Monday, September 22, 2014

Bookseller on the Prairie

I never intended to be away so long now that I’m back at the blog, but we were in Kansas City, Mo. for five days to see our new grandson, Cameron Joseph. Those of you who are self-employed know that all you have to do is unlock the door after a vacation and work flies up off the floor and sticks to you like wads of dust bunnies on a velvet skirt. This trip was odd to be called a vacation anyway because it gobbled a day and a half on both ends and then left us with only a day and a half in between for the vacation part. But we listened to one of Lillian Jackson Braun’s cat mysteries and Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum-yum helped pass the miles through the endless prairie. Along that straight road through the vast and drear heartland (not a ray of sun) we passed countless antiques malls, but I had no heart for stopping. The trick was to keep my eye on the horizon (it was either that or the billboards) and not get distracted from our mission.

Okay, so the real truth is I’m not a prairie sort of woman, but I think we established that back somewhere in 2012, so it’s no big surprise. BUT – listen to this! I fell in love with Kansas City, Mo., or at least with the neighborhood in which our  daughter and her husband bought a home this summer. Imagine street after street of vintage architectural eye candy, shops and restaurants within walking distance, a great city park, and an even greater urban vibe of arty diversity. Don't make me swear to it, but I think could even really (maybe) live there if I had to.

At any rate,  the sun finally appeared on Saturday, so we packed up Baby and took a serious stroll around the ‘hood. As luck would have it, we passed an estate sale which the kids insisted we check out. The house was a cute little Tudor with a round tower and two floor to ceiling built-in bookcases in the living room. A dealer (oh, you always know when it’s a dealer) had commandeered one side, so I took the other. I pulled down a few books, but it was pretty clear that the whole lot was older Book-of-the-Month clubs. So I nonchalantly sidled over to his case and stood beside him leaving him plenty of room to look. But no! Space, it seems, is a relative term. You can’t define it -- you can only own it. So that being the case, what else can a Kansas City, Mo. bookseller do confronted with an alien dealer from NORTHEASTERN OHIO for God's sake, but lace up his dancing shoes and keep moving. A few fast buffalo steps and -- wham! -- he’s in front of me ,A little half pirouette and – bam! – he whirls past me from the back. The guy was good -- I have to hand him that.
But here's the interesting part. I think I'm  mellowing in my old age because I never felt even a slightly murderous inclination. I just flashed him a smile, and departed, bemused by how some things never change  -- even in Kansas City, Mo.

Monday, September 01, 2014

In Defiance of Thomas Wolfe

So – how do   you come back? Thomas Wolfe says you can’t. Maybe he’s right and you really can’t go home  again.  But what if maybe you can?  I think you can. I don’t know it  for sure, but in a fair world (yeah like that’s not an oxymoron) burned-out bloggers can and do  revitalize. Of course the  big question in revitalization is  what do you say about having been absent for almost a year. Should you adopt an attitude of insouciance as in, “Hi honey, I’m home!” ” Or is it better to serve up  an apology wrapped in angst and sprinkled liberally with mea culpas in the original Latin? I think I’ll skip both if you don’t mind.

It’s funny how I'm talking to “you”, because I’m pretty sure that “you” aren’t even here anymore. This is not the first time I lost my audience via silence. It’s actually the second, but who’s counting. Obviously, just me.  All I can say is I never made a conscious decision to stop writing the blog. I like to blame it on starting the new ephemera site – and that WAS a big piece of it -- but it doesn’t deserve the  whole  rap sheet  either. The real reason I stopped is that I was sick to death of listening to myself whine about the inevitable changes in the book business.  Of course now that I’m back  I know I’ll inevitably whine some more, and occasionally even rail, because I’m a whiner at heart and that’s what we do. One of those online quizzes even said as much  last week. The Yiddish word I most resemble is kvetch.  I knew it even before they told me, but I will try to temper it. Promise.

Okay then, now that that’s out of the way here’s what’s going on over here. I am surrounded as always by leaning towers of books of excellent to dubious distinction.  The ephemera site is almost at 1000 listed items, I’m still at the antiques mall with two booths,  and I’m also still volunteering for Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society (NOBS) which I love except for one enormous thing. Okay, here’s the whine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  I took on the job of NOBS secretary which proved immediately to be a huge mistake.  I have no talent for it, no time to do it, no interest in it, and am frustrated by its endless detail. Oh, how I hate details – those damn pesky little things humming around me like a swarm of gnats.

The  only really big news is I have a new grandson. Our  daughter Catie, who got married last June and moved to Kansas City, delivered little Cameron Joseph Han a week ago. He was three weeks early, but all is  well as he’d passed the danger mark  and weighed  in at an acceptable six and a half pounds. We’ll be going out there next week, so I probably should have waited to start this until I got back. But Eric is off to one of his many shows – really, not that much has changed! – so today seemed like the day to tie up loose ends.

Which brings me now  to the final big question -- can I henceforth be counted on to be a dependable blogger? I’d like to say yes – emphatically YES! -- but I better not, or the next time I fail It WILL require mea culpas in the original Latin – maybe even marinated.  And who in their right mind  wants THAT? So let’s leave it at this. I will try very hard to write at least once a week, share what I know, and admit what I don’t. I will try to be informative and maybe even amusing from time to time. And I will always give an honest account of what’s going on.

So what do you think – shall we give it another spin?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Fair Blues

I know – I keep promising better behavior over here and never seem to produce it. But perhaps if you understand what I’ve been doing these last weeks you might forgive the Haphazard Blogger her inactivity. Those of you who have been around awhile know my steadfast devotion to the Akron Book and Paper Fair each spring. Well, this year the Cleveland fair, which is also produced by the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society, ran into a problem with their venue which ended up taking longer than expected to resolve. Consequently, by the time all systems were GO they had only about eight weeks to get ready for the fair. To put that in perspective we’ve been working on the Akron fair since June and it won’t  be held until April. Fortunately, a lot of smart people pulled together, I jumped in and joined them, and off we went, each doing what we could to promote the cause. The fair was held last Sunday and  if you didn’t know the back story you’d never guess the above -- it went off without a hitch.

I, on the other hand, did not.. From the start it was a comedy of errors with very few laughs emanating from this quarter. One of my duties was to make the door prize gift basket, something I have done for the Akron show four years in a row and countless other times for various charity auctions. For this show I chose a book about a sea cruise taken by Edith Wharton titled The Cruise of the Venadis. My friend Ginger, a professional level photographer who lives in upstate New York not far from Edith’s mansion known as The Mount, shot a series of eight gorgeous photographs which she turned into one-of-a kind notecards. To them I added an Andre Bocelli opera CD, some tall tea mugs decorated with blue maps, a tin of English tea and various other small luxuries and placed them all into a paper-covered cardboard steamer trunk. The trunk had cording on either side which should  have insured that the lid would stay open. But while I was gathering the goodies said lid spontaneously crashed, ripping  out the cording and tearing the liner paper on its way down. As you might guess, the descent was greeted by a volley of very colorful screaming.  Once I returned to sanity though I realized that the only solution  was to re-engineer the entire thing, a process which involved the drilling of holes, the insertion of new cord, the collaging  of torn paper, and the inevitable rending of garments. In the end it was fine and the card I made was able to hang from the top as envisioned  So I  took a deep breath and began packing for the fair.

All week I worked like a maniac readying books, bagging ephemera, and pricing postcards. By Saturday night everything was packed and Eric loaded it all onto the truck. Sunday morning found us on the road at six a.m. headed to Shaker Heights in high spirits. (Well, one of us was excited anyway.) But, alas, even that was short lived. As soon as got  our two tables of books set up  disaster struck. The huge plastic tub of ephemera sat alone in the basement at home, a full hour away! So get over it  you might say --  make do. But I could NOT get over it due to an earlier problem I failed to mention. When I signed up to exhibit I had requested an end booth which would allow me to clamp my ephemera boards to the third table and display paper on both sides. My request had been forgotten though and by the time I realized it it was too late. So I decided to give up one entire table to ephemera and take less books --  which means  that without those books I had a totally empty table.

Fortunately for me, Eric is not a whiny husband. With the keen logic  of a rocket scientist and with no hysterics required, he grasped the severity of the situation immediately and  flew out the door headed for Medina. Meanwhile back  at the venue  I paced  the exhibit hall vibrating like a tuning fork for two solid hours. Promptly at ten the fair officially opened  and people glanced at my long empty table and moved on.  But very shortly our hero returned,  a latter day Superman bearing a Rubbermaid  bin. Why, I wondered, did everyone not notice this incredible feat? If ever a man deserved a standing O this was the one and yet they continued to browse for books. Oh well. The sale commenced and people bought things from us, including some of the forsaken ephemera.  But was it our best fair? No, it was not. Was it terrible? Well -- let’s just say it was almost respectable and let it go at that.

Ah, but here’s the thing ! We CAN’T let it go at that  because one last disaster still lurked in the wings. As soon as we pulled into our driveway after the longest day in book fair history  I hopped out of the truck in high heels  from a very high seat and twisted my ankle. It seemed a little ouchy, but, basically okay, so I walked a few steps and -- with no warning --  dramatically fell to the ground, slamming  both of my old lady knees on the concrete. The neighbors across the street had a wonderful view of this, but at least there were no broken knee caps and no trip to the E.R..  Just a bruise on one knee  the size of a baseball and tenderness to both of them.

Did you HEAR that??????

“Just,” she says. JUST!

 There was nothing just about any of it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How I Became A Paper Pusher

First it was books. All my life I've been a voracious reader. When I was a kid in Akron I took Irish dancing lessons down the street from the Kenmore Library. At the stroke of noon every Saturday afternoon  I yanked  those hornpipe shoes  off my feet  and flew out the door and down Kenmore Blvd. like a hurricane.  In those days a library card entitled you to four books, which seemed  to me grossly unfair given that the better the pickings the less likely they’d last the weekend. It's not as though we had a home library for back-up  -- we most definitely did not. Mine was not a reading family unless you count Reader's Digest and Popular Science magazines. But since that's what we had, that's what I read when the stash ran out -- and before long  a magazine junkie was born!

Next came what my mother (for some odd reason) termed "the junk." Everywhere I looked something wonderful seemed to turn up on paper -- school essays  with bright red A's, greeting cards, postcards from other people's trips, letters from penpals, programs from events, tax stamps (loved those!), snapshots of people I didn't know, catalogs, travel brochures for trips we'd never take, handwritten recipes, booklets and ...

Somehow I dug myself out of that mound of paper and grew up to become a writer -- first at newspapers, then for magazines, and finally on to bigger projects. But in 1997 my true calling came calling and I became a bookseller. Actually it was supposed to be a hobby as I was still writing for the first three years or so. But the day came when  "I'm a writer who sells books" morphed into "I'm a bookseller who writes." These days I’m  a one occupation woman who loves her job.
In the beginning  I sold only books because it never occurred to me do otherwise. I didn't even know that all that paper stuff I loved when I was a kid had a name. But once I heard the word ephemera (a word so beautiful that even if you weren't crazed for what it stood for you'd still have to work into a conversation) I became a serious paper pusher. As soon as I had a small stash of goodies from the Chicago Exposition I stumbled across an ephemera dealer online who became my mentor and taught me everything I know. And now sixteen years later here I am -- FINALLY -- with a website for books and now one for ephemera too.

When I first started selling ephemera  people would ask me what it was – and likely  be sorry they had! Immediately I’d launch into this complicated explanation of something that is really quite simple. Ephemera is everyday life on paper. It’s about where we live, places we go, work we do, pasttimes we enjoy, people we love, houses we live in, and music we hum. But of course it’s about the big stuff too – history, the political environment which serves as our backdrop, and the many milestones that take center stage in our personal dramas -- weddings, births, jobs, college,  careers, military service, illness, and death. Ephemera is the tangible history of a people at a given point in time.

What attracts me to it so strongly is its human element . Someone kept every one of these treasures for personal reasons, be they large or small. Of course not every item I buy calls out to me, but I buy  them anyway because they will matter to someone and perhaps even to the panorama of our shared past. While book collectors eschew the personal touch (bookplates, names of former owners, and personal inscriptions from authors), the personal deepens ephemera rather than detracts from it. A blank marriage certificate can certainly be beautiful, but how much more meaningful it is to see the names, the date, the place -- and  hold a scrap of history in our hands. 

Ephemera is story to me  and if there’s one thing I’ve always  loved it’s a good story. So whenever  possible I try to eke one out of each piece I buy. Very often I succeed,  but sometimes I can’t do it  no matter how hard I try. When all avenues are exhausted I finally stop and wait it out. Sooner or later the right person comes along who either knows the story, or can find it because it’s THEIR story or their family’s story. Sometimes I feel like the Dolly Levi of paper, always looking for clues that will help buyers find and recognize that which belongs to them. Which brings me to the why which  follows the who, the what, and the how of my life as a paper pusher. I sell ephemera, life’s flotsam and jetsam, because I love it. But also because it matters.

-----Original Message-----

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Call of Hawaii

 I probably shouldn’t  say  this, but I’m glad  summer’s almost over.  Not only do I feel better in the fall, but I like the clean slatiness of cold wind and endless gray bolts of flannel sky. Book sale season  begins anew and the winter clothes come out  of the dark recesses of the closet which is ever so good for listing books. I finally realized in this season of the four thousand volumes  that  listing in the summer doesn’t really  work for me. For one thing traffic’s lighter, so what’s the point?  But the real reason is that in order to  hunker down and dig into it with gusto I need  lots of very black and very HOT coffee, comfortable sweats, fuzzy socks with little bumps on the soles to keep me  from going airborne down the stairs, and less daylight. Yes, I do like a dark day in the winter for listing books. Snow too. I like snow a lot.

So that being said, I’m a bit happier than when I  Iast posted – which does NOT mean  that I’m over the theft of the A.I. Root catalog from my locked cabinet at the antiques mall. Every time I think of that and count up my losses from thievery over the last two and a half years,  I’m   buzzier than a hornet trapped in a spider web. But I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to talk about Hawaii. I know – Hawaii is the polar (ha-ha) opposite of what I just said I like, but there’s a reason I want to talk about it.  The boxes in the garage (or maybe the goddess Pele) have gifted me with several Hawaiian ephemera items.

I don’t know if I told you this, or not, but my father’s family , who were  Portuguese, sailed from the Madeira islands to Maui, Hawaii shortly before he was born. He lived there his whole life until he served in the army in Italy during WWII, married my mother, and wound up in Akron, Ohio. When I was a kid he’d tell us stories about Christmas luaus on the beach, wrapping a pig in ti leaves, pounding poi with a mortar and pestle, playing the guitar and singing  Hawaiian songs to the  back-up of a pounding surf. Every Christmas two gifts would arrive from Maui, each time the exact same thin g --– a case of Dole pineapple with my uncle’s name printed on the labels and a huge box of fresh fruit. Back then  raw coconuts, guava, papaya and  pineapples  weren’t even a gleam in Kroger’s eye, so for a week or so once a year I was the coolest girl on Kenyon Street. Sometimes the relatives came to visit too --  though we never went there – which was okay with me because at age ten I adamantly decided that I was Irish, not Portuguese.  It’s not that I had anything against being Portuguese, it’s just that I didn’t  look Portuguese and, more importantly, I didn’t FEEL Portuguese. I guess I probably  still don’t on either count, but I’m more interested  these days since my sister got her DNA done.

My father died two years after 9-11 and I was left for a lot of crazy reasons to plan his funeral by myself. The funeral home (oh, spare me please from those places!) dutifully played the Hawaiian CDs I bought for the calling hours. At the funeral the next day I gave the eulogy and talked about the deeper meaning of aloha. After the Mass the church bells pealed Aloha Oe  which was a surprise even to me. The only sour note was the fresh lei sent from Maui  to the funeral home for the calling hours from my father’s  sister. It didn’t arrive until after the burial and instead of being around his neck it  had to be left on his grave. She has since died too, but I learned of it only by chance on the internet last year. Once my father, the only connection between us, was gone we drifted away.

Yet as  I look through all these Hawaiian ephemera items from the garage I am struck by how much I have absorbed about Hawaii without realizing it. I am struck too by how much these small items please me. The thing that called to me the loudest  before I even knew anything about it was this little booklet covered in brown sueded cardstock. It’s called The Hawaii I Loved and the author is  Dorothy LaVerne Drake of Columbus, Ohio, a young woman who graduated from Miami University (Ohio) and signed up immediately to teach in the Territory of Hawaii. It was  1945 and Dorothy sailed on the first ship from the mainland since WWII. There she joined four other teachers  at the ocean’s edge in a breathtaking liitle place called Laupahoehoe .  For a while it proved idyllic but then came  the morning of April 1, 1946.  At 7 a.m. Dorothy and three other young teachers, plus nineteen children, were swept away by a tsunami and their bodies never recovered. This booklet was published in 1948 by Dorothy's family as a remembrance.  Robert Drake, then with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, edited  it from Dorothy’own words  On the title page of this copy a handwritten message reads, Presented by Ethel & Leland Drake (Dorothy's parents).  A permanent memorial to the victims of Laupahoehoe can be seen on YouTube. Dorothy’s name is near the top.

When I began writing this I wasn’t exactly sure where any of it was headed, but it’s pretty obvious  A part of me has finally  made peace with my Hawaiian/Portuguese  background. And for that I can  only say mahalo. Thank you.

It’s about time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

And So It Grows ....


Where does the time go? Sounds like an old song I vaguely remember, but it’s a real question. I have never worked harder in all my years of bookselling and yet it seems like I’m trying to juggle a dozen books in the air without breaking any bindings. I am definitely fried these days, so much so that I’m getting crispy around the edges. Part of that is the arrival of the second half of the 4000 books from the Cleveland sale. I got them about a week or two ago (time is complicated – who knows?) and have made only a small dent in the unpacking. Most of my time has been spent stocking my new ephemera site which you can see at  It’s a very slow process because I have to do it one item at a time, but I did reach the magic number of 100 “products” today. Why that’s magical I have no idea, but it feels like a milestone somehow.

As I write this I’m waiting for a guy who bought a book from me on Abe to come by to sell me half a dozen books of his. They’re good, so I’m pretty happy about it, but  I don’t know. I am really, really wound up, vibrating like a buzz saw, and have been since I last wrote. I also see that I lost a follower too which doesn’t surprise me. Why hang around the Dead Zone? I truly am trying hard to get over here more frequently and I hope that will happen, but for now I’m doing the best I can. I also think the ephemera site is not going to  attract an audience as easily as I’d hoped. I put a link on both it and my book site so you can easily switch back and forth between the two, but my book trraffic is not paying much attention to the ephemera. It looks like that will have to find its own audience.

I spent some time yesterday designing a flyer which I hope won’t be a waste of time. Eric’s  going to be selling for the store at the Great Trail Festival in Malvern for the next two weekends and he said he would put a flyer in every bag with every sale if I made one. So I gave it a go and he called just now to tell me it turned out very well. I’d show it you but I won’t have it until tonight.

Another thing that’s  been bugging me these days is the antiques mall. Traffic there has been quite slow compared to other summers, though I did just sell a set of 95 Louis L’ Amour novels which I immediately replaced with 116, plus a photograph book. That should take another year to sell which is how long the first set needed to find a home. My big issue right now with the mall though is another theft. You won’t believe this one! I didn’t believe this one and I still can hardly grasp it. We were over there Sunday restocking when Eric says, “Oh, look, you sold that nice A.I. Root beekeeping catalog. The worker forgot the ticket though.” Sure enough, the catalog was missing from its space on the top shelf. Eric unlocked the glass door and removed the ticket which I then took to the desk for their records. Imagine my shock when they said it hadn’t sold!  Apparently, somebody picked the lock, snatched it, and locked the cabinet back up with no one being the wiser. And now I’ve lost this scarce 1916 local interest trade catalog priced at $45. The chances of getting it back are minus-zero.

This post is definitely a downer – I know that -- but I have always told you the real deal, good or bad, so this time is no different. Sales were strong for a while, but ever since last weekend have really dropped off and this is with me listing every single freaking day! So add it all up and there’s no whirling and twirling over here.

And definitely no confetti.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

NOW We're Talking!


As we speak, books in white banker  boxes dance with books in brown cardboard cartons in the garage, a sight I have not enjoyed since last winter when we found ourselves tramping through the dark heart of January to buy books on a semi-truck.. At least this time there was no climbing involved, no shivering, no hands the color of boiled lobsters, no skating over glazed tree roots, and, the best part of all, no uglies -- just the good, the bad, and the very good.  It may not seem like it, but this is HUGE. We always get some uglies – remember Ugly House a couple years ago? Well, this time we finally bought our books in a sedate and pleasing atmosphere. And get this --  none of them smelled bad or littered the floor with pieces of themselves. Now that’s what I call PROGRESS!

Of course all these books weren’t free and we did spend a lot of money, but it was a great deal and  I have zero regrets. I don’t know how many boxes we’ve gone through because Eric unloaded quite a few and transferred the books to the shelves in the garage. From there I’ve listed 58 online and taken 32 to the antiques mall. So far I’ve sold two – one at each venue – but both were decent sales, if a bit odd. I have beautiful architecture books, a special limited edition of the 1937 Audubon Birds of America in mint condition, a slipcased  pristine copy of the first modern printing of Catlin’s Drawings of the North American Indians as they were rendered in pencil with their accompanying notes in his sketchbook., and  much Ohioana and ephemera. But what did I sell? A book about the New England Society in Cleveland from the early 1930’s and another about the Pittsburgh Glass Company, also from the early 30’s. The latter was a thing of beauty though – fabulous pictures. I sold it once before a few years ago on ebay, but that was back in the day when the bay knew how to play nice with others.

To say that I feel a sense of optimism right now is a massive understatement of the highest order when  the garage is so pleasingly full and  only half of what we bought is even here yet. We have to go back and get the rest next week or maybe  the week after. Meanwhile I love the way I look at a shelf and immediately pick out maybe two good titles and then later go back to the same shelf and awaken several sleepers. A perfect example of the latter  is my favorite ephemera piece – a scarce item about the Mayflower Hotel in Akron. My parents had their wedding breakfast there in 1949, but for me it’s forever linked with summer when the Soap Box Derby came to town. The press, WHLO radio, a band, and pretty high school cheerleaders and majorettes gathered outside the hotel and as each racer pulled up in front  (in those days they were all boys) music played, the girls kissed the  would-be conquering heroes, and Akron’s biggest summer event was officially launched. The building still stands, but the grand Mayflower receded into history which makes my wonderful find all the more meaningful.

In the midst of this joy, however, my husband’s secretary of 36 years suddenly died, so there were a few days of shock,  incredulity, and sadness. But with it came a monumental sense of  NOW. At the service the rent-a-minister (who was quite icky) said over and over that the woman he had never met “squeezed every drop out of each moment.” I wish it were true but I don’t believe it. None of us really do that, but some of us try hard. I’m a trier and I’m going tto try even harder now, though I must say that my work as a bookseller has been the most fulfilling job of my life aside from  raising my children.

And that’s precisely why I’m either whirling, twirling and throwing confetti, or whining like a gnat in your ear!