Thursday, July 29, 2010

After the Fleas Had Fled

This morning we headed off to the Hartville Flea Market. For years we’ve heard about it, but until recently I hadn’t exactly been an avid flea-market-goer. This summer I’ve sort of gotten the bug (ha-ha), especially since I sold the goddess of knitting books on Wednesday after purchasing it Sunday at the Medina flea market. But as soon as we pulled into the enormous parking lot shortly before nine we realized we’d made a tactical error. At the Hartville Flea Market you have two kinds of commerce – the indoor kind and the outdoor kind. The indoor has its cowlicks all slicked down, its face scrubbed, and shines like a brand new penny. It's called nine o’clock commerce. The outdoor displays are like little boys – snips and snails and puppy dog tails. It’s called sunrise commerce -- get there at nine and the goodies are gone.

You would think that being a flea market snob, I would far prefer the indoor venue, but in this case you’d be wrong. Brand new country “collectibles”, purses, clothing, small appliances, and booths manned by major retailers selling replacement windows and bath remodeling do not a flea market make. A flea market needs a little rust on it – just not too much. Even though we were late, the weather was perfect and the terrain nice and flat, so we decided to check out the outdoor vendors. Immediately I regretted wearing my sneakers – I am SO not a sneakers woman – but within a few minutes I could have had steel-toed work boots strapped to my feet and never even noticed.

Right away I found a hard cover copy of my favorite, falling-apart low-fat cookbook. Most low-fat cookbooks produce food that would have the dog on the phone ordering pizza, but there’s an espresso cheesecake recipe on page 221 that all by itself is s worth the inflated $4 I paid for it. Two seconds later – literally at the next booth -- the card table of my dreams showed up. The fact that the only card games I play are Uno and War with my six year-old grandson is beside the point. These vintage folding wooden card tables with their painted tops are not ABOUT utility. Their mojo is charm, romance, and a little footsie under the flowers. So never mind that I already have one and gave a second to my friend Jessica for her birthday, Eric found himself lugging this third one back to the car. I display these like art, so it’s perfect in the dining room. Just imagine a painting on the lower part of the wall –fabulous!

From there it kind of went downhill though. The books were so sad and sorry they made the offerings on the free table at the FOL library sale look like candidates for the Antiques Roadshow. So I quickly shifted gears and started focusing on paper items. I did find one pretty nice Greek map, but it had a stain on the front I couldn’t overlook, so I let it go. But that was okay because minutes later I spotted First Communion Girl.

This is one enormous photograph, 15”x20” without its ugly frame, which will soon be history. The fact that’s she’s pretty helps her saleability, but she’s a keeper for several reasons. First of all, there’s the liturgical aspect, replete with crucifix candle holder and miniature missal. Then there’s the probability that she’s ethnic, perhaps Italian, but I need to research that a bit to be sure. The big thing is her CLOTHES – the little shoes tied with bows, the dress, and of course the elaborate veil trailing a garland of vegetation. I love vintage photographs and have sold them sporadically over the years, but most of what’s out there is pretty pedestrian. First Communion Girl tells a silent story and is a strong visual, making her special enough to win a ride home with the card table.

So what’s the point of all this? When I started writing it I’m not sure I had one. I just figured I’d tell you the story of the Hartville flea market and you might be a little entertained and that would be that. But just now it dawned on me that there IS a point here. The scope of the bookseller in the 21st century must be ever expandable. Every once in awhile take your gaze away from the shelf long enough to think outside the book. Follow your eye, your heart, and your interests and see where they lead you. It just might get interesting. It might also help keep you in business in these uncertain electronic times.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Out of the Blue -- A Book for a Baby Boy

After yesterday’s E-bay Encounter today is like a warm breeze blowing in off Lake Erie. It’s the ferry ride to Put-in Bay, the boats moored at the dock, the Butterfly House where flying jewels land on Papa’s head and make our little grandson laugh. Today is the kind of day every bookseller needs, a day filled with gratitude, humility, and the joy of doing what you most love to do.

As is the case with most of life’s small pleasures, this one turned up out of the blue (I love that phrase “out of the blue”). It all began with a phone call from a guy wanting to know if I could possibly be the person who’d sold him an Edwardian photograph several years ago. After thirteen years as a bookseller, the odds of me being able to isolate one cabinet photo out of the thousands and thousands of items I’ve shipped are slim to not-a-prayer. But something in the recesses of my brain went “click!” and without hesitation I remembered not only the buyer, but the photo of the little girl in velvet leaning against a tree wearing an enormous hat and clutching a bouquet of flowers. Amazing!

What’s also amazing is that the caller and I connected again as though we had just hung up an hour ago. Part of the reason why I remembered him is the fact that I had TALKED to him, something online selling doesn’t provide nearly enough opportunities to do now that most sites process credit cards for you, instead of allowing you to run your own business and do it for yourself. But we won’t go there today because I am determined to eke every bit of pleasure out of this event I possibly can -- no negativity allowed.

So then. The reason my caller had combed the internet for my phone number is a decidedly new and traditionally un-masculine dilemma. It seems he has been invited to a baby shower and has to produce a favorite book from his childhood as a gift. Like me, he loves vintage, so nothing slick, shiny, and new will do. But there's an additional problem – he didn't grow up with books, so he doesn’t have a favorite. Immediately I thought of The Story of the Sandman, but I wanted to choose the perfect thing for this new little boy-to-be, so I sat down on the floor and paged through books – Wally Piper’s Bumper Book, My Picture Book of Songs, The Red Fairy Book, the wee Cubby Bear books, The Children of Friendly Town, The Cheerful Cherub. But in the end The Story of the Sandman seemed, as the smallest bear’s bed had seemed to Goldilocks – “just right.” So I snapped some pictures of it and sent them along with the promise that if he didn’t like it I would try again.

Zing! Back came an ecstatic response -- he loved it. I love it too and I also love the opportunity to be part of the fun. So I asked if maybe he’d like some vintage gift wrap for it. I have a cache of paper from the 50’s, as well as some wonderful old ribbon( they don’t MAKE ribbon this nice these days) and I even have a blank gift card trimmed out in baby-boy-blue – no charge of course for any of it. I’d be happy to wrap it too, but I can’t because he needs to write an inscription inside. But I can send the pieces-parts in the package and he can wrap it himself, or get someone else to do it. He thought that sounded like a great plan, but there was just one more problem – what do you write as an inscription? That can be tough if you didn’t get books as gifts when you were a child, but it’s a snap to solve. I will compose several, send them along, and he can choose one, copy it into the book, and be good to go. And that is exactly what’s going to happen.

I tell you this small story for several reasons. With internet booksellers multiplying like bunnies these days it’s a rare gift to be remembered this way. It’s also deeply pleasing to me to solve someone's problem, make a fun event special, and connect in a real way with a customer in cyberspace. But there’s another reason I relate it and that’s this – in a Big-Box world the independent bookstore can be like buried treasure. Find the right one and shopping is a pleasure again. BE the right one and wonders happen, seemingly out of the blue.

Monday, July 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Ebay; Or, We Gotta Stop Meeting Like This!

Dear Ebay,

I thought we broke up at the end of May. I talked to a customer service rep, filled out your lengthy exit quiz,deleted my listings and promptly repaired to Bonanzle with them. In case you aren’t aware of this lovely site, Bonanzle is the place where, to quote Big Bird, “the air is sweet.” You really should check it out sometime. It’s toxin-free, so there’s no need to wear a protective mask, they like you just the way you are, and they’re easy on both your spirit and your bank account. But of course it may not be for everybody, so I’ll understand if you’re not charmed.

That’s not why I’m writing anyway. The thing is – you and I still have a problem. No matter how vehemently I express my need to extricate myself from this relationship you refuse to let me go. A couple weeks ago you threatened the loss of my power seller status and then this morning you informed me that there is even worse trouble in River City. NOW my Top Rated Seller badge is about to be history too due to nonperformance over an eight week period. Honey, I know you don’t like being dumped, but you have to understand that when a girl breaks up with you it implies that she does not want to keep holding a funeral for the relationship. I tried to be just friends, which is why I left my buying possibilities open, but clearly you’re an all-or-nothing kind-of-guy, which leaves me with only one option – a clean and total break.

So this morning at five a.m., with a rip-roaring head cold, I tried to close my entire account. At first I thought my difficulties were due to my obvious impairment, but no. The problem is you. You acted as though you were unaware of our break-up and asked me yet again why I was leaving you. I checked two boxes – the one about high fees and the one about your no good, very bad attitude. But I guess a double-whammy really hurt your feelings because you promptly informed me that I must narrow my reasons to ONE. It was a toss-up, sweetie, I’ll be honest, but in the end I went with attitude. I know, I know – that hurt too, which must be why you then zinged me with the information that I can’t leave until I cancel my subscriptions, which I didn’t even know I had. So I went to where you lead me (didn't I always?) and discovered that subscriptions are the thingies that report my sales. For future relationships and their eventual sad endings (and there WILL be others) you may want to make a note. When someone stops selling on your site they don’t NEED the thingies that report the sales so you could just go ahead and close them and save both parties a lot of pain.

Anyway, moving right along ... I closed the subscription and then tried again to close the account. But no! NOW you told me that you owe me $14.35, a paltry sum considering the pain and anguish you inflicted on me this past year. But I very much deserve some recompense, so I checked the box saying I preferred the refund to the other option, which was to waive it. Yes, you actually have a go-ahead-and-keep-my- money option. I promised myself I wouldn’t get snarky here, but ebay darling, you do have understand that this isn’t NICE. If you had to attain the kind of public ratings sellers on your site do your DR-whatevers in the categories about playing well with others and running with scissors would be even less attractive than your final value fees. If I recall, the recent Auction Bytes seller survey sort of conveyed this very thing, but far be it from me to rub salt in your wounds over THAT.

The bottom line is you informed me that I can’t leave until you decide whether or not I actually GET the refund you told me I had coming. Yes, I applied using your handy little form and you basically said, “Not so fast missy! I decide whether or not you actually get this thing. Oh, and by the way, even if you do, it takes 30 days.”

This means of course that I am stuck with you for the duration unless I let you keep my money. As much as I’d like to let you just so I wouldn’t have to see your face again at 5 a.m., a principle is a principle, and as Dr. Phil says, you teach people how to treat you. Besides, you were really sort of sweet about it all, now that I think about it. Not only did you tell me in one email that you want me to succeed, but you also told me in the final one --and I quote -- “It is our pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay, we value your business.”

Aw shucks. I bet you say that to all the girls.

With love and anticipation of $14.35,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Banister Days -- Thoughts on Children's Books

It’s so hot today, and after yesterday’s bibliotherapy, I found myself thinking about sticky inner-city days when I was a kid growing up in south Akron. We had an old white porch swing for awhile and it was my favorite reading spot until it came crashing down one memorable day. After that I either had to choose between a webbed aluminum lawn chair, or the banister. Clearly, the banister was best. Not only was it wide enough for a skinny little kid to recline, but it provided a bird’s-eye view of the street in case anything interesting went on, which in the early days of my banister reading it did not. The later years more than made up for it, but THAT’S a whole other story. For now just add a lumpy cushion to prop against the porch pillar and there you have it – the place where I met magic.

Like most kids, I was deathly afraid of bees, but I’d be so lost in my book I’d barely register their buzzing amongst the fragrant white flowering bushes that didn’t quite come up to banister level, but almost did. I was too busy hanging out with Beezus and Ramona; Betsy, Tacy and Tib; Katie John; Jennifer Hill; the Moffats; the All-of-a-Kind Family; and Carolyn Haywood's gang -- Betsy, Star, Billy, Eddie, Penny, and Peter. Oh, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women too, especially Jo, but of course that’s no surprise. More than a hundred years after Alcott brought her to life, tomboy Jo March is STILL the Popular Girl.

The thing about kid books is they’re such sneaky little devils. They get you when you’re young, lodge in your brain, nestle in your heart, and somehow become part of who you are. You think you’ve forgotten some of them, but then something will happen and from nowhere you’ll remember a scene, or a snippet of dialogue, and wonder where in the world it came from. Last week when I saw Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes in a paperback reprint at the neighborhood garage sale a rush of remembered pleasure came over me to the point that I actually squealed with delight and told the young mom standing next to me how great it was. I knew I’d loved it, but I couldn’t quite grab hold of either the plot or the characters. All week that book niggled in the back of my brain and then this morning I moved a pile of books and what did I find but Ginger Pye in an old edition. Immediately, I sat down and read the first chapter and – wham, just like that! – I’m back on the banister vicariously living the lives of Rachel and Jerry Pye in their tall Victorian house in Cranbury, Massachusetts. But it’s what I read on page eight that nearly toppled me off my revolving office chair.

“Rachel had the Secret Garden from the library and Jerry had one of the Altshelter books, and neither one of these books was an “I” book. They both always opened a book eagerly and suspiciously, looking first to see whether it was an “I” book. If it were they would put it aside, not reading it until there was absolutely nothing else.”

So THAT’s where I got the phrase “I books!” I remember telling my kids when they were young that when I was little I never liked the “I” books.

It makes me crazy the way people denigrate children’s authors by implying that “anyone” could write a children’s book. Back when I was writing and teaching creative writing at conferences there was always a contingency of conference goers who felt that writing children’s books was a little “less than.” I begged to differ then and I beg to differ now. Children’s books are the first stories we hear. We come to them as malleable as Play-Doh, so new and clean and shiny, each sporting our own bright color and each anxious to figure out the world beyond our family, our street, our school. We bend ourselves this way and that, trying out different shapes and textures. We laugh, cry, worry, tremble with fear, jump through every emotional hoop a favorite author rolls our way. The stories that most resonate with our deepest selves attach themselves to our bones and sinew and become our own. The rest fly away on Shel Silverstein's "peppermint wind" leaving behind small gifts -- a flash of humor, a quirky character, an unforgettable image.

I believe that children's books are treasures that will never, ever translate successfully to the electronic screen. We need to hold them, prop them on our knees, dogear their pages if we don't have a bookmark, hug them, maybe even drip orange pospicles on them. The connection between child and book is visceral, MUST be visceral if it's to matter for a lifetime. And it does matter. It intensely, emotionally, psychically matters, which is why adults buy children's books for themselves. We want to go back, maybe need to go back to the banister and hold again the precious books that introduced us to ourselves.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sales Tax, Bibliotherapy, and Me

No blogging for me yesterday. It was the dreaded Ohio sales tax day, which used to be a piece of cake, or at least a piece of Form UST-1. But then came 2009 -- brave new worlds – when the state tax gurus declared mandatory electronic filing. Once you find it online, filling out the $%%#$ form isn’t all that hard, but I had somehow forgotten my user ID and couldn’t retrieve it. Your password they will send you, but lose that User ID and your account’s locked up tighter than a cat’s mouth in the presence of a pill. Long story short – what should have taken twenty minutes took the whole morning.

On the bright side though, yesterday also marked my first BONANZLE sale – four books to the same buyer, a fellow shop owner. I left a post on the forum announcing the great news – people do that there when they get their first sale– and immediately congratulatory messages poured in like jelly beans into a candy dish. Brightly colored fonts, animated dancing girls -- all I was lacking was a bottle of Martini & Rossi. Those ebay pangs I was feeling the other day? Forget about ‘em!

Then this morning I had to run uptown to the nicest jewelry store on the square (Medina’s town square is so quaintly cute that a model of its gazebo is going to grace a float in the next Rose Bowl parade) to drop off a couple books purchased by its lovely owner. The sun shone fetchingly and I was still feeling chipper from the bonanzle score, so I decided to walk the mile and a half since it wasn’t too hot. It's been years since I’ve walked anywhere in the middle of a work day, but there I was strolling around like I hadn’t a blessed thing to do. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that after I dropped off the books I decided I deserved a little bibliotherapy of my own and popped into the library too.

Medina has a big fancy new library which I wrote about last year, or whenever it was they opened, but useage is so insanely high that many times, especially during the summer, the new book section looks like the last day of the church rummage sale. Sure enough, the pickings were slimmer than a cross section of a blade of grass, but I came away with two titles: The Secret Life Of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn (which I actually thought was a new nonfiction about Dickinson I’ve been wanting to read, but is not); and The Red Thread by Ann Hood which is a novel about, in part, international adoption. Since both of our daughters and both little grandsons are all Korean adoptees, mention the A word on a dustjacket and I’m all yours. It remains to be seen how good either of these are, but I have promised myself that I am going to work until four today and then repair to the porch with Hood’s book and read for an hour before I make dinner.

Wow -- imagine it! A Bonanzle sale, a walk in the sun, a visit to the library, and an hour of uninterrupted bibliotherapy. Sales tax? What sales tax?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Razzle-dazzle Bonanzle!

Back in June I wrote a post about my break-up with ebay due to their ever-escalating fees, burgeoning play-book of rules, and disingenuous treatment of sellers. As I mentioned then, they had informed me that for 30 days I would retain my preferred seller badge and power seller icon just in case I changed my mind about leaving. So yesterday along comes an email informing me that my power seller status is “in jeopardy.” Ya think? I haven’t listed so much as a postcard in six weeks!

I wish I could report that I laughed all of this off, but the fact is I sort of did and sort of didn’t. I couldn’t help but remember the euphoric day I got the email telling me I’d become a power seller. It wasn’t all that long after I began with them, maybe four months or so. The following week the mailman delivered an ebay tee-shirt the size of a house (which I wore as a nightgown) and a somewhat cheesy, but fun and festive, certificate which reminds me of those great TV commercials they used to have where everybody bursts into song --"You can buy it on eeeee-bay!" I thought then that maybe the day would come when I would keep it simple and sell on ebay exclusively. Back then they offered sellers so many perks, including consultants who would analyze your ebay store and seller practices and show you how to best maximize your potential. Today you need the Hubble telescope just to find their phone number! Anyway, the email filled me with a sad nostalgia.

But that was then and this is now, so there’s no point moping about it. In the previous post about ebay I’d hinted that I was flirting with a new site. I've been batting my eyelashes at it for six weeks now and am finally ready to dish. The site itself is fabulous – attractive, interactive, and populated by the world’s nicest sellers, most of whom, like me, had been kicked to the curb by ebay. It’s called Bonanazle (I called it Bojangles for the first couple weeks) and to me its ebay on steroids – graphically superior, filled with collectibles and handmade things like ebay used to have before they fell in love with mass merchandisers, and so affordable for sellers that it’s possible to lower prices for the consumer. There’s one little problem though. Bonanzle has just shy of 300,000 users to ebay’s millions, which means of course that sales, except for the more established sellers, are not popping like champagne corks on New Year’s Eve. I have yet to score my first one.

So, why bother, you’re probably asking. I admit I have asked myself that question too, but here’s the thing – Bonanzle shimmers with an energy that fills me with enormous hope. All the warm fuzzies people used to have for ebay have been unleashed and quadrupled there. The sellers affectionately refer to the owners as “the boys” and will leap over burning buildings to help “the boys” succeed. Not only that – they help each OTHER succeed. When I first started setting up my store surprise messages danced across the dialogue box welcoming me. A seller from California helped me with a technical issue, another provided me with tons of google information, and the other day a guy made the banner with my store name on it (see above) and GAVE it to me. “The boys” made Bonanazle a fun place to be and the sellers grabbed that dynamic and ran with it.

I have to believe that this much positive energy can only be a force for growth and success. If I fail there, and I could, I don't think it will be because of bonanzle, but because of the winds of change blowing through both the publishing world and the book world right now. No one knows for sure where the future of books and bookselling is headed, but I do know this -- I, too, will work hard to help “the boys”, I will reinvent myself if need be, I will even go back to square one. If the books come tumbling down count me among the last booksellers standing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

To Market, To Market, To Not Buy a Pig

Last week was a record breaker, albeit not much of a one. I actually posted here four days in a row. But then the weekend came and, for once, I succumbed to life’s summer pleasures. That isn’t to say that there weren’t books involved – there’s almost always books involved – but I was barely in my office for two whole days.

Saturday morning found my friend Nancy and me strolling in the sunshine around Medina’s picturesque town square (which Nancy calls Star’s Hollow with a nod to the Gilmore Girls), reusable shopping bags slung over our shoulders, perusing the organic produce at the town’s weekly Farmer’s Market. Ever since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last summer my awareness of food chemicals and the carbon footprint left by the importation of produce has strengthened my resolve to buy local and organic as much as possible. Blue potatoes, purple peppers, heirloom tomatoes (a rhapsody in red),tiny strawberries that explode with flavor, thornless blackberries the size of your thumb, fresh baked breads and pies, homemade jams….. What to choose? What to choose? I ended up with a loaf of whole wheat bread, two heads of Bibb lettuce, a mixed lot of heirloom tomatoes, green and purple peppers and a paper bag brimming with green beans, all of which inspired more than sustenance cooking two nights in a row – another record! Suffice it to say that Eric very much likes it when the bookseller cooks.

Maybe that’s why he was up and ready to roll to the Medina flea market at seven a.m. Sunday morning.(See? I told you there were books involved!) I love this flea market, but sadly, it’s become the Incredible Shrinking Flea Market. The winds of change -- oh, how I hate the winds of change -- have blown in favor of a monster flea market in Litchfield that I wouldn’t go to even if it meant never going to a flea market again. Call me a flea market snob (Eric does), but I do not care to walk over rocks to peruse cut-rate canned goods and dilapidated garage junk in hopes of ferreting out hidden treasures. Anyway, there was a day when the Medina flea market was so amazing that in 2003 I bought Vinton’s Anatomical Model of the Mare for the bargain price of $50. I’ll tell you – the angels sang THAT morning. And not just a couple angels either. We’re talking whole choirs. Seraphim AND cherubim.

Well, there’s nothing like that these days, but every once in awhile I find a nice vintage catalog or a decent book or two. This time I immediately bought a good railroad book and a very good railroad book from the same guy. I’d had the latter once before, so I knew that a mint signed first edition was a good buy. After that though it sl-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-wed to a crawl, so much so, that I left Eric sorting through old tools while I went ahead in hopes of a finding a big box of paper items to entertain me. Alas, I did not. I was about to find him and suggest we head to Hinckley and walk around the lake at the Metro Park when he caught up with me and immediately pointed out a box of books under a table.

“Did you look through those?” he asked.

“Yes, but there wasn’t……" And then I saw it. "OH! Tell me that's what I think it is!”

I’d looked at the low-end needlework books maybe five minutes before, but since then they’d sold a few and the dealer had added a couple new ones. There, second from the top, I spied the queen of knitting books,the goddess of knitting books, the BIBLE of knitting books! And in first edition, near fine with a very good dustjacket. For the ridiculous sum of two dollars I bought it and we departed for Hinckley.

No angels visited us Sunday morning, but the lake sparkled in the sun and choruses of birds warbled sweetly. I couldn't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure their morning hymn was Beethoven's Ode To Joy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Possibilities of Pigs

As you may have guessed, song lyrics have bombarded me this week. Today it’s a line from that old Blood Sweat and Tears tune Spinning Wheel – “What goes up, must come down.” I’m referring of course to my recent bout of euphoria. No, no, I’m not in the mood to yell at the cat again. I’m not even blue. I’m just back to earth after having been in orbit, which may actually be a good thing. It’s a hot, sticky, dark day, so I might as well get serious, hunker down, and list the half dozen books I bought last night.

I got these books because we went to one of the nicer library sales we still attend. I say “still” because I’ve developed an aversion to most library sales thanks to the crowds, the various less-than-charming behaviors, and the fact that most are scavenged before the doors even open. This sale is a twice a year event out in the middle of nowhere, or as Shel Silverstein would say, “where the sidewalk ends.” The reason I like it is because the workers are friendly, the guy who runs it is good at it, they disallow scanning and have a nice little sign by the door announcing it. Somebody actually tried firing up a scanner last night and was quickly disabused of the notion.

This is not a sale where you’re guaranteed anything though. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s wretched. One memorable time I actually found a complete set of Rising Up, Rising Down published by McSweeney there, which is about as likely as finding a Honda in a Ford showroom. The time before this one I got an antiquarian book about missions in Sierra Leone (much more likely to find that) and a history of the college of optometry at Ohio State. I know, I know –these don’t sound like winners. But they were — both sold at good prices -- and I liked them both very much, the first for the amazing photographs and the second for its book feel. I’m telling you, that oversized green book was a tactile experience.

Last night, however, was nothing to break out the sparklers for unless you were the lucky dealer who found a first edition F. Scott Fitzgerald WITH its original dustjacket. I’m not kidding – he showed it to me. Normally, this guy’s so negative he could turn Christmas into a day of mourning, but after making the big find he tore down the black crepe and didn’t rehang it for at least a whole second. Sadly, there were no Fitzgeralds for me though. Just pigs. Well, not JUST pigs – I did get two reasonably okay cookbooks and another copy of an art book I’ve had before and totally love. But the pigs were, and are, the biggest contenders.

As you can see, I’ve photographed both of them with a totally cool vintage pig die-cut. The latter did not come from last night’s sale, however. It’s an advertising card for Rex meats which actually opens and is printed with the same design on the back. I can’t remember where I got it, but it’s pretty darn cute and now I’ve finally had a chance to showcase it with the fairly decent pig books.

So, old adage to the contrary, my soujourn to the country turned out pretty well after all. I cast my pearls before swine and ended up with a photo op.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Down On the Corner, Party In the Street!

If I weren't already mellowed out yesterday, last evening would have polished off my rough edges 'til I gleamed like a tumbled rock. Eric came in from work at six and announced that the neighborhood was abloom with yard sales.

"That can't be right," I protested."Yard sale day is Thursday in Medina."

"Well, yard sale day may be Thursday everywhere else, but here it's Wednesday night. They just opened and there are so many cars I couldn't get down the street."

Still skeptical, I opened the door, went out on the screened porch and – WHOA BABY! Banners of cars, pinwheels of whirling kids, streamers of strollers, and bouquets of people decorated the neighborhood like the party room at the church social. Even “Medina’s finest” were out there on a loud speaker warning revelers that cars cannot block fire hydrants. Normally, I'm not much of a yard sale-goer but THIS was a festival! I grabbed some cash from the money tin, collected Eric on the way out and we were off. Not two doors from our house we spotted a WWII collector we've been seeing at book sales for years, and one door past that I made my first score of the night -- two enormous baskets.

Of course I have books on the brain to the point where I don't even see anything that's not a book, or related to books, so jewelry, home decor, clothing, garden stuff etc. are invisible to me. If anything other than book-related stuff gets bought Eric's the buyer. So what's up with the baskets then? I guess I've never mentioned this before, but along with those bandboxes I showed you a few posts back, I’m a maker of themed gift baskets which center around books. I'll pick a book, or books, pile in lots of related goodies and dress the basket up ‘til its limo-ready for the gala -- cellophane, ribbon, flowers, the works. Mostly I make these for local charities as fundraisers -- St. VM (former high school of LeBron James), the battered womens’ shelter, Project Learn, stuff like that. Once though, I actually had a paid gig making a bunch of them for an insurance company as Christmas gifts for their best clients.

But never mind that -- the important thing is this unexpected party. There's something about the light at that time of night in the summer that casts its own brand of enchantment, so toss in the carnival atmosphere and the great deals, and it's no wonder we were giddy. Predictably, the books were not good by bookseller standards, but by reader standards I loved the children’s books, including an Eleanor Estes reprint of Ginger Pye, some battered 40’s book club editions of the Anne of Green Gables series, and Konigsburg’s Newbery-winning The View From Saturday. I didn’t buy them, but just having them as backdrop to the party made me want to throw confetti.

By the time we’d wended our way through 31 sales and got back home I’d bought the two big baskets, two shoe boxes overflowing with brand new rolls of ribbon, including FIVE wide ones (think gift baskets again), AND – drumroll here! – a vintage souvenir booklet from the Panama Canal. The grand total spent -- $15.25.

The best thing of course is the Panama Canal book. Isn't it gorgeous? Look at those colors! And I paid a quarter. Maybe, to parphrase P.T. Barnum, "there's a yard sale-goer born every day."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peace, Harmony and Focus: Or Not Arguing With the Cat on Wednesday

Remember that old song with the line “Oh, what a difference a day makes”? Can’t think of what it’s called, but it’s my theme song today. The sun is shining, two nice Advanced Book Exchange orders came in overnight, yesterday’s mood quietly departed on sweet little cat feet, and once again all is well in my small corner of the book world. Part of this has to do with the fact that some wonderful books turned up last night out of the blue. I paid a lot for them, but oh, what lovely books they are. Another part has to do with something that arrived in the mail.

But first the books. One is a memorial of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the township of Wadsworth, Ohio. The second is an oversized tome called “Album De La Guerre” assembled by members of U.S. Base Hospital No. 4 serving with the British forces on the Somme front and the U.S. Mobile Hospital No. 5 serving in the Meuse-Argon sector as the first organization of American Expeditionary Troops to enter active service abroad in WWI. It’s a limited edition of 1000 copies with 500 photographs and 70 drawings.

But the one that most struck my fancy is the one pictured above. I have a great fondness for regimental histories and this one about the 10th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Army of the Spanish American War is terrific. I wish the condition were better, but it’s not terrible and the book has both an attractive cover and great information and pictures. But more than that, it brings along hidden in its pages a bit of book magic – a personal story all its own. I love when a book pulls away from the crowd like that – not just because it’s value may increase, but because it then becomes a voice, a presence, an affirmation that commands notice and respect in a way that no electronic book ever will.

In this case the book was owned by Lt. John P. Colwell who not only signed his name, but wrote his initials in beautiful script on the front free endpaper. Inside it gets even better though, as he clearly was part of the regiment and made penciled notes indicating same as per photo above on which he wrote the following, ”Not in this photo. It was made after I was transferred to 1st Div. HQ as Asistant. Eng. Officer.”

So yes,I’m madly in love with the books today. But I’m also amazed and touched by the thing that came in the mail. I’ve had many, many email thanks-yous over the years from customers, but only a few ever arrived via snail mail. Yet there amongst yesterday’s bills, Netflix movies, and circulars was a small, hand written flowered card. It says in part, “Dear Tess, Thank you for wrapping the very special book “Longing For Darkness’ Kamante’s Tales From Out of Africa” with great TLC and blue ribbon. Opening the package created excitement with a knowing that there would be no disappointments …” It closes with “Blessings of Peace, Love and Laughter to you.”

How did Whomever is responsible for such stuff know I needed all of the above at just that moment? I haven't a clue, but I very much appreciate it. And so today I am reminded of why bookselling matters in the 21st century and why I am blessed beyond measure to be able to do it. But there’s a lesson here too and it has not escaped my notice. Even on the bad days I need to take the focus off outcome and dwell happily in process.

In other words, do the work, stop whining, and be nice to the cat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Arguing with the Cat on Tuesday, Or the Bookseller Blues

The summer doldrums have definitely set in, dragging behind them a gunny sack of slow sales, hot humid weather, gathering clouds, and a recalcitrant cat. Today is one of those days where you ask yourself if perhaps you might be happier painting the toenails of poodles. Or stuffing envelopes for fun and profit. Or – I know! – selling magazines door to door. Now that I think about it I might actually SELL some magazines which would be a very novel concept.

But of course, in fact, there is only one thing to do on a day such as this. To quote Gerald Murphy, who partied on the beaches of Cap d’Antibes with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, “listing well is the best revenge.” Well, actually he recommended LIVING well, but when you’re a full-time bookseller living and listing are pretty much the same thing. And so listing is what I set out to do at 7:30 a.m. armed with a giant mug of coffee and my digital camera.

First the light was wrong. Then by the time it was right Mickey,the cat, had declared the red cloth I put on the window seat in the living room to photograph books Motel 6. I asked him politely to leave. He ignored me. I gave him a gentle push. He laid firm. Finally, I picked him up and bodily removed him whereupon he paid me back by leaving three-quarters of himself hehind. Without a word, I cleaned the cat hair off the red fuzzy cloth, took my pictures, and went away. But when I came back so had he. Only this time I actually YELLED at him and now he is under an antique cupboard sulking, or worse, planning revenge. Either way, he hates me and I don't even blame him because I'm a big grouch today.

As any bookseller will tell you, listing books is not always fun, especially when there are few sales and lots of cat hair. So it definitely helps to love the books you're listing. I did love, and do love four of them, but the rest have been here so long that any affection I ever had for them has departed. That’s because human nature, or the nature of booksellers, is this – you go to a sale, buy a bunch of stuff, turn cartwheels over some, at least mildly like the majority, and regard the rest as rodents who’d diabolically jumped into your bags when you weren’t looking. So what happens is you cherry pick. First the best go online, then the next best, and so on until all that’s left are the dregs. Then you get some new stuff and the same thing happens again, only now the dregs are multiplying like bunnies. So why did you even BUY the dregs, you might ask? Because in the heat of the moment they didn’t seem like dregs. I’m sure if you think about it you'll hit on a more vivid example of the same situation.

Anyway, I have no idea why I’m telling you all this stuff, so I'll stop now and go see if the cat still hates me.

He does. Just look at the picture on the top.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Chinese Autograph Book Mystery -- SOLVED!

The Fourth of July is my second favorite holiday. Love it all -- kids running in and out the back door, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill, a chilled glass of Clean Slate, and fireworks by the lake in the backyard. Our celebration never varies much, but that's okay. We've got it patented and we're sticking with the original. This year did bring a couple surprises though. The first came during the fireworks finale which, though not exactly a D.C. extravaganza, was pretty good for the city of Medina, Ohio in the midst of a recession. As psychedelic palm trees exploded in the sky a strange, eerie sight provided contrast on the ground. At first it looked like moving patches of dark fog, but as our eyes adjusted we discerned the shape of at least a hundred geese running toward the water single-file in a long line -- an unbroken silhouette.

The second surprise came as I was back in the house serving dessert.

“Hey, mom, did you get my email?” my oldest daughter asked as I sliced the chocolate cherry cake.

“No. What email?”

“The one where I told you I solved the Chinese autograph mystery.”

After Mom finished screaming (Mom is rather excitable), Mo shared an incredible story which you can read in its entirety by clicking over to my original post "Mystery of the Chinese Autograph Book" (June) and scrolling down to her comment which includes two excellent links. It turns out that my previous suppositions were dead wrong. The Chinese kids who signed their names and shared their photographs in the book were not here for shipbuilding, missionary zeal, OR the transcontinental railway. They were here as part of a little known alliance between the United States and the Chinese government called the Burlingame Treaty, signed in 1868 to provide an American education for Chinese students.

Imagine when the first twenty kids, aged ten to sixteen, got off the boat in 1872 sporting long Chinese queues and traditional Eastern dress. Scared,excited,confused, dazed by the myriad sights and sounds, they were ushered into private Connecticut homes to live with strangers. It had to have been mind-blowing on both sides! And yet it not only happened, but it went on for five years until the Chinese built a school with dormitories at 352 Collins Street in Hartford. By then the students were teenagers who immediately dubbed it Hell House. Like many immigrant children, the boys in the book had embraced American ways (and also American girls who liked them immensely). Gone were the queues and the traditional dress. Gone, too, the ancient Confucian religion, supplanted by the Christianity of their hosts.

Needless to say, the Chinese government harbored deep concerns about this loss of culture and religion. So when a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment rolled across the country following the influx of cheap labor from China to build the Transcontinental Railway the die was cast. In 1881 the Chinese boys went home, thus ending in its ninth year a program that was supposed to last twenty.

Now that I know its story, the autograph book feels different to me, like an artifact the History Detectives on PBS might have searched he globe to verify. I gaze at the handsome young faces framed by American hairstyles to match their American suits and wonder what became of each boy. I decided to photograph the book with the American flag not because Mo solved the mystery on the Fourth, but because the book’s story is such a uniquely American one. Today, more than a century later, the children of immigrants continue to assimilate. Their parents continue to wring their hands in despair and struggle to hold on to the old ways. Native born Americans continue to vent their frustrations on the immigrants. And the long, unbroken line of silohuettes runs on.