Thursday, May 31, 2007


Am I really a capitalist?

I do love selling books. I looooove buying and selling. However, some days I think I'd prefer to simply give them away, if there was some way to make that actually work (meaning I could still pay the bills). Sadly, no. There's something oddly embarrassing about standing on the other side of a table from someone with money in hand, and I take it and give the person books in exchange. I've never quite gotten comfortable with it, in all my years of shop-sitting. This wasn't a problem when I worked for someone else. But a sole-proprietor shop is just that - your book-dollars support me and my little endeavours, and not much else, unless we want to orate to the ether and posit that dollars spent at a little shop like mine support the general and larger worthy cause of quirky used bookshops everywhere, and even support the wide dissemination of ideas by keeping great books circulating throughout a more-or-less free society. Noble causes, in other words. Why not believe such a thing, on your side of the counter, because that's part of what keeps me going, on this side.

The flip side of taking people's money is of course doling out my own. All week the phone has been ringing off the hook with people trying to sell me stuff. Spring cleaning time all over the place. Frustratingly, the books offered have either been far too good (can't afford 'em), or, the more usual case, common to the point of saturation (don't want 'em). Where are all the mid-range decent antiquarian books? One answer: among the hundred million books languishing for sale on ABE. Well, as my friend Paul said, in his bookshop last Saturday when I was visiting at the end of the day (forgive me as I paraphrase somewhat - Hi Paul and Agnes!), "We're in a dying business, but at least we're in it." We all find creative ways to keep going, and I thank god for it.

That's what's on my mind at the shop, and as far as this week's reading goes, it's been poetry all the way. Among other things, I read the Collected Poems of James Wright. I also received a few packages from my pal Don in California (Hi Don!). He included a batch of clippings and articles he knew I'd like, and as I looked at them I thought it was like he had read my mind, then I realized that he had, essentially, because he reads my blog. To bring this meander back to poetry, a stanza in one of James Wright's poems made me aware of how truly odd it is to share one's brain (and heart) with others, in a blog, or in any form (from the poem "Inscription for the Tank" on p.142):

"Of all my lives, the one most secret to me,
Folded deep in a book never written,
Locked up in a dream of a still place,
I have blurted out."

The best poems always seem to the reader to be about the reader and the reader's perception (the old specific-becoming-universal idea, which makes me think of Keats), as if the author had stepped aside and the reader could have spoken the poem, and this one really got me where I live. I always think and hope that I am sharing my best self here, my bookish self, or some of it at least. Even though melancholy and even some bitterness creeps in from the sides, I do what I can to beat it back. I do think that this is who I really am, and once again, it's oddly embarrassing to stand on the other side of the table, as it were. But what else can one do, when one has something to offer? This is of course a rhetorical question, but I welcome answers to it anyway.

Advice for this week: get out and put your face in the lilacs, it's lilac week in Maine (Hi Vicky!) and this time is all too fleeting (there's some of that melancholy). Ryan and I visited the ornamental gardens at the University of Maine two nights ago, and their long row of old heirloom lilacs is just tremendous - all different, all fragrant, all huge and beautiful. Time to put the books aside and get out into the beginnings of summer.

Not can--should--offer! Franz I like also, Wrights abound.

The Hood Company
Can. Should. Must. It's the creative imperative!

Yes, JW and his son Franz are both Pulitzer-winners for poetry. I have no Franz in my collection, YET. I am on the lookout.

Thanks for commenting -
Interesting. I am never bothered by the selling. I leave boxes of free books out that get greedily gobbled up, what isn't selling I discount until I may as well be giving it away, and those books that people buy I feel I have priced fairly.

Buying is what always creates the dilemma for me. In general I feel no problem with taking advantage of a knowledgeable person who asks too little for their merchandise, or being able to buy good, or even great, stuff, for a good price at an auction. But the challenge is when people bring in books or I do a house call.

I always wonder about the 12yo kid who would pick up books at garage sales and bring them to the shop. Basically anything that looked old and was cheap. I always paid him too much but that was OK. Once he brought in a 1st ed WEB Du Bois "Souls of Black Folks". Needed a little professional touch up but a nice book. I offered him more money than he had ever seen. A kid who did odd jobs in my store asked why I didn't offer him $10 for a book I sold to the Baumann's a couple of months later for $1000? In that case the question was easy to answer. But it isn't always that clear.

Interestingly enough, the 12yo kid thought I had tried to rip him off and checked in every day for a month to see what I had priced it at. (It was at the binders so he never saw it.) Had I paid him $10, he would have thought he had made a good deal and never thought twice about it. Very strange.

Wayne Z.
Hi Wayne - I have no problem scooping up ridiculously great deals at library sales or auctions, or in other bookshops, but I tend to overpay at housecalls and over the counter at the shop because I don't want to take advantage, or even be *thought* to be taking advantage. It's tough to find the balance.

Great story about your young picker... he's going to get the book bug BAD, if it's not too late already.

Best book I ever had a picker bring me was a Black Sun Press book he found in a box of books out with someone's trash pile on the side of the road on trash pick-up day.

About taking money over the counter - I am most nervous with people who obviously don't have a lot of money to spend - the students who come in with a bit of their paycheck every few weeks, etc. Perhaps because I used to be one of them? I don't have much of a problem with the folks with deeper pockets. Pile them up! I'll help you carry them out!
I have old books all over my house.
I just buy what interests me. Children's books with lovely illustrations, fairy tale books with color plates and tissue paper covers.
In England I paid 70 dollars for a fairy tale called "The Sun's Babies"
by Edith Howes colour illustrations by Frank Watkins, 1911. I don't even care if the price was too high. I am going back to England and I will search for a hole in the wall bookstore. I was volunteering in my churches thrift shop and old snowbirds (some from Maine) would pass away and leave all their books to us. I have a Boston School Cooking by Fannie Farmer. 1930. I tend to like books that are 1930's or older. I bought an old old Mary Stewart Thornyhold just for the jacket cover. And a very old Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. It's a sickness. People like me should never help in a thrift shop.
We've all got it bad, those of us who have the book-disease. It's called *biblioholism* for a good reason...
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