Friday, June 30, 2006


Books are moving, in more ways than one

I've been following the recent news stories about The Tattered Cover in Denver and its huge move. I particularly like this short piece from Harry Smith at CBS News (minus the typo - not to be a snoot, but let's play Find the Errant Apostrophe for a moment) - it really says it all. Tattered Cover customers: get right over there and buy some books, as soon as you can!


No baby yet

Like a library book, date due: today. My sister has not delivered. Or been delivered. She works in central Maine but has many colleagues in this area who know that I am her sister (we look like twins, almost), so strangers on the street are asking me, daily, "She have that baby yet?" Every time the phone rings I wonder if this is The Call. I am distracting myself by stretching and gessoing many canvases, a time-consuming project, but one which I love because it allows me to feel very artistic, hardworking, and virtuous, without actually expending any creative energy. A neat trick.

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

All I want to do is paint, write in my journal, and blog, and these pesky customers keep interrupting me. To buy books, of all things. One would almost think I was attempting to run a business here! But kidding aside - it's been a wild week: a few new paintings made before and during shop hours, they just won't wait for any spare time I might have, then a visit from one of my oldest friends, who I hadn't seen in about fifteen years, and which sent me toes over teakettle, and my phone ringing off the hook because my entire family is on baby-watch as my younger sister's due date rapidly approaches. I dearly love being an aunt (the book aunt, naturally, to my older sister's daughter, and to Ryan's brother's two girls) and am looking forward to another addition to the family! Or should I say edition. Ha. But what with one thing and another, I haven't been paying much attention to business. This hasn't stopped people from coming in, however, thank goodness. In fact, my receipts tell me that the summer season has officially started. Every year I forget that people actually want to buy nice things when they are on vacation. They have disposable income. And so they buy expensive books about Frank Lloyd Wright, early John Updike first editions, and such, without batting an eye. It's quite bracing, really.

Monday, June 26, 2006


More from Robert Bell

The folder this facsimile broadside comes in states that our bookseller and auctioneer was a bit of a card, known for his drollery, and "he was noted for cajolling his audience into paying high prices" for his books. A contemporary stated that "many, going to his auction for the merriment, would buy a book from good humor." Not all fun and games, however - Bell also was a publisher, and published Thomas Paine's Common Sense for the first time, in 1776. However, about Bell's coercion tactics. Who could argue with this:

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...

...since colonial and federal times, apparently, when it comes to offering their wares for sale. I was rootling around in my storage area out in back and came across something I forgot that I owned (always a happy circumstance, and one that happens with alarming regularity): a facsimile of an eighteenth-century bookseller's broadside. The original is in the Library of Congress, which produced the facsimile, and it dates from around 1778, although the bookseller in question, Robert Bell, came to the colonies around 1766. The entire broadside won't fit on my scanner, so I offer a piece of it instead:

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

This cloth book cover looks like it could be a wish-you-were-here antique postcard. The book is a fictional account of a trip to the Grenfell mission in Labrador (Scribner 1914). I of course like the cover art, so I post it here as a greeting to my bookish friends, wherever you may be:

Monday, June 19, 2006


Back from the bookfair

Here is a large picture of a tiny book that I bought for my collection yesterday at the Portland bookfair. I didn't buy much - a few books for Ryan, a few for resale at the shop, and a few for my own self. I am not a miniature collector per se, but this little Italian-English dictionary measures just one and a quarter inches by one and three quarters inches. And it has a bookseller's ticket from Naples pasted on the front. And it cost only four dollars, so it came home with me. The title page informs us that it is part of the Vocabolario Lilliput, printed in Leipzig, no date, but looks to be circa 1900. It's a nice little dictionary and traveler's phrase book, with handy sentences such as: A che ora si pranza alla tavola rotunda? (At what o'clock do you have your table d'hôte? - I don't know about you, but this is a question I am constantly asking). The book is fine, but really, it was all about the bookseller's ticket. I'll leave it on the book, instead of removing it for my album, and place it in a little shadow box near my desk alongside favorite bits of wooden and metal type, another miniature book, and a few bookish odds and ends.

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

Well, I'm almost ready to go tomorrow. I've packed twenty cartons of fair to middling books, and am assembling supplies - handtruck, folding bookcases, tablecloths, bookends, change, calculator, sales slips and business cards, bags, pens and pencils, and decorative odds and ends for my booth. We pack up tonight and leave in the morning. And, oh joy, the weather is supposed to be thus: hot and humid, approaching 90 degrees and there's no air conditioning in the Expo building where the fair is held. This does not bode well for business - handling rare books and ephemera when your palms are sweaty is not the pleasurable experience it usually is under cooler circumstances. Plus the sticky weather makes setting up and breaking down a booth quite hot and bothersome. All this makes me deeply grumpy, particularly since it's been rainy and cool here in Maine for weeks now. I wish the rain could have held out for one... more... weekend... Anyway, I hope I will make back my expenses, plus some extra. And I hope all the booklovers aren't at the beach for the first sunny weekend of summer. Portland is on the ocean, so perhaps the fog will come in and cool things down a bit - the good old Gulf of Maine is like a refrigerator. I'll be back on Monday.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Bookfair time in Maine

I'm beginning to pack for the annual Maine antiquarian bookfair, officially known as The Portland Book, Print, & Paper Show, this weekend. Usually every winter I find some wonderful rare books somewhere, either at library sales or on housecalls, and I squirrel them away for the bookfair, but this year I haven't found anything really spectacular. So I'm sorting out my storage area in the back of the shop - hunting for sleepers and anything even remotely interesting that I've forgotten about - then on Friday I will ransack the shop and pull fifteen or twenty cartons of my better antiquarian books off the shelves. I usually do very well at this show, I think this is my seventh year? Or eighth? Anyway, it's worthwhile, and it's become a tradition for us. I enjoy seeing other booksellers and customers who never make it as far north as Bangor. I used to be nervous as hell about doing a show, but I'm more relaxed about it now. Since I've found that I absolutely LOVE being in a big room with a bunch of other real booklovers. We're all there because we love, desire, covet, buy, sell, read, admire, any verb you care to name, really, BOOKS. If the fair is a good one, meaning both dealers and customers are happy because there are good books to sell and buy, there's an almost audible happy fizz in the air (admittedly, the air is also full of dust motes from all the old paper). I have booklovers in all the time at the shop, but it's different at a fair - most dealers have brought their best books, and most customers are there because they want to buy, not because they want to browse, or noodle around for an hour. The fair is on Sunday, for anyone in the area, and Ryan will be taking admission at the front door. I'm usually in the first or second booth on the far left aisle as you enter the Expo building. So depending on which aisle book-hunters start in, I'm first or last. Memorable either way!

Monday, June 12, 2006


After attending a book sale...

...and after cleaning, sorting, pricing, and shelving most of the books, I am inevitably left with a short stack of the should-might-perhaps-read?-keep?-sell? items. Some are self-evident from the get-go, but many sneak up on me. Here I am, poised with my blunt extra-soft Dixon Ticonderoga at the ready, but I take a quick riffle through the pages, and something catches my eye, and instead of gripping my lower lip between my teeth, resolutely pricing the book, and snapping it shut, I instead pause and read a few sentences. Fatal mistake. At this point it is almost always too late, even if I don't know it yet. Years of experiencing this phenomenon, and it still catches me by surprise. This past week, it happened with the Humez's Latin for People/Latina pro Populo (Little, Brown 1976), an unlikely title. I think Why, why didn't I pay attention in Latin class in high school as I start to price it, then I read the beginning of chapter XI:

"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

I have a good friend who says he doesn't trust used or antiquarian booksellers who don't use their own names as the names of their businesses (he's a bookseller himself). He was being cantankerous, as is his wont, because in actuality we both know all kinds of respectable dealers who walk under other names printed on their shop shingles as they go to work. I'm not a fan of the pseudo-quaint Ye Olde Bookshoppe-style name, and I do have a few favorites that I think are much better than that:

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


Fashionista-geek-blogger apparel

What to wear today? This, or this? Decisions, decisions, what's a girl to do...


The gilded age sure was depressing

After reading (and being wowed by) Embers a few weeks ago, I read another novel set largely in the 1890s - George Paston's A Writer of Books, which was reprinted by Academy Chicago in 1999. Paston was in actuality Emily Morse Symonds (1860-1936). Under the name Paston she wrote several novels and then left fiction behind and turned to writing social history. She produced a book I dearly love, one of the first antiquarian-type books I ever bought myself, after having it out of the library long ago, Side-Lights on the Georgian Period. But back to her novel - it starts well, with a young woman raised in a library, by a librarian father, and after his death she goes to London determined to earn her living as a writer:

"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

At eight o'clock this morning I was asleep with a pillow over my head, and Ryan, who'd been up for an hour already, stood beside me and asked repeatedly, "Are you awake?" until I finally replied, "No, I'm sleeping." He said, "Book sale. Book sale! BOOK SALE!" until I said, "Oh, all RIGHT, I'm awake, I'm up, I'm UP..."

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!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


One more reason to love Paul Collins

Pretty much anything he writes is fine with me, although of course I am partial to his prose about books and bookshops in particular. So this article is icing on the cake. Long live the beleaguered book business! Long may it fail!

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