Saturday, February 12, 2011


Book shopping in my own shelves

And elsewhere. I must really have cabin fever. In the past few weeks I've bought books at four local bookshops (used and new), attended two library sales, and hunted for books at two different Goodwill stores. I also spent some time last week tending my own book booth, at the antiques mall in downtown Bangor. If I don't stop in for a few weeks the shelves get fantastically messy - one person puts some books back roughly, someone else leaves books out in a stack after browsing, the next person sees the mess and thinks it's fine to add to it. This worries me. In my shop I used to straighten the shelves every morning when I opened. It was immaculate. I was a neat freak then and I remain so. But now I live 45 minutes away from my inventory, and I share a car with my husband, who works in the opposite direction these days, so I don't tend my books as often as I'd like. I'm happy to be able to say that last year was a very good year for selling, and this year is off to a great start, so I have to live with the fact that a messy display of books doesn't necessarily mean lost sales. But, sales aside, books deserve respect, don't they? (Rhetorical question. Unless anyone feels like answering.)

Of the bookshops I visited, two are gloriously messy and two are extremely tidy. And the Goodwill shelves are... Goodwill shelves. Terrible stuff in no order whatsoever but a gem every now and then, so worth scanning quickly. The library sales were a pleasure - I came away with several big bags of books for not much cash on the barrelhead. And now my to-be-read pile looms large. I think my Johnson-Boswell project is winding down, as these other books begin to elbow their way into my reading life. I despair of finding the Johnson Dictionary, and I may just leave that quest in the hands of serendipity, and move on. After finishing the Life, I spent some time ransacking my own bookcases and I swear I kept finding books I'd forgotten I owned, books about or by Johnson and Boswell and their friends. I could have stayed home and gone shopping in my shelves, when it comes down to it. I have enough here in the house to be able to read, uninterrupted, for years and years.

Some of the Johnsoniana I found at home: two volumes of The Rambler by Samuel Johnson (Earle, Philadelphia 1812, lovely little leatherbound editions of his essays); Aspects of Doctor Johnson by E.S. Roscoe (Cambridge 1928); An Eighteenth-Century Gentleman and Other Essays by S.C. Roberts (Johnson 1930); Young Boswell by Chauncey B. Tinker (Atlantic Monthly 1922); Anecdotes of The Literary Club by C.A. Miller (Exposition 1948); and several books with extensive reference to Johnson and Boswell as part of social scene of that time, such as Austin Dobson's Eighteenth Century Vignettes (three volumes, Chatto & Windus 1906). Many many others, too. One of the best is the Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Hannah More, edited by William Roberts (Harper 1839), which is comprised almost completely of selections from her letters to and from her sisters. These letters are droll and altogether wonderful and give us marvelous first-person accounts of literary life in London. She adored Johnson and writes of him repeatedly. I am well into volume one. I could go on and on. I mean, I haven't even mentioned Horace Walpole. Or Fanny Burney.

So, the long and short of it is, despite all the new acquisitions, I've been carefully reading my own antiquarian books, and enjoying them mightily, I must say. I suspect I will unearth even more as the winter winds down (when, Lord, when...) and I begin the task of sorting out the cartons and cartons of books and miscellaneous stuff still remaining from the closure of my bookshop. All those cartons, in a heap in our spare room. I'm determined to get through them. I hope the pleasure of rediscovery will alleviate the distress of the job.

Hannah More gets the final word today (Volume I p.113):

"What frost - what snow! By-the-by, if this same snow were of human invention, I should be apt to say I did not like it."

Sarah - I too have books on my shelves who have not made themselves known to me for many months. What fun it is to discover them - especially when it is so frozen out side.
I know, Kathleen - the Johnson books became quite comical, as I kept finding more of them, and kept thinking, "I don't remember this book at all, and yet here it is on my bookshelf, obviously purchased and put there by me." Well, that's what moving does to you. Moving shop and home - even after all this time, I still don't feel settled down.
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