Friday, June 30, 2006
Books are moving, in more ways than one
No baby yet
I haven't been reading much lately - shocking, I know - but after Embers, a few Edith Wharton novels, The Great Gatsby, (re-read) and finally Tender is the Night, for the first time, I burned out on serious fiction. Wonderful but ultimately wrist-slitting fiction, I should say. I need a bit more joy. So I've been browsing in a few favorite art books, and delving into some poetry, specifically Kazantzakis's master work, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. Why? A friend recommended it as his favorite book. This is someone who reads, like I read, so I take his word seriously. And yes, it is worthy of his high praise. Here's a brief sample (p.37):
“O new-carved ship, you sang then like my warbling heart.
What joy to unfurl sail suddenly in the buffeting winds
and, scudding swiftly, shout farewell to your belovèd:
‘Much do I love and want you, dear, but let me first
mount on my plunging ship, pay out my billowing sails,
as with one hand I hold the tiller for open seas
and with the other wipe departure’s tears away.’”
I don't know if I'll be able to sit and read it straight through, it's simply immense, but with passages like this I will keep it in my backpack for the summer, and take it out whenever I'm sitting on a rocky outcropping by the sea, staring down the infinite.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
What a week
Monday, June 26, 2006
More from Robert Bell
In which he states, "Any gentleman, who believeth that the lining for the head is useful, necessary, or advantageous, may yet be supplied with abundance of Books, on terms as moderate, as what he pays for the covering of his feet." And again: "The Man, that doth not afford as much for mental Luminators, as he doth for tallow lights, condemns himself, to ignorance and darkness, which will always disable him, from perceiving the happiness of mental felicity." Ah, the dulcet sentences of the eighteenth century! Naturally, one should spend more on books than on shoes, or candles. At the bottom of the broadside (not pictured here), Bell offers bookish quotes of support, including this from the Marquis of Argyle: "Think no cost too much in purchasing Books." A man with his priorities in logical order! The broadside goes in the stack of items to frame and hang in the shop someday soon.
Booksellers haven't changed much...
The fine print concerning the auction reads: "Memorandum. Those who behold with their eyes, Sentimental entertainment, going off reasonable, and do not improve this very great chance of purchasing the Books by the assistance of the Magical Mallet, will probably wish in vain for such another opportunity." In other words, you should have bought it when you saw it, magical mallet or not. Some of the books in the list look pretty good - works of drama, poetry, religion, history, including books by Milton, Hume, Lord Chesterfield, and Aesop. The most interesting titles to me are the "World Turned Upside Down, with 34 cuts (woodcuts) - the most moral, as well as the most laughable Work ever published, for the Instruction of Children" and a "Military Dictionary with General Wolfe's Instructions to Officers." And how about "Doctor Jones on Gun-shot Wounds and Fractures." I'd like to have those now. More later from the verso of the broadside, in which our enthusiastic bookseller attempts to use logic to convince people to purchase self-improving materials such as these.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Greetings from Maine
Monday, June 19, 2006
Back from the bookfair
Now, about the bookfair: a success, overall - I made back my expenses four times over, so I came away with a decent profit, and the weather turned out hot but not unbearable. My recent grumpiness was unjustified, and I had a great time talking with dealers and customers I only see once or a few times a year. Lots of folks were wearing books-and-reading theme clothing. So, best t-shirt seen at the fair: a teenage kid with an independent bookstore t-shirt that said "Keep Austin Weird" on the back. Ryan talked to the kid and found out that Austin, Texas recently had a campaign to support local small bookstores and this was their shirt, but the great part of it was that the kid's name was also Austin. And his grandparents live in Austin, so they sent him the shirt. Second best t-shirt was another keep-big-box-bookstores-out-of-our-town promotion, and the shirt said "Books Without Borders" - ha! Love it!
I'm settling back in at the shop - this morning I got all the unsold books unpacked and reshelved, packed the folding bookcases away in my storage closet, broke down all the cardboard boxes, put all my supplies away, went to the bank, and I've even sold a few nice books today. My bookish friend Vicky was in, she bought (among other books) a softcover of Perrin's A Reader's Delight, and a young man just came in asking for a copy of the Qur'an, and he bought a boxed hardcover version I had in stock, while saying, "This is great - you should be able to spend twenty dollars for something you believe in." That's right, you should.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Packing for the bookfair
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Bookfair time in Maine
Monday, June 12, 2006
After attending a book sale...
"Sooner or later, generally sooner, the student of Latin angrily discovers that Latin involves learning one hell of a lot of grammar. Traditional responses to this lamentation have tended to range from 'If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen' to 'What if your face froze like that?'" (p.106-107)
What is this? A Latin textbook with a sense of humor? This, THIS is the book I've needed to read, all these years I tell myself as the book lands in the "keep" pile. Now, part of me knows, really knows, that I will never read this book. But in case I need it, I will have it at the ready.
This stands a greater chance of being read cover to cover: Edmund Wilson's The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 1950-1965 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1965). Again, about to price and shelve, I flip through and notice a chapter entitled "My Fifty Years with Dictionaries and Grammars" the first sentence of which reads "I have always been greedy for words." (p.598) Oh dear. I am doomed, and I know it, for I am a word nut. I have a few Shorter Oxford dictionaries (from various decades) at my elbow, next to some books by lexicographer Eric Partridge, and two etymological dictionaries, and I'm constantly relaxing my brain by doing crossword puzzles or playing Scrabble, when I require words in a non-book format. So Edmund Wilson's essays will have to come home with me, eventually.
Then there's a rumpled little first edition of Aldous Huxley's, an early book of short stories entitled Limbo (Doran 1920), which would be worth a first edition-y kind of price if not for its shabbiness, but I find a story within, "The Bookshop." It describes the encounter between a man and the proprietor of an antiquarian shop, and near its end, the man buys a book and the proprietor says this about their transaction:
"'I tell you,' he said, 'I'm sorry to part with it. I get attached to my books, you know; but they always have to go.'" (p.267)
No, they don't. At least not during my lifetime.
I've got work to do today, and I haven't even mentioned the A.L. Rowse book with the long description of his visit to Max Gate (Thomas Hardy's cottage), or MacGregor Jenkins's book Puttering Round, from 1920, about the deep pleasures of doing a whole lot of nothing much out in your garden, or the fat M.F.K. Fisher anthology with the funny Clifton Fadiman introduction, and all the others. Next time, perhaps.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The fine art of naming a bookshop
Twice-Sold Tales, in Farmington, Maine. Great shop name, combining literate recycling imagery and an appropriately bookish pun on the Nathaniel Hawthorne title.
Stone Soup Books, in Camden Maine. Two rooms crammed floor to ceiling with books. Referencing the old folk tale about starting with nothing, but when everyone in the community adds one thing each, a soup is created that feeds all. A great metaphor for a local bookshop.
Commonwealth Books, Boston, Massachusetts. Massachusetts is of course a commonwealth itself, but again I love the metaphor the compound word sets up, common-wealth: what is valued in a community, the life of the mind that is shared and available to all.
Acres of Books, Long Beach, California. I hope to visit someday. A million books, in an art deco warehouse. Ray Bradbury shops there - click the link for his article "I Sing the Bookstore Eclectic." A family-owned business since 1934. The name says it all, doesn't it? Acres. Of. Books. Shiver.
And perhaps my favorite of all time:
The American Dust Company, New York. No link, because I can't find any information online about these folks, except for this amusing catalogue review. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?
Who am I missing? From of the thousands of used bookshops around the globe, what are your favorite names, dear readers? I'm looking for a combination of cleverness and an obvious touch of bibliomania on the part of the proprietor.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The gilded age sure was depressing
"Her solitary studies and the atmosphere of the library so wrought upon her growing mind that in time books became to her the realities of life, and human beings merely the shadows.... (Her father) a book-worm of the worst type, a book-worm with a speciality, unconsciously encouraged this strange obsession. The library was his world, and the books his best-loved children." (p.5)
Her book quickly becomes a woman's version of George Gissing's New Grub Street (1891): an inside look at the shabby world of hack writers in London during the 1890s. A good story, but boy, it was depressing as hell. I wonder how much of it was autobiographical. I don't know why I thought Edith Wharton would cheer me up after that, but I did in fact read The Age of Innocence (1920) last week, and right now I'm in the middle of The House of Mirth (1905). I don't think Wharton lets anyone be happy in any of her books. I think, for example, that she must have gotten some sort of bitter satisfaction out of not letting her aged hero have one last look at his lost love at the end of The Age of Innocence, and I know what happens at the end of The House of Mirth, so I don't particularly want to finish the book at this point. I don't have to have a happy ending in every book I read, but I will admit to liking a hint, just a morsel somewhere, a crumb, of HOPE. Not much hope, but in The House of Mirth I am at least able to marvel at the relentlessness of the web that closes around Lily Bart. Each event in the book comes with two choices for the heroine to make, and Wharton has Lily choose badly, even catastrophically, every time, chapter after chapter. Wharton's plots are like hard diamonds: faceted, sharp, cold, rare. For my next book, I'll find something warmer.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
A book sale AND an author sighting
It was pouring buckets of rain, or, as I seem to recall Pa saying in Little House on the Prairie (the book of course, not the tv series), "It was raining axe-heads and hammer-handles." The sale was forty-five minutes away in a small coastal town, and I didn't want to go. I wanted to sleep in, go out to breakfast at Nicky's Diner, my favorite local greasy spoon, and open up the shop early (mercenary used bookshop owners such as myself dearly love rainy Saturdays). So in the car I was a wee bit - what - well, let's be kind and say recalcitrant. We got to the sale forty minutes early, sat in the car watching the rain ease up, and spent the last five minutes waiting under the drip of the overhang by the library back entrance. When the sale opened we headed in and I immediately found a few Virginia Woolf hardcovers, including a first edition of A Writer's Diary, which I've always wanted to read. Then I found a pile of A.L. Rowse hardcovers. Then, when I was kneeling by the poetry and music sections, I looked over and saw a guy in very nice hipster-doofus glasses browsing next to me. He was in profile, but looked very familiar, and I did a double-take and realized it was Jonathan Lethem. So I kept looking at the books in front of me, but I had to say something, so I leaned over and said quietly, "I don't want to bother you while you're shopping, but I just have to tell you how much I love your writing." He smiled and said thanks, and then I stupidly blurted out just what I did to Augusten Burroughs last month, "I have a used bookshop. If you're ever in Bangor, stop in..." as my face flushed red. Doh. We exchanged a few sentences about bookshops, and I said "Nice to meet you." I took my stack of books over to the corner where Ryan and I were creating a small second bookshop, apparently, and discreetly pointed him out to Ryan. Then I said, "Thanks for waking me up this morning. YOU WERE RIGHT."
I've been bookhunting with Ryan for around twelve years now, and yet I still forget that he has a sixth sense about when we should go to a sale or visit a certain bookshop. When I take his advice, something amazing always turns up, or happens. This time, it was finding some lovely books, and meeting one of my literary heroes. All in one morning, when I could have stayed in bed. We bought four large cartons of books for $140. And I ended up opening the shop only an hour late. The moral of the story: Get up, get up, slugabeds! There's a whole world out there! Anything can happen today!