Friday, July 31, 2009


A year in the life

A strange anniversary of sorts, today. One year ago this afternoon I was handing over the keys to my bookshop, after emptying it out and cleaning up the final remnants of book dust. It's taken most of this year to get my shop stuff sorted out, and I'm nearly there, despite still having some excess furniture and a few stacks of boxes that refuse to unpack themselves. The books turned out not to be a big problem. Because much of my inventory has landed at the Antiques Marketplace in Bangor, a multi-dealer shop where I rent a booth. I rent space and stock it, the shop is open every day, but I don't have to be there myself. Ideal. Here's one view of my booth:

I manage to fit a few thousand books into this space, and sales have been steady, considering my books are mostly your standard run-of-the-mill used hardcovers. (Also considering nearly anything run-of-the-mill can now be bought on Amazon for a dollar. Ho hum.) Another view:

I tend my booth once every two weeks. I take in any new books I happen to have bought, and rearrange things, and tidy up. The rest of the time I almost forget I'm a bookseller, I'm so wrapped up in painting. To wit, what I'm thinking about today, somewhat sadly: one of the biggest surprises of my life thus far was the time - it wasn't an exact day, more like a distinct suspicion that grew undeniable - I realized that having a bookshop of my own wasn't going to happily occupy me for the rest of my life. It came as quite a shock to find out I had other fish to fry. After all, I'd spent the previous twenty years of my life fairly obsessed with all things bookish, so it made sense to me that this trend would continue indefinitely. I don't know what did it, finally. The cost of doing business? A few great years (financially) at the shop, then a few not so great years? An internal imperative to pursue painting full-time? Our moving house, away from Bangor, to the coast? A gradual disenchantment with the book-buying public? The relative boredom of online selling as a way of life?

Most of those things, I suppose. Though I'm not the type to stop doing something just because of some minor disenchantment - I'm much too much of a romantic optimist for that. So I'm still figuring it out. I haven't ruled out the possibility of having a bookshop again someday. With an art gallery attached.

A painter-friend asked me recently what I would be doing with my life if I wasn't a painter. I thought for a minute and couldn't come up with anything else. I'd already been a bookseller, you see...

The life that is behind you is the one I hope is ahead. Is it still viable to be a bookseller though? By the time I change to my second career, beyond marketing, what shape will the book business be in?

How about a split between mainstream publishers selling the usual junk and high production classics for bibliophiles?
Oh Anthony, it is a fine life and one that can be made to work if the desire to do so is there - I don't mean to discourage anyone from pursuing bookselling as an art and a profession - far from it! Setting it aside myself, for the time being, was a personal decision and didn't have much to do with "the market" and its variables.

Create your niche and furnish it with books and beauty and booklovers will find you...
I have always thought that E. M. Forster had a lot of wise and canny things to say, and the one that has stuck with me most tightly over the years is that, eventually, a mind has to stop taking things in, so that it can cogitate and begin to put things back out. Perhaps you've made that turn?
Yes, "The Practical Cogitator" being one of my favorite books, I could see that... also turning 40 and experiencing a mid-life crisis of sorts, right on schedule. Well, thank goodness for books, they certainly help.
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