Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Another trip account

I'm back, and my trip was almost, almost, book-free, if you can believe it. However, as we were driving through New Hampshire to Vermont on Route 2 on Saturday, Ryan spotted a library sale, so we pulled over and took a look. I ended up buying one box and a bag of books, and we missed the dollar-a-bag opportunity by fifteen minutes. I'd already cased the joint and picked out what I wanted, and then they told us that everything we'd picked up already wouldn't count - it was 11:45 and the dollar-a-bag started at noon. There was one other person in the room. But, such is life. I really can't complain, because the books were only one dollar for hardcovers and fifty cents for paperbacks. I spent around twenty-five dollars and got some very good books, the best of which is a scholarly bibliography of the maps and atlases of Westchester County (New York). I've had this book before and seem to remember selling it for around eighty bucks. Also, I picked up two Andrew Wyeth art books (he's a part-time Mainer), a few poetry books, an early children's book illustrated by Kate Greenaway, and a bunch of good general stock. The library itself was worth a visit, apart from the book sale. The main entrance is a booklover's fever-dream - oak shelving, panels, and columns everywhere, window seats under curved bay windows, two curving oak staircases heading downstairs, a few fireplaces thrown in for good measure. The Weeks Memorial Library, named after a local senator/town bigwig.

I had plans to visit a few bookshops in the Burlington area, but never made it, between marathon busyness and visiting with my aunt and uncle, both of whom I adore. My aunt's favorite bookshop in town is The Crow Bookshop. It sure looks good, and she says the prices are reasonable. Next time, perhaps.

The marathon report: Ryan ran around 3:41, due to the extreme heat and humidity. He took it easy after mile sixteen when he knew he wasn't going to be able to sustain his race pace much longer - he's a smart runner who didn't want to join the many folks who ended up in the hospital that day due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, and was proud to finish his first warm-weather marathon. We were cheering him on - between miles two and three the marathon route goes right by my aunt and uncle's house, so we all stood on the front steps with tea, coffee, and warm croissants (for us - he was eating Gu carbohydrate gel - blech!) to cheer him on and take pictures. Then we met him at the finish, on the waterfront. It was mobbed, seven thousand runners overall and thousands more family members and friends milling around. Free Ben and Jerry's for the runners, a Vermont tradition apparently. We scooped Ryan up and took him home to recover. He ran an easy four miles last night, and feels pretty good.

More Vermont news: it was my uncle's birthday on Monday, so we got up early and took him to breakfast out at the Seward-Vanderbilt-Webb estate and inn, Shelburne Farms. The food was mostly organic and local, and more importantly, very tasty, and afterwards I spent some time in the library examining the family book collection. The leatherbound sets! Shelf after gleaming shelf of them, it was intoxicating... I spotted a few wonderful early travel books too, and it was good to see old standards mixed in, of literature, reference, history, all obviously much-read. We lounged around for a while, drove around the 1700-acre grounds to see the barns, which are truly out of this world. Barn seems too short and small a word for these buildings - there should be some other word, really. Some French word indicating a certain chateau-ness. Next we took a tour of my uncle's lab (he's an astrophysicist who runs his own small company - he makes holograms, and his workplace is the ultimate Rube Goldberg set-up: cement blocks and duct tape, lasers, five-foot pieces of film, you name it). Very cool. Then home to Maine later that day.

I'm back in the shop getting caught up, and yesterday I received an email from an antiquarian bookseller in The Netherlands who is interested in trading a few booksellers' tickets with me, if I have any duplicates (and I do have a few, common to New England). He told me a bit about his collection, which contains roughly - are you ready for this - 17,500 tickets. He's been collecting for twenty years. I am paralyzed with jealousy. I will recover at some point, possibly not today. But soon, especially since things like this keep turning up with happy regularity:

A huge ticket/label from a bookseller, binder, and stationery store in Portland, Maine, it measures a whopping 4 x 6 inches and has lots of bookish detail, including a bookpress in the lower left corner, atop a huge ledger, etc., and a few muses and swags of fruit and flowers for good measure. I like seeing the storefront in the center, too. On my next trip to Portland I'm going to take a look at 53 Exchange street and see how much it's changed since Victorian times. Not much, I'm guessing - that area of Portland is now called The Old Port, largely renovated, chi-chi shops and such, but most of the original buildings remain intact. But back to the label: it was a gift from a bookseller pal who knows I watch for such items, and is affixed in a small leatherbound journal, blank except for a few quotations from Milton and Macaulay, and a short digression on the difference between Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns, all handwritten out in beautiful copperplate. Old stuff is endlessly fascinating, isn't it?

More soon, I've read a few good books this week.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I'm headed out... Vermont for the long weekend. Before I go, some news from the day: I just sent off an email response to Mark, a future used bookshop owner trapped in the body of a software engineer, about the sad fact that most people who work with used books don't actually make much money doing so. This is, I realize, a blanket generalization, but unless you operate on a large scale, or are one of the antiquarian top dogs, it's true. But, however, the good news is that we people who work with books all day are generally so happy doing so that we don't really care about not making much money. To wit: my friend Sue emailed me this delicious morsel from a history of Brentano's bookshop that she dug up online, and I love so much that I pass it on here:

"His investment in Brentano's, Griffis said, had brought him fun rather than cash. 'I would spend sleepless nights of horror if I heard that any customer of Brentano's felt that we had made a profit on his purchase,' he wrote. 'We are in trade only for dignity, atmosphere and service.' And to make this point even more emphatic, he added, 'I am happy to have had the experience of high hopes and failure in the retail bookselling business.'"

Are most bookshops noble failures? I don't know for sure, but I suspect so, especially in the wake of recent news stories about Cody's closing. Anyway, noble failure or not, I advised Mark to go for it - to open his own bookshop. Damn the torpedoes! Sometimes you just have to jump in and do what you want, even though it may not pay in the traditional (capitalist) sense of the word. In a roundabout way this idea is related to something I just read in George Howe Colt's book The Big House (Scribner 2004). The book is the biography of his family's summer home on Cape Cod, and contains his own struggle to come to terms with the necessity of selling the house because no one in the family can afford the upkeep and taxes. I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled "Money" in which the author examines his WASPy programming around money issues and says this about working: "I was terrified of being penniless, and yet I felt there was something shameful about having money. For many years I found ways to avoid it." (p.138) The whole book is a long meditation on loving something despite the fact that it is a white elephant. It might be a stretch to compare this to a behemoth bookshop, or even my small one, but coming as I do from a family with various WASP antecedents I can identify with many of the issues he raises. I don't think I'm being noble by being if not poor at least not well-off, in my profession of choice. I love buying and selling, the give and take of it, the exchange of cash for books and vice versa. If I ever feel guilty about taking people's money, I tell them, "Don't worry, I'm just going to go buy more books." Anyway. To those of you who want your own bookshops (I know you're out there, because you keep emailing me for advice, which I dearly love to give), do it, it's so very satisfying.

As is the George Howe Colt book, by the way. He's Anne Fadiman's husband (for fans of her book Ex Libris), and she makes cameo appearances throughout The Big House. About two-thirds of the way through there's a wonderful long description of the family's books left in the house, and it's both an elegy and a paean, just wonderful. On that note, I've got to run, have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The way of the world

Not the Congreve play, just a comment on how the world works, some days: last weekend we paid off our intrepid little Saturn, the bookmobile, finally. And today, the guys at the garage nodded their heads sadly and told us that we need a new head gasket, starter, plus various other bits and pieces which add up to way too much, so of course it might be better in the long run to get a new car. Debt-free for almost a week, it was very sweet... Unfortunately, perhaps not a natural state in this day and age.

Happier and perhaps more interesting news: yesterday afternoon a personable gentleman came in and announced he was the son of Bernard DeVoto and did I have any of his books. I didn't, although he did find reference to his father in a great little Wallace Stegner book I had on writing and writers, so he didn't leave empty-handed. He was personable and charming - we chatted as I wrote up a sales slip for him and I asked if his father had gotten along with historian and literary critic Van Wyck Brooks, an author I quite like (my Reader's Encyclopedia only tells me tantalizingly that DeVoto opposed Brooks's views, which could have meant anthing, but then, why would Benet have bothered to mention it at all if it didn't mean something). Well. His son gave me the link to his own site, on which he has a telling letter posted from his father to Brooks, which is well worth reading, if anyone is so inclined. It contains a remarkable combination of tact, offense, defense, intellect, kindliness, and rebuff. It makes me want to read his books. And I still like Brooks. And books, I've had some good customers today... This is also the way of the world, fortunately.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Catching up

I've had a busy few days at the shop, full of bookish conversations and even sales - I finally have all the books from last week's library sale out on the shelves (except the stack I inevitably want to take home and read), and I've even sold some of them already. Highlights from the sales slips this past week at Sarah's Books: Lattimore's Iliad, a Shel Silverstein book, a fine stack of cookery books to my pal Nick, another good pile to Bob, who buys books on civil rights and censorship issues, then Adam bought art books (on Pop Art, Jasper Johns, and a book on the art and archaeology of Mesopotamia), I also sold Steinbeck's A Russian Journal, a collection of Hemingway's short stories, Woolf's To the Lighthouse, a Penguin Thucydides, a few Paul Theroux travel books, a biography of conservationist Aldo Leopold, a biography of Sitting Bull, Flannery O'Connor's Complete Stories, the list goes on and on. Business always picks up this time of year, with the approaching Memorial Day weekend marking the early start of the tourist season here in Maine (the official start is really the Fourth of July, but smart folks come in June, a season of much beauty and few crowds at the coast).

Besides being busy at the shop, I've been galavanting about doing other things. Last night I went to the Willie Nelson concert here in town at our local auditorium. Over thirty songs in about two and a half hours - the best, what really moved me, were Night Life, a very bluesy Me and Bobby McGee, a trio of Hank Williams songs: Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin', and Move It On Over (one of my favorite Hank songs ever), a Merle Haggard tribute, Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty, and the Cindy Walker song You Don't Know Me. He had a gigantic Texas flag unfurled at the back of the stage, and flung various cowboy hats and bandanas out to the crowd periodically, and was generally looking pretty happy. I read somewhere recently that people ask Willie when he's going to retire, and he says all he does is play music and play golf, and which do they want him to give up? Ryan and I talked to a pal of ours from the Bangor Daily News who told us that Willie had given over $13,000 worth of tickets to the troop greeters (a group of local folks who meet incoming military flights at Bangor International Airport, which is a common first landing site for soldiers coming back to the U.S. after tours of duty). The concert was great for people-watching - the crowd was made up of everyone from sweet little old couples holding hands to young hippie-dippie kids with dreadlocks to middle-aged bikers with their country-attired girlfriends with cowboy hats and long fringe flying. Everybody had a good time, me included, and I'm glad I got to see a real American patriot and legend.

In other news, the opening for the group art show I am part of (see post below) happened last weekend. The place was packed, and amidst the copious pouring of wine and eating of lobster-based finger foods one of my paintings sold, to a collector of Maine art. My first sale ever in a gallery... it was both exciting and encouraging. I was happy to even be in the show, which is made up of work from a group of artists I met last summer at an art retreat, the first I'd ever been to. The show felt like an extension of that experience, and I got to visit with some of the people I hadn't seen since last summer, so all in all, a great time.

Meanwhile, the week careens on - Ryan and my brother-in-law are running the Vermont City Marathon this weekend in Burlington, so I'm getting ready for our trip, and of course thinking about possible bookshops to visit en route. Never forget: it's all about the books.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


A bit of overheard book gossip

Ryan and I got a bite to eat at the local pub last night, The Whig and Courier, and the people at the table next to us were talking loudly about The DaVinci Code, both film and book. One guy said he was listening to the audio version "...because every time I start to read a book I fall asleep." Heh. I looked across the table at Ryan and tried to keep a straight face. I thought back to my day off on Thursday, which I spent glued to several books, for hours, and at one point on Wednesday night I was actually trembling because I almost couldn't bear to finish the book I was reading, it was so good. It was not The DaVinci Code. Oh all right, I'll tell you - Embers by Sándor Márai. I picked up a copy at the library sale last weekend, and had to read it when I read the London Times blurb inside: "A classic. Magnificent. A spellbinding piece of narration driven by intense passion." Now that's a blurb! And my lord it was true I could not put the book down. The tension builds throughout the book slowly and inexorably, relentlessly, toward the conclusion. The book reminds me of Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Proust, but distilled, better. I'm still thinking about it, and I may re-read it right away to see how it's put together, how the author created that sense of tension, now that I know how it ends.

So books do indeed keep me awake! Another bit of book gossip I forgot to mention from last weekend - as we were waiting for the library sale to open, we were lounging around on the massive granite front steps, and saw a bit of good graffiti scraped into the base of the antique-style light fixture: "Reading is f***ed up" (with a little heavenward-pointing arrow instead of the word "up") and right next to it someone else had scratched something along the lines of "Educate yourself," with another arrow pointing to the first graffito. Gave me a chuckle.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Bookshop zeal

I read the Jason Epstein book last night, Book Business (see post below), and it is both damning and hopeful. He was an editor at Doubleday and Random House, and co-founded The New York Review of Books, and The Library of America series of classics, and he sums up concisely what the problems of the publishing industry and the retail book industry are. The book was published in 2001, but it doesn't feel dated, despite the surge in internet publishing and blogging and the like. Epstein reminds us that people who work with books do so, and for the most part have always done so, because of the love of books, reading, authors, the editorial process, etc., and not for money. Conglomerates made the mistake of thinking that publishing houses were capable of making serious money. They are not, really, because the product they produce is not just another product, hence predictions about sales or lack thereof rarely pan out. Publishing is a business of tiny margins (no pun intended). Anyway, read the book for the rest of the story. There are facts and figures, and inside dishing, which may not interest the casual reader, but I ate it up. And many times, Epstein really shines, as here:

"My ambition was evangelical. I wanted to share with the world the literary euphoria I had enjoyed at Columbia College. In those days I thought of myself as a missionary. In fact, I was only a book publisher; however, the vocations differed only in the contents of their respective scriptures." (p.67)

He points to, most hopefully, a future involving actual bookstores, no matter what else comes down the pike:

"...a civilization without retail booksellers is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader. But to compete with the World Wide Web, bookstores of the future will be different from the mass-oriented superstores that now dominate the retail marketplace. Tomorrow's stores will have to be what the Web cannot be: tangible, intimate, and local..." (p.38)

I think there will always be, in each upcoming generation, certain people who want to spend (most of!) the days of their lives surrounded by books, and who are willing to trade (most of!) the shiny trappings of an affluent soctiety for what really brings them happiness. Here's one now: a recent commenter on this blog, who has started her own, and who obviously has the book-zeal we're talking about here. I'll be watching with interest and best wishes!

Monday, May 15, 2006


Booksale etiquette revisited

At the booksale, by the way, I saw a person hunkered in the corner with a stack of books, and she was calling in ISBN numbers on her cell phone. I'd heard about this, and someone commented with irritation about this phenomenon on this blog a few months back, but I'd never seen it myself. So I walked by to take a closer look, and I saw her putting books I assumed were discards in a pile behind her. Of course I spotted one I really wanted to read, Jason Epstein's Book Business: Publishing, Past, Present, and Future (Norton 2001), so I lingered, and when her connection cut out, I said, "Excuse me, are those your discards? There's a book I'd really like to have..." and she said, "Take it! I'm not going to buy it." So I walked away with a benign, even friendly attitude towards her. She didn't have a mountain of books, just a box or two. It's strange how this business is evolving - I wonder where it's going to end up. I hope I'm still around to find out, with my little bricks-and-mortar shop.


Another good library booksale comes and goes

The annual Bangor Public Library sale is a peculiar exercise in restraint for this particular booklover. The Friends of the Library have their opening preview on Friday evening, before the main Saturday sale, and if you pay your five dollars to join the Friends, as I do, you can go to the preview and purchase ten books. Ten. Books. This year, the public donated double the amount of books to the Friends, so the sale was quite large, and the Friends upped the number of books per person to fifteen. It felt like Christmas morning. Ryan made it to the sale after a long work day, so that means we could buy thirty books total. In the past, for this sale, I've actually paid friends to come and purchase books for me (I of course pay their Friends dues too), but this year I couldn't get it together to call people, and frankly I wasn't sure I was even going to go up until the penultimate hour, due to the sorry state of my checkbook. But, the thought of all those unknown books so nearby, only two blocks away... the night before I woke up sometime after midnight and thought What if I found ten Oxford Companions? Or ten leatherbound beauties? I should go, I should go... then I fell back asleep. The siren song of the booksale. So I went, and bought our thirty books. No leatherbounds, no Oxford Companions, but a few fine poetry and literature first editions, and a few books I love to sell and sell again, if I'm lucky enough to find them. And then, succumbing to my usual and natural state of literary gluttony, I went back to the sale on Saturday morning and bought another two hundred and twenty-five books for general shop stock. If the bookshop was a bar, I'd be under it. I've never really liked the term bookaholic; it's a little too close to the bone, isn't it.

I spent much of the weekend dealing with the new raft of books, but managed to spend a good chunk of time basking in the spring sun. Ryan and I took a picnic and our Scrabble board outside yesterday afternoon (after calling our mothers, of course). I bingoed with oration and Ry bingoed with loiterer. Good game, and a much-needed afternoon doing nothing. Today, back to the stacks!

Friday, May 12, 2006


What booksellers do on their days off

Whenever we have days off, we shop for more books, of course. Thursday is usually my weekday off, and yesterday I took a few paintings down to the gallery in Blue Hill - the group show I mentioned earlier opens at the end of next week. I was feeling a little low afterwards, like I had dropped my kids off at daycare for the first time (I don't have kids, but let's just say I am a little too attached to art objects of my own making), so I immediately sought comfort, which came in the form of a bookshop around the corner from the gallery. Blue Hill Books is a small independent new-book store, and if I ever were to have or work in another new store, this would be what I would want. Good, fat, full literature and poetry sections, current events and essays, lots of small press books, lots of classics, classy sidelines, staff picks right up front, comfy chairs, handsome and literate men wearing interesting glasses working behind the counter. Walking in, I sighed and relaxed again. I love being surrounded by books and it immediately calms me down. I don't buy too many books new, for obvious reasons, but I like to support the good bookstores in my area, to the extent that my wallet allows. I consider it akin to buying local organic produce. I browsed for half an hour, maybe an hour, I wasn't in a hurry to be anywhere, so I took my time. I wanted some Frank O'Hara poetry, but they didn't have anything, so instead I ended up with a book I've been eyeing elsewhere for two months, longingly, covetously, even: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall (Universe 2006). There's nothing quite like walking out of a good bookstore with a book that weighs more than a really dense, huge loaf of Russian black bread or a smallish cement block, perhaps, one that you've been looking forward to reading for weeks. The book, that is. Not the cement block, or the bread. That sentence got a bit convoluted. Onward! Book in hand, I came home after a visit to the town beach in Lamoine, and some errands in nearby Ellsworth. I made it through the first 250 pages of the book last night, and it looks dangerous in the extreme - its mission, should I choose to accept it, is to coerce me into reading the 1001 books so lovingly and persuasively described in its little capsules. Should I say that the main reason I wanted the book was its great illustrations? Oops, I just did. I love lots of pictures of book covers and authors, and books that contain those things get me every time. That said, I'm enjoying both reading and looking at the great pictures, and am not feeling any pressure to chase after all the book's recommendations. It's more of a lifetime reading project, I think.

Besides feeling a bit bereft after leaving the gallery, I just have to mention how crushed I was feeling yesterday, for another reason, namely that my man, Chris, got booted from American Idol the night before. I've been addicted to American Idol this spring, it's the only tv show I regularly watch, actually - I swear that I really am reading, other nights of the week, and usually reading on Idol nights too. Ryan has to yell to me from two rooms away that the show is on and I'm going to miss the beginning. Anyway. I watch American Idol, I'll say it again. There it is. And the amazingly talented and intense Chris - Chris! - got the axe. Shocking and disappointing! He was my pick to win the whole shebang! I was just sick about it, so I didn't feel I could not mention it here. The thing I hate most about reality shows (even as I watch): they lift people temporarily out of obscurity and (often) poverty, and show them the luxe life, then they are dropped back into their old lives, most of them. After having had a brief a taste of the other. I can't even imagine the level of disappointment they must feel. So, I hope some record companies step up and offer Chris some fat recording contracts. I don't want him to have to go back to his old life. And I want to hear his voice on the radio soon.

That's the news from here - it's a quiet, almost customerless day, but I sold a lot of good books early in the week, so it's good to have a quiet day today. I've got a few chores to do, balancing checkbooks and such, then I'm going to play a little Scrabble against my computer. And the local library has its Friends of the Library sale tonight and tomorrow, so I'm in a happy state of anticipation about that. It's a rough life, I know.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Particular editions of particular books

Even though my brain tells me that the words are what really matter, I get hooked anyway by specific editions of certain books - I'm still taking another look at some of my favorite books from kid-dom, and my current copy of The Secret Garden (of which I would have a picture here, if Blogger would kindly upload it for me - I've been trying on and off all afternoon to no avail) is a replacement I bought myself a few years ago to supplement the actual copy I had at age ten. I still have my old copy, but it is almost unreadable. The spine is completely gone, the first twelve or fourteen pages are missing and have been as long as I can remember, and the signatures are slowly coming unsewn. I can see threads unraveling. Not good. It was almost shocking to get the new (to me) book in the mail and see it as a complete and entire book once again. I read the first section, which I hadn't in, well, sometime since the pages went missing, and I was also shocked at how harsh the beginning of the book is - Mary's parents die of cholera and she's abandoned, no one likes her, and for good reason - she's quite hateful, has no manners or skills, and yet by the end of the book we love her. There are umpteen other versions of The Secret Garden, many books and a few films, but this is mine, the buckram green cover with the ivy and keyhole, and the naturalistic and pleasingly loose illustrations by Nora S. Unwin, Lippincott, 1949. This was the copy I was lucky enough to be imprinted with as a child, and while I can appreciate the Tasha Tudor-illustrated version, or the lovely Godine version from the 1980s (Graham Rust illustrations), I won't be reading those any time soon. I don't know why I get attached to a particular versions of books, but I do - for reasons sentimental, nostalgic, ephemeral, personal, that's what books are. My books. How I love them. This happens again and again. I suppose that's how I ended up with a few thousand around the house, and a few more thousand at the shop.

A bit of shop news: a man was in yesterday looking for a graduation gift for a once-homeless boy that he and his wife sponsored through college. He told me that this boy didn't go to high school, and yet here he is about to graduate from college. He was looking for something timeless, and went with a large hardcover copy of The Odyssey, Pope's translation, with illustrations by Flaxman. It's hard to beat Homer. I hope this turns into one of his particuar favorite editions.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Books for children (and grownups)

I spent time with my gloriously pregnant younger sister over the weekend, part of which was devoted to a large baby shower for her and her husband and friends and extended family. Of course (while I couldn't resist getting a few pieces of clothing that rated off the chart on The Scale of Ridiculously Cute Things), I gave books. I'm starting them out with a stack of board books by Sandra Boynton - I figure if she and her husband are going to have to read something several thousand times over the next two or three years, it may as well be funny, short, and have a good rhyme scheme. I will ease them into the classics and our family favorites a bit later.

Then this morning before work I walked over to the post office to buy some stamps, and ended up with the children's book animal stamps, one of which features Garth Williams's Wilbur from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. So all this has me thinking about what children's books really stuck with me from my own childhood. My older sister has a daughter, and I've loved being the book auntie - she is ten and we have long phone conversations about what she's been reading. I made sure she encountered Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert McCloskey, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Herge's Tintin, etc., and it seems to have worked, she is a total book nut. It helps that both of my sisters are readers, of course.

My own favorites I still have on a shelf at home, and they include The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, with Heath Robinson's illustrations, The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, He Went With Marco Polo by Louise Andrews Kent, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey, and one of my very favorites, Howard Pyle's The Wonder Clock. His beautiful illustrations haunt me to this day. My other absolute favorite (I can't pick just one, obviously) is Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester (see image above), with its tiny mouse-note, No more twist. My least favorite children's book is also by Beatrix Potter, oddly enough. I was discussing it with a few new friends in the shop last week, who were widely read in children's literature, and they said I was not alone in my choice of The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. The image it contains of Tom Kitten being rolled up in dough by the rats in has horrified me my whole life. It’s one of the few children’s books I regret reading. But I digress. Back to book-love: I also read and re-read books by Lois Lenski, Rumer Godden, Holling Clancy Holling, C.S. Lewis, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

A great reference for learning more about children's authors and illustrators is editor Anita Silvey's fat doorstop of a book Children's Books and Their Creators (Houghton, Mifflin 1995). It contains alphabetical entries on writers and artists, as well as general information on broad themes in children's literature, and copious quotes from the authors and artists themselves. Now that you know some of mine, dear readers, what were your favorites?

Friday, May 05, 2006


Bookish notes via email

I received this from my friend Vicky yesterday, she's been reading Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and found this (she knew I would like it, being as I am a fan of Wimsey, books, and lobster):

"Books, you know, Charles, are like lobster-shells. We surround ourselves with 'em and then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidences of our earlier stages of development..."

And my friend Sue sent this, from a gardening magazine she's reading (no author noted):

"If of thy earthly goods
Thou art bereft
And from thy slender store
Two loaves to thee are left,
Sell one and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul."

It feels like summer outside today, and there's a little vacant lot next door that the city owns and has turned into a small garden, so I've been wandering out there on and off all morning, watching the tulips open (no hyacinths), and thinking about what to read next. It's not like I don't have, shall we say, multiple options.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


New reading

I picked up this book some time back, from another local used bookshop (I can't stay out of them, it's terrible): The Kingdom of Books by William Dana Orcutt (Little, Brown 1927). The first sentence reads: "All my life I have been seeking a Baedeker to the Kingdom of Books." Apparently he set out to write his own, when others were found unworthy. I hope the rest of the book is as good as his first line. It looks like a fine addition to the books-about-books section:

It's got many pretty pictures, too, but you'll just have to go find your own copies, dear readers, to find out what they are. My worn desk copy of The Reader's Encyclopedia tells me that Orcutt was a book designer as well as an author. He designed the Humanistic and Laurentian typefaces. I had to cut open the back pages to get at the colophon, which says that he supervised all aspects of the book's production. A hands-on author, nice.


Another slow week

Customer-wise, that is. Spring is an odd retail season, at least around here. If the weather is decent, everyone is starved for the outdoors and leaves town for the coast, or works on their yards, and no one spends any time (or money) in bookshops. Rainy days are another matter. Of course, on the really fine days, I'm often outside too... Here's a photo from last fall, a particularly glorious stretch of sunny days during which I packed up, hung my closed-due-to-good-weather sign on the shop door, and spent some time hiking and painting on an island in Penobscot Bay:

If there is a heaven on earth, this is close to it. I could set up a little tent in the shadow of these spruce trees and live there for the rest of my life. The only practical problem: Where to put my books? I love painting outside and do it when I can - the photo shows a little two-panel painting, oil on canvas, that I'd worked on for two hours or so.

I've been painting on and off for the past few days (hence no blogging) - when no one, really, no one, comes in at all I often work on paintings at the shop, during business hours. I work from photos and sketches, if I can't get outside myself. I'm taking a few new paintings to a gallery on the coast next week, for inclusion in a group show which opens in late May and runs through the end of June. I hope some of my local friends can make it! The painting of mine on the gallery site is one of the two or three canvases I'll have in the show (I am trying to overlook the spelling of my name under the image - trying, I tell you - with my last name, I've seen much worse). This will be my first time showing work in a commercial gallery - after college I had a few shows here and there, at restaurants and such, but I hated the marketing aspect of it all, so I got into selling books for a business instead, and continued to make art for pleasure (love, not money - the story of my life, thus far). Now that time has passed and I've had an especially prolific painting year, I'm thinking of trying it out again. I've got to fund my book habit somehow.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I'm reading a lot of poetry... that National Poetry Month has officially ended. Coincidence? Irony? No, it's just what I feel like reading. And listening to - I bought Mary Oliver's new (and only) cd over the weekend, At Blackwater Pond (Beacon Press 2006), and my lord is it beautiful. I'd never heard her voice before, and the way she pronounces the "t" at the end of the word "light" really gets me. Precise and strong yet careful and humble at the same time. A few of my favorite poems are included in the collection: "The Swan" and "The Summer Day" and the title poem. In the short opening essay, Oliver writes:

"When I step onto a stage to read poems, the anticipation and even the hope of the audience is palpable. The people sitting quietly in the chairs - they have not come to rest, but to be awakened. They have come for some worthwhile news."

That's what good poetry, her poetry, is, worthwhile news. The goods. She is like Robert Frost and Wendell Berry and Thoreau rolled into one, yet is still entirely herself. Listening to the cd has led me back to the poetry shelf at home, where I have a Mary Oliver section. She sits next to Pablo Neruda, Kathleen Raine, Jimmy Schuyler, Carl Sandburg, Whitman, Keats. I've also been re-reading Raymond Carver's book Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (Vintage 1986). I get something newsworthy from him every time I read him, too, something that makes my skin prickle. This is from the poem "Elk Camp" (p.88, about how to shoot an elk, among many other things):

"'Look at it this way,' my friend said.
'How far would you run with a piece
of lead in your heart?' That depends,
my friend, that depends...."

I turn to poetry for a direct spiritual infusion, when prose is just too much of a muchness. And I'm glad there is a national poetry month, although I read it all year.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Customers and life mottoes

My customers are amazing, and always surprising. In his memoir of life in bookish Paris, Time Was Soft There, which I have mentioned here before, author Jeremy Mercer says this about helping customers in the antiquarian book room at Shakespeare and Company: “It was akin to hosting a running talk show with a never-ending series of eccentric guests…” Ah, yes. April was one of the strangest and most interesting months I've ever had at the shop, in terms of shall I say quirky customers. Last week, for example, I had two people loudly proclaim their creeds to me, the words they have lived by. Both gentlemen were sixty- or seventy-ish. The first is a freelance journalist, and said this, at the top of his lungs:

"I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth." From author Frank Norris. This is also the customer who said he'd propose marriage to me if I could find the books he wants (they are scarce, I gather).

The second said this, more quietly, but just as intensely:

"The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures." From the The Globe and Mail newspaper of Toronto, motto of the editorial page, originally from Junius. This same customer, whom I love dearly, also said, later in our conversation, "Women and booze come and go, but BOOKS ARE FOREVER!" He's been married four times, and his second wife made him sell his library. He has since accumulated a second library. I told him I'd be writing this down and putting it on my blog.

I have a life motto. A few, actually. The first is printed on my business cards and shop receipts, and it comes from the French actress Sarah Bernhardt's stationery: "Quand Même," roughly translated as "Despite All." I was named after the Divine Sarah, and her initials are SB like Sarah's Books, so it all fits nicely. The motto has an inherent bravery that I love; I think its essence includes triumph and living well and being happy no matter who you are or where you started from. My second life motto came to me via a Salada teabag fortune in college: "Most people don't recognize opportunity because it comes disguised as hard work." I still have this tucked into the edge of the bulletin board in my painting studio. Customers ask all the time how I managed to wind up with my own bookshop and, among other things, I tell them I worked for it. Hard. But look at the rewards!

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