Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Used books = recycling

I've been following the green blog of No Impact Man lately and with the advent of Earth Day and the ridiculously bad news about global warming, I've decided to go even more green than I already am. I mean, at least my business is founded on recycling. Used books, one of the best kinds of recycling, surely. And I already walk to work, buy local and organic whenever possible, wear my clothes until they fall apart, scrutinise packaging, read labels, etc., etc. But now I feel the need to go further than that. Step one, today: I'm switching my electricity at the shop and at our apartment to non-profit sustainable energy. My sister Kate heard about this small Maine company through a friend who just switched, too: Maine Interfaith Power and Light (which kinda reminds me in tone of the good old Bailey Building and Loan from It's a Wonderful Life). I'm buying eighty percent water and twenty percent wind. It costs a few cents more per kilowatt hour than what I pay now, but nothing more for delivery or service, which still comes from my regular old local electricity provider. So, it will be four or five more dollars a month. Step two, soon: I've had it with plastic bags. I'm looking for other options for the shop - something either biodegradable or recyclable which will still keep books dry when customers leave the shop on rainy days (Must... protect... the... books...). If anyone has ideas, let me know. I've heard about some kind of cornstarch-based bags but I haven't looked into them yet. Thanks to several of my customers who bring their own cloth bags every time they visit!

Speaking of customers, things are looking up at the shop, with the coming of spring. Over the last week we've seen our first over-seventy-degree days, and I've closed up a little early every day to get out and take long walks while the sun is still high in the sky. But in the meantime, during shop hours, I've sold some nice books. So, the coffers are refilling. Always a relief to be solvent. I tend to feel a bit nails-on-the-chalkboard, twig-snapping-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff if I don't have at least next month's rent sitting fatly in the bank. A few items from the sales slips this past week: a nice Oxford Concise Dictionary (not the one I bought last week in Boston, I still have that one), a big book on Mount Everest, first editions of Smiley's A Thousand Acres and an Ernest Hemingway memoir, an early hardcover reprint of Slaughterhouse-Five, Thoreau's Cape Cod, two books about writer's block, a memoir by Einstein, a massive Dialogues of Plato, an identification guide to falcons, a few Pearl S. Buck hardcovers, Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonte, Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the list could go on. Good to see people buying again. Between that and eBay and my other bits and pieces of revenue I've made it through another winter.

I've been reading a lot as well as selling a lot. At a library sale a few weeks ago I picked up a copy of a hardcover omnibus of Josephine Tey's novels, and thinking of how much I loved Brat Farrar (from last year's reading), I took it home to read last weekend. I've since discovered that although I don't like to read mysteries if they contain graphic violence (and most do), clever detective fiction is right up my alley. The omnibus is called Four Five and Six by Tey (1959) and contains her novels The Singing Sands, A Shilling for Candles, and The Daughter of Time, and all three feature the same hero, our intrepid Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant. I inhaled them, one a day for three days. The Singing Sands was great - it had it all, a great plot slowly unfolding, smooth prose style, some camp and humor, a kind of delight in poking fun at the genre itself while still being firmly within the genre. Tey really gets under my skin, she's got a light touch with language. Here's a bit that stopped me in my tracks, from The Daughter of Time (p.49):

"...perhaps a series of small satisfactions scattered like sequins over the texture of everyday life was of greater worth than the academic satisfaction of owning a collection of fine objects at the back of a drawer."

Nicely put. Though I seem to have both at the moment, the small satisfactions and the collection. Out on the shelves, though, and in use, being read, not tucked away. Being recycled.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Boston, the city of books

A brief wrap-up of last weekend in the city of books. I didn't intend to spend a lot of money on books this trip, and believe it or not, I didn't. Partly because of the terrible weather. I did manage to visit two of the three branches of Commonwealth Books. I never made it to Brattle, the rain was too fierce (and they were closed Sunday, when it was still raining but not Monday morning's total deluge, during which I holed up in our hotel room at the Park Plaza and watched marathon coverage on television).

Found at Commonwealth, at the Milk Street location: I cased the books-about-books section and had a few maybes in mind, but browsed on, and a few minutes later Ryan came up and said "Why didn't you pick up that Club of Odd Volumes book?" And I said, "What Club of Odd Volumes book?" He said, "The early one, from 1911." Well, I hadn't even seen it, that's why. Needless to say I now own it. It's very small, and very very nice. One of eighty copies. When I saw the title page, I could tell that someone good had printed it, and when I investigated the colophon, yes, indeed, I saw a little scotch thistle with the initals B and R on either side: Bruce Rogers. I have a small collection of books bearing his name (and often only his initials). Other books found: two issues of The Colophon: A Book Collectors' Quarterly, and a fat thick Concise Oxford Dictionary from the 1950s. I only spent around thirty bucks.

Onward to the Boylston Street location: I found an odd assortment and spent about fifty bucks. W. Somerset Maugham's A Writer's Notebook (Doubleday 1949), The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read, an anthology selected by Steven Gilbar (David Godine 1989), The Marble Foot: An Autobiography, 1905-1938 by Peter Quennell (Viking 1976), The High Hill of the Muses, an anthology collected by Hugh Kingsmill (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1955), and lastly, another book Ryan alerted me to, Early Italian Writing-Books, Renaissance to Baroque by Stanley Morison, edited by Nicholas Barker (once again, that David Godine, 1990).

I have in my collection of books-about-books many issues of The Colophon, and if I can find others inexpensively I always pick them up - they are completely delightful to browse in, I always learn many things I didn't know about the book trade, printing, collecting, etc., and the format is usually exquisite. It was a hardcover quarterly, and in the early series each section was printed by a different fine press, with often-intricate and always-lovely typography. In the new series, the whole volume was printed by just one press, but still, this periodical was going out to a group of die-hard bibliophiles, so the printing quality was still paramount. So physically, they are very pleasing objects. As far as content goes, one of the issues I picked up Sunday has articles by Christopher Morley, Alfred A. Knopf, Wilmarth S. Lewis (his book-collecting book Collector's Progress is not to be missed), and Frederick B. Adams, Jr., as well as articles about The Typophiles and Michael Sadleir. All this, along with editorial bits and pieces in the back (my other issue has a very brief column about collecting booksellers' tickets), great advertising, and appeals for solutions to literary mysteries. Can't ask for more, it's so good.

Other bookish notes from the big city: we stopped in late Sunday afternoon at the Boston Public Library at Copley Square, and saw the John Adams library on display, John Adams Unbound (hurry, hurry, the show has been up all winter but comes down at the end of April!). I walked into the room with my glasses off (they were wet and fogged up), so my first sight of his library was through a haze. Well, this huge arc of shelves, filled with leatherbound books and literally glowing with warmth from discreet ceiling spotlights was a tremendous sight, and was even more impressive without ocular focus. Instead, it was like a floating vision, or a wonderful dream of what a fine library should be. Then I put my glasses on and read some of the marginalia in the books displayed in glass cases on the other side of the room. Rather incredible to see his extensive notes, his deep engagement with his books. Free admission. GO!

Afterwards, on the way back to the Park Plaza, I had my head down because the wind had risen and was driving the rain right at us, so I happened to be looking at my shoes, which I watched walk right over a very familiar sight that stopped me short. A huge logo embedded in the sidewalk: a figure on the back of a dolphin. I stopped, did a double-take, and looked at the building in front of me, all plate glass and clean lobby and gleaming elevators, and thought Was/is this Houghton Mifflin? I found out the next day, when I was on the other side of the block, trying to find a good vantage point to watch the incoming marathon runners. There I saw their main entrance. Yes, it is Houghton Mifflin. I suppressed a none-too-furtive wish that I'd walk into that lobby with my own book someday. I walked on.

The Boston Marathon: Ryan ran 3 hours 17 minutes and change. Despite the crazy wind and rain. Need I say it? He's my hero. I scooped him up right after he finished and we got outta town.

The reason I bought The Marble Foot by Peter Quennell (besides the fact that he knew the Waughs, who I'm always interested in reading about, and the other fact that I love reading British pre-World War II memoirs) - in part, the opening epigram from Byron's Journal, Tuesday, December 7th, 1813:

"When one subtracts from life infancy..., - sleep, eating, and swilling - buttoning and unbuttoning - how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse."

The summer of a dormouse. Make it count!

Friday, April 13, 2007



A few items:

1. Okay, I really miss blogging. And I'm not getting much of anything done anyway, re the writing projects in boxes at home. Or any of the other stuff I've been worried about (though I have been painting a lot lately). So I'll come back from time to time, perhaps once a week. Promise.

2. Ryan and I agree that when we get a cat we will name him/her Hodge. Samuel Johnson's cat was named Hodge (for contrast, Alexander Pope's dog was named Bounce - I am just not a dog person, sorry, or an Alexander Pope person, for that matter).

3. Ryan runs the Boston Marathon on Monday, bib number 3041. Since the marathon is chip-timed, interested parties can track his progress on race day at the official website beginning at ten a.m. eastern time. I'll be lurking around the used bookshops of downtown Boston while he runs. Looks like the weather will be just lovely (with a fierce nor'easter due to be slamming around New England at the time). Ryan is happy running in high winds and buckets of rain. Really. It's a lot better than sun and heat, which tires him out much faster. He'd rather be waterlogged than dehydrated. I won't say what time Ryan is aiming for, but let's just say he's planning on running faster than he did last year.

4. I've been reading a lot the last few weeks and right now am halfway through the Oxford translation of La Bruyere's Characters (1688), the first work of social criticism published in France. It reminds me of Montaigne, but the sections are shorter and more maxim-like, and not as directly introspective. Here's a bit, which I read the other morning over my breakfast and felt absurdly heartened by (and it helped me decide to start blogging again, actually):

"...small change is as necessary in society as golden coin." (p.73)

5. I had a vivid dream the other night. Ryan and I were waiting in line to get into a library sale. We'd been allowed in early to look at the books but not to buy - then we had to go back outside and wait. I was first in line, and a pushy loud woman was insisting that she was first. I didn't say anything at all, but as the woman got louder and pushier, the librarians heard her and made her leave the premises. I was intent on getting into the sale, because during the preview I'd had my hands on an absolutely beautiful little book, measuring about three by five inches, bound in vellum, from the sixteenth century. I knew exactly where it was, and it had a very plain exterior - it wasn't calling attention to itself - and I was absolutely beside myself with wanting to have it in my hands again. That, and I'd told Ryan about a huge series of leatherbound books off in a corner, which someone had turned spines-to-the-wall in an attempt to hide them, and Ryan was poised to rush over and throw his overcoat on them. I awoke before the sale opened. Ryan doesn't even own an overcoat. I'm still thinking about that little book. I wonder what it was. It was so real. Sad. There, that's what booksellers dream about. Reminds me of the book title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

6. I've decided that instead of getting discouraged because I'm not selling a lot of books right now and rashly closing the shop and trying to find a job somewhere else (Oh, the horror...), I may as well try to make some money with what I have here and now, so I've started listing some books on eBay again (I used to sell on eBay, before the shop started doing well enough so I could stop). My eBay handle is "sarahsbooks" if anyone cares to take a peek. This is not to say that anyone should buy anything - I've never used this blog to sell books and I don't want to start now. This is rather an informational tidbit. A note to say that there is money to be made on eBay if one can withstand the boredom of it. I've also been stocking up my book booth at the antiques mall up the street - during a few months this winter I sold more books there than I have here, so I may as well take the books to the browsers, if that's where they are. I do okay there, and it's right on my way home. I started my bookselling career in a group shop, years ago, and I've always kept another location going since then, it can be a good little income stream. If you tend it consistently, and work to get new stock in there, that is.

7. So, the shop lives on and I do, too. That's it for now. More next week. Thanks again to those of you who wrote in with words of encouragment and kindness, I appreciate it so much.

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