Monday, January 12, 2015


papery and painterly paperwork

A quiet snowy Monday in January is the perfect time for paperwork.  Reading too, but every once in a while paperwork takes precedence.  I'm deep into the literature of the Roman Empire in The Norton Anthology of Classical Literature (up to page 700 so far, yay me!), but that's not what I want to talk about today.  Instead, I've gathered up all relevant receipts and printouts and bill stubs (still analog, don't judge) and am preparing to file our income tax.  We have a lovely accountant who checks everything over for us and files electronically.  Foremost in this small sea of paper - I say small because I really do have something of a microbusiness at this point - are the printouts, month by month, of all the books that sold in my antiques mall booth.  I like looking these lists over, and remembering when and where I first bought the books, not to mention pricing them and putting them out for sale, and now, hey, many have sold and are on to new homes and new lives with other booklovers!  The system keeps working!  The books number in the hundreds, and it still feels exciting to me, even after many years of buying and selling.  So what sold?  Fiction and poetry top the list, followed by cookery, memoir-y type books in various fields, and little bits of everything else, spread out over every bookshop category imaginable.  Or every category I have in my book booth, I should say.  Here is a sampling, in no particular order:

many Patrick O'Brian novels (huzzah!)

The Road to Oxiana - Robert Byron (sold two copies this year!! of one of my all-time favorites!!)
Word Freak - Stefan Fatsis
Monster in a Box - Spalding Gray
Bound for Glory - Woody Guthrie
lots of David Sedaris

current bestsellers including The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and several Nora Ephron books and anything I can get my hands on by Neil Gaiman

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
lots of Thoreau (maybe my bestselling author of all time)
My Life in France by Julia Child (so, so good)
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

poetry by Yeats, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Pushkin, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Charles Simic, Louise Gluck, Gwendolyn Brooks, T.S. Eliot   

tons more novels, by Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Stephen King (local boy...), Zora Neale Hurston, Fanny Burney, Mark Twain, Lorrie Moore, Wilkie Collins, Conrad, Dickens, Hawthorne, Mark Helprin (two copies of Winter's Tale!), Richard Russo, Marilynne Robinson, David Mitchell, Dave Eggers, Nick Hornby

I haven't even mentioned Maine books, or nautical books, or history, travel, religion, art, gardening, nature, how-to, children's, etc.  Lots sold from all these categories.  My favorite might be classics, not just because that is my winter reading project this year, but also because I just LOVE that people still value these books, and buy them, and read them, or even simply intend to read them.  On my lists from this year are Sophocles, Plutarch, Virgil, Plato, then on to Chaucer, and the Kalevala, Hildegard of Bingen, up to The Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse and beyond. 

Also sold are many books on how to write, including old favorites Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, which has to be the most light-a-fire-under-you book ever for wanna-be writers, and On Writing by Stephen King, which runs a close second.  See, hard evidence that people still read good books, and still want to learn to write good books too, isn't that a hopeful thing?

One more - some terrific books are gone from the books-about-books section, including a paperback copy of 84, Charing Cross Road.

As is evident from these titles and authors, I'm not selling many rare books these days.  After buying and selling some wonderful and scarce (and expensive!) books in years past, both on the internet and at shows and in the little bookshop that could, I now have no real outlet for such items, and frankly I'm not finding them anyway, anymore, when I go out book hunting.  The good folks at libraries and thrift shops are sifting their stock for rarities before anything ever comes close to the sales floor.  I've made my peace with that, and while I still love to look, I'm not holding my breath thinking that a great first edition is going to be recognized and snapped up by me - not the way I used to find modern firsts, and real antiquarian books, fifteen years ago. (Note to Fate, or whomever: I do remain open to this possibility, though, so please do not forsake me! I shall remain vigilant!)  All that is to say that I am content to scout around for the everyday secondhand books that I happen to love to sell and sell again, old favorites and recent favorites both.  It's a win-win, since I get to book-hunt, and find new stuff to read, and also sell, on a manageable scale that leaves me all the painting time I could ever wish for, and then some.

Speaking of which, I glance back at the aforementioned paperwork and am very happy to report that is the first year in which income from my paintings has overtaken and surpassed my book income.  A milestone.  Whatever made me choose these professions, destined to keep me on the church-mouse side of impecuniousness for so long, I do not know (well, I have inklings...), but what I do know is that they both pay huge dividends in happiness and contentment, and I hesitate to ask for more than that.  Why should I, when this life is fine as it is - I mean, who gets to do this...?  Oh, I do!  I thank my lucky stars for this surfeit of success.  And think it's about time to find a winter library sale.  I need to restock.          

You say: "I glance back at the aforementioned paperwork and am very happy to report that is the first year in which income from my paintings has overtaken and surpassed my book income."

No small accomplishment! I wish you the joy of it, as Captain Aubrey might say.
Thank you, Andrew! I am not expecting a repeat this year, for several reasons I don't need to go into, but 2014 was exceptional - my solo show, participation in a group show, and sales from my studio all added up to over fifty paintings sold (!!!). I put my heart and soul into what I do, so, as you might imagine, this was extremely reassuring. The book income is slow and steady, and balances out the ups and downs of art sales. I am truly blessed.
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