Monday, January 25, 2010

 

Pleased To Meet You

Long before I had my own bookshop, I became enamored of someone else's: a tough little cookie of a lady on the road to Castine, Maine had a small shop in the ell between her house and barn. The books were relatively few but of high quality, and reflected a knowledge of books and book-people that I had seldom encountered at that time in my life. Which is to say, she liked the kinds of books that I liked, and stocked them, so I naturally thought she had fabulous taste. Over a few years I visited and always bought, and when she aged to the point where she no longer kept her shop open, I counted myself lucky to receive a note from her now and then, saying that she had a few books I might like to look at, if I would like to come by on a given day. Then the notes stopped coming, and it appeared that her house was sold. I lost track of her. Now friends tell me she lived elsewhere in Castine for a few years, and then finally moved to a nursing home, and then, a few days ago, I read her obituary in the local paper.

So, a few memories today of one of my very favorite book people ever, Barbara Falk. I spent some time this weekend looking through my bookshelves at the books she sold me. As most dealers do, she had a distinctive manner of pricing her books, and her books were of a certain quality, so most were easy to spot. And I found a lot. Including ten signed Christopher Morley books (and I suspect there are more). Barbara was a bookseller on Long Island before moving to Maine, and I remember her telling me that when she was a young woman she attended a book talk he gave, I think in the 1940s in Roslyn, his home. At this time, I was heavily into Morley-hunting, and she was delighted to hear that someone still cared about him and his books. I was also reading in the letters of Horace Walpole, and wanted books by the indefatigable Walpole collector Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis. When I asked Barbara, she exclaimed "Oh, Lefty Lewis!" and subsequently showed me most of the series edited by Lewis and printed by the Yale University Press, entitled "Miscellaneous Antiquities, or, A Collection of Curious Papers...," items of interest to people who care about eighteenth century antiquarian gossip and fine press printing (us). The books she sold me in this series were from her own collection, in the house. What she didn't sell me, and which I still think about late at night, was her complete run of the bibliophile periodical The Colophon - she had Lefty Lewis's personal set. She said she'd let me know what she decided to do with them, when the time came. *Sigh.*

She also sold me many charming little bibelots - fine press books, printing trade items, some Bruce Rogers titles, a few fine bindings (always attached to books I still would have wanted otherwise). Sometimes I think she only sold me the things she knew I would want to keep in my personal collection, and never resell. She herself had had them for so long, you see, in her personal collection. She was the bibliophile who first told me to read Dukedom Large Enough, by David A. Randall (but she wouldn't sell me her own copy of that).

I know I can't have visited her shop more than ten times, and if I look back through all of my book receipts I could count up those visits and it wouldn't seem like much, but I must say that she had a profound effect on me - it was a case of just the right kind of enthusiasm at just the right time. A real bookwoman - I knew she was who I wanted to be when I was her age, god willing.

One more item she sold me was the Maine novel Small Potatoes by painter/writer/architect Emily Muir, who lived on nearby Deer Isle. Barbara did sell me her personal copy of this book, a very nice first edition in dust jacket, inscribed by Emily to her. Now it's an association copy that means a lot to me:

One thing I could not find, in my bookshelf scavenger hunt, was a book with a small note inside the front cover - Barbara often wrote in soft pencil anything of note about the book in question - a limited edition, signed, how many copies, etc. - and in this particular one she drew an arrow to an old number written in blue grease pencil on the front pastedown. This number, she noted, was from Leary's, in Philadelphia. She had loved Leary's, and she was the kind of person who didn't want that little bit of bookish information to be forgotten. She knew what that mark was. And now I know. And when I find that book again - someday there it will be, in my hand - I will get a pencil and make a note that Barbara Falk, Bookseller, wrote this.

It seems like a long time ago. Barbara must have been about 80 when I met her. I found her to be a sparky, enthusiastic, ascerbic, canny, witty, delightful person. Now I'm settled just across Penobscot Bay from where Barbara had her shop. She ended her long life in the nursing home immediately next door to my childhood home. I think I still want to be like her, when I'm 94... I will end this elegy with the phrase I began it with, a book I bought from her and still own, the title of a novel by Christopher Morley. Barbara, I was so Pleased To Meet You; Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York 1927; hardcover first edition in near fine condition, in a very good dust jacket with a bit of edgewear; $25; discount to the trade.

Comments:
What an incredibly lovely post, Sarah. Wherever she is, I am confident that Ms. Falk is quite touched and honored by your kind words.

This post reminds me of why I so look forward to reading your blog.
 
Lovely blog! Looking forward to more!
 
Sarah, I have always loved your book-related posts, but this one is a gem above all others. Morley, Randall, Walpole, Lewis, Leary's . . . I adore these all and am always so happy to read of them. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts!
 
My dear Mr Dibdin, I wish I had remained close to Barbara, but I *am* still close to some of her books. Which means a lot to me.

Folks at Village Books, thanks, I hope you come by again.

Anon, I'm glad we speak a similar language, and I need not explain who and where and why. This brings a favorite quote to mind:

"If you are still with me at this point, it can only be because you are a serious drinker of being: a man who will walk back ten paces to smell privet in bloom; a woman who loves to rap sound turnips with her knuckles. Let us congratulate one another: the party has taken a distinct turn for the better.... At last we may speak freely of the things that matter."

– Robert Farrar Capon (from his fine book "The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection")

Barbara was the gem.
 
What a wonderful post. This will resonate with anyone who loves Maine and books.

I am going to try to buy a copy of "Small Potatoes" right now.

Best,
Tom Ricks
 
What a fine tribute to her memory! And what fine memories you have, bound in cloth as well as in your heart and mind.
 
She shines in no merely
reflected light, but in her own native nobility.

(changing slightly the pronouns, I think Morley talks of her)

What an early morning (blog) treat Sarah.

Yesterday, I was reading STREAMLINES by CMorl, and he says that his own KNOTHOLE was built by a Maine carpenter.

Now, that has some really subtle connotations.

Blessed be her memory
 
More lovely comments, thank you, friends.

Antony - you must know that the Knothole had a Dymaxion bathroom, designed by Morley's friend Buckminster Fuller. Fuller spent a lot of time on Bear Island, here in Maine. I go there to paint, in June. A beautiful place. Subtle connotations, indeed.
 
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