Monday, October 29, 2007


The Art of Maine in Winter

That's the title of a book by Carl Little and Arnold Skolnick (Down East Books 2002) - one of several of their Maine art books I turn to when I should really look at someone's painting other than my own. Winter's on my mind - today is the first truly chilly day of the year thus far, in the low thirties this morning and only up to fifty in the afternoon sun, and it was still dark when the alarm clock went off, so I'm browsing in this book this afternoon to get in the proper spirit of things (Brrr, here we go...). One of the good things about the Little/Skolnick books is that the reader gets a liberal dose of poetry and prose alongside the great illustrations. I opened the book up to this, a section of a poem entitled "The Equinox and After" by William Carpenter:

"Winter was a long novel read by kerosene
Beside the stove. It had too many heroes.
The plot was thick and lacked resolution.
The ones we loved married the wrong people,
The ones we despised prospered, the boring ones
Held forth for chapters and refused to die."

Sounds like Middlemarch to me. Which I loved. But. You know, what the poem says.

Unrelated to poetry, we stopped in at an antiques shop over the weekend - looking for chairs, not books, so naturally the only thing we bought was a book. It will remain nameless here. It's going to reside with us at home, in Ryan's collection of Maine history books. We already have a copy of this book, see, but we don't have one signed by the author, with an interesting long letter also signed by the author tucked inside the back cover. This book was on a shelf of "better" books behind the counter. It was priced at thirty bucks. The book alone is worth a hundred. Signed, with a great tls, I'd value it at five hundred. If I didn't want it at home, that is. Good to know that great deals are still out there, often in plain sight, just gotta go look. I need to take my own advice more often.

Friday, October 26, 2007


No-snark Friday

I started writing a snarky post about how this irritated me today, and how that grated on my nerves, then re-read it and deleted it. The plain truth is that when business is slow I get irritated with most everything, but I always forget why when I'm in the middle of a dry spell. So instead of complaining, let me tell you instead about yesterday evening. Ryan picked me up early and we headed home. I didn't mind closing the shop an hour early, considering I hadn't sold a book all day (it happens). So, home. Before going to the house, though, we drove down to the water and went for a walk in the nearby state park. Beautiful evening - clear, no wind, and an immense white-gold moon was coming up. The tide was further out here than we'd ever seen it before, so we walked down to the beach below the bluff that the lighthouse sits on, and beach-picked for sea glass and china while watching and listening to flocks of wild ducks heading out to sea. I saw maroon-purple and gray-blue and pink starfish, and Ryan found a still-breathing silver fish beached at the edge of the water, a herring or small mackerel. We put the fish back in and waited to see him swim away again, free. I could hear seals surfacing and breathing, though I couldn't see them. No one else in the park, we had the place completely to ourselves. Drove back to our house just after sunset. A beautiful, unexpected gift, a time like that. Worries about poor sales dwindle to nothing in the face of such an evening, and are replaced by my other usual feelings of gratitude and contentment at being able to live where I do and being able to work in my chosen profession.

This reminds me of one afternoon a few months after I first opened the shop - I sold a book online to a woman in California, and she emailed me and said, "A bookshop in Maine, you lucky woman..." She was a software engineer in Silicon Valley, and she said she hated it but the money kept her chained there. She wanted a bookshop in Maine, too. I replied if I can do it, god surely knows you could. It's just a question of keeping your chin up, adjusting your expectations, and deciding that you can make things work out, no matter what. I think about that woman a lot, and wonder if she ever got her bookshop. I hope so.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


101 excuses for not blogging

The dog ate my homework. No, a squirrel got into a transformer just down the block and shorted out the electricity downtown yesterday morning. That's the word on the street, anyway. Poor squirrel. My wi-fi internet connection bit the dust with the outage and remained unfindable (by me, that is) until this afternoon when my kind neighbor tinkered with the numerological details. Good to be back. Besides that, I've had a quiet week here. The usual attempts at clearing off my desk have been largely futile, piled as it is with half-finished projects and well-meaning intentions, but I did manage to stretch twelve canvases yesterday and today, they are now awaiting gesso. I also priced and shelved the latest batch of new arrivals, and even sold a few good books here and there. I finished my Mary Wesley reading marathon, and after spending much of the weekend in the garden I felt like something homey and old-fashioned, so I picked up Mrs. Appleyard's Year by Louise Andrews Kent (Houghton Mifflin 1941). I have a penchant for intelligent housewifely books of a certain era, old home-and-garden stuff, and this is turning out to be a prime example. I've always loved her children's books, particularly He Went with Marco Polo, (about a young Venetian gondolier who is befriended by the Polo family at the outset of their travels), but, though I own several, I had yet to read any of her books for grown-ups, if that's what we call ourselves. In Mrs. Appleyard's Year a bit of her language is dated, meaning a few word choices in regard to political correctness are not what is now considered appropriate, but hey, neither was Mark Twain, and other than that the book is genuinely delightful. A sample, about Mrs. Appleyard herself, a Bostonian turned Vermont housewife by marriage (pp.8-9):

"She has given some thought to what kind of old lady she will be. ... She did toy with the idea that it would be fun to be the style of personality whose mood is a dark cloud full of thunder and lightning hanging over the chimney and know that everyone in the house is treading lightly as if on meringues and spun sugar until the cloud either explodes or clears away. ... She would dress in expensive black and have a red wig and a diamond fence around her neck and carry an ebony stick. She would ride in a limousine with a square top and have a chauffeur who looked like a black beetle. She would collect something hideous - bronzes, perhaps, or old buttons - and threaten not to leave them to her relatives. She would cherish a cockatoo to whom she would cackle opinions of her friends and two long-furred monkeys. Calla lilies in alabaster urns would infest her drawing room. ... Mrs. Appleyard can think of a lot of other things, such as asparagus fern and jet earrings, that would account for her irascible disposition, but she has regretfully given up the whole idea as being too much trouble."

This semi-autobiographical novel is written almanac-style in informal and intelligent prose, my favorite kind. I have Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen waiting on deck. Meanwhile, I'm so happy that my guy Schilling came through last weekend. I thought, well, if we lose on Sunday, at least it won't have been his fault. But we didn't lose, did we. World Series time, game one tonight, I'll be listening on the radio (no cable at the house), though I know I'll fall asleep before the end of the game. Midnight is too late for me this time of year, I'm going into hibernation soon. I used to stay up until all hours, carrying on. Long ago, that was. Have I mentioned I'm turning forty this winter? On my mind, a bit. What kind of of old lady will I be...?

Friday, October 19, 2007


Will Curt Schilling come through?

The blog's been silent for a few days because there's really nothing much going on, though why that should stop me from dithering on in my usual manner, I'm sure I don't know. Anyway, this is the first week so far this year that has really reminded me that winter's coming - not the weather, because it's been mild, but rather the lack of paying customers. Seems like most people who come in are trying to sell me books. They don't want to buy any books. Well, neither do I. I'm more interested in buying storm windows, if the nice man at the storm window shop will just return my calls and tell me how much money to send him. What else. I've done two very good paintings over the last two days. I've read two more Mary Wesley novels since the last time I mentioned her, and I'm well into a third. And the Islander newspaper had a few good photos of us at the Mount Desert Island marathon last weekend - the first is Ryan crossing the finish line, with his time on the clock right behind him (woooo hooo!), and the second is me volunteering in the chute, helping to take timing chips off the shoelaces of finishers:

It was chilly weather so my hands were stiff, and those chips were well-affixed (don't want them to come loose mid-marathon, after all), but it was great to be around the happy people who were finished and could sit down for the first time in over twenty-six miles and many hours. They were uniformly euphoric. Fun, and I got a free volunteer t-shirt. By the way, you can't quite tell from this photo, but I do have my Red Sox hat on. They return to Fenway Park tomorrow night. Don't want to speculate about the game, for fear of jinxing anything good that might possibly happen. Everyone else in New England will say the same thing. Shhhh.

Monday, October 15, 2007


My aching back

I spent some of the weekend digging a big trench in the ground by a stone wall in the yard and planting around a hundred daffodil and narcissus bulbs, and some crocuses for good measure. Then composted and mulched on top so the bulbs will have a happy winter and hopefully a terrific spring. I remember in one of Douglas Coupland's novels his lovelorn main character plants bulbs in the fall in his ex-girlfriend's lawn, spelling out her name, or the word love or some such thing. I think it was in Shampoo Planet. Nice... Next I harvested the remaining vegetables from the garden - carrots, what I think are golden beets (or possibly turnip? I did not plant this garden, we inherited it from the previous owner of our new - old - house, bless her), the last of the tomatoes, one still-small zucchini and an acorn squash, and out of the herb bed, the last of the basil and some sage. I thought there'd finally be a frost last night, but no - we must have been just a degree or two away, it was cold. Anytime now, though. I'll tell you, it's been a long time since I wielded a shovel and rake for any length of time, and around twenty years since I put in a full day in a garden. It sure does feel great to lay my hands on something living and real, I come in from the garden and my hands are dirty (and sometimes my feet, if it's been a warm day and I'm shoeless) and I feel like a kid again, on my parents' tiny organic farm. This morning though, a bit of an achy back.

However, I am not as achy as my husband Ryan, who ran the Mount Desert Island marathon yesterday. His time - 3:16:22. Spectacular race - cool and partly cloudy, not much wind, six or seven hundred finishers. I was in the team car with extra Gu gel (ugh) and water and clothes and sunglasses and spare running shoes, and met Ryan at four different places on the course, to see what he needed, and also just to watch him fly by (and do some yelling from the sidelines). Many thanks to our pal Brian who ran with him from miles seventeen to twenty-two or so - what a difference it makes to have a friend to pace with, someone fresh who is really with you stride for stride. Brian also welcomed us at his house before the cold 8 a.m. race start, with a warm woodstove and munchies and good company. Thanks... We stopped at a greenhouse on the way home to buy more mulch and then came home and fell sleep early (right after the Patriots game). We both slept for eleven hours. I was too tired to read a single page before bed - which is saying a lot. All in all a great weekend - it's trite to say that watching marathoners run and finish is inspiring, but my god, it really is.

Back in the shop this morning, thinking about running, and daffodils. Books, not so much.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Friday reading

The rain is sheeting down and has been all day, sometimes with accompanying thunder, so the shop's been mostly customerless. It being Friday, I've put my feet up and read a book this afternoon. I finished the Mary Wesley biography last night and didn't weep at the end after all, because she went out as she lived, with ascerbic flag flying high. No room there for tears, apparently. I followed up today by reading her novel Not That Sort of Girl. And I feel as if I learned more about Mary Wesley's inner life from this novel than I did from her biography. I couldn't put the book down, truthfully - the story of a love affair conducted over decades, from first blush to old age. Set mostly during World War II, dated but also very contemporary, skillfully woven, and peopled with a few flawed heroes and several louche characters worthy of the title of villain. It's what we all want real chick-lit to be (or to have been, if it's thankfully on the way out at last) - a novel written by an experienced, intelligent woman, about how a woman lives with her choices in life, and her resulting conflicting loyalties. I can't think of who to compare Wesley to, not Barbara Pym, not Anita Brookner, not Elizabeth Bowen. Further investigation is clearly warranted. I'm off to find more of her books.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


One more bit of news

Doris Lessing has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature...

This BBC article quotes her:

She recalled that, in the 1960s, "they sent one of their minions especially to tell me they didn't like me at the Nobel Prize and I would never get it".

Nice. Long overdue.


Book-world news

Taking a break from catalogue show-and-tell to mention some other things. The National Book Award nominees were announced yesterday, and once again, I have read exactly none of the books on this list. I do plan to read Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. And right now I've got a very fine first edition in fine jacket of Fiskadoro sitting on my desk (Keep or sell? Keep or sell? is the refrain in my head). At least I've heard of most everyone on the list this year, and have even read some of their previous books. Love that Sherman Alexie. Not even considering reading Christopher Hitchens, though. I'm too much of an old-fashioned New England transcendentalist not to believe in some kind of a cosmic plan, not to say a divine one. Besides, there are too many other great books to read instead. I figure I'll start seeing used copies of the other NBA books in a year or so, then I may even read some of them. Until then, I will continue to languish in my own old to-be-read stacks.

Speaking of stacks of books, many are on display at Maud Newton's blog, in case folks haven't been following the terrific ongoing series of guest-posts in which bookish enthusiasts describe their favorite bookshops around the world (with pictures! of books! and bookstores!). Check out that South American bookshop housed in a renovated theater in Buenos Aires - now that is an appropriate setting for fine literature - holy mackerel!

What else. Lately I've been following the blog Book Trout, written by the good people at Old Saratoga Books in Schuylerville, New York, and enjoying their book reviews in particular. Always like to read about the reading life and opinions of other bookshop folks.

Finally, after reading next to nothing myself (in book form) over the last two months, mostly because of moving house, I'm nearly finished with Wild Mary: A Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham (Vintage, London 2007). And what a life it was... I recently ordered a slew of Mary Wesley's novels for a friend of mine, and got this for good measure since neither of us realized it even existed. I love reading memoirs and biographies of British writers during the period between the world wars and just after, and it's very interesting to read something published now, vs. then, and written about a woman, rather than a man. For those who aren't familiar with Mary Wesley, she lived a very full life, worked for MI5, had three children by three different fathers, became a nearly-destitute widow, then at 70 years old published her first novel, which became a bestseller in the U.K. Then she wrote another nine bestsellers after that, before dying at the age of 90. This authorized biography is almost graphic in places, but by now we've seen and read it all, so her "wildness" comes across as more honestly titillating than shocking. On to her novels, which seem as if they could have been written by Evelyn Waugh, had he lived a few more decades and written tell-all roman à clef fiction during the 1990s. If you like the following sentence, from one of her letters to her future husband (from p.123 in the biography), you will like Mary Wesley's writing:

" 'One aspect, a simple one, seems to be that having found one person in whom I have faith I am in a fair way to growing smugly impervious to the winds of malice. It's a startling and enjoyable feeling, rather like meeting God at a party.' "

I haven't finished the book yet, because I know what's coming. The worst part of reading biographies is knowing that these rich and amazing lives are over. I usually cry, even though I often detest many things about the subject of a given biography. Though more often I love them, their gifts, and it's too terrible to think that it's all over, forever. Another reason I won't be reading Christopher Hitchens's book. Every time I finish a biography, I think, "This can't be the end of it." Well, this is the end of this post, for now. I know when I start to wax philosophical that it's time to call it a day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Writing on the wall?

I usually don't pay attention to AOL's homepage, which pops up when I go online in the morning, but today they note businesses most likely to become obsolete: 10 Businessess Facing Extinction in 10 Years. Used bookshops are number 8. After crop dusters and pay phones and film manufacturers, and of course record shops. Ridiculous little article (although the headline did lure me in) - fluff news poorly written, though I'd be happy to see crop dusters go myself (sorry, guys, but really, it just isn't good for anyone's health, including your own).

One business which has been around for decades and doesn't look as if it's going to close up shop anytime soon (and surely not within the next ten years), Bertram Rota in London:

This catalogue is from 1989 and lists 600 items alphabetically by fine press or printer/designer. I opened it right up to the page of listings for William Edwin Rudge, whose presswork I've always admired, and found something I'd never heard of and would dearly love for my collection, a little oddity probably from the 1930s:

Item 469: Stone, (Edward L.). "All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here"; a letter. Frontispiece portrait. N.D. F'cap 8vo, scarlet wrappers. Very nice copy. £16. The charming confession of an oft-bitten bibliophile.

Oft-bitten. Yes, indeed. We are, aren't we. A few more smaller catalogues from Rota, from 1976-1982, a literary miscellany, and a pleasure to idly flip through and slowly read:

The Private Press Books catalogue is very fine and including multiple listings from Arion, Golden Cockerel, Grabhorn, Nonesuch, Officina Bodoni, and S. Dominic. From S. Dominic, Item 357, A Check-list of Publications 1913-1936, the cataloguer's note reads: "A praiseworthy attempt at navigating a bibliographical quagmire." Editorial comments such as this bring a lot of life to these catalogues, and is one of the reasons I keep and re-read them. The two English literature catalogues are good reading, too, though more succinct. Lots of decent books for £4 and £5, with a few better items mixed in. And one much better item: inside the back cover of English Fiction of the last Hundred Years is a short description of a W. Somerset Maugham collection, for sale at £20,000, including 94 books signed or inscribed by Maugham, first editions, playbills, correspondence, film scripts, you name it. Wow! I wonder where the collection ended up. Probably Texas (where all good literary archives go when they retire...)?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


"Anything that's a book"

One of the more famous mottoes in the book business, surely - Goodspeed's, in Boston. I never went - I wish I had! - but my parents remember it very well. Catalogue 590 has a great cover illustration of The History of Little Goody Twoshoes, 1787 (the origins of which I mentioned months ago when I was deep inside The Reader's Encyclopedia):

This is a general antiquarian catalogue, slim and listing just 145 items, while their next one, 591, lists nearly 4500 items, wow! The cover of 591 is a copy of a charming print showing the "Stages of Man's Life, from the Cradle to the Grave." It reminds us: "Resist the devil and he will fly far from you." I'm working on it, I swear:

The only item I covet terribly (for myself, not for resale) from the former is a fine first edition of Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, 1879. The latter is good reading and informative, and the bookseller in me appreciates its depth, but I don't crave any specific books for my very own. Of course I'd take it all, for the shop, no questions asked. No date appears in either catalogue, as is usual with most booksellers' catalogues, but I guess these must be of a rather late date, because some of the prices seem contemporary, and the sales tax for Massachusetts is listed as 5%. Early 1980s? I don't know when Goodspeed's closed up, perhaps someone can enlighten me. I know I've mentioned the memoir Yankee Bookseller (Houghton Mifflin 1937) before - the founder Charles Goodspeed's autobiography - but it bears bringing up once again.

Feeling better after a great day off yesterday at home. The hallway is now empty of boxes - I unpacked a few more, then stowed away the rest in the spare bedroom. I put a big bedspread over them, and I've decided to ignore them for a few months. Then I spent a few hours in the book room communing with my collection, and I realized yet again how dear these books are to me. My old friends. And today at the shop, nothing but good news - customers chatting and actually buying good books - back to business as usual.

Saturday, October 06, 2007



It's only three o'clock and it's been a very long day already. A brief vent, because frankly, I'm fuming. I try not to blog about annoying customers because I already have to live through it once, so why relive it again, if you know what I mean. But today...

Dear customers (and one in particular): please do not ask if my prices are set in stone and then insult me by telling me that you would buy many books if all the books you saw for fifteen dollars were ten dollars or less instead. I say politely that I have many books in stock for five and six and ten dollars, and the better books are priced at more than that because they are BETTER. You say you have yet to see a six dollar book (they are everywhere in this shop, in every section...). You then ask how much I'd take for a very nice leatherbound set of Macaulay's History of England. Priced at $125 because it's VERY NICE. Five volumes, really a lovely set. I look it over and say $100 and you're not interested. And when I politely say no when you ask me if you can buy all the fifteen dollar books you're interested in for ten dollars each (because at this point I am fiercely determined not to sell you anything if I can possibly help it), when I politely (and earnestly!) explain that I only give twenty percent off (or more, oftentimes) to other booksellers or to really really REALLY good repeat customers (to whom I often simply give books to), and that I can't pay my rent if I sell my better books for peanuts, please don't further insult me by saying, "Well, you can't pay your rent if the books don't sell at all!" Oh, really. Thank you. I didn't know that.

I have books in the shop priced from two dollars to many hundreds of dollars. And I hate feeling like I have to justify my prices to anyone. But I'm an over-explainer, so I usually give people too much information - as I tell customers who ask, and as I told this person, I do my best to price my books very fairly, and if they don't like the prices, they are very welcome to try and find the books elsewhere for less (Good luck with that being the implication).

Whew. Okaaay.


Forward progress

Is that redundant? Well, if it is, it deserves saying twice, because I've come a long way at the house since the last time I showed pictures of the upstairs hallway. Here's an update:

A few lingering cartons remain, and a slightly larger pile of boxes of books also still lurks stage left. I couldn't get a good shot of the book room early this morning because it was too dark in there (I haven't found any good lamps yet and the lone window faces north into some trees). I'll admit there are a few stacks of books on the floor. But it's coming together and I even have some shelf space left over. Wait, that may be just a mirage, I'm not sure.

I'm hoping to find some big comfy reading chairs this winter, one for the book room and one for right in front of the window in the hall, with ottomans. First, however, we must buy storm windows for the windows that don't already have them. The nights are getting cold. Fall is such a cliche here in Maine, but it's ok because it's all true - brilliant red and yellow maple leaves, apple-picking and cider-making, brisk wind off the deep blue sea. Beautiful. We haven't had a frost yet at our house. Because of our proximity to the coast it's some degrees warmer than a few miles inland, where it's frosted twice already - but it's on it's way. I'm eating tomatoes out of the garden as fast as I can. And thinking about what I want to read this winter. Every year at this time I get the urge to start some big reading project - two years ago it was Pepys, last year the Iliad and the Odyssey. This year I may be sneaking up on Dante. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Catalogue 10, very good in buff wraps

Americana and Literature, with a painless dose of understated elegance from William Reese Company. So much so that I feel bad about the little smudge on the lower left corner. Someone was eating and reading at the same time, imagine that. Looks like a bit of butter and jam to me:

An overused (and misused) phrase these days, but when the cataloguers say RARE BOOKS in this case they aren't kidding. Reading a Reese catalogue is like going back to school. The school I wish I had attended, where subjects like bibliography were taught. Where is that school, anyway? Now it's in Charlottesville, but before that? There wasn't one, it was learn as you go, in the rare books room at the nearest decent library, or at the elbow of an established antiquarian dealer, if you were lucky and could wangle an apprenticeship that involved more than dusting books. But back to the catalogue. RARE BOOKS. To wit: Item 212. First edition, first issue Leaves of Grass. *Sigh* After goggling at the high spots, I find that in general this catalogue is a perfect lesson in careful research. Each item is thoroughly described, placed in context, and provided with its own mini-bibliography. We are told with absolute confidence just what the item is and exactly why it is important. The superlatives are a bit heavy, but completely justified. A pleasure to read, though I think of course about all the fine books I will never never never handle (or even see!) in my career as a bookseller, and I find myself feeling quite sad. Should I have been a special collections librarian instead? I don't know.

Another new painting, this one is actually smaller than yesterday's and a bit rougher - I painted it quickly while sitting on the end of my friend B's dock, two weeks ago now. This little island is down the bay from the dock, in the middle of the channel - it's called Thrumbcap:

It's a day just like this today, here in Maine - hot and blue and still feels like summer. What I am doing indoors I do not know. Easing into my annual bout of seasonal affective disorder? Everyone else seems to be out, because it's sure been a slow day here at the shop.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Best catalogue cover yet

I saved this catalogue from Anacapa Books in Berkeley, California (1995), because of the great modern poetry listed within, but also because of this cover photograph of the proprietor's daughter, very at home with their books:

The catalogue lists all sorts of funky stuff, from Richard Brautigan to various Fluxus pieces to Charles Henri Ford. Good reading. But the cover photo is why I kept it. Not much time to write today, too busy with customers again (thank you, customers), so I'll just add another picture instead, my most recent painting. A view from a friend's boat, during the week I was away, with the fog coming into the bay between us and the islands, and the hills on the mainland:

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Book catalogues times two

I've been trying to blog all damn day, and customers keep interrupting me. What's an introvert to do. Quickly, then, another catalogue from the dusty back shelves, an early offering from Oak Knoll, The Alida Roochvarg Collection of Books About Books, Parts I and II, Catalogues Number 10 and 11:

I think I need not say that reading these makes me perspire, faintly but persistently. I suspect from sheer greed. Sad, I know. Item 81, for example, an inscribed first edition in jacket of W.Y. Darling's The Private Papers of a Bankrupt Bookseller (Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh 1931). Or Item 93, David Garnett's worthy paean Never Be a Bookseller (Knopf, New York 1929), a limited edition in wraps. Or Item 241, a lot of 49 assorted Trade Cards Issued by Booksellers, Bookbinders, and Publishers. Oh, that would go so very nicely with my collection of booksellers' tickets.

Alida Roochvarg was a collector who decided to sell her collection because she had nearly everything in the field. All of Thomas Frognall Dibdin, all of A. Edward Newton, lots of rare association items and signed items, many with letters from famous booksellers and librarians tipped in, and she simply ran out of things to acquire. She says, in the introduction to the first volume:

"Sadly, even with all the trading up a little, broadening a little, deepening a little, I found that I was able to add only one or two books a month to the collection. That really wasn't enough activity for a true bibliomaniac. So, the time had come to think of sending the collection out into the world."

I read through these catalogues today, and she has every single book in my own collection, and many many more besides. And my copies of these books are a bit tattered, mostly unsigned, many lacking jackets, some even ex-library because that's the only copy I've ever seen, whereas her copies are fine in fine jackets, signed and inscribed, the works. If I still drank, I'd raise a glass and toast her: To Alida Roochvarg! Oh, by the way, I only have the first two catalogues (listing 973 items). But there were six in all, and an index volume to boot. My, my.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Leaves from a dusty bookshelf

I've been rootling around on my shelves of old booksellers' catalogues again, and I thought this week I'd post a few highlights. Starting with a bang, here's Maggs Bros. Catalogue 569, English Verse and Dramatic Poetry from Chaucer to Burns, from 1932:

It's 290 pages long, plus an index, and contains 1071 items - now that's a catalogue! And what a catalogue it is, with detailed descriptions and even some brief commentary from the compilers, as they list fine reprints as well as first or early editions of Spenser, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe ("Not unjustly styled, the father of English dramatic poetry."), of course Shakespeare (I particularly covet a Doves Press edition of the Sonnets "in full crimson levant morocco, sides decorated with floral design in gold of flowers and leaves forming a wide border..." for a mere £60), Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, John Donne ("His Poems cover an extraordinary range in subject, and are throughout marked with a strange originality almost equally fascinating and repellant."), Milton, Samuel Butler ("The wittiest of English poets, and at the same time one of the most learned, and what is more, one of the wisest."), Addison and Steele, and on and on. The big names are all well and good and properly awe-inspiring, but what really makes fascinating reading are the oddball single items. Here's one early on, Item No. 21:

Did I mention the catalogue is profusely illustrated with title pages? My Ladies Looking Glasse. Wherein may be discerned a Wise Man from a Foole, a good Woman from a bad: and the true resemblance of vice, masked under the vizard of virtue, by Barnabe Rich. Thomas Adams, London 1616. First edition. Small 4to. Full morocco, g.e., by Riviere. £95. "A fine tall copy of an extremely rare piece." Sure sounds like a handy book. We're still trying to sort out wise men from fools, four hundred years later. Where is it now, I wonder? Still in stock at Maggs, perhaps? And the last of my questions - why, I ask you, don't my computer font choices include a long s (what is usually called, in old type, "an s that looks like an f")? It really should. The antiquarian in me is affronted.

A bit of Maggs trivia: the title page states that their telegraphic & cable address was "BIBLIOLITE, LONDON." Good to know. Just the kind of thing to bring up in casual conversation. With other bibliophiles.

News from the weekend - I finally have a compost pile at home. I just spent a good part of the last two days up to my elbows in the garden, ripping out weeds and gone-by produce, piling it all up in a nifty little enclosure Ryan came up with, and lacing it with peat moss. It's cooking as we speak. I'm very excited about this. I must order seed catalogues soon. And a hallway update, from the new house: we still have thirty boxes of books sitting there, already collecting dust, I noted this morning. The rest of the place has come together pretty well - I also washed and hung more curtains this weekend, and even had time to sit out in the sun reading one afternoon. I just read, for fun, A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi (Ballantine 2003), which was some pretty sweet-tasting escapist froth, and now I'm in the middle of Venetian Dreaming by Paula Weideger (Atria 2002), which desperately needs an editor (What happened, Simon & Schuster, what happened??) but is still interesting in an-intelligent-woman-traveling-in-Italy kind of way.

More catalogues all week, thanks for reading - lately I've been watching my blog stats and I know where you live. And work, those of you who are reading blogs at your places of employment. On your lunch breaks, I'm sure.

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