Friday, August 31, 2007


Moving tales

I've only had a few people notice that the bookshop was closed for, oh, ten days or so. At least, only a few people have mentioned it to me. By staying away so long I seem to have successfully alienated everyone else. So it's been a slowish few days, and now I'm about to take off again, for the long weekend. Tra-la-la, the free and easy life of the self-employed.

House update: the closing was quick and easy and as expected everyone made lots of money from it except us. The good news is we had some money left over, and even - get this - got a check back from the lawyers because they told us the wrong amount needed for closing. As soon as we had the house keys in hand we lumped the spare futon in the backseat of the car and started camping out in the house. And cleaning it. The previous owner has a Great Dane, and there was dog hair everywhere. In the closets. In the toilets. In the fridge. I told my uber-dog-loving friend Bee this, and she said, "What's the problem? Dog hair is a condiment!" Sure, if it's your dog. Anyway. Cleaned the house for two days. Absolutely LOVE the house. Then spent a few days packing everything back at the apartment. Packing the book room took up most of last Friday. At the end of it I was too discouraged to take pictures. Frankly, I don't want any evidence to remember it by. It really did come to a hundred and twenty cartons, give or take a tote bag or two of oversized items.

Moving day came, finally, and... no movers. They stood us up. Twice. Early morning and late afternoon. I despaired. I had visions of having to rent a U-Haul and move everything ourselves at the last minute, because it was too late to find anyone else. The agony! Luckily, the movers didn't stand us up a third time. They came a day late and really I could have kissed them. But they were all sweaty from moving my books, so I didn't. I tipped them instead. Now the books are in boxes in our hallway, outside the new bookroom. The bookshelves are in place but need a few shims here and there before I start unpacking (one of this weekend's wee projects). I'm looking at these boxes, these many many many boxes, and I'm thinking that I love my books, but my god, I am a total nut. So as I unpack them I am again going to prune and cut and sort. I am resolute on this issue. No more unpacked boxes of books lurking in closets and attics ever again. I mean it.

One of the best moments in the house thus far: with the house we inherited a small vegetable garden that is just beginning to bear and one evening last weekend I went out and cut some fresh basil and picked the first of the tiny ripe tomatoes, made a simple sauce, and put it over pasta for supper. After years of downtown apartment living, trying to grow edibles in flowerpots in not enough sunlight, I can eat food from the backyard again. I grew up on a small farm, so this means the world to me. Delicious.

A few notes from the universe of books:

Ian's ad in the Sept/Oct issue of Fine Books & Collections has that great photo of his son sitting up a tree lost in a book, and it sure looks good. Page eight. Way to go, Ian! Raising that boy right!

A member sent this great article about scurrilous online booksellers (so-called mega-listers) to our Maine booksellers' group. It sure makes me want to read for-sale listings much more carefully when I'm ordering books online.

Hervé has just launched a new site about the antiquarian book world: Antiquarian Book News. Check it out. I'll be watching it and reading to find out what's what in the world of rare books.

I'm reading, browsing in, whatever, Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Macmillan 1961 reprint) - Ryan found it for a dollar at the last library sale we went to, two weekends ago now. 1362 pages. Lots of bookish stuff in there, such as ink-slinging (authorship, journalism - p.424), and non-bookish but darn good anway, like fleas, jumpy as a bag of (extremely nervous, 'windy' - p.285). What can I say, it's very funny and interesting, and this is what there is to read. And all my books are still packed up. Except for the thousands in the shop, I should say. Which, if I suspected I wanted to read any of them, would be at home too.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Books of great value

Moving books causes one to reflect on their value, in all senses of the word. I only have one book I've kept as an investment, monetarily speaking, and the rest are valued because they are loved. This is on my mind today because Ryan and I packed up the first of the books last night. We took our sturdiest boxes and took a good long look through the book room to pick out those items that we consider irreplaceable. Of great value, for whatever reason. Those things that, if the moving van burst into flames en route to our new home (god forbid!), I would truly mourn and deeply regret and never be able to duplicate. Surprisingly, it didn't amount to much. I took a handful of scarce first editions in fine condition, two cartons of leatherbound books I don't trust anyone else to carry around (except Ryan), a few cartons of signed books and books with with letters from the authors tucked in, my journals, some family books (such as my mother's copy of Heidi), and a handful of books I've only ever seen once in my bookish career, so I know exactly how scarce they really are. Ryan did the same with his books - rare and scarce, signed, one-of-a-kind items, his journals. I think we ended up with around twelve cartons, so at approximately twenty-five books a carton, not bad at all. Less than one car-load.

These we will carry ourselves, because we've planned the move in two stages. The first: the rare books, dishes and other breakables, clothing, the spare futon to sleep on, art, kitchen things, and the house plants, all to be moved by us, in our intrepid little Saturn. We have nearly a week to get this done, as well as clean up places old and new and take care of various other projects, so all in all, that should be fine. The second stage encompasses everything else, for the movers and their big truck in ten days' time - all the furniture and the other, ummm, hundred and twenty cartons of books. Don't worry, after we give nearly all our money to the nice lady at the bank anything left over will be used to tip these fine gentlemen.

After tomorrow I'm closing the shop for about a week, and hence will be silent here - enjoy the rest of summer, everyone. If you haven't yet taken a vacation, there's still time! Get out there - there's life - flowers, greenery! I promise I'll return with some good photos and a compelling report about the reassemblage of the book room at our new place. Until then, au revoir and bonne chance.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Mortgage blues

Buying a home makes me wonder if this is what an arranged marriage would have been like - lots of people milling around during the faux-courtship, keeping the principals from getting to know each other better, lots of arcane paperwork to fill out, weeks of waiting, and a stomach-sinking wondering what the hell life will be like when it's just the two of you, alone, finally, after all the pomp and circumstance winds down. I haven't yet been able to spend any time alone with our house-to-be. I will soon be spending a lot of days there alone, so naturally, I'm hoping we'll get along just fine. Until then, I am mighty stressed out. I mean, I do love this house, BUT. I am an anxious person, despite the yoga and meditation, and in the face of moving, anxious I remain.

I haven't started to pack yet (I'm still half-heartedly sorting books, and the number I'm bringing to the shop has trickled down to zero), so I've been distracting myself by reading bookish articles such as this one by Joe Queenan, about the perils of accepting odd books as gifts ("Here, I just know you'll love this!") when one has one's own reading program already mapped out, as it were: "...I am sure I am not alone when I state that cavalierly foisting unsolicited reading material upon book lovers is like buying underwear for people you hardly know. Bibliophiles are ceaselessly engaged in the mental reconfiguration of a Platonic reading list that will occupy them for the next 35 years: First, I'll get to 'Buddenbrooks,' then 'The Man Without Qualities,'..." Ah, yes. Even Plato is on my Platonic reading list. Gotta run - ninety people just walked into the shop. Well, nine people. But the shop's small, so it feels like ninety.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Library sale season

This time of year friends-of-the-library sales are rampant around here. I closed up the shop two hours early yesterday to buy books at a good little local sale. The sale's only half an hour away and the books are so inexpensive - fifty cents for softcovers and a dollar for hardcovers - I bought two big tote bags' and three cartons' worth of books, and spent only forty-five bucks. Nothing tremendous, just decent shop stock and some good prospects for listing on Amazon, but Ryan did find me a nifty old bookseller's ticket from Canberra (affixed in an otherwise nondescript book) and a slim hardcover volume I obviously need to read entitled Book Collecting and the Search for Reality, written by Jack Matthews and published by the Library Associates of Wichita State University in 1972. I don't know, that title sure sounds like an oxymoron to me... There are two other library sales I could go to tomorrow, but I'm going to stay at the shop and hope to actually sell some books instead. Besides, I don't feel like I'm missing anything, because I know of three more sales next Saturday. It's book-hunting season - release the hounds!

Monday, August 06, 2007


The art of the dust jacket

Here are two interesting dust jackets that I brought home - with their accompanying books, of course - from a big annual friends-of-the-library sale we went to on Saturday (bought eight cartons of decent books for $250):

Both are books of poetry; the first was unfamiliar to me and is a long narrative poem about a boxer, The Kid by D.P. Berenberg (Macmillan 1931), and second is of course 1x1 by e.e. cummings (Henry Holt 1944). I really love the jacket design for The Kid, it's got that great 1930s vibe going for it, and I think it's the more successful of the two, design-wise, but both share that strong graphic use of black and white, and an interesting use of typography, which to me spells great dust jacket art.

I opened up the e.e. cummings book and read this - more poetry about books! it's everywhere! - from the untitled poem beginning "if everything happens that can't be done":

"so world is a leaf so tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
than books
tell how)
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
around again fly)
forever was never till now


we're anything brighter than even the sun
(we're everything greater
than books
might mean)
we're everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
alive we're alive)
we're wonderful one times one"

I've never read much e.e. cummings, but that made me sit up and pay attention. The Kid, I don't know if I'll read it. I don't think I'd like it, in the same way I don't like George Bellows's paintings of boxers. It looks good but not quite enough like archy and mehitabel (same era) to really please me. So, out for sale it goes. The book sorting has ground to a halt, by the way. The weather got too fine, so instead of getting ready to move, we went to the coast for most of the weekend.

A short but rather incredible experience from yesterday: the little town we're moving to has a public dock and boat landing, and we drove by and stumbled upon a weekend of free sailboat rides there - a group of local boat owners are promoting the harbor and sailing in general - so we signed up for a sail later in the day. When our time came, we went back down to the dock and realized we were about to go aboard a forty-one foot Concordia yawl, a beautifully-maintained old wooden sailboat with a teak deck. We sailed around the harbor with two other people and the two owners of the boat, for an hour or two. It was lovely, unexpected, like a wonderful dream. I held the tiller and steered for a while, and helped take up the slack on the lines when we came about. Though I've been on boats and ferries before, I'd never sailed, and on this elegant thing I felt like royalty, for a day. It was like learning how to drive in a Rolls Royce, or going to a library sale for the very first time and finding a signed Ernest Hemingway first edition for a dollar. I can see I'll have to sell more books somehow, so we can get a little boat.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Book collecting difficulties

Despite the fact that when we move we will nearly double the size of our living space, I'm still feeling crushed by the weight of my possessions. Specifically, my books (what else). I've been culling at home with an eye to moving in three or four weeks, and I'm determined to cut a wide swath through my home collection. The instinct to collect, to build protective castles around us, constructed of one of the safest, sanest things I know of - walls of books - is vying strongly with a desire to have large areas of open space in our new house, areas with nothing much in them at all, except a painting by a friend up on the wall, and an antique trunk and old kerosene lamp, and that's it. Keeping this vision in the front of my mind, I've managed to bring five cartons of books from home to the shop, thus far. I'm trying to sort through a little bit every morning before coming to the shop. Then in a few weeks when the time comes to finally pack everything in boxes, I'll have significantly fewer books to move. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? In theory?

Main problem: books are sticky. There's always at least one reason to keep something good. I pick up a book, or stand in front of a section of books, and each one calls to me. I remember where I found it, how much it was, why I took it home in the first place, what I thought when I read it, or how I always planned to read it and now know I never will. I find my notes inside them, things I meant to copy into my journal but somehow forgot. Today, I re-read in a softcover copy of the stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (really, the hardcover is fine, I tell myself, I don't need to keep the softcover version too) the opening paragraph from her story "William's Wedding," one of the Dunnett Landing stories she wrote after The Country of the Pointed Firs:

"The hurry of life in a large town, the constant putting aside of preference to yield to a most unsatisfactory activity, began to vex me, and one day I took the train, and only left it for the eastward-bound boat. Carlyle says somewhere that the only happiness a man ought to ask for is happiness enough to get his work done; and against this the complexity and futile ingenuity of social life seems a conspiracy. But the first salt wind from the east, the first sight of a lighthouse set boldly on its outer rock, the flash of a gull, the waiting procession of seaward-bound firs on an island, made me feel solid and definite again, instead of a poor, incoherent being. Life was resumed, and anxious living blew away as if it had not been. I could not breathe deep enough or long enough. It was a return to happiness."

I read this again, in the recent tumult of life and business and busyness and obligation, and nearly burst into tears. It's high summer in Maine - hot, beautiful weather, what we've waited for all year, what we dream of in winter - but the world doesn't slow down for it, not at all, and it seems like there's no time, all of a sudden. It's August already. So I'm taking an emergency day off tomorrow, to go sit by the ocean, and perhaps even sit in the ocean. Meanwhile, this morning I finally copied the above paragraph into my journal, priced the book, and am about to put it out on the shelf, just now.

Good thing I've got a few weeks until we move. This project is going to take a while. I haven't been able to face the books-about-books section yet. Though, really, this all should be fine - it's not like I still don't own the books, after all. They'll be right here with me at the shop for god knows how long. I've built high strong walls here, too.

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