Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Intellectual property

I'm always happy to read an intelligent essay about the arts, literary or otherwise, and if it's one written by Mark Helprin, I'm a pig in clover. I particularly love the last sentence of his recent essay about copyright, the constitution, and the intentions of the framers of such, regarding intellectual property. Authors and artists. Doing "...the work of the spirit and the mind." Why do they (and their heirs) get the legal short end of the stick for this most important work? His writing always makes me think furiously and feel deeply. Every time I read his work I find myself praying that he lives a very, very long life, and that I do, too, so I can read whatever he writes. Forever. Can that be arranged?

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Customers: angels and devils

Yesterday I started to write a blog post about a particularly irritating customer, and stopped myself just before sending it off into the ether. I didn't want to fuss and whine. And I did actually feel much better after writing it all out - it was cathartic. But today, I could write another. And I'm not feeling so forgiving. So, today, a taste of what shopkeeping is really like: he said, "I'm not interested in used books at all, but do you sell..." And then an hour later she said, "That nice article in Down East magazine about your street was totally misleading, we came here and all the shops they mentioned were closed." I questioned her, and actually no, none of us were closed. Just the one shop next door she wanted to visit. Which is not a bookshop (the article was about bookshops on our street). She also said, "It's so awful that all the used bookshops are closing up everywhere. What a loss." Then she left without buying anything. This will not help pay the new mortgage. Oh, and that guy yesterday - no, no, I can't do it - Take the high road, Sarah, take the high road. One more, the little devil on my right shoulder is whispering... How about this fellow, a few days ago: he came upstairs and said, "Hey, this is a real bookstore!" To be fair, when he left he said, after looking at books for a while, and asking about the paintings I've got hanging up, "Thanks for a wonderful experience." He sounded like he meant it, and I loved the compliment. But - do I have to say it - he didn't buy any books either. Some days being a bookseller is one long lesson in the practice of patience.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Fun with anagrams

No, not Lorrie Moore's novel Anagrams (though I loved it when I finally read it, a few years ago). Actual anagrams. When I'm stressed out I like to keep my brain from randomly generating useless anxiety by distracting it with words that don't have anything to do with the source of the stress. I find this works remarkably well. Hence New York Times crossword puzzles in the evening, a minor Scrabble addiction (it's not like I have a problem or something), and a general love of other forms of wordplay. I'm not very good at anagrams, but I'm a bit stressed after this torrid week (a Bermuda high is creating 90 degree-heat and there's lots of wilting going on), on top of rushing around signing house papers and peering into septic systems and, oh yeah, trying to sell books. For a living. Which can be worrisome. So I pulled Michael Curl's book The Anagram Dictionary off the shelf just now. I think I've mentioned it before. Here are a few cognate anagrams from the book's appendix (I may have mentioned some of these before, too - if so, forgive me - as I said, my brain has wilted):

bargain sale - an aisle grab
eleven plus two - twelve plus one
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - a novel by a Scottish writer
Kingsley Amis - slimy ink sage
the nudist colony - no untidy clothes
punishment - nine thumps
softheartedness - often sheds tears
Southern California - hot sun or life in a car
upholsterers - restore plush
Yorkshire pudding - hungry, risk odd pie

Ahh. I feel better already. I think I'll go play a game of Scrabble against my computer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


New paintings and new news

I had a great stretch of painting time three weeks ago, before all hell broke loose. Six new paintings in about ten days. Here are two of the newest ones. The first is Ryan standing under one of the elm trees on the island we stayed on in June:

The second is one of the mown paths crossing the pasture on the same island, with some of the wildflowers. I'm always trying to capture tall waving grasses in fields, and I've decided it's impossible, truly. Not to mention leaves on trees. The paintings always feel somewhat stunted, when one contemplates the living, moving scene itself. Ah well.

These pictures are here because I'm putting together a proposal for an exhibit, so I photographed work this morning before opening the shop. In a classic Sarah-Brain-Freeze move, when I bought this laptop computer two years ago I thought that my ancient clunky digital camera wouldn't work with the new laptop (because the software wouldn't cooperate at all). Come to find that the printer I bought later actually has a little card-reader that will bypass the obsolete camera software and put the image directly into its own software. I figured this out yesterday, after - umm - reading the manual. So, though the picture quality isn't great on these (as I said, old camera, and some glare because I use a lot of oily medium as I'm painting), they give an idea, at least.

But that was a few weeks ago. No more painting, for a while, because since then we've finally found a house we both love and can afford. It's old. It's mostly renovated. It's a freaking miracle. And it's a mile from salt water. This week has been a mass of paperwork and phone calls and emails and deep trepidation and outright glee. We are set to close on the house in late August. This means, of course, that I will have to move my books. The thought has been keeping me awake most nights. I can't tell you.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Harry who...?

My eleven-year-old niece is freaking out. I fear she may spontaneously combust. I, however, remain sanguine. I wonder if tomorrow is one day that small independent bookshops will clean up because they can put the new Harry Potter book into the hands of customers the very second they hear the chimes at midnight, versus those customers having to order on Amazon and impatiently wait to ambush their mail carriers on Monday. I notice that Amazon is selling the Braille edition. Neat, but I'm still not tempted. Someday. Instead of Rowling, this week I've been selling Kafka, Wallace Stegner, Stephen King, Edith Wharton, Barbara Kingsolver, Gary Snyder, Chaucer, Mishima, and - hey! - I see that I did sell a hardcover secondhand Harry Potter a few days ago (book one in as new condition, twelve bucks). So, a little Rowling, too, contributing to my own tiny till. A silent toast to harried booksellers all over the world, working the late shift tonight...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Back in love...

...with books. It happened so quickly, a coup de foudre for me, as it always has been. I bought a batch of decent poetry books today from an old friend who is downsizing - one of the books is Charles Simic's My Noiseless Entourage (Harcourt 2005, and what a great title for a book is that), and when I opened it up at random while pricing it, I saw his poem "Used Book Store" (of course). The first stanza reads (p.21):

"Lovers hold hands in never-opened novels.
The page with a recipe for cucumber soup is missing.
A dead man writes of his happy childhood on a farm,
Of riding in a balloon over Lake Erie."

The rest of the poem doesn't disappoint - though I wished it were much longer. MUCH longer. This book has now migrated into the possibly-keep stack, where I will let it mellow for a few weeks before I decide one way or the other. Meanwhile, I've got the rest of this big pile of poetry books to get through. This job is fraught, fraught I tell you! It's a minefield - literature, the land of books.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Oh yeah, I love books... I forgot for a moment

I've been too busy to read - my nephew's first birthday party, my sister's birthday party, my sister and her daughter (my niece) coming to stay for a few days, going to the coast for part of the weekend, beachcombing, it all adds up to high summer good living! But not much quiet time - no reading, a few good days at the bookshop with a steady stream of customers, some buying and some just looking, time to paint last week but not this week, yet, still looking around for a house we love and can afford (where oh where is it) - and now the houseguests have headed back home and the shop is quiet this morning and I've balanced the checkbooks and watered the plants and am experiencing a moment of stasis and equilibrium. It's good. The pile of books on the desk in front of me is even starting to look interesting again. Could I really put up my feet and read the day away? Well, I'm the boss.

A little girl and her mom were in the shop one day a few years ago, and the girl was fascinated by the fact that this was my shop and I was the only one that worked here. The last in a series of questions she asked me was "Can you get fired?" I said, "No, but I can quit!" I'm not ready to quit yet, but I might take a few hours off today and remind myself how much I love books.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Still digging out from under, but I do see daylight

This morning I finished excavating and shelving the library sale books from the weekend, and a few more treasures came to light. First, while dealing with the To-Be-Examined-Later pile (otherwise known as Keep-Or-Sell), I finally looked at the nice hardcover of Maxine Kumin's Selected Poems (first edition, Norton 1997), and discovered her inscription and signature on the title page. Next, I completely forgot that I'd found a monster Stanford University Press softcover of Montaigne's Complete Essays (been looking for a decent reading copy all spring). It was on the bottom of the pile(s). It weighs in at almost three pounds, is nearly nine hundred pages with index, is printed on good, bright paper, and has a clear and pleasing typeface (looks like Garamond). I dipped a toe into an abridged version of the Essays in a graduate seminar over ten years ago now, and lately I've been feeling that it's time to sidle up to the whole ocean. Or something like that. Metaphors are not my strong suit. But I digress. Finally, I unearthed a hardcover reprint of W. Carew Hazlitt's Hand-Book to the Popular, Poetical, and Dramatic Literature of Great Britain, from the Invention of Printing to the Restoration (Burt Franklin 1961, originally published in 1867). I have several of Hazlitt's other books-about-books, so, another good find for the reference shelf.

Re Montaigne, and also Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (which I ended up finishing this morning, and I think I love the last part the best, about her active cultivation of joy), and so many other books I've read lately - they are all purposely written in small segments. Smaller than regular chapters, that is. And I realize that I really do love to read books written in these small segments: they can be digested bit by bit, but they do still form a cohesive whole. I like to write in small segments, too (journal entries, poems, blog posts). I've been slowly reading La Bruyère's Characters for months now, and his pieces are like mini-essays. I've come to think that works written in this form are so pleasing to me because they provide a kind of day-to-day-ness and comfort, rather like homilies, no matter how sacred or profane the topic. This form of writing is human-size. So, I will view the Montaigne not as a blockish doorstop of a book, but rather as a series of small glowing pearls on a string, a very, very long string. (There's that metaphor problem again.) Pearls aside, when I flipped through the Essays at random, it naturally fell open at page 296, Of books. I feel right at home.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Up to my elbows in books

Ryan and I went to a huge friends-of-the-library sale early Saturday morning and came away with ten cartons of books for the amazing price of $106 and change. Most books at the sale were fifty cents each. Most books at the sale were only worth fifty cents each, but I did find manage to find a substantial pile of decent saleable stock. After the initial flush of enthusiasm died down, I came away thinking about how great library sales were when I first got started dealing in used books, at least twelve years ago now, maybe fourteen. I used to find terrific general antiquarian stuff, and always at least one or two books in the hundred-dollar value range (or up) at every sale we went to. I mean, a fine first edition in jacket of The Hunt for Red October for a buck, a beautiful leatherbound set of Hawthorne's works for ten dollars, a fine first in jacket of Death of a Salesman, you get the idea - great books that I was so happy to sell because I didn't want to own them myself. Granted, I did have to get up at five or six a.m. and drive an hour or two and stand in line for an hour or two, in order to get these deals in the first place, but what fun it was. Now it seems that every sale I attend has been thoroughly culled by the friends group, and then by their volunteers, which is all well and good - always enough books for everyone, that's my motto - and I am happy that the friends are making more money for their libraries by selling their better books themselves, rather than in the annual booksale (literacy! it's a great cause), but OH how I miss finding the really fine things in amongst the dross. Of course I also miss the money I could have made myself, from those fine books. Modern first edition spotting used to be my specialty. Now I can feel my institutional knowledge draining away, as everyone turns to the internet to see what they can get for their books. I wonder where it will all lead. I don't know, so I'll try not to panic.

The only book of significant value, out of all the ten boxes I bought, I didn't even know I had until I had cleaned everything off, de-stickered all the books (every single book had a colored dot on its spine, and I swear I cursed every one as I removed them), and started putting brodart jacket-protectors on everything. At the sale I'd picked up a pile of Walter Farley hardcovers in jackets, just reprints, but nice looking, decent copies of 1950s and 1960s The Island Stallion, The Black Stallion Revolts, etc. Fifty cents each, hard to go wrong. Well, it was a nice surprise to discover while brodart-ing that one of them was signed by Farley on the half-title page. Yippee!

The other book I was happiest to discover was one that Ryan picked up knowing I would like it: Eric Partridge's massive Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (970 pages!! second edition, Macmillan 1959). My cup of tea. That goes on the reference shelf after maintaining a place of honor on the top of the stack of books on my desk for at least the next two or three weeks. What else: I found a reprint copy of Somerset Maugham's Up at the Villa, and read it Saturday evening before bed (it's short). Disturbing little morality play set in the hills above Florence. Can't say I recommend it, but it reminds me of a cross between Tender is the Night and a Harlequin romance gone bad. I also picked up a hardcover of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (Viking 2006), and I've almost finished it (read most of it yesterday). This I'm loving - successful young novelist/writer completely falls apart (repeatedly, for several years), ditches her old life, and travels to Italy, India, and finally Bali in search of God. With a capital G. I'm finding the book funny and wonderful. I don't usually read brand-new stuff, not lately, anyway, but I loved her first novel Stern Men, so was happy to find this (for fifty cents, did I mention that already?).

No reading today, though - I've got piles and piles of books to shelve and the shop's been busy. It's as if customers can sense from miles away that I've just gotten new books in. Oh, wait, it's just July. In Maine. Plain old busy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Island living

Two more pictures from my island week - both of the doorway of the cottage I rented, the first one in the early morning light, the second one of me sitting on the stoop, at the end of the week. Tiny cottage - when I stand up, the porch door clears my head with two inches to spare (I am not tall). But it's open to the rafters inside, so it feels just right. A beautiful little snake comes out of the long grass and suns on the warm rocks in the morning; by the second day on the island I'd learned to walk outside slowly and quietly so as not to disturb anyone. In the second photo I guess I am sunning on the rocks, too:

What island time means to me - I read another Sarah Orne Jewett book this week, The Tory Lover (finished it last night), and this passage says it better than I could (p.142):

"To stand on the bleak height had freed her spirit, and sent her back to the lower countries of life happier than she came: it was said long ago that one may not sweep away a fog, but one may climb the hills of life and look over it altogether."

Bleak is beautiful. Take time off to keep on the sunny side of that fog. Works for me.


Room with a view

Two pictures from my island trip last week. I finished reading Sarah Orne Jewett's Deephaven, and the Maine island I just visited could easily have been the setting of her book (or, rather, just offshore from the setting). From p.245, her observation about the place:

"...(Deephaven) quietly accepts its altered circumstances, as if it has seen better days, and has no harsh feelings toward the places which have drawn away its business, but it lives on, making its old houses and boats and clothes last as long as possible."

And presumably its outhouses; here are two views of the best little privy in the world, the first picture facing west and the second facing north:

Talk about a room with a view! Surrounded by water on three sides, views of islands and the mainland, with a few spruce trees, rugosa roses and wild strawberries growing all around, and on the other side of the knoll, between the outhouse and the house itself, a wide purple carpet of chives in blossom (bolted and spread from an old garden bed). What else does one need in life, I ask you. Fancy bathrooms, BAH. Though t'would be chilly in the winter (and I know of what I speak, I grew up in a little farmhouse down east, with no indoor plumbing - long story, for another day).

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