Saturday, March 24, 2007


Swan song

The sun's shining this morning and Ryan and I went out to the local greasy spoon, Nicky's Diner, for breakfast. After, we took a drive around town to see the ice coming out of the river, courtesy of all the snowmelt the warm weather's brought over the last few days. I'm in the shop today, then will be taking a few days off to get out and see the other beginnings of spring, go hiking perhaps, if the ice is also out of the woods, maybe do some watercolor sketching. I'm not planning on buying any books, because I'm thinking with anticipation of the huge used book sale next weekend, the first great local sale of the season. The past few years there have been tremendous - great books, and lots of 'em, plain and simple.

I've been wondering how to wrap this up, and I think I'll do so by mentioning (again?) that whenever I travel anywhere, I always pack the same two books in my luggage. They are both very thin and light, and I've read both many times but can still pick either one up and open it anywhere and find something, if not new, at least meaningful. I never tire of them. If I have to wait for a long time somewhere, I keep myself busy by memorizing bits of them. The books are House of Light by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press 1992), and Hawthorne on Painting, collected by Mrs. Charles W. Hawthorne (Dover reprint, bless them). A close third, if I have the space to pack another book, is The Art Spirit by Robert Henri (Westview Press reprint).

House of Light is too good to pick a quote from, and besides I left it at home today and I don't have a copy in the shop. For anyone who's interested, the first poem in the book is hard to beat - it always knocks me flat. And there are many others. This week I read Oliver's book of essays Long Life (DaCapo 2004), so here are two bits from that, instead. I find them pertinent today:

"That's the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. 'Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?' This book is my comment." (p.xiv)

"The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute but to the extravagant and the possible." (p.45, from a wonderful essay about Emerson)

Mary Oliver lives on Cape Cod, in Provincetown, and oddly enough Charles Hawthorne had his famous painting school there, too, though decades earlier. I've never thought about that until today - I wonder if something of the light and spaciousness I find in their writing and art comes from that particular landscape and how it speaks/spoke to them. I find I feel the same way about the best of Maine, my home state. My home. At its best, in the wild places, the land has a lot to say, and means everything to me. Both Oliver and Hawthorne observe closely and then, lucky us, talk about what they've seen. After Hawthorne died, his widow collected what he'd said to his students over the 31 years he ran his art school. I find that the more I read this book, the more it informs my own painting - over the years it continues to address specific issues I'm working on, again and again. What a gift this little book is. Here is a bit of it:

"Art is a necessity, beauty we must have in the world. Painting and sculpture and music and literature are all of the same piece as civilization, which is the art of making it possible for human beings to live together. When I speak of art I mean painting, architecture, music, the art of literature, sculpture, the theatre, in fact everything that's creative - anything that makes a thought, an idea, or a thing grow where nothing grew before; or a fundamental truth expand and show some new angle of beauty which calls attention to its being a fundamental truth. All these things and many more come under the category of beauty which is a better name for art than the word itself. (p.89)

(If I ever go back to school again, I think I'll study aesthetics. Sometimes I think it's all I'm really interested in - what is beauty and why are things beautiful and what does it all mean.) Despite this sweeping statement about art, Hawthorne usually just offers a lot of very specific advice to his students about whatever canvas he or she is working on at the given moment - for example, here's what he says to someone painting a picture of a house - I think of this every time I'm painting outside and worrying about capturing "reality," and it always makes me relax:

"I want you to see things from the realization that your drawing does not need to be a house. The view that you must take is that this is a piece of God's outdoors, that is is shadow and this is light. You ought to tremble before it, and not sit down like a magician and try to make windows." (p.57)

Robert Henri's book The Art Spirit is also a collection of his advice to his students. Longer than Hawthorne's, but I can' t say richer. Just as rich, perhaps, just as heartening, when one needs help taking heart. Incidentally, or not, the painter Margery Ryerson was responsible for compiling this book and also helped compile the Hawthorne book. She was a student of both Henri and Hawthorne. Well, thank god for her. I've been reading the Henri book off and on for twenty years, and certain passages have come to mean the world to me - just that someone thought this way, and actually told people of it to encourage them:

"We are troubled by having two selves, the inner and the outer. The outer one is rather dull and lets great things go by." (p.154)

"I can think of no greater happiness than to be clear-sighted and know the miracle when it happens. And I can think of no more real life than the adventurous one of living and liking and exclaiming the things of one's own time." (p.172)

"Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway." (p.214)

"The techniques which are beautiful are the inventions of those who have the will to make intimate human records." (p.232)

Intimate human records - the beauty that is books - they can show us ways of being in the world, is that why we love them so? Well, one reason, surely. Back to Mary Oliver for a moment, again from Long Life:

"What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what should I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?" (p.9)

I'm off to try to figure it all out, and if I find out, I will of course report back. That's enough for today. After all those grand statements I find my brain is aching and I have run out of things to say, except this: THANK YOU for reading - I hope to meet you in the quiet aisles of a used bookshop someday. Perhaps your own...?

Friday, March 23, 2007


Penultimate Post - How to Open Your Own Used Bookshop

Who doesn't ove that word, penultimate - always good to sneak into conversation whenever possible. Two notes, here: first, an article about the possible fate of scholarly used and rare bookshop McIntyre and Moore in Somerville, Massachusetts; second, what to do to open your own used bookshop, should you so desire. Over the life of this blog I've had many people ask me for advice on how to open their own shops, and this is what I told them. This also happens to be one appendix (there are several) for the book I wrote two years ago on what it's like to buy and sell used and rare books, keep a shop, and read deeply, which now anyone who reads this blog also knows all about. But here's the nuts and bolts appendix, which gets into specifics. I hope someone finds it useful:

How to Open Your Own Bookshop, the simplified version, or, What Worked for Me.

How did I get a bookshop? I dreamed about it, I decided to do it, I made a plan, and I executed the steps of the plan. This is my advice to the bibliophile who is convinced that this is the life. Because, you know, dear reader, it is.

– Do you love books deeply, with passion? If not, find something else to do.

– Can you deal with people? More importantly, do you like them? Do you have empathy and sympathy for them? Are you patient? If not, find something else to do.

– Go work at a used bookshop. Consider yourself an old-fashioned indentured servant: low, or even no, pay, but remember that this is a temporary situation at the graduate school of your choice, and the knowledge you’re soaking up is priceless. Ask questions. Volunteer for extra duties. Dust every single shelf in the shop. This will force you to handle books you might never ordinarily pick up. When you’ve finished, do it again.

– If no used bookshop will hire you or take you on as a volunteer, get a job at a new-book store. Same as above, consider this an apprenticeship and remember that while you are a lowly wage-slave you are also learning about books and authors, shop management, and customers. Keep a list of what to do and what not to do when you open your own shop.

– Set a timeline for yourself. Don’t end up managing someone else’s shop if you really want one of your own.

– Start selling books in a few venues: online, and in a consignment shop, at the same time that you still have another job to cover your living expenses.

– Avoid debt. Open your shop when your other income sources support the bulk of your new shop expenses. This is your safety net, because it could take some time for customers to find you. It’s worth it to spend a few years being voluntarily poor. It’s much more fun being poor doing what you most want to do than it is being poor doing what you don’t want to do. Trust me on this.

– It’s great to specialize in the subjects that you are most passionate about, but be sure to also have some good books for everyone. Your indentured servitude will have taught you what the best books are in many fields, the classics, so seek them out and stock them if you possibly can. But put your specialties front and center in your own shop, and be proud of them.

– When buying books for stock, don’t buy junky or moldy books. Condition, condition, condition! Shop library sales to inexpensively build your stock, but leave the junk behind.

– Familiarize yourself with good reference books. When you research and price books, make sure that what you think you have is what you actually have.

– My best piece of book-buying advice: relax and have fun. There are enough books in the world for everyone, and they are everywhere, once you start looking. And when you do start looking, and start paying attention, the books will find you.

– Have a life away from the shop. Get out of town often. Getting away is a joy. Coming back to your own shop after a break is also a joy.

– Pursue all of your passions, all of the time. Don’t let anything languish.

– Keep a tidy shop. Respect your books. They will love you for it. Your customers will too. They will notice, and will be vocal about how good your books are. They will praise you, and buy your books, and return to buy more. If your shop is a mess, they’ll quietly leave, and they might not come back.

– If you get tired of the business, do something else. Don’t become a hostile, grumpy old bookshop owner. Sell your shop to your best, most enthusiastic customer and move on to the next dream.

That's it. How to do it, the short version (which took me nearly a decade to live through and a week of writing to summarize). The long version will be available someday, if my entire book is ever published (wish me luck, I'll need it). If anyone takes the advice above, Davis Square in Somerville would be a fine place to open up shop. If you can afford the rent, that is. Hence my ultimate piece of advice for a future used bookseller: if at all possible, somehow, buy your building. It may be your only hope, and will ensure the future of your business and your ultimate freedom. Last post tomorrow.


The evolution of this particular booklover

How did I end up in this mess? Here's a brief history, with a few explanatory pictures. I was surrounded by books for much of my early life. No small wonder, then, that I've ended up spending much of my adult life thus far with books, and in fact still feel most at home and most comfortable when I'm somewhere in the vicinity of large numbers of books. It began here:

In school and after, I had - as they say - a difficult time, and tended to focus on the external world to better cloak my internal world. I still hung out at the library an awful lot, though, and managed to fit a good amount of books in my dorm rooms and early apartments. Goodness, I wish my college town had had a used bookshop. If it had, I might have found my future home much sooner than I did, instead of flailing for a few years. Here's a college shot, make of it what you will, and you'll be entirely correct, I'm sure. Really, go ahead, fill in the blank:

Something completely unexpected happened next. I seem to have grown up (though I am still not absolutely sure on this point). I do know that these days, I've learned to integrate both the inner life and the outer, or bring them into more of a parallel, at least, and am happier by far:

What's next, I wonder? Here's something I never thought I'd do - post poems of my own on this blog. The thought of it always made me think of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its Vogon poetry torture (Nooooo, not Vogon poetry!!! Aaaaaaah!), but hey, it's my blog. Besides, these two are short, and are about books. Naturally. Here's the first:

(Fire Poem)

By the dying fire I wonder
about poetry, the words and
their patterns, sparks of light
and hot coals, quick flashes
and the long slow burn. Poetry
works for me when I’ve had it
with prose: just as I think this
the fire blazes up again, the last
of the dry spruce and a quick
graceful flame that reminds me of
northern lights and sunsets
and other mysterious beauties.
That’s what poetry is, the mystery,
the beauty, the fire: undefinable,
warm, comforting. Burning.

And here's the second:

(My Books)

The print of a book on my palm:
familiar marks, dents from
the base of a spine dark red
on my open hand, from
hours of reading – gripped
by a sad old tale – are there
ever any others? – known,
read, re-read, belovéd.
Printed on my skin, my soul.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Books I've always meant to read

I'll admit it, there are authors whose books I've never read a word of, not a single word. Purportedly great authors. Faulkner. I have never read a single word written by Faulkner. There, I said it. I don't know if I'll ever read any Faulkner, but here's the short list of books I plan to read someday, books I've always meant to read: Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of Rome, Proust (ten years ago I read the first two books, then stalled out), A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (I have them all in paperback, and most of them in hardcover, too), The Divine Comedy, the letters of Horace Walpole (I've dipped in here and there, but I yearn to own the monumental Yale edition of his complete correspondence, it's nothing short of glorious if one has any feeling at all for the eighteenth century), my good friend Samuel Pepys (I made it over halfway through last winter, and again, stalled out), what else, what else. Classics - Plato! St. Augustine! More classics, of a different kind - Pamela, Thomas Carlyle, Ruskin, all of the Robert Louis Stevenson I haven't yet read, the complete Sherlock Holmes (I read some when I was a teenager, don't remember any of it, and have a fat copy in the shop at this very moment). What else, what else, my brain feels empty. What am I missing here, besides everything else in the history of literature?

I simply must share another little Morley bibelot this week, so here it is, today:

A tall thin book entitled Passivity Program, published by Ben Abramson at The Argus Book Shop, Inc., Chicago 1939. Again, this comes in a slipcase, which is not in great shape itself, but which has done its utilitarian job and protected the book very well, which is pristine. Remnants of a glassine jacket remain. The covers are decorative paper over boards, with a lovely suitcase-shaped paper label on the front cover. This copy is inscribed by Abramson after the introduction, and has two very nice bookplates from the former owners. The book contains the text of a lecture read at a college, then printed in The Saturday Review of Literature. A brief note at the beginning tells us that "The term Passivity is employed with some mischief as 'Activity Programs' have become a fetich among progressive educators." The typography, as is usual with these little publications, is quite fine; here is the title page:

This combines so many of my interests - Morley, books published by bookshops, limited editions, and fine typography. Basically, it's so good I can hardly stand it. Abramson says "I am publishing this booklet (a) because it is a fine piece of work, (b) because, although it will undoubtedly be included in a collected edition later, it deserves the dignity of a separate format, and, (c) because I like to publish books by Christopher Morley." (pp.5-6) He goes on to say of Morley, "One of the distinguishing marks of the creative maniac is the affection with which he nurses his disillusionment. His books might properly be lumped under the general heading of The Importance of Being Me." (p.10)

Morley's talk itself ranges all over the place, but one of his main points is that we should "be passive and listen," in other words, pay attention and we will be "astonished and thrilled and entertained" in whatever milieu we find ourselves in. (p.24) For example, "A person who lives all his life in a back yard and has spiritual dominion over that back yard may be a greater artist than a radio broadcaster who hustles all over the world. There are some big noises on the air that might broadcast 365 nights a year and still wouldn't know as much about what's really happening as Emily Dickinson learned in her garden at Amherst." (pp.16-17)

That's it for today. The only other item I can think of to add to my someday reading list is the 11th edition of the Britannica, but that's kind of crazy. Oh, what the heck. May as well be crazy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Books I regret reading

I used to think if I started a book, I had to finish it, no matter what. Not throw it across the room halfway through, in petulant disgust, if I didn't like it. I thought I owed the book, or at least the author, a bit of respect. I no longer think this. Life is simply too short. I've wanted to write a blog post for a long time about books I wish I had never read - but the only two I can think of at this very moment are The Magus by John Fowles (I read it all, but oh, how I HATED it - this book is famous for being either loved or despised and not much in between) and The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter. Tom Kitten being captured by rats and nearly made into a roly-poly pudding terrified me as a child, and still gives me the horrors when I think about it. The Magus - what can I say. I thought it was a waste of my time, for what, a mysterious unresolved labyrinth of a book that had me saying, What, what, WHAT!? much of the time, and finally, Who cares. What's worse, a very good friend pressed it on me (this was years and years ago) while telling me vehemently how much I'd love it. Well, out of all the hundreds of books I've read, I guess two isn't bad. Anyone care to add to this list of books?

Here's another little item from home, just for fun, a flimsy softcover from 1971:

This thing is really terrific, despite its hideous cover design: The Bluffer's Guide to Literature (Crown, 1971), 62 pages, slightly smaller than a mass-market paperback. Rather like those booklets for sale at the supermarket by the checkout, but infinitely more amusing, with tongue firmly in cheek. I bought this copy at a library sale a few years ago, still for a dollar. The author is not noted on the cover or spine, but he is in fact that rascally literary historian and polymath, Martin Seymour-Smith. I wish I could type out great swaths of text for you all to read here, but you'll just have to track down your own copies because I have too much else to do today. Particularly worth reading are the sections on: Specific Information and Attitudes to Take Up, Avant-Garde, Concrete Poetry, Dadaism, Imagism, Ezra Pound, Irishmen, Opinions, Originality, Projective Verse, Robert Lowell, T.S. Eliot, and Instant Safe Judgments and Attitudes, which contains a list of prominent authors and terms, and pronouncements one can make about them. Here are a few (pp.61-62):

H.G. Wells - Old hat. More important than Wells, if you must talk about him, is Bernard Bergonzi's book on him, which, however, you need not actually read.

Dylan Thomas - You knew him well. Not a good poet (too emotional), but he was very good to you. If obviously too young to have known him well, it is safe to sneer.

John Milton - Milton is very in, but you need not bother to read him. Be seen with one of the thickest and most boring critical books about him under your arm: no one will dare to bring him up. Few people read him with pleasure, but never say this.

Thomas Hardy - You love him and his novels and poems, but do not let your love blind you to the fact that he is much less important than, say, Yeats or John Wain. Do not discuss him much. He is so good he is an embarrassment.

Swift - Ignore; but use term "Swiftian" of any new writer you admire.

Rationalism - Old hat. You are a crypto-mystic. Let it be quietly understood that you practice a rare form of Yoga, but never talk about it. Smile mysteriously if asked about your religion.

The back cover of the book reads: "You, too, can be a successful 'expert.' With no waiting time. Voice your opinions with the best of them, knowing that yours is the best of them! This Bluffer's Guide will help you to be as convincing and bright as they seem to be."

Instant Erudition! Need I mention that the author is British? He's intelligently funny, dry and witty, and not all of the book is make-fun, either. Usually I don't have much truck with people making fun of other people, but this is too good. Besides, he's actually poking fun at the literary and academic establishment, not at the authors themselves, not as such.

I think I have four more posts to go to reach the 300-mark, so it looks like I will be here through the weekend. I don't know what I'm thinking, wrapping this up - you all have been so very dear, letting me know you will miss the blog. But I've got some other projects that I simply have to complete, and soon, or I'm afraid I will forever be a dilettante. The idea of which haunts me.

Unrelated to books, as if anything in my life could be - Happy Anniversary to Ryan! Five years ago today we exchanged vows in a meadow on an island off the coast of Maine. Fifteen years ago he asked me to be his steady girl. Life gets sweeter and sweeter as the years go by, I find...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Life list

I keep a little notebook of ideas for this blog, and looking at it I see several things I always meant to talk about and didn't, so I'll cover a few of those this week. First one: I've always had big dreams, my whole life long. Some are attainable, people do actually do these things, they are do-able, they do exist in the physical world: to stand alone on the deck of the Victory, to buy books at Powell's, to climb the slopes of Vesuvius, to buy books at Maggs, to learn Latin and Greek, to speak French in France, to buy books at Quaritch, to see the Southern Cross from the deck of a ship, to see my own books on the shelves in a new bookstore, to stand on the slopes of Parnassus above Delphi, to plant huge beds of flowers in my own garden, for no other purpose than beauty. Some dreams are more intangible, and more private. Shall I ever do these things, or is it enough just to know these are what I would do, if I could? I'm not sure. I do tend to read about the things I want to do, rather than do the things themselves. Often this is indeed enough. But not all the time. I guess I've got some living to do - and time's a'wastin'. This is not to say that I haven't realized many of my dreams - opening my bookshop being one. I've also gazed at Catherine the Great's carriages and dresses at the museum in the Kremlin in Moscow, corresponded with one of my literary heroes, created a significant body of work, and found a life partner who supports my endeavours, not just tolerates them (which considering all the damn books, is saying a lot). Hey, you know, life is pretty good.

Meanwhile, a few more books from home. Kim asked about miniature books, and while this field is hotly collected, I don't have much myself. I do love to see dealers at antiquarian bookfairs who specialize in miniatures, though, because the books are usually lovely and almost unbelievable in their tiny perfection. And they display very well - a tiny doll's cupboard or piece of antique child's furniture is just right on a table with miniature books. John Carter's fine book (incidentally, one of the books that precipitated me headlong into the book business - and in retrospect it was a seduction, plain and simple) ABC for Book Collectors says miniatures usually measure under two inches by an inch and a half. So the books I show below aren't technically minis, but I like them anyway. Here's the first:

It's George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company & Conversation. Small-Tall Editions, printed in an edition of 1000 copies in 1975 by The Stinehour Press, Lancaster, New Hampshire, for The New England Press. The book measures two inches wide by four and a half inches high. Light gray paper covers over stiff cardstock; black lettering on spine and front cover. Within, much advice in a list, numbered and written by Washington in a childhood notebook circa 1745, regarding dress, table manners, conversation, one's station in life, basic manners, the wisdom of eschewing flattery, and the like, but the very last item is my particular favorite:

"110th: Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial Fire called Conscience."

The second little book for today is not a miniature either, but it still qualifies as rather small:

It's Typographia, a collection of three very short articles by E.M. Diamant about typography, entitled Old Types Never Fade Away, The New Trends...Wide Types, and The Graveyard of Private Types. Decorative paper over boards. Text set in linotype Scotch Roman. A delicious little thing, truly, published by The Diamant Typographic Service, New York, in an edition of 1000, "For Distribution to Friends of the Graphic Arts." The colophon tells us that this is the eighth book in the series of Diamant Classics. I wish I had the other seven!

The only other thing I have about miniature books is a book about Queen Mary's doll house - which has a fine library. The books in it were written and/or commissioned and bound specifically for the doll house by noted authors of the day and are fully readable. If your eyesight is good, that is.

More to follow over the next few days - I've got a few more things to say about this and that, and a few more books to share. Thanks for the kind comments, those of you that wrote in - they sure do mean a lot to me.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Winding down

Blogger tells me that in a week I'll hit the three-hundred-post mark. For me, another milestone, and one that's made me think about continuing, and finally ceasing. Spring is a time for changeover, isn't it. More milestones this weekend: water came into the bookshop for several hours on Saturday, during a raging tempest of snow, ice, and finally a few inches of rain which overwhelmed the roof drain. I can't believe I didn't lose any books, but I didn't - the water streamed down from the ceiling by the big front window. My intrepid landlady and her son-in-law shoveled off the roof, unclogged the drain, and the water eased up. Next, I came back in to check on everything Sunday morning, and one of the light fixtures in the hallway must have been filled with water, because when I flicked it on it - what - snapped, crackled, and popped, I think the bulb blew, and I started to smell the frighteningly distinct and pungent odor of burned wiring. So, after standing around in the dark, waiting for a bit, staring at the ceiling, and getting more and more nervous, I called the fire department. The hall light is set into a tin ceiling, so if there was a fire starting behind the fixture, I could not know it for a long time. I know nothing about wiring, and couldn't take a chance. The guys from the fire department were burly, handsome, funny, and reassuring, everything you'd want fire fighters to be. Everything is ok - the shop is still here, and still fine. More or less, because next, Ryan finished doing our income tax this weekend, and it's official, I lost money last year. So that's two years in a row. All that, on top of some pressing personal issues which I won't get into here but which demand my immediate attention, is causing me to rethink pretty much everything. Some days it really does seem as if the sky is falling, and today is one of those days.

So, for the coming week I'll continue posting a few favorite books from my collection, then this blog will be on hiatus for a while. I may be back, I may not, I don't know yet. I can't say thank you enough to YOU, the folks who've been reading since I started, or at least since whatever little click of the mouse brought you here. I need to simplify everything and make some decisions about what's next, and I'm sorry, but I must take a break at least for a while. Onward: today's book, a little gem from who else, Christopher Morley, and it's a fitting one since all I do on this blog is talk about my own preoccupations: Apologia Pro Sua Preoccupatione (The Foundry Press, R.C. Rimington, New York 1930). First comes the front cover, blue cloth spine with gilt lettering, decorative paper-covered boards, and a blue paper label on the front (it comes in a slipcase, not pictured, which is why the book looks so fresh and clean); the book is quite thin and measures about six by eight inches:

Next, we have the title page, with a lovely swashbuckling ink signature by Morley himself (I've seen his signature many times, and I've always loved his ascenders and descenders), and below it, again in the same periwinkle blue of the cover label, the standard of The Three Hours for Lunch Club, which Morley founded with some of his friends. It's three small hourglasses on a flag, in case it's not coming out clearly. Please note that the sun is just over the yardarm, and is smiling, presumably happy to be so. I also like the printing of the street address of the publisher/printer - a nice touch appropriate to a little keepsake book such as this, printed in small numbers and distributed among friends:

Finally, the text of the book is divided into two sections, marked by massive blue numbers; below appears the first page of the first section. Part one of the book is Morley's explanation for his love for the Old Rialto in Hoboken, the theater in which he and his friends staged plays until they, of course, ran out of money. Same old story. Part two is about his affection for a little speakeasy he frequented. Here is the lovely huge opener for part one (look at that type! how beautifully brave and crazy!):

Part two of the book ends with a quote from Conrad (whose work Morley championed throughout his long career in publishing and journalism), and reading it today, it exactly matches how I'm feeling, and makes me think of Morley himself. I've taken the liberty of eliminating the pronouns to include more of us than not. Here it is (p.36)

"...Conrad wrote of the artist in general - '(The artist) appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition. (The artist) speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain.'

That's it for today. Please email in and let me know if there's anything you'd like to see (book-wise) or hear more about (again, books, books, books) before I sign off for a time.

Friday, March 16, 2007


A busy few days

I took the day off yesterday and got out of town - I had lunch out with friends, one of whom is a gallery owner. I brought a batch of paintings to show her, and she chose six of them for a group show this July. Details to follow. After spending time with a dear friend after lunch, I started for home, but first (of course) stopped in at one of my favorite little new-book shops, Blue Hill Books, and bought two books and several cards of Tom Curry's work - he's a local artist whose work I think is really terrific. But back to lunch - we went to a newish restaurant in Blue Hill village called The People's Soup, and we all had Pho - huge bowls of miso broth, noodles, tofu, broccoli, zucchini, etc., with fresh basil shredded on top, and fresh bean sprouts with peanut sauce. With tea, seven bucks each, and I couldn't even finish mine, there was so much. It was sooo gooood, especially on a rainy March afternoon. Need I say it - the place was packed.

Today, back to the books - here's another small item from home, The Club of Odd Volumes Year Book for 1958, published by the Club (Boston, but printed by Anthoensen Press, Portland, Maine). Measures four by six and a half inches. Dark orange cloth spine and marbled boards, gilt lettering on the spine:

Many pages are uncut and are likely to remain so (by-laws, ho-hum), though I have carefully cut the pages in the section about the history of the Club, and in the list of its publications and occasional papers. I have several of the Club's yearbooks, and they are always beautifully printed and bound. The Club was founded during the winter of 1886-1887 by a small group Boston gentlemen-bibliophiles. The history tells us that for many years it was merely a supper-club, but evolved into a supportive group for collectors. The Club eventully presented bookish lectures before supper, regular publications that promoted fine literature and book-collecting, interest in the printing arts, exhibits, a reference library, and a (then) permanent clubhouse at 77 Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill. I don't know what's there now - when we travel south to Boston next month for the marathon, while Ryan runs I'll walk over and take a look. The Club's members were limited in number, and scanning the membership list, need I say that I see no women on it? (Well, obviously, I just did.) Perhaps all the wives were getting together down the street at the Athenaeum.

Unrelated, but still about reading - not Kate, but my other sister (I have two) is a champion magazine-article clipper, and she just sent me a packet of reading material that she'd been saving aside all winter. It was so great - articles about books, reading, book dealers, chain stores vs. independents, painters and painting, Maine artists, art retreats, and a bunch of miscellaneous funny stuff, often just single pictures or a few sentences. I spent a few hours the other night reading it all through, and it was such a treat - someone who loves me had assembled a little anthology just exactly tailored to my reading style. She knows me very well, it was so great. One of the best reading evenings I've had in a long time. Though I did read another hundred pages of the Odyssey last week, and that was also very fine, in its way. But The Anthology of Me, that was really something. I've got to figure out a good way to reciprocate - not in kind, because I'm not a clipper, but perhaps with a little stack of books...?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Another little treasure

Still plundering the bookshelf at home for little books about books. Here's another favorite - though I must admit I haven't read it through, and in fact many of the pages remain uncut, so I'm not the only one. Bibliophily, or Book-Love by James F. Willis (Houghton Mifflin 1921). Measures just over six by four inches, bound in a green cloth spine and patterned paper covers, a nice paper label on the spine. This copy was at some time exposed to the elements - the front board has a stain and is slightly warped, but is still holding up nicely (one might say the same about me, I suppose):

The short chapters are sermon-like in their fervor and devotion to books and reading, and include Booklove, Book-Gathering, Book-Reading, and Book-Making. A sample from within:

"By their very occupation, booklovers as well as booksellers are broad-minded: their constant companionship with books gives them a liberality through which they view clearly and dispassionately every phase of life and every dispensation of Providence; they are not always what the world knows as practical, for spiritual development seldom produces dexterity in the baser organs." (pp.2-3)

As fine an explanation, or even a defense, perhaps, of those of us obsessed with books as I've ever read. No, we're not practical, no, not as such. A bit more, about reading:

"We are told that some readers are like jelly-bags; they let all pass that is good, and retain only the impure and the refuse: that some are like sponges; they suck up all and give it back, only a little dirtier: that some are like the sands of the hour-glass; their reading runs in and out, and leaves no trace behind it: that just a few are like the workers in the Golconda Mines; they retain the gold and gems, and cast aside the dirt and dross." (p.55)

Besides finally understanding how to use a colon and when to use a semicolon, I like this passage, and the metaphor in particular, because I've always thought of reading as digging for ore, mining for gold, and, with some discernment, striking it rich more often than not. However, I must note that our author borrowed these phrases directly from Coleridge ("We are told BY COLERIDGE..." this passage should begin), which makes me wonder how much more of the book was assembled from other sources. Ah well, it's still a sweet little book. I may even cut the rest of its pages someday and read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Tattered cover, but still loved

Another book from home (they are enjoying their almost-spring field trip to the bookshop). This little item has a worn exterior, but is still attractive to me in its plainness: The Fellowship of Books, an anthology edited and published by T.N. Foulis (London 1914). The book is clad in brown paper, has gilt lettering on the spine and front cover, and my copy's hinges are starting to fray. It contains a few tipped-in color plates of people reading, by Byam Shaw. This copy also has some spidery pencil notations and underlinings. The typography approaches unreadability in a few places - on almost every page the small type and huge margins result in some lines of type feeling squeezed. Overall, kind of a plain Jane, but I do like it:

The collection contains essays or selections I know I have in other forms, but sometimes it's hard to resist a nice title. Within: a poem by Southey, Balfour's The Pleasures of Reading, Alexander Smith's A Shelf in My Bookcase, Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading by Charles Lamb, selections from Milton's Areopagitica and Richard de Bury, and other various odds and ends. Here's a selection from an essay entitled On the Buying of Books, by a Bookworm (who goes unnamed - this must be our editor himself?):

"Few among us can buy all the books which we like to read, but let us recognise literature as so great an essential, such an absolute necessary for our comfort and happiness, that since it must be had it ought to be paid for, just as much as protection from rogues, as much as dress and food. Then come the questions - how much should we pay for it? and how? As for the latter, it is easy to answer: we must buy the books which please us most." (pp.117-118)

He goes on to suggest, regarding the former, that we booklovers should pay for our habit by taxing ourselves "a good fifteen shillings in the pound." While the general reader should start at five shillings, because "Five shillings in the pound is the lowest rate that can be levied for literature."

I see I bought this book many years ago for ten dollars. Largely because of its title and cover. It's good to finally discover that its innards are also worthy.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Bookish tidbit of the day

Another little bit from my home library: fittingly, Cobwebs from a Library Corner, verses bookish and otherwise by John Kendrick Bangs (Harper, New York 1899). Slate blue cloth with silver lettering on the spine and both covers (front and back the same). Measures just over six by three inches - pleasingly tall and slim. Poems from the bookish section include: Bookworm Ballads, Ideas for Sale, The Bibliophile's Threat, My Treasures, My Lord the Book, The Bibliomiser, and Books vs. "Books," by a Bibliomaniac. The nonbookish section contains rather dreadful stuff such as To a Withered Rose, The Curse of Wealth, Ode to a Politician, and the like. Here's a stanza from The Edition de Looks (p.37):

...But tomes that travel on their "looks" indeed
Are only good for those who do not read;

And, like most people clad in garments grand,
Seem rather heavy for the average hand.

The poem pokes gentle fun at those dealers and collectors who love editions de luxe. Well, this little book isn't heavy at all, that's part of its charm - truly pocket-sized, smaller than an old Penguin paperback. Some of the poems aren't bad, but overall, there are far too many uses of the following: o'er, 'gainst, thy, alas!, lo, a'looking, ne'er, 'tis, e'en, and many other bits of High Poetic Language that tire me out and make me picture the poet sitting at his desk scanning syllables and tossing out perfectly good consonants because his iambs don't come out the way he'd hoped. Despite all that, here's another good bit, in its entirety - and what book lover hasn't had the following thought, I ask you - "The Bibliophile's Threat" (p.19):

If some one does not speedily indite
A volume that is worthy of my shelf,
I'll have to buy materials and write
A novel and some poetry myself.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Books as comfort food

Here's another book from home from my shelf of special books about books (I can't bring myself to call them babs as some dealers do, it seems too cavalier). The gilt lettering is a bit dulled on the front cover - it reads Comfort Found in Good Old Books, George Hamlin Fitch:

Dark orange cloth, just under seven inches high, many very bookish tipped-in plates. Published by Barse & Hopkins, New York 1911. The author was a journalist and wrote for the Sunday book-page of the San Francisco Chronicle, and this book is in fact a collection of his columns on bookish topics and authors. They were written for comfort following the death of his beloved only son, and not only that, but the long introduction about his son's life ends with a sad note telling of yet another loss: "This personal heart-to-heart talk with you, my patient readers of many years, is the first in which I have indulged since the great fire swept away all my precious books - the hoarded treasures of forty years." (p.xx) God.

My favorite essay in the book is a short general one about reading and self-education called "The Best Out of Books." It ends with this:

"With all the equipment that has been devised in the way of notes and comment by the best editors, the text of the great books of the world should offer no difficulties to one who understands English and who has an ordinary vocabulary. The very fact that some of these old writers have novel points of view should be a stimulus to the reader; for in this age of the limited railroad train, the telephone, the automobile and the aeroplane, it is well occasionally to be reminded that Shakespeare and the writers of the Bible knew as much about human nature as we know today, and that their philososphy was far saner and simpler than ours, and far better to use as a basis in making life worth living." (p.99)

Great essays on Dante, Jonathan Swift, Milton, the Pilgrim's Progress, the Arabian Nights, Dr. Johnson and Boswell, Don Quixote, etc. The author has the general tone of an enthusiastic humanist, and his comments on turning to great books despite the distractions of the modern world still read as relevant today. Even more relevant, if anything.

Meanwhile, back at the shop - the wickedly cold weather has finally broken and I feel like I can stop applying (organic) hand lotion and eating (organic) chapstick every few minutes because there's some humidity in the air again, even some warmth. Is it spring? Not yet, but it's on its way - no fooling, this time.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Back to books about books

Since life at the shop is less than newsworthy of late, and this blog has been image-free for far too long, I thought over the next week I'd post a few pictures of some books from my personal collection of books about books. I have a special antique bookcase at home, one that sits up on small turned legs and looks like a miniature highboy for books, and I keep it full of one particular subset of books about books: books about books that announce themselves as decorative or charming or diminutive or otherwise noteworthy in some way other than merely their contents. Some are borderline precious, or sweet, but I don't hold this against them. Their intent is friendly, and in fact I have come to consider them as friends. Here is the first:

This specimen is seven and a half inches high, bound in dark green cloth, bright gilt lettering on the spine and front cover, Ballads of Books edited by Brander Matthews (Dodd, Mead 1899). I bought this in a large lot at an auction in 2000. Matthews collected verse from the usual suspects: Andrew Lang, Austin Dobson, Charles Lamb, Edmund Gosse, and the like, but also from more unexpected sources such as Ben Jonson, Horace, Leigh Hunt, Henry Vaughan, and Robert Southey. (Also many writers I've never ever heard of, and am likely to never hear of again.) Most poems within are many stanzas long, and are rife with Poetic Language, but here's a straightforward short ditty from Robert Burns (p.31):

The Bookworms

Through and through the inspired leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings;
But oh, respect his lordship's taste,
And spare the golden bindings.

According to the side-note, "Burns saw a splendidly bound but sadly neglected copy of Shakespere (sic) in the library of a nobleman in Edinburgh, and he wrote these lines on the ample margin of one of its pages, where they were found long after the poet's death." Where, I ask you, could one come across information such as this, if not in a book such as this.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Another slow week

Not much to report here, except far-below freezing temps (twenty-five below zero! in March! aaaagh!) and few customers. I've officially had it with winter. I'm taking names and sending out memos. And I'm spring cleaning, early. For three days I've been dusting and rearranging the shop - I often think about how certain sections could flow better - and if nothing's selling from a particular section I'll pull a bunch of books outta there, lower the prices, get rid of some deadwood, put some good-looking hardcovers face-out (dust jackets were designed to sell books, after all), dust and vacuum everything, and hope for the best. I've also gutted the back room here to make more space to paint in. This year I slowly painted myself into a corner - literally - as the canvases piled up. Leaned up, more accurately. I use a lot of medium, which takes a long time to dry, hence paintings have to sit in open space with nothing else touching them. Some I can find wall space for and others lean up against each other's edges. It gets to look like I'm building some weird mini-Stonehenge back there. Recently it had gotten to the point where I couldn't walk through the room. I really need a painting storage rack. But I have no money and no lumber to build one. So instead of fretting about it, I emptied a half-used bookcase, turned it on its side, put it in the back room, and am using that to lean paintings up in - I'm very pleased with myself for thinking outside the box.

Just for fun (with thanks to my cousin Shirley for bringing this to my attention): the good folks at A Prairie Home Companion have also had it with winter and are sponsoring a Spring Lyric poetry contest. Submit your poem about spring here. If you win: you receive a nice prize, your poem will be read aloud on the show in a few weeks, and they will send you three dozen roses. That Garrison Keillor, his heart's in the right place. Someone has to win - might as well be you. Or me. I submitted one. Why not? This is a perfectly appropriate time of year for wild and unreasonable (one could say delusional) hopes. Despite the cold, the sap is rising.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Weekend reading

I finished Small Misty Mountain this weekend (see below) - it's wonderful and rich and I will be re-reading it, and now I find that I want to give copies to all of my family members and friends. Rob McCall is a naturalist and spiritual minister in the manner of Emerson and Thoreau. And possibly Whitman, and maybe Henry Beston. Here are a few samples:

"The remote places on earth are like the remote places in the soul, and visiting them is restorative. Sweet, wordless mysteries of life." (p.30)

"All religion is a pale copy of the living Scripture that is Nature." (p.229)

The latter could be the thesis statement for the entire book. I went from this book to Mary Oliver's American Primitive (Little, Brown 1983), which I've read many times and keep going back to, and which, at the end, always makes me think, So this is what you do to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry... you tell everything, and then some. Her choice of words leaves me filled with awe and gratitude - good emotions to have during this highly uncertain and often unattractive time of year. This resonated, from the poem "Little Sister Pond" (p.65):

"All day I turn the pages of two or three good books
that cost plenty to set down
and even more to live by

and all day I turn over my own best thoughts,
each one
as heavy and slow to flow
as a stone in a field full of wet and tossing flowers."

The best poems describe a person's life, don't they - both the outer and the inner life of the poet - while at the same time making the reader say, This is is my life. In art of all kinds, I find I am most interested in what illustrates both the very specific and the widely universal. At the same time. A neat trick, when it can be done, though trick is the wrong word, because the thing itself is not meant to meanly deceive, but rather to open outward to include everyone. Well, whatever it can be called, both books this weekend managed it.

Another long walk in the forty-degree weather yesterday, more chattering happy birds seen, lots of snow-melt and mud visible underneath. Today, I'm finishing up with the books from the sale on Saturday, clearing the decks, and taking stock, as it were.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The Little Bookshop That Could

We woke up early this morning to bright sun and lots of snowplows pushing around the white stuff, so we ventured one town over to a winter madness library booksale. Ryan and I were two of the five people waiting when the sale opened at nine. Hardcovers were two dollars each, which seemed expensive, but then I realized that all softcovers were four dollars a bag and children's books were twenty-five cents each. So, the scoop: spent around a hundred bucks for five cartons and tote bags of books. Not bad. No extraordinary books, just good general stock. The librarian, like many others around here, has started selling "better" books online herself, rather than stick everything into the book sale. Sigh. Gone are the days when I could find a pristine first edition in jacket of Death of a Salesman for a dollar at a library sale (resold for a heck of a lot more than that)? Maybe. This of course makes me sad, but I understand that libraries need money for books themselves, so it's a good cause. But, so is the cause of me and The Little Bookshop That Could. Someday soon I'll write here about the amazing books I've found at library sales - I don't know if those finds were just dumb luck (right place at the right time) or the payoff for educating myself about first editions and scarce books. Probably both. Anyway, for now, I'm off to clean and sort and price and shelve the, you know, books. I think I can, I think I can...

A note for Dan - at the sale this morning I found another Angela Thirkell hardcover, The Brandons. (Knopf first edition, 1939, no jacket). I haven't started reading her yet, but now it's official, I'm stockpiling.

Friday, March 02, 2007


In like a lion

I took the day off yesterday, knowing what was coming today, and yes, it is indeed here. I walked down to the bookshop in the wild horizontal snow to check in, water my plants, and see if I could make a painting today, but I have no plans to open. Possibly not tomorrow either. The snow is tremendous right now and will be all day, we're supposed to get a foot or more. Just yesterday I saw cedar waxwings flying around happily - I hope they find some refuge somewhere.

So, yesterday: I knew it would be my only chance to get out of town for another week at least, so I drove to Rockland (over an hour away) to visit the Farnsworth Museum, stop in at a few bookshops, see the ocean, and generally get some sunshine (in the thirties and full warm sun all day - I even sat outside for a while and wrote in my journal). The Wyeth family has a huge cache of their artwork at the Farnsworth, and one of my favorites there is an N.C. Wyeth painting of his house near Port Clyde, Maine - he named his home "Eight Bells" after the famous Winslow Homer painting. It's simple, but quite large, and the shadows in it are wonderfully blue (it always makes me think about how alive shadows are - and what exactly are those colors of shadow on a white clapboard house in the sun, near the ocean?). Some of the Wyeth art leaves me cold - perhaps it's supposed to - but one thing for sure, they are all masterful paint handlers, each in their own way, and that is always a joy to see. I love seeing paint handled well, for its own sake, not just in service to making a picture or a reproduction of a scene. I saw some other wonderful things at the museum - two Fairfield Porters that bowl me over every time I see them, two paintings by George Bellows that are out of this world, and one early Rockwell Kent that makes me want to paint snow. I went in the morning, looked around for two hours, left and had lunch, then went back for another two hours. The museum is really the perfect size - I saw some masterpieces but didn't feel glutted with the weight of the entire history of art when I left.

The bookshop report: one shop in Rockland is still there but has changed its name and I don't know what that means; it's both a coffee shop and used bookshop and it was bustling with activity but I didn't see the owners around, and I didn't find any books to buy, so I snuck out anonymously. On the way home I stopped in at a little new-book store in Searsport, Left Bank Books, which is right on Route One in an exquisite brick bank building that makes me extremely jealous (look at that picture! - I'd like my shop in there...). I did buy one book by a local author, something I've wanted to pick up a copy of since I found out about it: Small Misty Mountain: The Awanadjo Almanack (Pushcart Press 2006). McCall reads his ongoing Awanadjo Almanack on the radio twice a week at our local community radio station, WERU. Here's a review of the book from last month in the Bangor Daily News. I browsed in it last night, and it really is a true almanac, and in fact the author tells us that he collects almanacs, historical and otherwise. His book also contains illustrations by famous Blue Hill resident and reverend Jonathan Fisher (who lived from 1768-1847). Coincidentally, I'd just seen a large collection of his original wood engravings, illustrated books, and handmade carving tools at the Farnsworth as part of their printmaking exhibit.

Home at dusk, before bed I finished reading John Gruen's book The Party's Over Now, about the 1950s New York art scene, fell asleep, and dreamed about painting. And books.

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