Thursday, September 27, 2007


What is it...

...with this day? First thing this morning I started out by accidentally pushing the watering can off the top of a bookcase while I was taking care of the resident potted plants. Water got on the lowest shelf, splashed up on a bunch of books, and soaked my shirttails. And of course got the floor all wet. As I cleaned up - Books first! save the books! - a person with an overwhelming odor (not entirely unpleasant, just stunningly unavoidable - and believe me, I tried to avoid it) came in and spent some time browsing. I had to air out the shop afterwards. The stairwell was full of scent, too. I opened the door just as a smoker walked by in mid-puff, thereby trading one problem for another. Anyway, after that, the fresh air came in, which helped the floor dry more quickly. Then back to my desk for a round of bill-paying and politely refusing to buy people's moldy tattered books. Which they think are worth a lot. Because they are so old. Arg.

On to some non-whining: the good news in town is this, the Bangor Book Festival is happening in a week. The list of visiting and speaking authors is long and varied. A few of the other bookshops in town are venues for readings, but mine isn't on the list, sadly, although I did offer my shop as a venue - I think I wasn't asked because I'm on a second floor and hence not wheelchair accessible (no elevator). Oh well, now I can just relax and enjoy the festival, and not worry about scrounging chairs and decent lighting and signage, and oh yeah, dealing with people. Lately I am finding it more and more difficult to spend time around actual people. Kinda tough when I work in a bookshop. To avoid dealing with people.

I'll cut this short because I'm much too grumpy to be blogging. I just read a terribly depressing bunch of information about global warming, and I'm feeling very "what's it all for" right now. Back on Monday, with my usual optimism firmly in place.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


More decorated cloth covers

Two more, both books of poems. The first, The Crescent Moon: Child-Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (Macmillan 1915), has the designer's initials in a tiny cartouche in the lower left corner, T.S.M., Thomas Sturge Moore:

The second, The Blue Poetry Book edited by Andrew Lang (Longmans 1891), takes its cover from a full-page engraving in the book by artist/illustrator H.J. Ford:

In the former, I love the repeating motif of the moon/hammock, and the elegant lines of the design; in the latter, I love the big lions and cheetah lolling at Orpheus's feet as he plays his lyre to tame them. The Lang book is a library discard, so it's in rough shape - the old library markings are visible on the spine - but it's still a mighty charming object. And in this case it actually makes me happy that the book is falling apart, because that means it was taken home and read. By children, I hope, who found in this book poems by Blake, Poe, Wordsworth, Burns, Keats - even though there are some poems here that I consider heavy going.

I was flipping through the Tagore book just now and I notice that he dedicated the book to Thomas Sturge Moore. Moore was a poet and an artist, and is famous for his designs of some of Yeats's book covers. I used to have a very nice copy of The Tower, but now I don't know where it is. Shocking, I know. Back to the books...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Escapism follow-up

I'm still here in Bangor, Maine (not in Tangier). Feeling better today and I do love books again. Though it did occur to me last night that if I sold all the books I own, I could take a trip around the world. Possibly two trips. Hm. How about that.

Unrelated but relevant: a hint to anyone who is or wishes to become a used book merchant - if at all possible, do not put books in stacks on the floor, thinking you will deal with them at a later date. This date may never come. These piles quickly become fixtures, and the general rule of the book-pile vortex seems to be, after years of observation, that it takes at least four times longer to dismantle a given pile than it did to stack it up in the first place. I mention this as a public service, because today I'm tackling the windrows of weird books that somehow formed piles behind my desk this fall. I swear I don't know how they got there. During excavation, I found one book that has since gone to live in the fancy glass case with a price of $150 on it (an early edition of Pinocchio), two cartons' worth of dreck to leave at the thrift shop, and all sorts of odd stuff between those two extremes. And I can now see the floor. Which needs vacuuming (Ah, the romance and glamour of running your own business!), but I'm in a cleaning-up mood, so I'm contemplating doing that, and I'm even working on a few of the piles in the back room. Which is a whole different situation - books relegated back there, also "to be sorted at a later date," are practically fossils. One great thing I rediscovered - I've unearthed a lower shelf of old booksellers' catalogues, which did have boxes piled in front of it for... let's just say a while. I think I'll post a few here in the coming weeks. Maggs, H.P. Kraus, Goodspeed's, I've got some nice old ones. They make great reading. I'd like to have some of those books at the prices listed - I'd be able to go around the world three times. And pay off the mortgage early.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Escapism as a life strategy

I'm still half-heartedly sorting books from home. And just when I think I can part with something (I'll never read this, I tell myself, I know I'll never never never read this...) I encounter a snippet that makes me put the book back in the "keep" pile. Heap. Mountain, escarpment, avalanche, whatever. The book(s) in question today: The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy, namely the first two volumes, They Were Counted and They Were Found Wanting (Arcadia Books, London 1998). What great titles for novels. I bought these for a buck each last year sometime, because I had no idea what they were but they had a blurb and foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose book blurbs are so few and far between that when I see one I sit up and pay attention. So I read those anew, and noted that Fermor called this book "remarkable," then I read the first sentence of the introduction by Patrick Thursfield, one of the translators:

"My acquaintance with the works of Miklós Bánffy started one day some years ago when I was motoring from my home in Tangier to Rabat."

Hooked. Line and sinker, when I haven't even read a word of the actual text yet. Because today a rather large part of me wishes I was motoring from my home in Tangier to Rabat. Speaking to someone about pre-war Hungarian novels. But I'm not, I'm just not, and I for reasons I won't get into I feel rather inconsolable about this point. Suffice it to say that some days books aren't enough to help me get away from the complicated tangle of my own life. And they usually are my life, and bring me much more than enough. Not that life in Tangier would be any easier than life here. I'm just overly romantic about ideas such as this. So in the spirit of escapism, pure and simple and much-needed, another book cover:

Four For a Fortune by Albert Lee (Harper's circa 1900 - the title page is missing in this copy). The story is a ripping yarn about a treasure-hunt on a remote island off Newfoundland, complete with an ancient and incomplete fire-singed treasure map, a dramatic shipwreck, and buckets of ducats. I like the decorative cloth cover enough to have kept the book for ten years now (I see from my code inside the back cover that I bought it for fifty cents back in 1997). I particularly like the ocean waves, the high horizon line, and the discreet little sack of moolah on the spine. Perhaps Albert Lee was trying to follow in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson with this novel, I don't know. All I know is that this was a get-away book, and I can look at it more than a hundred years later and still feel the wind in the sails.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I seem to be blogging every day

How did I allow this to happen? I must take a break for the weekend. But before that, here are two more frivolous and rather darling little book covers. Speaking of Margaret Armstrong, here's one of hers I found in an antiques group shop many years ago, for a few dollars. The Fortunes of Fifi by Molly Elliot Seawell (Bobbs-Merrill 1903). It's so sweet and girly, I couldn't resist these creamy swags of flowers and gilding:

Just the thing to leave casually on top of your marble-top French Empire dressing table, should you happen to have one handy. The story is terrible, nearly unreadable, I'm sorry to say. A cross between La Bohème and a Colette story gone wrong. It does have a happy ending, though - the ingenue actress nets the man of her heart, with some help from Napoleon and Josephine. I do like the tiny initials MA in the lower right hand corner of the front cover, just discernible in the bottom bit of the cream ribbon. And the book's endpapers nicely match the cover flowers. But I see from the title page that the author wrote another book entitled The Sprightly Romance of Marsac. Heaven help us.

Let's turn to something more practical and workmanlike. I can't tell if this novel is set in the United States or in England - locale is never mentioned - (correction, Sauchiehall Street is mentioned, so they are courting in Glasgow, Scotland) but the heroine is decidedly less frou-frou, from her name to her leisure occupation:

Ethel by J.J. Bell (Harper 1903). Another romance, this one made up almost entirely of dialogue in a sparkling-witty-banter-manner between Ethel and her fiancé. And there is actually a chapter which involves fly-fishing, barely. I don't know who designed this cover, but I love her red skirt and hat, white shirt, and little creel, against the brown buckram cloth (she looks very J. Peterman). And I like her ugly-stepsister name, too, not your usual moniker for a romantic heroine. Not Fifi.

Back on Monday.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


A brief aside...

...before we return to the main program. Steven mentioned artist and book designer Sarah Wyman Whitman in his comment yesterday, and I thought I'd post a photograph I took two years ago in Boston, when I was wandering around Beacon Hill on the morning of the marathon (I had hours to fill while Ryan was running):

The plaque is barely readable in this photo, but I post it here because it marks the former home of Sarah Wyman Whitman. She made stained glass windows, painted, and designed beautiful cloth book covers for decades, mostly for Houghton Mifflin. A good sample of her work appears here (scroll down to see the book covers). Her designs are so understated and elegant, and after seeing a group of her bindings you realize what a unique and delicate touch she had. Other bindings of the time (or really, of any time) look positively clumsy in comparison. I mean, just look at that copy of Walden, and its dust jacket! Very very verrrry nice. I wish I had a copy myself. I do have a few of her Sarah Orne Jewett bindings, though - I'll bring one from home to share sometime soon. Thanks for mentioning her, Steven. Although now I find myself wondering where Margaret Armstrong lived.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Two today

These are not wrap-around covers, so I've posted two. The first, The Wood Fire in No. 3, by F. Hopkinson Smith (Scribner, New York 1907). The spine has faded, but it has a faintly-discernable bellows and a little heart above the title. Now, this is a fairly common book in used bookshops, but I do love this cover, with its all-over design, bright gilt detail, bold white lettering, black details, and faint gray and white smoke swirls:

The book itself is a series of sentimental stories connected by the conceit of being told sitting at a fireplace. The stories themselves are also connected, and browsing through the book I see that they make up a rather sweet romance.

The second book is The Suburban Sage: Stray Notes and Comments On His Simple Life by H.C. Bunner (Keppler & Schwarzmann, New York 1896). Illustrations by C.J. Taylor. A strange little series of essays about suburbanites and their habits, with chapters on golf, dogs, horses, visiting, house-building, moving, neighbors, and the like. The writing is quite good, but it's this great cover that made me hang on to the book, with its silver picket fence and the sign hanging on the fence reading THIS PLACE FOR SALE CHEAP:

Another great all-over cover design. I keep this book on display near the counter at the bookshop. Marked not for sale, of course.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Where, when, and how much?

Bought in Portland, Maine, at a shop that has since closed, about twelve years ago, for five dollars (marked down from nine dollars). Another decorative cover:

The Silver Domino; or Side Whispers, Social and Literary. Anonymous. Twenty-third edition (Lamley and Co., London 1895). Full black cloth binding, fading in places to dark brown. Silver decoration and lettering. Near fine condition.

Who was The Silver Domino? I don't know. He or she says, in the introduction to this later edition, that "...I am not what I seem, and that up to the present, so far as my personality has been hinted at, or even boldly asserted, such suppositious 'clues' are all random shots and fall wide of the mark. With the utmost civility, I beg to inform you, dear friends and enemies alike, that in this trivial matter of 'guessing,' you are all, every one of you, - wrong!" Very Scarlet Pimpernel-ish indeed.

The main text of the book consists of often catty and always gossipy tales about authors and socialites, and their various satellites. Here's a sample from one of the chapters about poets, specifically about the work of that late Victorian/early Edwardian British Raj mainstay, Sir Edwin Arnold (pp. 252-253):

"All the religious ladies read it because it is so very unexciting and heavenly and harmless, and because, like all pious poetry, it preaches virtue that no one ever dreams of practising. It is a capital book for school prizes, too; it will not hurt any boy or girl to read it, and it may providentially check them in time from trying to write verse themselves."

Ouch! Strangely enough, I just brought almost all of my Edwin Arnold books from home back to the shop. I priced them and put them out in the poetry section. I kept them for years first, though, because I, ummm, liked the covers.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Pretty Books week commences

I'm back, with tales to tell and pictures to share. Had a terrific time away and am now swamped, so no time for details today, but instead just a book to post for sheer beauty, from one of the heretofore buried cartons unearthed during the recent move-of-house:

Last Fairy Tales by Édouard Laboulaye (Harper & Brothers, New York 1885). Translated by Mary L. Booth. Various illustrators. Cloth binding. Difficult to tell from this image, because the cover itself remains quite lovely, but the rest of the book is in a sad state of decrepitude. Several signatures are completely loose and nearly detached, and many pages are badly chipped. The book is almost unsaleable, hence its sojurn with me at home. I can't bear to let it go, because the cover is so fine, with its wrap-around lily pad and trailing stems, still-bright gilt highlights, the horned beetle on the spine, light green winged dragonfly-fairy perched on the edge, and the titles and publisher's initials (H&B) peeking out through the holes in the lily pad. Art Nouveau design at its sinuous best. More books to follow, all this week.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Odd volumes and explained absences

We've started shopping at the supermarket nearest our new house. Of course while I'm checking out the groceries, Ryan is checking out the dollar used book bin placed, I think courtesy of United Way, at the front of each store in this particular chain. And he comes up to me with a dear old book, Boswell's Life of Johnson, edited by George Birkbeck Hill (Oxford 1887), olive green cloth, gilt lettering on the spine, large paper edition. Only problem: it's volume six only, of a six-volume set. Where are the other five? Will I be scrounging in this dollar bin for the rest of eternity, hoping against hope that they will show up, one by one? Yes, yes I will. I did this with my huge Scribner set of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson - I found most of a broken set at a library sale years ago and couldn't pass it up, then at the same sale the following year I found two more volumes in the set. The spines were faintly discolored in a uniform way, so it was obvious they matched my set. Now, and most likely forever, I'm only missing one volume. And this library discontinued their annual sale a few years ago.

Anyway, back to Boswell - I resisted bringing this book home, poor volume six, because I knew it was going to be a real problem, and I've just spent several evenings struggling with what to do with other problems such as this, boxes and boxes of them - books that I've taken home for purely sentimental reasons. But under the bright lights of the supermarket, looking at that lovely old Oxford book, I flipped it open and saw two things: first, that this volume contained only "addenda, index, dicta philosophi, &c." so technically it was readable on its own (the dicta philosophi is "a concordance of Johnson's sayings" and is just too good for words); second, the book has a large fold-out frontis - "A Chart of Dr. Johnson's Contemporaries, drawn up by Margaret & Lucy Hill, On the model of a Chart in Mr. Ruskin's 'Ariadne Florentina.'" Well. The book came home with us. You see how my mind justifies these things.

The pages are uncut, did I mention that? So I'm cutting them, reading the dicta philosophi this morning. Here are a few apt samples, to sum up the week (I'll leave out the source citations, for brevity):

Antiquarian: 'A mere antiquarian is a rugged thing.'

Concentrates: 'Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.'

Housewifery: 'The fury of housewifery will soon subside.'

Lexicographer: 'These were the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer.'

Philosopher: 'I have tried in my time to be a philosopher; but I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.'

Rained: 'If it rained knowledge I'd hold out my hand.'

Verse: 'Verse sweetens toil.'

That's it from Johnson, for now. I'm wrapping things up at the shop today, because I'm about to go off to paint for a week. Another island retreat. I'll be sans computer, by choice, and I'll return after the 15th. I can't wait to get back to painting, but I just found out I'll be missing Ron Padgett's poetry reading up the road at the University of Maine on Wednesday next week, rats and double rats! His recent memoir of Joe Brainard was simply terrific, Joe (Coffee House Press 2004) and now he's got a new book of poems, How to Be Perfect (Coffee House Press 2007). I'm very sorry to miss him, but not so sorry that I'm going to come back to the mainland for the reading.

When I return I'll be posting pictures of books with decorative cloth covers - in my move I found a carton full of them. Books I kept only for their covers, and very lovely they are, too. Thanks for sticking with me, dear readers, through my frequent absences of late. I'll be settling in soon for the coming winter. Just gotta get a bit more actual living in first.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007



Today I priced books, shelved books, SOLD books, refused to buy people's tatty books, successfully fended off the telephone, answered emails, stretched and gessoed fourteen smallish canvases for an upcoming painting trip, forgot to eat breakfast, remembered to eat lunch (supper is still in the offing), paid a few bills, wrote a page in my journal, chatted on the sidewalk, packed a book I sold on Amazon last night ($36!), listened to New Order, read half of the new issue of Firsts, and tied the laces of my dark brown Chuck Ts so tight that they never needed to be retied, all day long.

I even said no to the nice man who asked if he could leave with me the books he wanted to try to sell to the bookshop down the street, and, you guessed it, would I please take them over there later for him because he's tired of having them in his car (my neighbor's shop is closed today, reason unknown). I explained politely that I could grow tired of having them in a bag behind my desk for who knows how long, and besides, I really don't do that kind of thing. He took it well, I thought. He even bought a book.

A full day. What's left? A blog entry. And, oh yeah, the rest of the boxes at home. I think I'll go straight to sleep instead.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Rebuilding the book room

A few snapshots from the weekend. Moving is such fun. Unpacking is even more fun.

Upstairs hallway: morning, and the book boxes are stacked four and five high, three rows deep:

Book room: what was the smallest of the bedrooms in the house, now reborn as a library with pine shelves on all sides. One north-facing window, so the sunlight won't fade spines and dust jackets. Late morning and the bookshelves are now all in place and sturdily shimmed, awaiting their books:

After working much of the day while also managing to take several long breaks to get outside in the sun, by late afternoon I had made significant inroads:

Evening was coming, I was getting tired, but I made it over halfway through the boxes before finally quitting for the night. The picture's blurry because it was sunset and, as I say, I was tired, but the room itself is coming into focus quite nicely:

Evenings this week I'll be filling the rest of those shelves. All we need now are a few comfortable chairs, an ottoman, and a decent reading lamp. As I was unpacking, I put aside three more cartons-worth of books to bring back to the shop - and now I'm off to price them and get them out for sale. Hard-hearted, I know, but I'm serious about this culling business.

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