Friday, February 08, 2013


fallow fields

Two feet of snow in the forecast for this evening and here I am snugged in at home reading self-help books and wondering what all the "real" booksellers and "real" painters and "real" writers are doing today.  Selling expensive rare books and painting subtle masterpieces and writing their brilliant memoirs, I bet, which is what I am not doing much of at the moment.  Every year I encounter some fallow time, a stretch of weeks when nothing seems to be germinating.  I can't predict when it will occur, but it always comes around at some point and I have to remember to be kind to myself and not worry that any gifts I happen to have on loan from fate might be gone forever.  They always come around again.  (At least they have thus far.  Ahem.)  And so, since I can't seem to do otherwise, I quietly prepare for their return.  I read, and write in my journal, and regard my unfinished projects with calm equilibrium.  I stretch and gesso canvases, and visit museums and bookshops and art supply stores.  One of the self-help books calls this filling the well and it's a good metaphor.  In the studio, I archived last year's work and see that I completed a hundred oil paintings in 2012, not bad at all.  On the book front, I went to another little library sale last weekend and only came away with half a carton of books, but at least that was something, even if they do seem like awfully small seed potatoes.  My micro book business did make money last year, as I am discovering from the papers we are gathering as we prepare to file our taxes.  The news is good and all is well, more or less as usual.  So why am I reading self-help books?  Is it a February thing?  Or, come to think of it, are all books self-help books?  Yes, I believe, among other things they are our own prescriptions for our true selves.  Our own seed packets, sown in fallow fields, to bloom when the sun returns.  Meanwhile, the snow is already flying in swirls here, the teakettle is singing, and the books on the bedside table beckon.  May everyone weather their winter storms safely.     

I think it was C.S. Lewis who referred to the end of winter as "the waiting room of the world." This is a great time for self-reflection. And reading, of course!
Congratulations on doing what you love and making money at it. Both of those accomplishments are rare these days.
I wanted to comment on your last two posts as well, so I will do that here. Readers of real books? We are probably a minority, but our ranks do receive new recruits as young readers find their first used book shop or discover the beauty of a well-printed book. We will never be a large crowd of bibliophiles, but we are here to stay. Accumulating books and collecting books are very different pursuits, I think. The rare book as an object to be admired is also an object seen as an investment. The prices achieved by the truly rare and exquisite books continue to astound me. I read book catalogues and gulp after seeing the price. Who is buying these books?! I wonder that so often, but those collectors insure the survival in the trade of books, at least in those that are rare and desired. I can't imagine a time when even "good used books" will fail to find any admirers.
Speaking of rare books, your trip to Merrill's Bookshop basically proves the point. His shop is fantastic and he lives up to his sign and really does stock some rare and wonderful books. When I am in Maine I try to visit his shop and always find great books in my budget. If a bookseller in Central Maine who shuns the internet and all of the technological attention grabbers available can survive, there is hope yet. Spend an hour in Merrill's and you will learn a great deal. The best part about the pursuit of books is that even if you can't afford to buy something like that wonderful Johnson's dictionary, you can come away with bibliographical education. A book may be unattainable due to a small budget, but the information it contains can be learned.
I have to think that John's success and survival as a bricks and mortar bookseller is due to his obvious pride in operating the kind of traditional shop once taken for granted by book lovers. His shop is well stocked and well-organized. A messy bookshop, in my opinion, does not reflect well on the bookseller. Most importantly, he is generous with his wisdom and eager to help a collector in a quest.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, I feel as if we have just had a lovely conversation about some of the things that matter most in life! Yes, John's shop is superb, I have enjoyed being his colleague and customer for many years now. He has what few other booksellers around here have: actual rare books. As well as great general stock. I couldn't afford the dictionary that day, but I did come away with a pile of other books! I don't visit him often because I know this will happen, and I am splitting my small income between art supplies and book purchases (and bills, etc), and for the past several years the scales have tipped in favor of art supplies.

The Johnson "Dictionary" would be a wonderful investment, by the way. His price is lower than that of the few other copies of the first edition currently on the market (at least of the ones I could track down). If it is well cared for, it will not depreciate. I would so much rather buy that set than buy a car... that almost goes without saying. ;O)
Me again:-)
I agree that his prices are fair. Sometimes, not often, a dealer will give a regular customer or a known collector a payment plan or a better price.
I don't have a large budget for my collecting, but I have forced myself to follow the rule of buying the best possible copy of a book one can afford. As time goes on and you have more money, you can always trade up to an even better copy. When I started out, I had to learn that the best way to collect books successfully is to educate yourself as much as possible. That approach improves your chances of ending up with a collection that will increase in value. Of course, collecting what you love in addition to quality ensures that you will end up with a collection you enjoy even if it isn't going to end up at Sotheby's.
When I was a young collector, I collected P.G. Wodehouse. At the time, the best copies of his books were relatively reasonable and that is the only reason I could afford them. I could never afford to collect now as I did then considering how his popularity increased. I admire creative young collectors who choose an area of the field that is not really collected by others, therefore enabling them to establish extensive and high quality collections within a small budget. Book collecting is a limitless hobby!
I hope you still have your Wodehouse first editions! I remember reading somewhere that Evelyn Waugh loved reading Wodehouse - he said Wodehouse had a completely original metaphor or simile on nearly every page of every one of his books. I myself love the names Wodehouse chooses for his characters - Gussie Fink-Nottle, etc. Just thinking about them makes me smile. Terrific books.

I have a few books of monetary value in my collection, but not many. Most have been bought and kept for love alone!
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