Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Writing on the wall?

I usually don't pay attention to AOL's homepage, which pops up when I go online in the morning, but today they note businesses most likely to become obsolete: 10 Businessess Facing Extinction in 10 Years. Used bookshops are number 8. After crop dusters and pay phones and film manufacturers, and of course record shops. Ridiculous little article (although the headline did lure me in) - fluff news poorly written, though I'd be happy to see crop dusters go myself (sorry, guys, but really, it just isn't good for anyone's health, including your own).

One business which has been around for decades and doesn't look as if it's going to close up shop anytime soon (and surely not within the next ten years), Bertram Rota in London:

This catalogue is from 1989 and lists 600 items alphabetically by fine press or printer/designer. I opened it right up to the page of listings for William Edwin Rudge, whose presswork I've always admired, and found something I'd never heard of and would dearly love for my collection, a little oddity probably from the 1930s:

Item 469: Stone, (Edward L.). "All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here"; a letter. Frontispiece portrait. N.D. F'cap 8vo, scarlet wrappers. Very nice copy. £16. The charming confession of an oft-bitten bibliophile.

Oft-bitten. Yes, indeed. We are, aren't we. A few more smaller catalogues from Rota, from 1976-1982, a literary miscellany, and a pleasure to idly flip through and slowly read:

The Private Press Books catalogue is very fine and including multiple listings from Arion, Golden Cockerel, Grabhorn, Nonesuch, Officina Bodoni, and S. Dominic. From S. Dominic, Item 357, A Check-list of Publications 1913-1936, the cataloguer's note reads: "A praiseworthy attempt at navigating a bibliographical quagmire." Editorial comments such as this bring a lot of life to these catalogues, and is one of the reasons I keep and re-read them. The two English literature catalogues are good reading, too, though more succinct. Lots of decent books for £4 and £5, with a few better items mixed in. And one much better item: inside the back cover of English Fiction of the last Hundred Years is a short description of a W. Somerset Maugham collection, for sale at £20,000, including 94 books signed or inscribed by Maugham, first editions, playbills, correspondence, film scripts, you name it. Wow! I wonder where the collection ended up. Probably Texas (where all good literary archives go when they retire...)?

The demise of the used book store would be a major tragedy! Some of my favorite memories come from browsing endless afternoons though old, enduring haunts overflowing with worldly knowledge and adventures, long given up by nameless owners. You just can't get that experience from any on-line seller. We each need to do our part to keep the experience alive. Therefore, I found something you might like to wear on a bone chilly day in Maine when your customers open your shop door, announcing their respected presence by ringing the bell over the door: (which I imagine only in my mind)

These little articles are usually written by people who don't ever go to used bookshops, so I'm not too worried. All those books being shipped online have to reside somewhere, after all, until they are sold. And some proprietors do own their premises, and aren't affected by rising rents (just rising taxes...), so I think the bookshop will continue. Of course I'm biased.

Besides, bookshops won't (all) close, because some people aren't interested in efficiency - online sales, yeah, ok, very efficient. Hours in a bookshop, so much better.

Love the t-shirt... It's chilly here in Maine today, so I'm wearing my Powell's sweatshirt
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