Monday, October 30, 2006


Blogger's back

And I am, too. Please excuse the brief glitch over the weekend. My missing post has returned intact from the ether. I'll leave the other one as a reminder that communication isn't flawless in this technological age. Reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the movie Master and Commander, when Jack is examining a model of the reinforced hull of the enemy ship, and says something like, "What an advanced modern age we live in, to be sure." This circa 1810, and still true today.

Speaking of Master and Commander, I'm considering losing myself again in the series. It's been two years since I last read it and I've almost forgotten enough of it. There are so many books I wish I could read again for the first time, but this series particularly so - I'll never forget the intensity of the not-wanting-it-to-end. Such a sharp, almost painful, feeling, which underwent a brief swan song resurgence when the fragment of Patrick O'Brian's last manuscript was finally published (21, Norton 2004). Sometimes I listen to the movie soundtrack here at the shop, and inevitably someone asks "What is this??" I was at Best Buy the other night looking for a new cd player for the shop, because my ancient one needs to be hit with a hammer to make it work (how embarrassing), and I watched several guys standing in front of the Bose display with the sound turned up excruciatingly loud, and the trailer from Master and Commander was playing. They were transfixed. I was, too. So it's been on my mind again, the series. I don't know what I'm thinking, though - I've got tons of new books to read. With winter on the way, I guess I just want the comfort of the known.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


My blog post from earlier today...

...seems to be lost in the ether. It's showing up as usual on my blogger dashboard but isn't appearing on my main blog page, and when I try to view it I'm getting a funky error message which I've never gotten before. I tried cancelling the post and reentering it, and it still isn't showing up. At least on my computer. Perhaps someone else can see it (it is rife with Thoreau quotes)? Anyone else having blogger problems today?

If I can't post it here, I'll print it out and begin assembling Sarah's Books: The Lost Years.


More new books and book news

Every so often I order some remainders from Daedalus. This month their catalogue had some irresistible books, and the big box arrived yesterday. What prompted my order in the first place: they have inexpensive copies of Book Row, a fat anecdotal history of New York City bookshops in their heyday (Carroll & Graf 2004). I already own a copy, but I'm glad to get a few for the shop. I ordered around fifteen titles in all; my other favorite item is Letters to a Spiritual Seeker, the letters of Henry David Thoreau to his friend Harrison Blake (norton 2004). I think I've already mentioned that Thoreau is one of my best-selling authors here at the shop, but it bears repeating. I opened the book at random yesterday and read this, from 1856:

"... I should not care if I sprouted into a living tree, put forth leaves & flowers, & have fruit.

I am grateful for what I am & have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence. ... O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it - for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment. ...

Have you got in your wood for this winter? What else have you got in? Of what use a great fire on the hearth and a confounded little fire in the heart?" (p.142)

Fitting thoughts as we head into dark November later this week: Got your books stockpiled for winter? Got your wood in? Feeling thankful? Good reminders, all.

Friday, October 27, 2006


One more picture of the shop

Thanks so much for the comments, everyone... One more picture, I took this from the hall landing at the top of the staircase - here's what you would see if you walked in my door at the shop. The large table is the check-out desk (and lounging area for visitors, there's an old oak chair at the far end of the table where some of my favorite people sit and chat with me from time to time), some essential reference books are in the bookcase behind my chair (also a travel Scrabble set), my laptop computer, cashbox, bags for books, credit card swiper, and various other electronics hide behind the plant on another desk, and I sit in the old wooden office chair one of my sisters found for me at her recycling center one fine day. Out of the frame is a maple typecase, a glass-front bookcase for rare books, more plants, and the open doorways to the front and back rooms. Also, my easel and paints are in one corner, and an old print of Robert Burns is on the wall in the other, he's one of my muses:

I've always got a few stacks of books on my desk, and sometimes cartons and cartons piled up behind it. It's pretty clean right now because I haven't bought many books this month. To the left and right, large glass windows look into the front and back rooms of the shop. Above, there's an unfortunate drop-ceiling which I long to destroy, because the tin ceiling still exists up underneath it, but it would require some heavy construction and rewiring of lights and such, and my otherwise wonderful landlady is balking at letting me take it on. At one time this space was cut up into several offices, though originally it was one huge room. I love it here - BUT - I'd love to replace the fluorescent lights with something else more reading-friendly. The only other thing I'd do if I had the time and money would be to knock a big window in the wall behind me (or, more accurately, have some burly construction workers do it for me, since the wall is five feet of brick). The lot next door is empty and the city put in a nice little garden I could look at if I had a window here. It would be south-facing, too, so I'd get some sun in the winter. That's it - except of course I'll always be building more bookshelves. Never enough of those around. That's it for now, I had to get started on the next hundred blog posts... back to the books.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


200th post!

I'm two hundred posts old today! Let's celebrate with some pictures of the bookshop! The shop is on a second floor in a brick building from 1911, with a white ceramic tile facade. This first one shows half of the great curved window in front, with part of the nature/science section showing, the mini orange tree (which has tiny green oranges on it right now), one of my Emeco aluminum chairs, the maple hardwood floors, and the view out the window to the street showing the dark red door to the local bagel place, which is justly famous in these parts:

Next, to the right of the big window, floor to ceiling (shelves are around nine feet high) contemporary fiction and classic literature (roughly divided up by living and/or dead writers, but often much more arbitrary than that), with room left at the bottom for the hot water baseboard heat, and just a bit of the white pressed tin ceiling showing:

Then further to the right, into the shop: some reference books, a view over the short wall towards the books-about-books, poetry, drama, music, and art sections, with some leatherbound sets on top, and more of the tin ceiling, which looks like wedding cakes:

Next, a closer-up view of anthologies, books-about-books, and poetry (the white shelving units were already built in when I arrived here, so I built more shelves on top of them - I favor light natural pine for my shelving, with one coat of clear urethane to seal):

The shop is sort of long and skinny. The above sections (and others) are all in the front room of the shop, my office area sits in the center in a glassed-in enclosure thing where the entrance is (again, here before I arrived), then my back rooms have more books, my painting studio, storage areas, facilities, and closets. Here's part of the history section in one back room:

The Wayward Books sign is from a great bookshop that used to be about an hour from here; the proprietor closed up last year when she and her partner semi-retired and moved away. I bought some books when she left, and several more pine bookcases, and she gave us the sign, which we took off the side of her shop building. She had a great shop, and a lot of people comment on it when they see the sign here. Also, the little printing press on the bottom left is one I use from time to time when I'm making miniature books (yes, I own metal type and a few presses, I had fullblown letterpress fever for many years - more on that someday).

So that's a brief shop tour. I'd say I have around five thousand books, though I haven't counted in a while. Mostly hardcovers, but many quality paperbacks too. No mass markets to speak of. I think the photos show around a third of the books I have. I'm a bit of a neat freak, so the shelves are usually tidy. I go around every other morning and straighten up, depending on how busy it's been. This week, not so busy. So, longer blog posts! Thanks, dear readers, it sure has been fun sharing the shop with you, both today and all year.


Thoughts on blogging

On some other book-person's blog I recently read a bit (no link because I can't remember where it was) to the effect that if no one comments on your blogging efforts, or only a few people comment, then why blog at all, i.e. It's like talking aloud to yourself out in public - rather shameful, egotistical, perhaps nutty, even delusional. That really stuck with me, and bothered me, because the author's intent wasn't friendly, in fact the point of the post was ridicule, for the little guy (the rest of us, in other words). I don't want to return the favor by poking back with a sharp stick, but I do have a few thoughts in response to this, which run along these lines:

Why be exclusive when you can be inclusive? Why take someone else down when it's more peaceful to allow people to do their little thing, whatever it might be? To paraphrase Buddhist author Pema Chödrön: in interactions both small and large, in daily decisions, do you keep choosing peace or do you go to war? Take the high road? And - the thing that really gets me about this person's post - why do artists make art (not that blogs are art, but stretch with me here, for blogs are creative expression, surely)? I'll answer my own question: artists make art because they must. Whether or not anyone responds to it is completely secondary. I think about the great painters and writers who labored their whole lives in obscurity. I mean GREAT artists and TOTAL obscurity. So why begrudge anyone their bit of creative freedom in this highly accessible age, even if the only person who sees the tentative results is a friend or family member here and there.

I think all bloggers must wonder What exactly am I doing here... I blog because I have a creative streak and I've always been a compulsive chronicler of my experience. I also like the interaction with readers (this means YOU). Blogging is like keeping a journal, which I do and have done since I was a teenager, except with blogging your journal talks back to you sometimes. Of course much of what I write in my journals I don't choose to share in public, so I edit what appears here, and I try to keep it to bookish themes, because that's one of the things I love best and want to spread the word about - reading, the bookshop, the bookish life. So many folks who stop by the shop ask me about being a bookseller. And because having a bookshop is one of the great dreams of many of us booklovers, I figured people might be interested to hear what it's like on this side of the desk.

So here we are, blogging. To what end, who knows. But how about this: for fun, and for sharing our love of great books - that might just be enough. I'm feeling introspective, because this is blog post #199. Post #200 is coming up next. With pictures. Of books. LOTS AND LOTS OF BOOKS.

Happy anniversary to us, the booklovers managing to cope with the digital era.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


A tiny piece of eye candy

Blog-lurker and bookseller Charlie knows I love booksellers' tickets; he found this one in a book about Japan from 1936 and emailed me this enlargement of it. He thought I might like it. Oh, yes, I DO. Can anyone read this? Whatever it says, what a great design; I particularly like the stylized rising sun over the v of the open book:

I have one lonely ticket from Peking - the only sample I have from any country in the far east. I was curious about Isseido, and googling finds us this - do check it out, there are several great photos of an antiquarian bookshop in Tokyo. Cool. Thanks, Charlie...


A few pleasing trifles

In the spirit of Halloween, I'm trying to ward off a looming vampire of a cold with garlic. Lots of garlic. And I'm carrying around little baggies of vitamin c. I never thought I'd be the kind of person to carry around little baggies of pills, but there it is. A sad fact. Must be gettin' old... I carry around baggies of books, too, however. Here is the second book Ryan found for me in Boston - this one at Brattle - a slim attractive volume written by one of my favorite printers, Carl Purington Rollins, longtime printer for Yale: Some Trifles which make for Perfection: A Brief Discourse on the Details of the Setting-up of Footnotes, Bibliographies, and Indexes (George McKibben & Son 1949). The quote from which the title comes may be too small to read in the scan; it is: "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." - Michael Angelo. The title page is so pleasing that I reproduce it here. The book is only a few pages long, and concludes, in part, with this:

"The first and most important result to be achieved in the composition of the subordinate elements in a book (as also, of course, in the text) is clarity. The presentation of the subject matter in footnote, bibliography, and index must be such as to prevent any ambiguity in the mind of the reader. Order is heaven's first law, and nowhere more desirable than in the presentation of facts.

Almost as important is comeliness. The general effect of the type page should be that of pleasant and even texture, without spottiness or vulgar mixtures of heavy and light patches of color. ..."

Good typography is one more reason books themselves are so pleasing to those of us who love them. Good typography, a sturdy attractive binding, a row of such bindings in a bookshelf, rows of such bookshelves in a tidy room, all of these things represent (to me, at least) a beautiful order in a chaotic world (regardless of whether or not I have a touch of OCD). To wit: I am halfway through Alain de Botton's new book The Architecture of Happiness, which did come in the mail yesterday, and here are a few representative sentences - if you like these, as I do, you will like the whole book:

"In essence, what works of design ... talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. ... they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of visions of happiness. ... A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of certain of our ideas of a good life." (p.72)

I may post a full report when I finish the book. I've already read Some Trifles and when I find myself ready to set some footnotes into metal type, I will feel sufficiently prepared and confident. Meanwhile, the book will rest next to its fellows in my typography section at home. Neatly.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Bibliomania strikes again

I am constantly surprised by books I never even knew existed. That's the most exciting thing about trawling for used books - recognizing something simultaneously special and unknown. In this case, Ryan found me a few good books in Boston, he just got back from a work trip to the big city. At Commonwealth Books he turned up a copy of the following: Ticketed Bookbindings from Nineteenth-Century Britain by William Spawn and Thomas E. Kinsella, with an essay by Bernard C. Middleton (Bryn Mawr College Library and Oak Knoll Press 1999). A larger-than-life example of one of the illustrations appears here. The actual ticket measures a bit over three by three inches. The book has around two hundred black and white illustrations of bookbinders' tickets and stamps, many of which are also booksellers' tickets. And a section of color illustrations of some of the fine bindings in question. Who knew there was such a book! The madness! The ecstasy! I was so happy I was hopping around the living room, doing a little happy-dance. I settled down and spent time poring over the text, the writers of which generously remind us several times that serious scholarship in this field is just getting started. Most of these tickets I will never see in real life, but the next best thing is surely a great book about them, especially one with such meticulous detail. That's the first book Ryan found for me, the second follows tomorrow.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


An interesting and sad NYT article

Why do bookshops close? Owners retire or pass on with no one to take over their businesses, shops have natural life cycles, are put out of business by competition, and, more likely, rents soar in urban areas and it becomes economically impossible to remain in business. This recent article chronicles some of the lost bookshops of New York City. It makes me nostalgic and I never even visited any of them. But I've read about them...


I like my mailman...

...when he brings me letters such as this, along with the usual raft of bills and solicitations:

It's from the Christopher Morley Knothole Association, in Roslyn, Long Island. The son of the gentleman who visited my shop some time ago sent me a back issue of their newsletter. If anyone wants to join the Association, whose "dues and donations support the Association's projects and reading scholarships" the annual membership levels are as follows: $10 student, $20 individual, $25 family, $200 lifetime. Send dues to the Association c/o Bryant Library, Paper Mill Road, Roslyn, New York 11576. Mr. Cohn, who is the president of the Association, also tends Morley's grave.

Speaking of the mail, I am awaiting a copy of Alain de Botton's new book, The Architecture of Happiness. Should be here Monday - and with a title like that, perhaps this is the book I'm looking for, to cheer me up as we head into winter. One of them, at least.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Summer seems far away now

I took this photo on what I didn't realize at the time was the last day of true summer in this part of the world. A friend's boat in September, in the middle of Penobscot Bay, temperature around 78 degrees, and the sun still felt hot. We saw seals sunbathing on the ledges and fog far offshore, waiting for the turn of the tide before coming in to fill the bay. Heaven. And what a contrast to today: cold and rainy and leaves dropping off the trees faster than one could count, if one could bear to do so. Today is just dreary enough that I feel that winter is actually approaching. If not imminent. All the more reason to look at the vacation pictures - although perhaps I should have saved this one until February, when I'm really going to need to remember that day did in fact exist, and a similar one might even come again.

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm between books at the moment. Usually I have three or four going at once, with several (well, many) waiting in the wings. The Joy of Reading had me fired up for a few days, but now in retrospect I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by it, and deflated in general by the approach of the dark season. I don't think I can face Milton right now, or Henry James. I'm thinking that I need a book containing a lot of light. And even a happy ending. Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The giants of literature

I recently came across this great illustration in a children's schoolbook reprint of Swift's Gulliver's Travels (Ginn and Company 1914, illustrations by Charles Copeland). As I near the end of Charles Van Doren's The Joy of Reading, I feel like the little man on the ladder, peering across the modern void toward the great literature of the past - Watch that first step... At the same time, he's rather like a lookout in a crow's nest: Land ho! And he's so intent on reading that he hasn't bothered to retrieve his fallen hat.

Van Doren has me convinced that it has become necessary for me to read Euclid's The Elements, Milton's Areopagitica (his passionate treatise on the necessity of a free press; I have a nice old copy but have never read it), The History of Herodotus ("...full of wonderful, curious stories, many of which he knows are probably not entirely true - but, as he says, it would be a shame not to tell them, they are so interesting." p.215), Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Thucydides, many others. Reading this book brings to mind one of the last formal classes I ever took - a humanities graduate seminar of my choice for a liberal studies M.A., the literature surrounding the Renaissance. I look back on that as one of the most valuable of all my classes in school, because it led me to and had me actively enjoying books I doubt I would have picked up otherwise (at that time, anyway). We read and discussed the work of Petrarch, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Erasmus, Thomas More, Cervantes, Marguerite de Navarre, Machiavelli, Montaigne, and Cellini. There were others, but it's been a long time, and these are what stick with me. Imagine, dead white guys and gals can be incredibly good reading! A fine lesson to learn any old time, but particularly in one's early twenties. Anyway, at that time in life I felt a lot like the little man on the ladder - books were beginning to loom large in my life and it was starting to sink in how important they would become to me. Huge. HUGE!

Monday, October 16, 2006


The happiness of the long distance runner

I must mention that my husband ran an amazing race yesterday at the Mount Desert Island Marathon, and he PR-ed by over seven minutes. And came in tenth place OVERALL (!!) from a field of around 800, with a time of 3:02:23. This on a tough, hilly course. He was in sixth place for the first half of the race. Crazy-good. I know it's a cliche to say that marathon runners are inspirational, but take a good long look from the side of the road at mile 24 or so and watch these people giving it all they have, for no other reason than to test themselves and see what they are capable of. Living completely and fully in the moment, totally stripped down to the essentials. It's truly incredible. We're headed back to the Boston Marathon in the spring, need I say it?


Another perfect bedside browsing book

I've been reading Charles Van Doren's The Joy of Reading (Harmony 1985) and I can't say enough good things about it. But I'll try: he is the kind of writer who is so persuasive and warm regarding book-love that he inspires me to run to the bookshelves nearby (any will do - home, shop, local library) and start tracking down and devoting myself to the titles he recommends. He's a generous, inlcusive writer, and his introduction about his own love of reading is a treasure. He recommends books which are difficult, and instead of coming off sounding like an overweening intellectual, he tells us outright that certain books are difficult, but if we stick with them and read slowly and attentively, the dividends are immense and well worth the trouble. Then he tempers these entries (Dante, Robert Browning, Kant, etc.) with entries on purely delightful books which are easy to read and easy to love because they are simply the best of the best (St. Augustine, Jane Austen, even Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon). The book is arranged alphabetically by author, and then Van Doren discusses what he believes to be the best of that author's work, in an easy, intelligent, often humorous manner. The pages are flying by, I'm about halfway through. A few words about reading, from the introduction:

"I become distressed if I am anywhere without a book..." (p.1)

"Life without books would be, for me, a vacant horror." (p.1)

"From Buchanan (an undergraduate professor of his at St. John's College) I learned an amazing thing: not everything, even in the best books, can be understood, even by the best readers." (p.4)

And on pages six and seven he recounts spending a year reading and browsing through all of the thousands of English literature books in the library at Columbia University - too long a story to reproduce here, but worth seeking out. He wraps up this account by saying:

"Looking back, I realize that what happened during the year was that certain books emerged from the sea of literature that surrounded me, unmistakably and remarkably.... I came to understand at that time which books are good and which are not and why. It is a lesson I have not forgotten."

I've had this book for a while, and referred to it before, but had never sat down and read it through. A wonderful resource, from the son of Pulitzer-winner Mark Van Doren, former quiz-show contestant, and friend of Clifton Fadiman and Mortimer J. Adler. Reading this book is akin to having a trusted friend pressing books into your hands, saying, Read this, read this! And the only possible response is, Ok, ok, I will!

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Booker winners revisited

I read John Banville's The Sea, over the last two evenings. I didn't get lost in it, the way I always hope to, in a truly great novel. It was too intellectually aware of itself and it kept reminding me of how smart it was, which jarred me out of deeply caring about the story. Which was a fine and moving story. On the up side, Banville's use of language is wonderful; he has a way with an unexpected simile or metaphor, like this:

"My father worked in Ballymore and came down in the evenings on the train, in a wordless fury, bearing the frustrations of his day like so much luggage clutched in his clenched fists." (p.26)

And this:

"The first time we came home for a visit - home: the word gives me a shove and I stumble - ..." (p. 155)

And methinks Banville has an OED close at hand, due to his use of words such as flocculent (adj. p.43), velutinous (adj. p.71), ichor (n. p.84), glair (n. p.118), boreens (pl.n. p.139), and refection (n. p.143). He obviously loves words, and in fact stops the flow of the text to comment on certain words and the choice of one word over another throughout the book. Is this a postmodern device? Cleverness or the love of words themselves, this worrying at them? Or an affectation of the novel's main character and narrator, a self-proclaimed dilettante? Hard to say. Overall, enjoyable, though I didn't empathize much with said dilettante, despite the terrible events of his life. Guess I'll leave off reading prize-winners for a while.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Award-winners and such

Kiran Desai, Anita Desai's daughter, just won the Booker Prize last night. From the press release:

"Hermione Lee comments,

'We are delighted to announce that the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2006 is Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness. The winner was chosen, after a long, passionate and generous debate, from a shortlist of five other strong and original voices.'"

Anyone read it yet? A humane and funny novel winning the Booker, geez, sounds like a dream come true. I thought Man Booker winners had to be cutting-edgy and depressing as hell... I read Anita Desai's novel Clear Light of Day years ago and remember loving it, but not much else, unfortunately. I have a terrible problem retaining what I've read, but luckily this allows me to re-read favorite books again and again and never tire of them.

I just picked up a softcover of John Banville's The Sea for fifty cents off a local library's perpetual booksale shelves (last year's Booker winner, I know, but I am perpetually behind in my reading habits - a few centuries behind, usually). I am contemplating reading it. Shall I? Other Booker winners in recent years have left me cold.

Other news in brief: my back is better - I am thankful, thankful, and have been back at the easel the last few days. A few customers straggling in here and there at the shop, including my friend and fellow bookseller David who just proposed to his girlfriend, and was accepted - congratulations and thanks for buying some books! I've also been reading a lot in the past two weeks, more on that soon.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Attempting to get a grip

Largely customer-less, except for Philip (thanks Philip!), I've been sorting books all day. For the shop. Sort of. I've had to face the fact that I am a book magnet - they accumulate like dead leaves around my feet in the fall, and all of a sudden I can't fit one more on my shelves at home (Hmm, might want to read this, sometime...) and they are stacking up in the storage area at the shop like I'm building forts with them. And this is one of the days of reckoning. I have ruthlessly brought stacks from home to price and shelve at the shop, and I am even culling the stacks at the shop that were bound for home, and putting half of those out for sale, too. But a few still stick, even if I know I will never read them. For example, a nice hardcover from 1936, the first publication of an obscure English poem written around 1400 a.d. Why would I want such a thing, particularly when I cannot read Chaucerian English - as in "For tristith, als trewly / as tyllinge us helpeth..." (p.19)? Well, I was immediately ensnared by the introduction, which begins:

"In the autumn of 1928 a west-country bookseller sent up to Mssrs. Hodgson for sale a number of books, and with them a dilapidated manuscript, on which he set so small a value that he instructed the auctioneers not to return it if it proved unsaleable. Mr. S. Hodgson at once recognized its value, and Mr. Kenneth Sisam among others identified it as a poem hitherto unknown..." (Mum and the Sothsegger, Oxford, for the Early English Text Society p.ix)

I read this and the urge to keep the book, indeed to read on! is extremely strong. And this happens over and over, book after book. I struggle with this urge to collect, or hoard I should more honestly say, because of space limitations, and my god, there really are only so many hours in the day one can read - believe me, I know. I have also reached the conclusion that even if I do carefully note a price on a front free endpaper and place the book out for sale in the shop, I still own the book - and will, seven times out of ten, possibly forever. I can't decide if this thought is chilling, or warming! My fort is now my shop. In fact, now that I think of it, I've described the shop to old friends as my Fortress of Solitude. Anyway, I've still got a few thousand books at home, despite my high falutin' talk of ruthlessness. Back to the books.

Friday, October 06, 2006


On days off, and the reading of novels

Ryan and I spent much of yesterday on the outskirts of Acadia National Park - a stunning fall day, cold wind but warm sun. I sat in the lee of some trees and sketched the orange and red leaves and blue sky while Ryan ran a third of the Mount Desert Island Marathon course. He's preparing for the race, which happens a week from Sunday. We know the course backwards and forwards, but it helps to get a feel for all the peaks and valleys, as it were. A wonderful day off. I did some reading, too, Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire (Picador 2004). I've been reading way too much poetry lately and felt the need for some circuitous lush prose. Sample sentence: "'After childhood, we become prepared for coldness. It's generosity that disarms us.'" (p.99) And (p.170): "'If the moon came up only once in a hundred years, the whole world would stand watching.'" In a nutshell, our hero manages to fall in love with a verrrry young woman in the post-war and post-colonial East, and the resulting tale is not repulsive in any way, at least in, say, the way that The Lover by Duras is, or the doubly-repulsive Lolita. The Great Fire is more a sweeping traditional romance, although I won't say if it ends happily or not.

A friend of mine came in the shop some time ago, and said she had instructions from her husband to pamper herself and submit to some frivolous luxury (in everyday life she is a rather frugal Quaker). She came to my shop because she said the most luxurious things she could think of were perfumes (which I don't carry) and novels (oh, the decadence...). I would have given her this book to get lost in, had I yet read it myself. Next time.

Novels and walks in the park aside, I'd love to sell some books today. It's been mighty slow this week.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Bookseller's lunch

I use this canvas lunchbag (when I'm not using my Wonder Woman lunchbox, that is):

My parents picked it up for me years and years ago on a trip to Washington, D.C., and I found it again on a recent kitchen cupboard clean-out. Now spruced up and back in service...


A day in the life

I'm feeling a bit better today, I can move my arm around now, I just can't turn my head very far to the right. But I can still hold a book, thank god, and READ. I swear, if I had no arms at all I would learn to turn book pages with my toes. Last night it helped to sleep on two pillows piled up so that my back kind of hung in space instead of hitting the mattress right where the ache is. I feel like Quasimodo. Anyway, fascinating I'm sure, but enough of that.

Odd day yesterday at the shop. In the morning, a customer bought a greeting card. I gave him change and he left the shop, and I didn't notice until fifteen minutes or so after he was gone that he'd left the card on the counter. About a half hour later he came back to get it. Then an hour later he came back again, to return it. He'd changed his mind and decided he didn't want it. I gave him back his $2.63 and assured him it was no problem. Then, an hour later, he called. To apologize for returning the greeting card, saying if he worked at a shop and someone did that to him, he'd be mad. I again assured him that it was fine, thank you so much for calling, goodbye. Then in the afternoon, someone called and asked me if I accepted donations. I said I'm selective and condition is paramount, no moldy books please, but of course I'd be happy to take a look, how kind of her. She came by soon after with five boxes of supremely mildewed books, to which I gave the most perfunctory look, out on the sidewalk. It took some tact to suggest to her that the books weren't worth anything because of their condition. She said she knew they weren't like new, but wouldn't somebody want them? I fumbled for words as I looked (from several feet away) at the visible mold on a nice old Alice in Wonderland hardcover. I thanked her again for thinking of me. She headed off to Goodwill with them.

To those romantics out there who think, Oh, to have a wee bookshoppe! remember these transactions and think about maintaining high levels of patience. Especially on those days you happen to feel like petulant Colin in The Secret Garden. But really, who am I kidding, even a strange day here is better than a good day working somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Short posts due to incapacitation

I'm going on day four of a pulled muscle on the right side of my upper back. Hence short blog posts because it hurts to click a mouse. It also hurts to paint - I'm right-handed and lifting up my right arm is less than pleasant at the moment. This has never happened to me before and I'm somewhat at a loss. So last night, feeling incapacitated and decidedly grumpy, I took home a copy of George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, a book I've long wanted to read, thinking it would allow me to further wallow in self-pity. But I couldn't take it - the bedbugs, poverty, violence, drunkards - page after page. And normally I love reading about destitute vagabonds. I put it down and picked up James Lees-Milne's little Oxford anthology The Country House instead. I've finally been doing some culling in my book room at home, and came across it this weekend. I'd forgotten I owned it. Wonderful little book. Happy escapism won out over self-pity. More soon.

Monday, October 02, 2006


A poet speaks out

I came across this a week late: an open letter to Laura Bush from poet Sharon Olds, in The Nation. Read it to the very end - the last two sentences made my skin prickle.

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