning of Fever Pitch, I can see that I'm in for another such book, in a way.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Back after a day off
The Conroy book is mentioned again and again in books about books and writing as one of the finest and most well-written memoirs of the 20th century. Perhaps that's why I never see used copies; people are keeping it, it's so good. The Hornby book is the only one of his I haven't read yet. I'd love to find a first edition some day, but good luck, I tell myself, because it's scarce and expensive. Why I am still buying books for myself I do not know. It's not like I have anywhere to put them, at this point. Speaking of which, this article (courtesy of Bookninja) addresses that very issue. Those books, they do tend to pile up, don't they?
In other news, I've finished my taxes and find that I operated at a loss this past year. I remain philosophical, even sanguine, about this point, because (among other reasons) during the past four years I've had a steady rate of growth and hence a healthy profit. I mentioned my poor year to my bookdealer pal yesterday and he snorted with laughter - "Profit!? Hahaha..." which sums up the used-stuff business pretty well.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Buckle my swash
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905). Wonderful, satisfying froth. My old paperback reprint is battered from being jammed into carry-on luggage and trip-to-the-beach bags.
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (1921). When I worked at a new-book store many years ago, I ordered a hardcover reprint for a local mathematics professor. When the book arrived, he picked it up, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Miss Faragher (he always called me that), I love this book, and I will always love this book, because it shows me that a person can always abandon a perfectly respectable career and become a PIRATE!" Arrr!
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (I think the first edition was published in 1926, I have a 1950s reprint). Her best? Perhaps someone will argue with me about that. My favorite, at least. The Masqueraders might be my second favorite. I read this for the first time about age 12, with many of her other romances. At the time, I also used to read Barbara Cartland (oh, the shame...), but thankfully no longer! Unlike other romance novelists, I've found Heyer to have staying power, largely due to her neat plots, humor, and very witty dialogue.
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett (1960s-1970s, but still available new in quality paper reprints from Vintage). A series of six novels, and if you take this on, dear readers, be prepared to be utterly consumed for several weeks. They are densely written and have a compelling urgency that kept me reading late into the night, again and again. My friend Sue told me to read them. Several times. Then she said that Lymond is her favorite fictional hero of all time. She had a fanatical light in her eye, and when I happened across the first few volumes at a library sale, I remembered that glint.
There are others, but I'll keep it at that for today. These are what I turn to for sheer escapism, after I've finished Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian and still want to dwell in a time and place other than present-day Maine. I am not particularly drawn to mysteries or fantasy/sci-fi, so this is where I go instead. Buckle my swash! Or as Daffy Duck would say, "Odds my bodkins..."
Saturday, March 25, 2006
I don't know what the above book was, by the way. It does have a very nice little gilt device on the front cover, with the initials "EPD Co" for E.P. Dutton, and an owl on a branch. 1930s, I'd say. Thanks, Bob!
Friday, March 24, 2006
"Rebel Bookseller" part two
"Use the Power Of The Weak. Right now you can specialize in looking poor and enthusiastic. Ready to humiliate yourself. People love that. They'll want to join right in. Get the neighborhood fanatical about you."
From experience, this works! Discriminating book buyers love weird little shops! His book is targeted at chain-bookstore employees who yearn for their own shops, but it looks to have useful information for any people of the bookish persuasion. I'm ordering a copy for immediate inclusion in my collection of books written by booksellers.
Booksellers who blog
"I knew nothing but the absolute joy of my stock; moted sunlight fading hardbacks in the window, of dumpbins of Leighton and Ludlum, of Wicked Willie, of Provence was what the punter saw; Delia bought our dinners, our gread and gutter (sic??) was the eighties bulge in print, retail expense accounts. But beneath the dust and filthy black fingernails, papercuts and invoice shortages, our shop soiled souls ached for literature."
I spent part of the late 80s working in a new-book store, and this sums up how I felt back then. It was all worth it, the drudgery, to be near good books. It still is, come to think of it.
The second via Bookfinder: the Bibliophile Bullpen. I like this post in particular, by guest blogger Andy Laties, about his book Rebel Bookseller: How to Improvise Your Own Indie Store and Beat Back the Chains (from Vox Pop, quoted here in part):
"As authors once had to fight to be paid for their writing, today independent booksellers and indie publishers are fighting to be paid for our own efforts. No chain-store systemized attack on indie stores--with hourly-wages for those would-be indie booksellers forced by default into chains' employment--can long endure. Wage slavery will lead to Rebellion; Masters of Capital, we'll see you in hell."
I have yet to get a copy of this book, but it's now officially on my internal and ever-growing want list. The Bullpen also has a good recent post on the ubiquitous usefulness of bone folders. Handy little things, for sure. Also, sometime soon I'll delve into their blogroll, which looks to have many links worth clicking.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
In non-book news, I can't believe that the Pats let Adam Vinatieri go (to the Colts, no less, arg!). Is nothing sacred? A rhetorical question, obviously, since next to nothing remains sacred in professional sports.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
No more whining allowed (or aloud, for that matter)
The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology tells us that the word whine comes from Old English: to utter a low somewhat shrill protracted sound (once the droning flight of an arrow); and from Old Norse: to whistle in the air. I like the British variant, whinge, a more pleasing word, somehow. No more whining, or whinging, I promise!
Happy first full day of spring, everyone.
Monday, March 20, 2006
There's noooothing gooooing oooooooon
I just finished The Art Spirit by painter and art teacher Robert Henri. He says this about reading:
"We read books. They make us think. It matters very little whether we agree with the books or not." (p.188)
I don't know if I agree with that last bit or not, I'll have to think about it. And then there's this:
"There are many kinds of study. Those whose study is of the real and rare kind get the habit. They can't throw it off. It's too good. They go on studying all their lives, and they have wonderful lives." (p.198)
And finally this:
"I have just laid down a book and the caress of my hand was for the man who wrote it, for the great human sympathy of the man and his revealing gift to me through the book. I have never seen the man, do not know his outside, but I am intimately acquainted with him." (p.113)
A lovely description of how books work, from author to reader. As I read, I keep a small running list of quotations I want to copy out of the book when I'm done reading a particular book - I note the page number and first word or two. This list doubles as a bookmark. Then once a week or so I go through all the books I've been reading and copy the quotations into my commonplace book/journal. I like being able to look back over the years and see what I was reading when, and what I copied out, what I thought was important enough at that time to take note of, literally. I can look back on things like this, my favorite passage in the Henri book:
"A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods." (p.49)
Books - as good as they ever were. I'm headed home for a quiet evening of reading.
Friday, March 17, 2006
A great way to spend MANY, MANY HOURS
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
A little bit of Jane Austen effusion
My usual modus operandi after seeing a good period film is this: the film is never long enough, I always want more, so I must go and find more. This is a roundabout way of saying that I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time yesterday. It had been a few years, and of course I know all the twists and turns of the plot, there are few surprises at this point, but the ending still has to be one of the most satisfying of any novel I know. It was wonderful to drop everything else I knew I should be doing, and just read all day, just lose myself in the world Austen so exquisitely recreated on paper. With this reading I was struck by the quickness of her dialogue and the wittiness of her main characters' conversation. It's still not quite enough, perhaps I'll seek out the BBC Pride and Prejudice this weekend.
Another good reason to subscribe
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Booksellers pray for rainy weekends
Author and used & rare book dealer Larry McMurtry's Oscar acceptance speech (co-writer of the screenplay adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx story that became the film Brokeback Mountain) thanked the booksellers of the world. I didn't see it because I only watched the first fifteen minutes of the Oscars and then got bored and went in the other room to read, but one of my sisters saw McMurtry's speech and said she felt a glow of pride for me and my kind ("That's my sister he's talking about!"). First bookseller to win a Golden Globe (for same) and first to win an Oscar, and what a fine writer he is, and champion of the book. Someday soon I want to visit McMurtry's bookshop in his hometown of Archer City, Texas. Anyone been there? I hear the half-million or so books are good, very very good.
After my David Foster Wallace reading jag I came across an article that referred to his style of writing as Hysterical Realism. DFW and Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen and sometimes Dave Eggers tell all at an often frantic written pace, and what a perfect and funny literary term for these wordy guys. And how refreshing to have a group of men be called hysterical, for a change. Then I read a wiki article that says that a literary critic first coined this term more than five years ago in a review of a Zadie Smith novel. Oh well. Why be gender-specific here (or anywhere). I'm years behind the times. I still like it. Maximalism!
Finally, this statement from the Authors Guild about the Google free-books-for-all project was mighty interesting, and it is worth reading for figuring out the distinctions in what Google is proposing (and is actually doing). I'm going to be watching with interest to see what happens with this; it could have far-reaching effects on both new and used book businesses. And here I am using Google's great free blog service, which I love, what's a girl to do.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The Loeb Classical Library and the TLS
"Every early edition of the Loeb Classical Library carried the sponsor's message, 'A word about its purpose and its scope', which attacked the turn-of-the-century rush for mechanical and social achievement and what was then the neglect of the humanities.
(Loeb) admired the way in which any Parisian could buy cheap copies of Latin and Greek texts, with a simple parallel translation into their language. He wanted English readers to have the same."
A great article on a great humanist publishing legacy. A few years ago I put together a decent collection of Loeb Classics for a good customer, and as I packed them up to ship them away to him, I had such a pang of regret about selling them. There are more out there, I know, I see at least a few in most used bookshops I visit. Still, I had them in my hands, and I let them go. Who wouldn't want an entire wall of Loebs, their distinctive red and green covers in tidy rows.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
The hard sell rears its ugly head again
More Signs of Spring
Other folks are dusting themselves off, too, however. I've also just had the first batch of people in who want try to sell their old books to a shop before they put them in their upcoming spring yard sale for a dime apiece. Most times, these books are not lovely. They are, in fact, ten-cent yard sale books. Once in a while, though...
Monday, March 06, 2006
Signs of Spring
Last weekend in Massachusetts we saw canada geese and a huge flock of fat robins, and I hope they've made it to Maine by now. I walk through a nearby park every morning on my way to the bookshop, and today I heard some songbirds, but I don't know what they were, other than happy to see the sun, like me. When will the migrating tourists return? Months from now, but that's ok, I don't like to be too busy at the shop. Well, I've got big business to attend to, such as vacuuming (oh, the romance and glamour of running your own shop...) and plant-watering, so I will wish everyone a happy Monday in the high 30s to low 40s. Find a sunny window in which to curl up and read, if you get a chance, that's all I have to say about books at the moment.
Friday, March 03, 2006
One more find from last weekend
I am assuming that the great jacket illustration is copyright-free, as there is no mention of the artist or source either on the jacket or in the book itself.
The author quotes John Bunyan on one of the preliminary pages:
"The Author's Apology for His Book"
"Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest Thou see a Truth within a Fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-year's day to the last of December?
Then read my Fancies, they will stick like Burrs,
And may be to the Helpless, Comforters."
And speaking of things rare and profitable, I heard recently from Scott, the editor at Fine Books & Collections magazine, and he thought my readers (all three of you) would enjoy this. For me, after shopping for good books for under (often way under, being a thrifty Yankee indeed) twenty bucks each, it was fun to read about the other end of the spectrum. I myself would have liked item #68 (the Philobiblon, I have two 20th century reprints, but not a first edition, of course). And I'd love to sit and flip through the letters of item #81 (Winslow Homer is one of my favorite painters). Mmm. Thanks, Scott!
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I'm settled in again...
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?