Friday, November 30, 2007


New paintings

I haven't been neglecting painting lately, despite burying myself in books much of the time. Since Ryan and I are now commuters, I come into the shop much earlier in the morning, and have up to two hours to spend in my studio before opening for business. Sometimes I sit and stare at my work and wonder what the hell I think I'm doing, and other times I actually pick up a paintbrush. So here are two recent paintings (the color is much more vivid than this, but my digital camera is such an ancient clunker). Both of these measure 18 x 24". The first is an old cape house on one of the islands I stayed on last summer:

Plain old cape houses fit the Maine landscape perfectly. Their proportions feel just right. I grew up in a house much like this one, though ours had some Greek revival details for good measure, and a bit more of a real second story. But it had the same essential form, and it seems comfortable, human-sized, and modest, and now I find I want to create pictures of these houses. They're in such contrast to what's usually built on the coast these days - retirement places, usually large and often hideous. Give me a cape, or a Walden cabin instead, any old time.

The second shows part of a coastal park I go to - it's a huge headland with immense ancient pink and orange granite ledges, gray worn-out basalt channels cutting through them, and scraggly old spruce trees and blueberries at the edge of the rocks. I paint different scenes of this place over and over again. I usually paint the rocks and the sea and islands off behind them, but this time it's the landward view instead:

My photographer-friend Michael and I will be having a two-person show this summer. So I'm gathering work this winter, doing some framing, making some new paintings, and hoping for the best. Back to the books -

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Happy anniversary

Holy mackerel, this blog's turning two years old tomorrow... seems like longer, doesn't it? How much is that in blog-years, anyway? Must be twenty, at least. As we continue, I welcome suggestions and questions - if anyone would like more discussion of this or less talk about that, let me know and I'll do my best to follow up. I can never quite tell if I'm being way too personal here, or not personal enough. I do try to keep to the topic at hand (books) as a general rule. Though all the other things in life do seem to sneak in on a regular basis. As the blog continues on, please accept my apologies if I repeat myself from time to time - some days I can't remember if I already blogged about something (books), or if I only meant to blog about something (books). To friends new and old, thanks for sticking around, and thanks so much for reading. This blog. And books, too. We do love them so.

News brief from the shop: it's almost December, so I've finally gotten around to putting out some actual Christmas-theme books (vs. just handsome gifty-type books). A few years ago I came into possession of a big stack of Edward Gorey's book The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas. Every year I sell a few more copies, and every year I get a chuckle when I remember that in this particular tale his hapless hero's name is Edmund Gravel, the Recluse of Lower Spigot. Heh (See, right there, a chuckle!). But even as I write this, I can't remember if I already mentioned on this blog how much I liked that name. Last Christmas, perhaps? Apologies, as I said...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


And now, back to our regularly scheduled program

It should come as no surprise to hear that I've taken a long, meandering, circuitous break from reading Montaigne's Essays and now feel sufficiently fortified to return to them and proceed. After receiving a Daedalus remainder order and attending the little library sale last weekend, I found myself with a new stack of temptingly readable books, and over the course of the past week I consumed many of them like bonbons. Or maybe, more to my taste, a bag of kettle chips: Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety, the Library of America Poems and Other Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a lovely art book entitled In the Gardens of Impressionism by Clare A.P. Willsdon (she quotes Renoir at one point: "'Give me an apple tree in a suburban garden. I haven't the slightest need of Niagara Falls.'"), Andrew Todhunter's A Meal Observed, the Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich (read half of it, may read the other half), part of Kurt Vonnegut's political-memoiry-thing A Man Without a Country, and most of The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir. Whew. Busy reading week. I tend to read much more during the winter than other times of year. This winter looks to be no exception. And everywhere I go, I'm hauling around Montaigne, at the bottom of my tote bag. Heavy old thing. I'm starting to feel quite fond of him.

A good week here. Many books sold. Paid the shop rent a few days early. Onward.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Peter Pauper Press

They printed some sweet little books, didn't they, and most sold for a mere buck apiece. I'm looking at one today entitled Thoughts for a Good Life (1959), a collection of daily epigrams and aphorisms, all unattributed, some trite and some I'd never heard before.

July 21st: "Rather thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money."

October 13th: "A book that is shut is but a block of wood."

November 12th: "Life is a pure flame and we live by an invisible sun within us."

What a great day at the shop today, very busy with happy people buying books and telling me, "I shouldn't be getting these books, they're not gifts, they're for me!" Feeling aphoristic, I reply, "Well, you know, charity begins at home..." Have I mentioned lately how much I love selling books?

Friday, November 23, 2007


Giving thanks for real books

I'm moderately busy today at the shop, but not too busy to blog for a bit. I'm working on my Christmas list, too. Who's been nice this year? Anyone? As I make my list, I do know this, at four hundred bucks a pop, no one in my family will be getting a Kindle. Even if they were fifty bucks, no no and again no. Over at the Oxford University Press blog, Evan Schnittmann says this about Kindle:

"If Kindle fails, the ebook is over, the theory of the “iPod model” is wrong for eBooks, and publishing must face the reality that consumers just don’t want to read immersive content on electronic screens of any sort… but let’s not rain on this glorious parade just yet. I think Kindle and the inevitable rivals it will spawn are here to stay. The ebook is dead, long live the ebook!"

"Immersive content" is a catchy phrase and explains neatly why I don't want to cuddle up with a Kindle. I'd rather get lost in a real book. Technology doesn't need to come between me and the words on the page, the "content" (a word I don't like the current usage of - I like contents better, as in table of contents). The blog post is positive overall, though. The comments are worth browsing through, too - everyone from ye olde booklovers to gadget-happy technovores (is that a word? I just made it up) weighs in. Over at Amazon, the customer ratings for Kindle only add up to two and a half stars. But the device is on back-order, sold out. Merry Christmas. I feel like such a dinosaur (call me tri-Sarah-tops).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Bah humbug

Business has been dismal the last several weeks and I spent the morning putting up holiday lights and displaying winter-themed books, and for whom? Absent customers, or perhaps simply to entertain myself? Times like this I feel kind of like a kid playing "bookstore." If you have a shop and no one buys much of anything, is it still a shop, or merely an attractive storage facility? I look around, and find that yes, I do have many good books for sale, I have a check-out desk, shopping bags and change at the ready, and good signage outside. I've ordered some cool remainders for the holidays (books I'd be happy getting as gifts myself) - they arrive today - and I'm even bringing in some cedar boughs from home to give the shop a pleasant aroma. I mean, it smells fine - no moldy books here, by god - but the greenery gives the place some freshness, now that it's too cold to have windows or doors open (fourteen degrees at dawn yesterday, brrr). I'm heading to my sister Kate's house for Thanksgiving, then coming back to open the shop on Friday and Saturday, to be here in case folks eschew the hideous mall sprawl nearby and come downtown to browse around instead. I do hope so. Ryan and I went to a decent little friends-of-the-library sale over the weekend, and I've got a lot of good books on hand. Build it and they will come, right? That's what I've always believed. If this entire season is dismal, not just these past couple of weeks, I'll think I'll be casting around for Plan B. Not to be a Scrooge, but jeeze louise. Someone please remind me next year that early- to mid-November is a great time to take a vacation.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Sustainable reading?

In principle I agree with the friendly folks at Eco-Libris. In their email to me a while back (to ask if I'd kindly mention them on my blog, which it appears I am indeed doing) they say this:

"Eventually and hopefully sooner then later, books will be made from recycled paper and in eco-friendly manner (e-books for example) and logging for paper will stop. On that day we'll happily move on to a new cause, but until then we think every book reader should take action. We also don’t forget the responsibility of the book publishing industry to the current situation and we intend to become a strong voice in a call for change towards printing books in an eco-friendly manner."

Incorrect grammar, sentence structure, and word choices aside (not to nit-pick, but we all know I'm sadly compulsive about these things), I have to wonder if e-books, which require e-book readers, or at least computers, which are made up of plastic and metal and little bitty parts shipped from all over the world, are actually more eco-friendly than the traditional format, i.e. a book, made of paper and davey board and cloth. All the e-book readers I've seen, since the introduction of the first ones in the early 1990s when I worked in the new-book trade, were not user-friendly. Not if you happened to like actual books, that is. Book-love has so much to do with the format and feel and any other tactile sense you care to name, really. I know people that do like e-books, mostly for convenience when traveling, but I am not one of those people. I'm just not gadget-y. I'm papery.

I have a good friend whose company teaches loggers to be environmentalists (by using biodiesel, practicing sustainable forestry, etc). Requiring publishers to use recycled paper is another fine conservation idea. But hey, why not offset your biblioconsumption by buying used whenver possible? Just a thought. Buy local organic books! Could be the next big thing!

Humor aside, just to be clear - I do applaud the idea implicit behind Eco-Libris, which is that many humans are taking a good look at all aspects of their consumption of resources, and making a lot of necessary changes. Even regarding book-buying. Gulp.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Another bookwoman's holiday

I took the long weekend off, it being one of the last of which I could still get plants into the nearly-frozen ground. Despite being away from the shop for three days, I managed to buy books somewhere on each of those three days. Quite a feat! Saturday we visited a local antiques mall and bought a series of handwritten journals from 1905-1917 for twenty-five bucks. Ryan's been reading them, they were written by a Maine carpenter. Sunday we were passing by the Big Chicken Barn, which I've mentioned before, and couldn't help but stop in. We emerged two hours later with a grocery bag full of books and a wrought-iron hinge for the cellar door. And last night we picked up a few actual groceries in nearby Searsport, and before getting in the car we saw that the little new-book store across the street was still open, so we popped in there for a quick look around. It occupies a renovated bank building and is truly one of the most darling little bookstores anywhere, Left Bank Books:Bought a collected poems of Sarah Orne Jewett and a few postcards of the shop. At the Chicken Barn, which really is a huge old renovated chicken barn, I picked up Joseph Blumenthal's The Printed Book in America, Trollope's Autobiography, a history of The Bodley Head publishers, a 1931 memoir by Ernest Rhys (editor of the Everyman's Library) entitled Everyman Remembers, and a bunch of books for general stock. So much for my days off.

Seriously, though, despite spending some time around books, I did spend many hours in the garden, getting more bulbs in and taking an inventory of the garden beds before everything completely shuts down for winter. I even drew little maps, so I can keep track of what's where, and who has given me which plants. I'm already reading seed catalogues and thinking about what to plant next year.

Besides seed catalogues, the ongoing free-form home reading program continues - I took a break from Montaigne and instead finished Louise Andrews Kent's book Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin 1942), and then immediately started one of the books Kent co-authored with her daughter Elizabeth, entitled The Summer Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin 1957). Interesting note: I think when I was reading Ron Padgett's memoir of Joe Brainard last year (Joe), he mentioned that Louise Andrews Kent was a summertime neighbor in Vermont, and yes indeed, I find that The Summer Kitchen is in fact dedicated to her friend John Treville Latouche, who was once the partner of Kenward Elmslie, who, a decade after Latouche died (in 1956 of heart failure, hence the dedication), became the long-time partner of Joe Brainard. They, and the Padgetts all summered (or still summer) in the town of Calais, Vermont (and one of its villages, Kents Corner). The Summer Kitchen is obviously a roman à clef during its non-recipe-related pieces of prose, which often describe dinner parties and picnics with gregarious and much-loved (and often gay, though this remains unsaid in this book) musicians, artists, and poets. I think this means I'll have to remove Kent from the cookery section at home and reshelve her with my Elmslie and Padgett and Brainard books. I like to shelve friends near each other. Nonscientific, I know. All intertwining connections aside, it's a great book as it stands and I can't wait to track down its companion volume, The Winter Kitchen. More appropriate to this season, anyway.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Can I do it?

Can I write a blog post without mentioning books? Oh. Apparently not.

In my reading today, I learned one of the umpteen habits of highly effective people:

Montaigne says (p.61) "...I constantly sing myself this refrain: Whatever can be done another day can be done today."

Get it done, whatever it is. I like that better than Twain's famous quote. Sarcasm is so last century.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Good help was hard to find

I'm going back and forth between Montaigne and the newly-acquired Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, edited by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan (Columbia University Press 1974). One letter reads in part (pp.118-119):

"I have a copyist of uneducated intelligence and peasant habits. For four months now I have done nothing but teach him in the hope that he may learn to write, but I fear that I am ploughing the seashore. He is now copying Valerius, on whom he proves his ignorance, but day by day he becomes stupider. And so I yell, I thunder, I scold, I upbraid; but he has ears full of pitch. He is leaden, a blockhead, wooden, a donkey, and whatever else can be mentioned that is duller and clumsier. Damn him. He is bound to me for two years; perhaps he will improve."

Nicolaus, the recipient of delightful missives such as this (the dust jacket copy states) was "by temperament eccentric, fastidious, and quarrelsome, (and) stayed home while Poggius and other humanists traveled in search of books. He encouraged them in the search, sought and provided funds for them, and made an elegant and famous home in his library for the texts they located and sent to him. At his death in 1437 he bequeathed his books to the citizens of Florence as the first public library of modern times. His collection survives in the Laurentian Library in Florence as a monument to the work and joy of collecting..."

If the rest of the book is as good as this bit, it'll be a page-turner. Meanwhile, I'm only on page forty-three of Montaigne. After four evenings of reading.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Winter reading plans

I've veered away from Dante, temporarily (hoping to read The Divine Comedy this year) and plowed straight into the Essays of Montaigne instead. I've only been reading a few pages each evening and I'm getting nowhere fast, with nearly nine hundred pages in the fat softcover edition of the complete essays published by Stanford University Press. The translator's preface alone took up one evening. Though Donald M. Frame says some wonderful things about Montaigne, so the preface is well worth reading, don't get me wrong:

"To accept the human condition is to accept our two parts, body and soul, not as slave and master but as relatively equal parts that should be friends. We are neither a body nor a soul, but both; neither brutes nor angels..."


"Wisdom, goodness, and happiness depend on our treating ourselves not with complacency and laxity, but with a measure of fairness and kindness. The golden rule must work both ways. Only if we accept our limitations without rancour can we recognize the privilege and dignity of being human. ... Montaigne strives repeatedly in his final pages to compress this into a formula: ... 'It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully.'"

I just need to read all the rest of the Essays to reach these final pages myself, to earn them as a reader. No skipping ahead allowed. Some of the passages are heavy going, frankly - I read a few sentences and think What?? and have to go back and re-read. It bends my brain a bit. Partly because of Montaigne's own extensive revisions, which are marked with letters (A, B, C) and are integrated throughout the text. He often contradicts himself because he's changed his mind ten years later about his original statement, and he uses classical stories, epigrams, and allusions to illustrate his various points, so the prose often resembles a dense thicket. It's worth it, obviously, to hack through the thickets in order to read his descriptions and insights into human nature, via his observations about his own nature.

Montaigne aside, two bookdealers-and-bloggers in Maine have recently ascended to high office (for whatever that's worth). Ian and I have just become president and vice-president, respectively, of the Maine Antiquarian Booksellers (Booksellers' ? - oh, that all-important apostrophe...) Association. Well, that's what comes of attending these meetings. Ian says he favors the "benevolent dictatorship" as a leadership style. Lead on, Macduff!

One more note, today: self-titled "recovering bibliomaniac" Jerry Morris recently started a new blog, Biblio Researching, and he features some delicious eye candy for those inclined toward love for bookish ephemera (that would be us). Do check it out.

Friday, November 02, 2007


A bookish weekend ahead

For local folks, don't forget The Maine Literary Festival, which starts tonight in Camden, Maine and continues all weekend. Geoffrey Wolff (author of Black Sun, that great book about Harry Crosby, and The Duke of Deception, etc) is the keynote speaker, and many other authors will be both speaking and signing their books, including Stephen King's two recently-published sons, Owen King and Joe Hill. Matthew Pearl's going to be there, too (The Dante Club). The price tag of the weekend seems a bit high to me, although proceeds are going to a very good cause, the American Association of University Women's scholarship fund. So I hope the turnout is high...

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Frost on the punkin'

I had no trick-or-treaters at the shop yesterday, but last night at home we reached double digits. Ryan dressed up as a colonial gentleman (he used to be a historical reenactor, so he has all the cool clothes - cape, tricorn hat, buckled shoes, breeches - long story) and I was a cowgirl. We went a little over the top because this is our first holiday in our house - put pumpkins and candle lanterns on the front steps, with a big basket of eatables. Okay, candy. Good candy, though. The best costumes belonged to two little girls who came to the door separately - the first was a swan (elaborate homemade white swan costume and shiny black boots) and the second was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (pigtails, dress, ruby slippers, Toto, the works). We also encountered a yeti (asked him if he was a gorilla, or a zombie gorilla, he said "No, I'm a yeti!"), some power rangers, two little devils, and an evil jester (had little skulls instead of bells). And some proud parents hovering costume-less in the background. It was great. See you, October. Onward, to the month of thankfulness.

Lots to be thankful for. Today my mother-in-law included me in a spammy group email that had a lot of cute pictures in it, and ended "Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle," an interesting statement and one which made me rethink saying the other day in the comments that it's fine to be rude right back to customers who are rude to you (me). I've since changed my mind. Take the high road, whenever possible. Don't be a doormat, but don't add to the sum total of meanness in the world. Easily written... Not that I've had any rude customers this week, because I haven't. They've been few but singularly polite and even verbose with praise for my little shop. Which makes me pink with pleasure.

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