Friday, June 29, 2007


Bibliomorphic book tickets

I think Greg coined the term bibliomorphic - well, I do love it, and here are a few recent acquisitions on that very theme, sent by a bookish new friend in The Netherlands:

We happily exchanged duplicate U.S.A. book tickets and Netherlandish ones, via airmail. Now I've finally had to break down and order a second stock album, because the first is full to overflowing and I have no room for these new items. So, in a week or two when the new one arrives, I'll spend most of a rainy afternoon rearranging my collection. Too much fun - it's almost as good as moving books around! I'm arranging the tickets by hemisphere, country, state/province, and city, and I think it's time finally for alphabetization within cities, while I'm at it. I know I'm past the point of no return in regards to these little bits of paper ephemera, because, along with the new album, I couldn't stop myself from ordering a darling little pair of stamp tongs. Up until now, I've been using a small bookbinder's spatula to clumsily move tickets around, but now it's official, I have paraphernalia. Must be serious, uh oh...

I've had a great week here at the shop - someone even walked out yesterday with a carboard box overflowing with purchased books. Quieter today, though, and I'm leaving an hour early to head to Blue Hill for the art opening tonight. Last year I sold the biggest, best painting at the opening, early in the evening, so the pressure was immediately off, and in fact I was somewhat giddy. This year I'm anxious, but hey, I'm usually anxious, so nothing new there. One very lovely surprise - my younger sister Kate can't make it tonight, so she sent me flowers here at the shop instead. Beautiful roses and a note now grace my desk. She made my afternoon!

Meanwhile, the house-hunting continues. We looked at three places on Wednesday - the one we loved and really wanted turned out to, um, not have a foundation under half of it. I hate it when that happens. It also needs a new well and the heating systems are funky (a mix of electric, propane, and wood - no actual furnace anywhere, probably because, again, it needs, oh yeah, a foundation). Sure looked nice, though! No wonder it was in our price range. Onward.

Finally, I'm in the middle of Sarah Orne Jewett's Deephaven. It was her first published novel and contains the promise of the genius of her best/later work. I find myself wearing a gentle smile the entire time I'm reading, she manages to convey so much, so quietly. I bought this copy at the bookshop up the street - a nice Houghton Mifflin hardcover reprint from 1900, and in the leaves of the book I found a lovely old calling card. It reads, simply, Miss Hammond, in a fine old copperplate engraving style, and could easily have belonged to one of the ladies living in the village of Deephaven. In fact, the absent main character of this book (she's passed away, but her niece and niece's best friend have come to live in her old house for a summer) is named Miss Brandon. So it felt rather haunting when the calling card fell out of the book. I'm carefully using it for a bookmark. Here's a taste of Jewett's prose (p.70):

"...nobody in Deephaven cares for excitement, and if some one once in a while has the low taste to prefer a more active life, he is obliged to go elsewhere in search of it, and is spoken of afterward with kind pity."

Reminds me of my island-time last week - a tiny place with old houses, nothing going on, and no one there - just how I like it. I pick up my pictures from the lab this weekend, so I'll show you what I mean early next week, with a few photos.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Back to the books

Recent realization: when one leaves town, one has twice as much to do when one returns. My last two days have been wildly busy, what with: selling books (yippee!), buying books (woo hooo!), talking for hours about all things books with old friends and new friends (in particular, thanks for stopping by today, Bob and Nellie!), balancing checkbooks and paying bills (insert neutral comment here about necessary but dull life maintenance), talking to my realtor-pal and driving around looking at house-possibilities (if we buy a place with bookshelves already built in, what will we do with all our other bookshelves?), catching up with family and friends on the phone and via email (eats up hours...), unpacking from my trip (eleven, count 'em eleven new paintings last week), getting older paintings ready to take to the gallery tomorrow morning (I will have six paintings in a group show, the opening is Friday night in Blue Hill, if anyone local wants more detail than that, please email me), sorting new book-ticket acquisitions (thanks, Aad!), reading the collected stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (they are so good they make me cry), and of course daydreaming about my week last week.

Which involved the following: mailboats, ocean, islands, barking seals on ledges, eagles and osprey, voles, tame songbirds, the very last of the lilacs, beach roses, blackberries in flower, stony beaches covered with sea glass, hay meadows full of wildflowers, salt air, fog, high thunderstorms with brilliant sunsets behind them, a tiny cabin with no running water and no electricity, candles and kerosene lanterns in the evenings, outhouses, fireflies after dusk, millions of stars after the waxing moon set, a toasty little woodstove, cold lunches and hot suppers, old photographs from the past 100 summers on this one particular island, and generally feeling lucky and blessed and about as happy as I could ever be, being me. Painting every day, all day, out in the sun. Also lazing. What a week. If it sounds like heaven, it is, it really is. My version of heaven, at least. I will allow for others. Maybe someone else likes Malibu. Or Tahiti. Me, I'll take a rough little Maine island any day. Pictures to follow soon. Particularly of the outhouses.

I think I'm reading the Sarah Orne Jewett stories because I feel like I just spent a week living a hundred years ago, and her prose helps me return there, to that same time and place. Her description is so quietly wonderful, and so much a part of this landscape, the way it was and still is in little pockets (which are not overcome by development, the way much of the Maine coast is). Willa Cather called her a master, and she sure was right.

Summary of my week off, and this week: I'm happy, so I'm happy to be back.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Some days I seem to post to this blog...

...only when I'm going away. And it's happening again. I'll be away from Sunday the 17th until Monday the 24th. I'll be back with photos and paintings and news from the natural world. Imagine, I'm going somewhere where - hold on to your hats - there is next to no chance I'll be able to buy any books at all (shocking, I know).

Meanwhile, check in at bookseller Will's new blog, Hang Fire Books. He writes about, well, books. And book-hunting adventures in the big city (I'd really never heard of stoop sales before, I feel like such a bumpkin - wait, I am a bumpkin!). His blog has lots and lots of pictures of stacks and stacks of books. Always a pleasure to look at. And while zines, zombies, and pulps aren't my specialty, I'm enjoying the vicarious thrill.

Have a great week, dear readers. I'm following my own advice, and I hope you can too: it's almost summer! Get outside if you possibly can!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Book travels

One more good thing happened over the weekend (well, several, really - but this is the only one I see fit to mention here) - Ryan stopped in at a bookshop on the coast and found this little item for me: Book Traveller by Bruce Bliven, Jr. (Dodd, Mead 1973). Only 64 pages long, the text originally appeared in The New Yorker. This book was a real surprise, because I thought I had all aspects of books-about-books covered at this point - bookshops and booksellers, libraries and librarians, publishers, printers, typography, bookbinding, editors, agents. But here is a book about George Scheer, a sales rep for numerous publishers for nearly thirty years, with his take on the book business and what it's like to sell books for a living, as a middleman. Interesting to read that many of the same issues plaguing the book business today were in fact also plaguing the book business then, just on a different scale. Book Traveller details a trip Blaven takes along with Scheer on a leg of his sales route through the South. The book is a very tidy piece of journalism as well as a good hard look at how new books used to get into the hands of the people who wanted them most, the real readers (us!). Scheer says, "'These are the people who buy books constantly for themselves - books they intend to read and keep. There are people who cannot imagine getting through life without a lot of books. '" (p.15) For a decent living, Scheer talks booksellers into buying good books from him for their shops, for these very readers. And Scheer himself is of course a booklover and deep reader, which makes this book doubly pleasant.

Blevin ends the book with Scheer's summation of the nickel-and-dime bottom line of most book-related businesses, and Scheer's emphasis on how necessary book people are: "'It takes both talent and industry to operate a successful bookshop. There are people, fortunately, who have enough of both. And an adroit bookseller can make a good living for a lifetime, in a joyous occupation.... For my own part, as a liaison between my publishers and my bookstores, I like to think I'm helping to keep bookstores alive and healthy - a contribution, in a small way, to the survival of American letters.'" (p.62) Besides fine sentiments such as these, the book is just plain fun to read because of their trips to bookshops and interactions with booksellers, and Scheer's obvious love of his work, as well as Blevin's silent but seemingly approving omniscience.

Dodd, Mead must have known that they wouldn't make money on this little book, but they also knew that it deserved to appear in book form. They must have just liked it, or Blevin, or Scheer, or all of the above. So they published it in a very nice little hardcover, in full blue cloth and thick green endpapers, with a color-coordinated and very groovy dust jacket. Good for them, and good for us, over thirty years later. The jacket flap reads, in part: "In a time when commitment and involvement are thought to be the exclusive realm of youth and mechanization maddeningly encroaches on every industry, this simple testimony to a man who cares about his work is both eloquent and reassuring." Yes, Dodd, Mead must have liked this little book very much. And I do, too. I swear, every day brings me some book I never knew of before. What a gift - it sure makes life a lot lighter.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Cause and effect

Evidence mounts that writing a blog has an impact in the so-called real world and is not just a completely interior preoccupation: I had a visitor over the weekend who is a regular reader here - she and her mom were on vacation in New England and came by - to visit the shop, talk books for a while, and buy something to read. Well, we talked a mile a minute for an hour or so, all about books and reading and buying and selling, and it was just terrific. They bought books, asked where they could get some good lobster for supper, left, and then I couldn't quite believe it had really happened. It seems like a dream.

More evidence: over the past few months I've been continuing to quietly obsess about booksellers' tickets, and through my blog and other venues several collectors have found me, and I them. Here are a few of the many new acquisitions, including one of the fifty (fifty!) I received from The Hague (upper left, the fat book-shaped one):
I do love the book-shaped tickets, naturally, but that little bear is pretty great, too. Many many thanks to my new friends, who share this love of the small, bookish, and obscure. As if wallowing in all these book tickets wasn't enough, the weekend brought even more largesse, this time in the form of actual books themselves. A good friend is selling her house and decided to drop off several big boxes of books for me, gratis. Just because she needs to empty her house quickly for the soon-to-be new owners and she likes my shop (and she's tired of owning so much stuff - though she is keeping her best books, as she should). And, here's the great thing, the books are actually all good solid books - literary nonfiction, nearly all in fine condition, all quite saleable, all things I would have happily hoovered up at a library sale somewhere. I priced and shelved everything, except the few I took home to read first. All that, plus good sales at the shop both over the weekend and today, and finally, the last bit of good news, the bank called this afternoon and pre-approved our mortgage, so we can finally find a real home both for us and for all of our books. Apartment living is nearly at an end. I'm feeling both lucky and hopeful. Good things to feel, going into summer.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Friday already...?

This week flew by. Here's a mini round-up:

The shop's been busy with early summer browsers, though most of them aren't buying much. However, one collector of signed books went around quickly, piled up a tall stack, and bought them all, god love him. Many tourists are in evidence, in general. It's almost the season.

I am not setting up at the Portland Book, Print, and Paper Show this year (for the first time in many years), but I still strongly encourage folks to attend - it's currently the only bookfair in Maine and is a great opportunity to see - and even own! - some fine books. It's this Sunday at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. Attend! See books! Talk books! Buy books!

Anne Fadiman spoke on All Things Considered the other afternoon, speaking about her new book but also commenting on her past books, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader among them (a lovely little book for the book-obsessed). She said that the self she portrays in Ex Libris is slightly caricatured, "a heightened me." Sort of her best bookish self. Nice. Her new book is At Large and At Small (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) a collection of "familiar essays" written in the spirit and tradition of Lamb and Hazlitt. Nice nice nice. Can't wait to read it.

What else, what else. I've been positively wallowing in new booksellers' tickets (new to me), with groups coming in from several North American friends and - soon - from a new friend/collector in the Netherlands. I reciprocate of course and send my duplicates off in return. A most satisfactory hobby, in the best sense of the word (hobby). I think I've got around seven hundred tickets at this point, including those in the books I have at home. I'll post some of my new ones soon, if anyone's interested. Or even if not, come to think of it.

I took the day off yesterday, for two reasons: I needed a day off after days and days in the shop, and the weather was perfect - sunny and seventy degrees and dry. I went to a few quiet places on the coast and took photos to make paintings from later. I saw two osprey and a bald eagle. The eagle I watched for half an hour or so, as he/she sailed around between an offshore island and the mainland beach I was sitting on. Found some beach glass and a smooth stone to bring home to remind myself I need to see the ocean and its spaciousness, regularly. A beautiful day. I brought a book with me, but I barely looked at it. Just a page or two at the beach. I swear.

Friday, June 01, 2007



I can't let this week go by without a look back at Gotham Book Mart. Book-blogs hither and yon have the full story about its abrupt closing and subsequent auction, so I won't repeat the news. Instead I dedicate this post to the memory of the original proprietor of GBM, Frances Steloff, one of my heroes. The biography of her and her bookshop is a must-have item in any collection of books about bookshops, and today I brought in my copy from home: W.G. Rogers, Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York 1965. The front cover of the dust jacket, with the outline of her famous shop-sign (the original of which was stolen - I wonder where it is now?):

Carl Van Vechten's photograph of Frances Steloff, on the back cover of the dust jacket:

Over ten years ago Ryan found this particular copy as a gift for me. He bought it from a dealer in California on Interloc (remember Interloc!), it cost $32.50 plus a modest shipping charge. The dealer included several newspaper clippings that had been tucked in the book - a few of the original reviews of this book upon publication - very favorable reviews, I might add - the first from Ann Geracimos at the New York Herald Tribune, Sunday, January 3, 1965:

The second from the New York Times Book Review, written by bookman John T. Winterich:

Of course Ryan bought this copy for me because it is a special copy - it is inscribed on the half-title page by Frances Steloff and also by W.G. Rogers, in the month of publication:

The book (and also the first newspaper clipping above) is inscribed to Virginia Horner, who was both a good friend of Steloff's and a bookworm; Horner noted inside the front cover on the pastedown: "Purchased at Gotham Book Mart 1-6-65" alongside her own signature. This copy is near fine in a near fine dust jacket. It occupies pride of place at home in the book room - center, eye-level, in the middle of the books-about-bookshops shelves.

Steloff opened her shop on New Year's Day, 1920, on West 45th Street in NYC, with a stock of less than two hundred books. She sold nothing the first day, but the second day she sold a book for fifteen dollars. She later moved to West 47th. The back garden at her shop became famous among literary folk for parties and impromptu lunches usually instigated by Steloff's dear friend Christopher Morley. Morley and his friends hung out at GBM a lot. If Steloff was busy and someone needed help Morley would often step in and pose as a shop clerk. Then the next time the customer came in and asked for that helpful clerk from last time, Steloff would tell them it was Morley.

Her long friendship with Morley aside (which endears me to her no end), she was best known for championing the "little magazines" and the work of James Joyce, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, Andre Breton, really, you name it as far as the avant-garde goes, she was there. One more note about Morley (I can't help myself): one part in the book relates how Steloff came to own her building at West 47th. She bought it from Columbia University, because publisher and bookman Mitchell Kennerley and Morley "apparently in league, had got the ear of someone at Columbia; the building could be hers and they wanted it to be. Columbia held it for her even after receiving a higher offer..." (p.177). So she got her building, which ensured the shop's sustainability for decades to come. Until very recently, in fact.

In GBM's latest digs, the former home of bookseller H.P. Kraus, the cost of doing business finally caught up with and killed the bookshop. I wonder what Steloff would have thought of having to pay $51,000 a month in rent (holy god). My heart goes out to current owner Andreas Brown, who has owned GBM since the late 1960s. When Steloff moved her shop, the first part of the announcement she mailed around read thusly, and I can't help but think it is a fitting epitaph for the shop today:

"The old must go -
Make room for the new.
Like everyone else,
So, Gotham, too."

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