Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Book collecting difficulties

Despite the fact that when we move we will nearly double the size of our living space, I'm still feeling crushed by the weight of my possessions. Specifically, my books (what else). I've been culling at home with an eye to moving in three or four weeks, and I'm determined to cut a wide swath through my home collection. The instinct to collect, to build protective castles around us, constructed of one of the safest, sanest things I know of - walls of books - is vying strongly with a desire to have large areas of open space in our new house, areas with nothing much in them at all, except a painting by a friend up on the wall, and an antique trunk and old kerosene lamp, and that's it. Keeping this vision in the front of my mind, I've managed to bring five cartons of books from home to the shop, thus far. I'm trying to sort through a little bit every morning before coming to the shop. Then in a few weeks when the time comes to finally pack everything in boxes, I'll have significantly fewer books to move. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? In theory?

Main problem: books are sticky. There's always at least one reason to keep something good. I pick up a book, or stand in front of a section of books, and each one calls to me. I remember where I found it, how much it was, why I took it home in the first place, what I thought when I read it, or how I always planned to read it and now know I never will. I find my notes inside them, things I meant to copy into my journal but somehow forgot. Today, I re-read in a softcover copy of the stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (really, the hardcover is fine, I tell myself, I don't need to keep the softcover version too) the opening paragraph from her story "William's Wedding," one of the Dunnett Landing stories she wrote after The Country of the Pointed Firs:

"The hurry of life in a large town, the constant putting aside of preference to yield to a most unsatisfactory activity, began to vex me, and one day I took the train, and only left it for the eastward-bound boat. Carlyle says somewhere that the only happiness a man ought to ask for is happiness enough to get his work done; and against this the complexity and futile ingenuity of social life seems a conspiracy. But the first salt wind from the east, the first sight of a lighthouse set boldly on its outer rock, the flash of a gull, the waiting procession of seaward-bound firs on an island, made me feel solid and definite again, instead of a poor, incoherent being. Life was resumed, and anxious living blew away as if it had not been. I could not breathe deep enough or long enough. It was a return to happiness."

I read this again, in the recent tumult of life and business and busyness and obligation, and nearly burst into tears. It's high summer in Maine - hot, beautiful weather, what we've waited for all year, what we dream of in winter - but the world doesn't slow down for it, not at all, and it seems like there's no time, all of a sudden. It's August already. So I'm taking an emergency day off tomorrow, to go sit by the ocean, and perhaps even sit in the ocean. Meanwhile, this morning I finally copied the above paragraph into my journal, priced the book, and am about to put it out on the shelf, just now.

Good thing I've got a few weeks until we move. This project is going to take a while. I haven't been able to face the books-about-books section yet. Though, really, this all should be fine - it's not like I still don't own the books, after all. They'll be right here with me at the shop for god knows how long. I've built high strong walls here, too.

Hi Sarah, Just back from Chicago. Steve had a convention and I got to go hang out. As always, a day late for my comment. I made a decision a year or so ago not to go into a bookstore (only for indies or used) without buying at least one book (if at all possible). So far so good, though its been hard sometimes.

So in keeping with my previous comment I used the web to locate some bookstores in Chicago that looked like fun. Visited Barbara's on Monday to get a handle on the subway and bus system in Chicago. Everyone was very helpful when I had questions about the metra system. Barbara's was mostly new/paperback store but certainly carried a large selection of interesting books that are not found all in one place at some of the bigger chains. I found several books that I was interested in and got a couple. Tuesday went to the UChicago area near Hyde Park. Went to one of Powell's, the Seminary Coop, 57th Street (which is another part of Seminary Coop), and O'Gara & Wilson. I had a lot fun, there were so many books and so little time. Wish you could have been there. So, I know you know that I agree with your previous writer, compliments don't pay the rent and if you're interested in bookstores you should support them.
Given that I own a used book store (as well as my previous comment about studying history, etc.) I wish that others would follow this rule! When I travel it is common for me to bring back a few books or even have them shipped when there are too many (as when I went to Montreal recently!).

We are moving our store next month to get into owned versus rented space and to cut costs. Moving about 5 miles but the customers have been coming in talking about how it is so sad that we are moving, etc. Of course, these same people rarely, if ever, buy anything. Oh well. Thank god for the internet or we would have shut it all down long ago.

Hi Jodi - Chicago sounds great, I'm glad you could get some booking in there - did you do anything else?? - I've never been, but have always heard great things about the books in that town. Good for you for buying some books wherever you went. I didn't mean to sound rant-y, in my original post, but I had one of those weeks in which it seemed like everyone who came in told me how much they admired the shop, what a great "collection" I had, but didn't buy anything. This week's been better - good sales AND a few compliments about my stock. Good to hear from you again - travel home safely...

Aha, Wayne - now I remember that you have a bookshop too... I do hope your move goes well. The real book people will follow you, you know this. The people who stopped in to chat but never bought anything can stay five miles away. Good for you for getting your own premises. I'm working on it - have to move house first, get settled in, and then see where we stand after that.
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