Monday, November 29, 2010

Mall Musings

Dare I say it out loud? Will the book gods hear and deem me too self-satisfied to be worthy of future good books? I don’t know. It’s definitely a risk, but here goes. I am cautiously optimistic about the antiques mall. There. I’ve said it. And so far nothing bad has befallen me, so I guess I’ll elaborate.

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to the mall Saturday night with a couple more boxes of books. We pulled into the parking lot and immediately gazed around in disbelief. The place looked like a used car lot! They stay open until eight on Saturdays and it was only five-thirty, but still… they actually had more cars than K-Mart! Inside I checked in, logged the time, and made myself a name sticker with my booth number on it. The second I adhered it to my sweater a guy came over to tell me that he’d  just bought a Bible from me. I chatted with him for awhile  and then  went back to the booth where I beheld – could it really be? --a second customer! A man held up a book about paperweights and said, “Nice book! I’m going to buy this from you” then promptly bore it away.

I unpacked my new stock, marveling at how fun all this customer contact was, when suddenly a realization cut the thrill off at the pass.  At the antiques mall the dealer does NOT want to be in the booth a second longer than necessary. For some reason the sight of you repels customers faster than a live tarantula. I also noticed that all the fixing, decorating and neatening a fussy shop owner does lasts maybe a nanosecond, but in the end  that’s actually a GOOD thing because it means that in your absence the wind blew in some readers. The books that had been standing lay like corpses, gaps from sold books caused surrounding  books to lean in an attitude of exhaustion  and the ephemera looked like it had been poured out onto the table from a dump truck. I set things to rights, grabbed my empty boxes, and took off in hopes of finding someone to help with the password problem so I could check my sales. But the checkout line snaked all the way across the long checkout/wrapping counter, so I didn’t bother.

The next day, Sunday, my friend Nancy and I returned shortly after the mall opened with yet another box of books and the world‘s thickest dictionary which I featured in a post this past summer. I got the password problem fixed in two seconds and – voila! – my sales appeared on the screen. I tried very hard to be cool about it and, in fact, put in a performance worthy of an Oscar I think,  considering that  I felt like I’d swallowed a Mexican jumping bean. Not only had I made enough to pay the pro-rated rent for November, but I almost made enough to cover December too. And – yes, yes, YES! – the 1937 Birds of America sold while we went to Target in the rain last Monday to buy the smaller table. And it gets even better. Last night I checked sales again and I made enough to pay all of December’s rent with a small profit already

Okay, now I’m getting nervous. I’m acting entirely too excited here which will not do because I truly need to stay under the book gods’ radar. So let’s switch topics to what kind of books actually sold. This is very interesting because only one area that I predicted to do well actually performed as expected. Just as I thought, the hottest ticket was local history, hands down. Most of my sales came from that section, but I did sell a couple childrens' books, the Bible (very nice, unused, vintage, Catholic), the paperweight book, a book on heraldry, and two expensive 18th century fashion magazines -- The Delineator and the very rare Peterson’s Ladies Magazine. My number of items in stock hovers  at only around 400, plus the pile of ephemera of which there must be at least fifty pieces on the table. I had expected the latter to be the cash cow, but not so. Other than the two fashion magazines it’s all still intact.

So what does it mean? I don’t know , but I do know that it’s far too soon to entertain thoughts of shutting down some of my internet venues and getting a bigger booth. Yes, I actually did briefly think those things, but I know better than to take them too seriously. Right now it’s enough to be pleased, less scared (but still some scared), and relieved – not to mention grateful.

I yearned for a good omen and  I got  one after all. Make that two -- the Audubon book and the  lucky dime Eric found in the parking lot in the rain.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

I’m not really sure that I have a point to make today, but I seem to have some stuff to tell you, so here I am, hoping that maybe the bits and pieces fall together and create something meaningful. I know yesterday was my day to post, but it occurred to me yesterday morning that I had decommissioned two hundred online books and had added absolutely none in almost a week. So I dived in at seven-thirty and kept at it until six-thirty when Eric got home, stopping only once to throw a roast and some veggies in the Crock-Pot for dinner. That’s the trouble with not hosting Thanksgiving – you don’t get the ceremonial leftovers. Some people don’t like them, but I consider them right up there with Santa Claus and the Christmas tree and was actually rather bereft over their absence. Fortunately, I was too busy to focus on it.

Tonight I  have to go to the antiques mall, so I’m hoping some more suitable books emerge from the leaning towers  surrounding me. Would you believe  it was closed Wednesday night after I spent the whole day processing stuff? They’re supposed to be open until six, but I guess they closed early for Thanksgiving, so tonight I ‘m dragging  the newly decommissioned  books over for the second time. As for whether or not the 1937 Birds of America sold or got kidnapped, I’m still clueless. They gave me a password to check my sales online but it doesn’t work. So now I have to hope there’s somebody there who can fix it.

One thing that’s interesting is my energy level right now .You’d think I’d downed a case of Red Bull the way I’m flying around. But I must be anxious too because this morning I was jolted awake by the weirdest dream. It doesn’t sound like much – Eric gave me the “and the interesting part IS?” look – but it really freaked me out. In the dream I had a cold and for some reason was sitting on the floor in Eric’s office which is the real office in the house (mine is upstairs in a bedroom because I’m messy). The doorbell rang and I sensed it was the mailman with a package, but I didn’t get up because I knew he would just leave it. So I sat there with my head on my knees feeling and looking like something the cat dragged in when all of a sudden I heard the door open. The next thing I knew I felt an enormous box pushed up hard against my arm. But when I opened my eyes no one was there. I woke with such a start I nearly sailed across the room like a Frisbee. So I think maybe that says it all about my state of mind.

One very cool thing, however, is that the books I bid on at the Dayton book sale arrived yesterday – Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium and the set of architecture books. I had been a little worried about their safety given how badly many people wrap things, especially people who aren’t used to shipping stuff . But this lady nailed it. Wow – perfect! And so now you can see what I got. I bid $55 on the 16 volume architecture set (Architectural Treasures of Early America with its original paperwork) which I’ve sold twice before and $50 for Emily. Both are great, but my heart is with Emily who is every bit as exquisite as I remembered her to be. Eric fell in love with her too, so now there’s not a chance I will sell it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not so much a collector in the true sense of the word, but he is, and once he latches on to something the chances of wrestling it back aren’t high. So it looks like Emily’s our girl forever.

One thing I’m hoping to do today is find an auction that has a lot of books. We subscribe to a newspaper called Farm and Dairy, which is pretty funny considering that I break out in hives when the sidewalk ends. But we subscribe to it because it lists auctions all over the Midwest. There was a day when you could find one practically every week, but not anymore. The last time we went to one was in March or April when I bought an enormous box of The Architect Magazine from the 20’s and 30’s, published by Forbes, so you can imagine how drop-dead fabulous it is. But ever since then the pickings have been slim to none -- so much so that we’ve taken to calling the newspaper Farm and Dreary.

Well, anyway, there’s where I’m at the moment. It’s amazing to me that the holiday season officially launched yesterday. For some reason it doesn’t feel like it to me, though I did swap my normal blue ribbon for Christmas green when I wrapped orders this morning.  And yet … I don’t know. Something seems off about it. Maybe it was because I never got to see the Macy’s parade. In Michigan they preempt it so you can watch the one from Detroit. Yay.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts of Thanksgiving

I should be doing the domestic thing today, but for the first time in forty years I am not cooking for Thanksgiving. We are going to our oldest daughter’s house in Michigan where the entire clan will gather for dinner tomorrow. And guess what? She’s not cooking either! She got on the phone, as any working woman would, and ordered up the whole shebang to be picked up tonight on the way home from the office. On the one hand I marvel at it, but there’s a small stubborn part of me that believes Thanksgiving requires familiarity with the innards of a turkey. As it turned out though, I am not mourning the lack of a large naked bird here today. After this week I’m ready to crash with the little people tomorrow and watch the entire Macy’s parade undisturbed by the oven timer.

But it really wouldn’t be the holiday if I didn’t cook something, so I made an apple pie this afternoon (she has pumpkin ordered) and am planning on making a vegetable dish of sliced roasted Brussels sprouts, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts right before dinner. When we were in Michigan last week we watched Bobby Flay make a wonderfully involved one with all of the above and more, including a vanilla bean, and pomegranate molasses. I had hoped to surprise everyone with that, but the feasibility factor is zero at this late date. The chances of me finding pomegranate molasses without a trip into Akron to the West Point Market are about as likely as finding a first edition To Kill A Mockingbird at an FOL bag day.

Besides, I have to go back to the antiques mall tonight. I processed a ton more books and feel compelled to drag them over there. Someone asked me this morning why it took me so long to process books, so I guess it’s time to stop blaming the tickets I had to make and tell you the whole Monk-like story. The fact is I am not content to just take the books as I found them. I have to CLEAN them, whether they need it or not, put the ones with jackets in mylar, sand edges, tighten bindings, and otherwise twitter and fuss. I do this for all the ones I ship and will do it now for all the ones that go to the mall.  I know, I know. People sell books every day without going nuts, but when it comes to books I’m a tad OCD. Besides, I'm  thankful for the simple pleasure of it.

This Thanksgiving I feel so blessed, not only for small pleasures, but large ones too.For a husband who laughs at my humor, helps me with whatever crazy notion I concoct, bolsters my spirits, and shleps boxes of books that weigh more than I do. For my two charming daughters who make me laugh, help ease me kicking and screaming into the electronic world, and ask for my opinions. For my sweet little grandsons who ask nothing of me but hugs and kisses, stories and games, songs and dances, long walks, and an occasional run around the lake. I’m thankful for being a bookseller, for books to read, for good health and good sense, good friends and good times.

And lastly, I am thankful for all of you who allow me to think out loud and encourage me with your notes and emails. I wish for you this Thanksgiving peace, laughter, and a very good pie -- your choice of filling.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thunder, Dimes, and Omens

I think sometimes we're better off not knowing what we're getting into until we're into it. Had anyone told me I would be logging fifteen hours a day getting ready to launch the mall booth I might have crawled under the bed and hidden from myself. And yet had I not impulsively signed the contract and pushed myself to deliver I would be stockpiling books and fussing over details (I did enough of the latter as it is) until I was so old I’d be hobbling into the mall one book at a time.

Which is not to say this project was a Picnic in the Park With George. Monday morning, set-up day, we woke to howling winds. By the time Eric and I loaded the store cube van with the five new bookcases and what few books and ephemera I had been able to process, thunder crashed like an omen from the Inferno. As we pulled into the mall parking lot the dark sky opened and rain, like a thousand lamentations, poured over my previously high spirits. Suddenly I  knew with absolute certainty that I wasn’t prepared, didn’t have enough books ready, shouldn’t have done it, and most definitely shouldn’t  have been encouraged to do it by the guy sitting next to me.

For awhile we sat in the truck until we could make a dash for the door, me staring morosely into the gloom, Eric telling me that a mall store is a work in progress. It takes time. It takes work. It takes a little faith. Did I think all those crowded booths got that way immediately?

Actually, yes, I did. But I kept it to myself and let him talk. When the rain lessened he opened the driver’s side door, hopped out with great enthusiasm, and immediately picked up something up off the concrete.

“Hey, look what I just  found! ” He held it up for me to see. “A lucky dime. How about that?”

This from the man who not two minutes before when I said the weather was a bad omen told me there was no such thing as omens.

Inside, the mall seemed vast and alien. I couldn’t find the booth without help and when I  did it loomed empty, ugly, and too small. An hour later it perked up and grew a couple feet, only to shrink again to the size of a shoebox when we opened the six foot table that was supposed to hold the two boxes of bagged ephemera, plus a row of decorative books at the back. The  table was a barrier so effective it beat sawhorses at a construction site hands-down. If you don’t want anyone getting close to your books I highly recommend you get one. Maybe they even have eight footers.

Anyway, we had no choice but to trudge out to Target in the rain and buy a smaller one which fit better, but would barely hold even some of the ephemera, much less  the books with the eye-catching covers. As it turned out, this was actually a GOOD thing because I was right about the number of books in general. I didn’t have close to enough. And even now after processing three banker’s boxes more last night (and pulling a muscle in my knee), I still don’t have enough. I know this because we were back over there again today. So now I vacillate over what to do. Do I decommission more internet stock, or just let it go as is? I suppose could take my high end stuff over because I don’t have it most of it online, but I’m too afraid of shoplifting and, besides, was holding it back for the antiquarian show in April.  The thing is, a book vanished into thin air while we were at Target. Maybe somebody actually bought it, though that would be so amazing I might have to turn into an optimist. 

All I know is its %^&*$$% ticket (that took forever to make and is the reason why I have so little stock)  was lying on the carpet where the book had been and the book (a 1937 Audubon’s Birds of America with the soft paper and brilliant colors) was gone with not so much as a feather left behind. I won’t know until tomorrow when I’m in  the mall's computer system and can check my sales on the internet whether it found a happy home, or was kidnapped

But I do know one thing. It's an omen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sailing On A Sea of Paper

The spirit was willing yesterday, but the ticking time clock was not and so no blog post materialized. We got back from Michigan Thursday night with no book sale on the way home either due to the fact that we got caught up in the frivolity of the adoption celebration and didn’t cut and run in time. It was definitely the right choice, but all night every night since I have dreamt of endless antiques malls – booth upon booth, stacks of tags waiting to be handwritten, empty shelves … I think you can discern my state of mind. I’m so stressed that I actually didn’t even ship orders today. Got up at five, made coffee, toasted the daily bagel and literally hit the ground. My family room floor resembles a sea of paper and I am on my knees in the middle of it bagging and tagging. By mid-afternoon I’ll also be sagging like the skin of the Saggy Baggy Elephant. I love ephemera, but THIS is downright oceanic.

The antiques mall called while we were gone to say that we had booth access yesterday – ha-ha. I am about as ready for booth set-up as I am for Christmas and we won’t even talk about THAT. Besides, Eric has a serious weekend-long engraving class at the store which will keep him chained to it through Sunday. The plan is to set-up on Monday with whatever we have processed and make daily trips Tuesday and Wednesday with additional stuff in order to be ready for Black Friday. What panics me is how little I have done due to the need to log each item, price it, and number it inside and THEN create a tag with the same information. Eric designed and printed a bunch of tags at the store, so that helps, but the process still reminds me of filling out the long census form. Endless boredom!

It could be argued that I shouldn’t be writing this blog, but I also think of you guys endlessly and wanted to keep you apprised of the process in case you’re thinking of making the same move. I got a phone call last night from my bookseller friend Carol who runs one of the two best FOL book sales around here and who also stocks THREE antiques malls. She wanted to pass on some info on how to use Craig’s List to draw traffic to my booth. I’m giving it a try, but the malls she is at are not as rarified as mine (which is why she’s not there) and so pretty much anything goes. Once she actually posted an ad saying she had 700 woodworking magazines at a dollar apiece and ended up selling half of them! I, however, must labor over individual, pricier, older items, which means I may not be a contender for the Craig’s List popularity contest. But I did get to ask her a question I’ve been pondering.

“So -- how many items did you have at the beginning when you opened at the first mall?” I asked innocently.

“Oh, not too many,” she assured me. “Only three thousand or so.”

Okay then. Moving right along ...

So far I’ve logged about 125 books and have several hundred more in line to do , as well as several book sets. As you know, I’ve always been smitten with sets, but right now I’m even wilder about them. Sets not only command a higher dollar value, but they also emit a sense of abundance in what is actually a sterile desert -- or so I like to tell myself anyway.

Whoa! Did you hear that roaring just now? That would be the sea of paper downstairs trying to get my attention. Waves crash, gale force winds blow, and thunder booms like the voice of the Norse god Thor. Much as I would love to talk some more, I think I'd better steer the ship to port. It's  listing badly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Part About Life

Believe it or not, we’re going to hit the road again today, but not for book buying. Our new little grandson will be formally adopted in court tomorrow morning in Michigan. Of course the timing could be better, but it’s been my experience that neither babies, nor government entities, care all that much about either bookselling or antiques malls. I’ve also noticed that the only deadlines that grab their attention are their own. But that’s okay because we’re thrilled to perform this ritual for the FOURTH time.

The first was in 1975 when our eldest daughter came to us from South Korea at six months old; the second in ‘84 when our youngest flew in from South Korea at four and a half months; and the third in 2003 when our oldest grandson, brother to this little one, jetted in from South Korea at five months. The shiny new one arrived in April at ten months (that’s him standing alone), an old guy by previous standards, but actually the youngest to have his day in court, as new regulations have axed the one year wait.

Eric always jokes about how we’ve created a mini Korean dynasty, which I guess we have. Sometimes when the whole family sits around our dining room table I can only marvel at the way life pulls surprises out of its hat. Not too many Korean adoptees adopt from Korea, but it’s certainly not unheard of. What’s unique about this situation is that on the night we waited at the airport for her sister’s plane to land back in April of ‘84 my oldest, who was nine at the time, said, “Mom, the next time we meet a plane from Korea I’M going to be the mother.” Years later she told her American husband before they married that adoption ranked high on her agenda. He agreed and the rest is recent history.

So what does all this have to do with bookselling? Not a darn thing. I just thought I’d tell you because this blog is supposed to be about life too and I very rarely even touch on it, which when you think about it, could qualify as a misalignment of priorities. It’s truly not though because these four people loom large in both mind and heart and two of them, in fact, are forces of nature who couldn’t be ignored if I tried! They know who they are – well, at least one of them does.

So, we’re off to Michigan in high spirits where tonight we’ll have the little guy all to ourselves while Mom and Dad go to a parent/teacher conference with the older one. Then tomorrow we’ll fill the courtroom with all four adoptees present. Afterwards we’ll celebrate over lunch at our favorite restaurant, the Mongolian Barbecue, and then hit the road for Ohio.

Okay, now it’s confession time. I almost set a record for writing a post which has absolutely no books involved, and now at the final moment I’m about to blow it. We’re going to a book sale in Ohio on the way home.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Decisions Of A Banshee

I know -- I'm really late today, but I've been running like a banshee since we got back from Dayton. Between the enormous piles of new books (how GREAT it is to say that!) and the need to select and tag all the ones that are going to the antiques mall, I feel like I should run myself through the copy machine. But it's good to be busy and I am certainly not complaining. I love nothing better than whirlwind activity during a work day. When I was director of PR and sales for the senior living complex the only thing I liked about the job was the fact that I flew around all day putting out fires and making things happen.

Anyway, things are happening here today. And guess what? Remember all that fretting about  Emily Dickinson's Herbarium and my low $50 bid? Well, as it turns out, there was no need for rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, because I GOT it! I also got the architecture books, so I'm in book heaven. All I can say is you must have sent up many, many burnt offerings to the book gods. If so, I have lots of pay-backs due, so be sure to cash in if you have a big sale coming up.

Eric will be home from the store soon, but it's his night to cook, so I'm still working. Before you feel too sorry for him, he cooks exactly one night a week and he always makes spaghetti. I've been up since five -- wrapped the orders, had a bagel and coffee, and hit the ground running to sort the 50-some books I bought from my customer. I had had a few of them in the past, so was reasonably sure about pricing them and I already had descriptions on my database. All it took were a few changes and  -- bingo! -- a live listing. But the majority of the titles were new to me, so I spent the the morning researching, which of course I love, thanks to  my old newspaper days.

One thing did become evident though and that's this -- some books cause a conflict never before experienced. Now it seems that every time I pick up a book I immediately ask myself -- should  it go online, or should it go to the antiques mall? In some cases, it's a no-brainer. Esoteric titles of interest to two people in the wilds of Tazmania go straight to the book sites. But what happens when you have  a gorgeous edition of Irish Folk Tales edited by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats, replete with tipped-in color plates, laid paper, signed by the book designer, snuggled into a handsome slipcase and issued in a limited edition of 2000 copies? I could see it selling in either the real world or the ether-- and, yes, it does pass the age test for the mall, so even that's not a decision-maker. I see-sawed on this one so many times you'd have wanted to snatch the book out of my hand and made the decision FOR me. In the end I decided to list it on one venue only and if it doesn't sell quickly take it to the mall.  Of course it doesn't take too many booksellers dancing on the head of a pin to see another problem brewing with that idea. It's fine for one book, but pile up too many of them and my head will be revolving like the girl's in The Exorcist. If anyone has antiques mall experience (Kristian, where are you?) please chime in, as this is driving me crazy.

Another issue complicating it all of course is the holidays. As we all know, this is bookseller prime time, so it's important to maximize our exposure, or at least to choose venues wisely. If life were fair I'd put everything eveywhere, but I can't because I know that as sure as I'm not remotely ready for Thanksgiving  it will land me knee-deep in a river of trouble. It's been my experience that as soon as someone buys a  book it gets exponentially better sitting on the wrapping bench, so you can imagine how wonderful it will get if it sells online and is two miles away at the antiques mall. I am not ready to trade sanity for exposure, tempting though it is, so Christmas, too, must be factored into every decision.

I suspect  it will even out somewhat once I get set up at the mall. We get access to our booth next week and can begin working towards opening day which is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Another thing that may be a decisive factor is space. I may actually have too much of it, in which case there's nothing to decide. MOST of it will go to the antiques mall!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Charging Forward with Shiny Shields!

We’re back from Dayton and so much the better for it! I highly recommend a change of scenery once in awhile – it’s like a prescription for the soul. In fact, I am so renewed I could be a library book. Externally, nothing essentially changed, though I did get some very nice books. The change came from the inside out, manifested by much fun, friends, time alone with my very cute husband, and a library sale populated by polite people, both of the scanning and non-scanning varieties.

Our first stop of course was to buy the books from my customer. All I can say is that if I were Monet I would paint his house in the golden light of late afternoon when the edges of everything seem to shimmer. The house stands high on a corner, a vernacular white Ohio farm house with a barn, two brindled dogs meandering down the curved drive, and a hillside dotted with ten sheep. I had never met its owner before, though we’ve talked on the phone a number of times, and found him quite charming. We got boxes of Ohioana, architecture, and decorative arts titles, as well as a book about bookplates which I may just have to keep.

From there we headed downtown where we stayed at the Doubletree, an old hotel redone by Hilton. This is our second visit there and it was as delightful as the first. After we dressed for dinner I stood looking out the seventh story window to the busy street below with its sleek, shiny bright green busses lined up everywhere and thought how very nice this Ohio city is. An added delight was the hotel’s parking attendant who won me over immediately when he fetched our car, flashed a huge smile, and said, “Wow – what a fun ride! I love these PT Cruisers.” Anyone who appreciates our Petey that much (yes, he has a name) is in my book a very good guy.

Dinner at Thai Nine in the charming Oregon historical district made me long for daylight so we could walk the streets lined with restored homes, visit the galleries, and shop for Christmas in the boutiques. But the restaurant was great too. Eric ordered some ginger chicken thing, but I pulled out the stops and went for a fiery chicken dish which could be prepared in gradations of spiciness from one to ten. I took a leap and settled on three -- if you’re going to eat Thai then you might as well get serious about it – which proved to be just right. A glass of pinot grigio, a few spring rolls, our longtime friends, Charlie and Mary Lynn, and I could have died happy.

After the four of us solved all the world’s problems it was time for me and Eric to get serious. We had to make our way to the fairgrounds where the book sale was to be held and leave a box with our name on it. It was about nine forty-five when we arrived and already four boxes stood sentinel at the front door. Eric plopped ours behind them and we maneuvered through the dark streets back to the hotel. We slept fine, but both of us were so cognizant of the need to get up on time that we woke up simultaneously three times before it was necessary! By six a.m. we joined the gaggle of people standing out front, SIX of whom were from northeastern Ohio and three of whom are friends -- old school sellers like us. We waited awhile until a local diner everyone loves opened and then set off on foot, joined by a couple more people we knew, making it ten in all for breakfast. Again, much laughter and fun. By the time we returned to the sale there was an only an hour to go, so time slipped by like one of my infamous typos.

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something in the water in northeastern Ohio that brings out the worst in booksellers. In Dayton, as in Cincinnati, sellers are as calm and polite as Miss Manners and the Dalai Lama combined. No high drama. No pushing. No shoving. No running with scissors. Had the books been a tad better you would have thought the clock had turned back to 1997. But given today’s realities, the books weren’t all that bad either. I got a lot of nice things, the star of which is pictured above. It’s the only book that made my heart flutter except for one other in the silent auction. I’m furious at myself for not bidding higher on a pristine, slipcased  copy of Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium. Oh my God, it was a book to make you weak in the knees. There’s no way I will get it with a $50 bid, so I’ve no one to blame but myself. What was I THINKING????? I also bid on an architecture series that I’ve sold twice, but I have no stake in the outcome on that one. It’s Emily I mourn.

But even such stupidity leaves me undaunted. We shook things up a little, engaged in some much needed frivolity, and are ready to face the internet wars with shiny new shields. Even the antiques mall looks better, though we stopped at an especially nice one on the trip that does not enforce the previously mentioned rules. On the other hand, the five sleek black bookcases are ready for pick-up today and I am already so picked up myself that I don’t care a whit whether the mall approves or disapproves.

Life in Ohio may not be perfect on this cold, sunny Saturday. But it’s a close enough approximation.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

And So --- We're Off!

Today’s the day! By noon we will be on our way to Dayton for the Great Bookseller Road Trip. The weather is cold, but dry, and my mood expectant and even a little excited, which is rather amazing considering how soured I am on book sales. I think my good humor rests on the memory of the wonderful sale we went to in Cincinnati last June when we were there to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Now THAT was fun. So maybe this will be fun too.

Our first stop is my customer’s home outside Dayton where we will buy a portion of his architecture and Ohioana books. Then it’s on to downtown where we will check into the Doubletree, relax a little, and then get dressed up to meet our friends for dinner at a Thai restaurant. After dinner though we need to crash early because a bookseller friend who has gone to this sale for years told me we MUST be there by five a.m. even though it doesn’t start until ten. Massive overkill if you ask me, but if that’s what it takes I guess that’s what it takes. Somehow it seems less abhorent to wait endlessly in a strange place than in a commonplace one, though why that should be is a mystery. If bad behavior is the order of the day it really doesn’t matter whether you’re acquainted with the perpetrators or not. But I refuse to even consider that something negative will happen. The book gods owe us this one!

Another reason I’m so hopeful is the fact that we now have the antiques mall to stock. I AM, however, a bit dismayed by two things with the mall – the fact that you can’t have books from the 80’s and the fact that you cannot have a sign with your store name, nor can you place a stack of business cards or flyers in the booth. The mall we loved in Toledo that went out of business sported two huge booths run by the same bookseller whose name was so prominently displayed it practically jumped off the wall and knocked you over the head . One booth consisted of high end items, mostly pop culture stuff, and the, the other nice, but lower priced, books. I talked to him about this and thought then it was a great model, later confirmed by two other seller friends who do likewise, one in Georgia, and one, believe it or not, in Ohio Amish country. But this mall is very close to me and the other possibilities (at least those of any size) are NOT, so I feel cornered, as I absolutely do not relish long trips to restock and spruce up.

Speaking of the mall, we didn’t get the bookcases from Craig’s List. The owner got back to me, but it turns out that he sold them in October and forgot to delete the ad. We’ve tried to find other economical options, but nothing suitable turned up. Last night though Eric found some sleek black ones on sale at Office Max, so I think we’re going to spring for those even though this rarified antiques mall wants you to have wooden bookcases. They’re just going to have to get over themselves on this one, as even these cannot be purchased with pocket change. Besides, they’re very attractive and if I think this (and I am a notoriously picky person with high design standards) then they will be just fine. We’re going to go over there and get them this morning before we leave.

Right now though I have to wrap yesterday’s orders, so they can be mailed at the same time we go to Office Max. I will catch up with you when we get back – probably Saturday – and share all the adventures. Meanwhile, send up burnt offerings to the book gods and I'll return the favor any time.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Giant Leap Off Dead Center

Once again, I’m a day late, but I have been incredibly busy and am going to remain that way at least until the day after Thanksgiving. For a long time now I  have toyed with the idea of opening a booth in an antiques mall and finally decided to stop talking about it and just do it. I think maybe what happened with the incredible missing book at the book sale served as a catalyst, though of course it defies logic. My having a booth will not guarantee the loss of books at sales, nor will it eradicate the need to GO to sales. But I think what happened is I reached a new nadir of unhappiness and it triggered me into action. That’s the way I am with things though. Show me a crisis of any kind, emotional or in real time, and I spin like a dervish making things  right. The  bottom line is I need to fall in love with bookselling again and for that to happen I need fresh  challenges and possibilities.

So yesterday I called the biggest mall around, located oh-so-conveniently to me, and they had two spots available. The cheapest one was oddly shaped and back in the Collectibles Room where I would have been sharing space with the kitsch of my childhood – Barbie dolls, comic books, board games etc.  So not me. So onward to the main showroom where the price doubles. And there I found my space – 10’x10’ at $260 a month. It’s not cheap, but I signed a three month contract and am taking a chance. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? If I lose then I can cross one idea off the list.

The big issues now of course are shelving and stock. I have an email out to somebody on Craig’s list for shelves, so if they’re available I’m good to go (at least for starters) at a bargain price. Stock is a bit trickier. I do have a ton of paper items not listed online, but of course those are the hardest items to showcase. I also have some books that are not listed and will work, but the mall has a rule that nothing may be newer than 1975 unless it’s about collectibles. By and large I will conform to that, but I did notice as I perused other booths that there were a lot of books that missed by a decade. The good news is there are no dealers selling only books and paper, though many of the general antiques dealers do have a smattering of books, some of which are quite nice, most of which are not.  The problem is that it would be incredibly crazy-making to put online items in the booth, so if I add anything that’s currently listed it will have to be decommissioned. That’s a little scary, but I keep telling myself that what comes off can also go back on.

An interesting side note is that as I stood there contemplating the space my inner interior designer woke up and starting throwing ideas at me like brickbats, (whatever those are). It occurred to me that having flirted with antiques all of my life and having a husband who grew up in the antiques business I could line the booth with bookshelves on three sides  and use the space in front of them for big ticket items that could carry the freight of the rent. I’m picturing an ever-changing tableau dependent upon what is available to buy. One month it’s a living room, the next a study with a charming desk upon which can go paperweights, fountain pens, inkwells etc. I’m rather in love with the study idea, but I’m flexible.  It’s not that I want to be an antiques dealer – I do NOT – but I think related items can draw people in to view the books as well as help pay the overhead.

As always with me though, my initial excitement crashed and burned as soon as I handed over the check for the first month’s rent. I couldn’t sleep last night. Twice I got up and read, usually a sure-fire way to knock myself out. But even Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, failed to lull me into serenity. Visions of failure danced endlessly in my head replete with costumes and full orchestration.

Appropriately enough, it turned out to be the first act of the NUTcracker. I'm sure Act Two will be tonight.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Incredible Disappearing Book

I’m a day behind in posting and I do apologize. I wish I had some amazing reason why, but I don’t. The truth is I was too morose to hang around with anybody, so I hid out in my office all day yesterday and listed books. We were at another sale Thursday night where I got a fair number of fairly good things – actually surprising, as the last time I went to this sale in the spring I bought nothing. This used to be a wonderful sale which we anticipated with pleasure, but these days they allow the volunteers and librarians to heavily pick it WHILE the patrons and booksellers stand outside the door. In the beginning you were actually able to watch the devastation in real time, but the library somehow  got the hint that that it was a tad insensitive and started covering the glass with cardboard.

Anyway,  the sale triggered my despondent mood, though not for the reason listed above. In a way this is sort of funny, but since it didn’t work too well for us I’m not laughing. They made an announcement that from here on all “volume dealers” (I certainly no longer count as one of those, but I guess  an armload is volume) must store their selections in an area outside the sale room.

“No one will steal your books. They will be absolutely safe.”

Oh yeah?  And maybe you’d be interested in a couple acres of swamp land in Florida too. The last time we were there someone stole a brand new book I had just bought at Border’s  – and that was right there IN the room. But whatever. They also announced that if you chose a high-priced, underwhelming book from the “special” table you were supposed to give it to the volunteer to keep it “safe” for you until check-out. I have only once bought a book from this section. A couple sales ago I got a volume on pneumatic tires for $50 (I’d had it before) and sold it handily for $150, but most of the time the books are in terrible condition, not first editions even though they’re stated as such, and priced higher than the internet rate.  But, as luck would have it, this time I found a book I had been looking for on a specific type of Indian pottery. I handed it to the volunteer and asked her if she wanted my name. She assured me it was not necessary because she was going to lay it right next to her on the table and “keep an eye on it.”

Though I found this dubious at best, I didn’t argue and went back to browsing. I was  talking to two dealer friends when all of sudden a feeling of anxiety washed over me with such intensity I stopped everything and went to check on the book. Before I reached the table I saw that it was gone.

“Do you still have my book?” I asked the same volunteer.

“What book?”

Game over. I knew it, but I tried ro make it reappear anyway. Eventually three volunteers went on a treasure hunt but of course  all of  them came up empty. They knew I was displeased (in a low-key way though I was certain smoke must be coming out my ears) and apologized profusely, agreeing that the volunteer should have taken my name. One even intimated that she thought someone might have taken the sticker off and run it through the line as a dollar book because she knew it had not come through the check-out as special priced.  

If she’s right – and I bet she is -- not only did I lose, but the library lost too. Of course they arguably brought it on themselves, but it nonetheless speaks volumes about the state of bookselling in the 21st century. The really scary part though, the part that triggered my melancholy mood, is what happened next. I stood back, looked around the room at the feeding frenzy, and for the first time ever seriously asked myself whether it was time to quit.  

Of course  I’m not going to, but to even THINK that rattles my bones and shakes me to the core. If I’m going to stay in this game – and I AM – then clearly something needs to change. And it’s up to me to change it.

(On a brighter note, I did buy the complete forty volume New Temple Shakespeare set above published in 1935. Of course it’s not as gorgeous as the original Temple set, but it did help the return to sanity!)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

On the Road to Bookville

It’s hard to believe that next week we're off  to our two-day road trip to the southern part of the state. Our premier stop is an enormous book sale which I have been warned will have people sleeping in their cars overnight. Be that as it may, I am booking a downtown hotel today. We’ve drawn the line in the sand and we’re sticking to it – no creeping out of the garage in the wee hours of the morning, no sleeping in cars, and no camping out in parking lots. Incredible though this may seem, in thirteen and a half years we have only four times ever gone to a book sale that required more than an hour’s drive and three of them don’t count. When our youngest daughter was in college at the University of Toledo she conveniently needed to be picked up for fall break on the opening day of the Toledo AAUW sale. We did this both her freshman and sophomore years, but after that the girl had wheels, and the home of Jamie Farr suddenly seemed too far away. The third time we did it was this past April in Michigan, but that too is unremarkable, as our oldest daughter lives in Michigan and we happened to be there that weekend.

The only sale that was truly an anomaly was the one last June in Cincinnati. Even though it could be argued that we were there to celebrate our wedding anniversary,  it could be equally argued that Cincinnati was chosen as Party Central because of the book sale. This time, however, there’s absolutely no argument to be made. We are going to Dayton on purpose. I am, however, hoping to maximize the outlay of time and money by making the trip coincide with the purchase of some Ohioana books owned by a customer from the Dayton area. I’m also hoping we can arrange to have dinner with our friends Charlie and Mary Lynn who used to live here in Medina. I know that’s a lot to ask of less than 24 hours, but I’m asking nonetheless!

As always when it comes to traveling though, I find myself wavering. As usual, I can’t decide if I really want to go or not. I worry about things I've heard. I dwell on what needs to be done here. I'm afraid it's a waste of time or money. The truth is I am infinitely fonder of the idea of traveling than I am of the actual doing of it. I enjoy parts of it, but other parts not so much. What I’m waiting for is the technological whiz kids to replicate the Star Trek transporter. As soon as it’s possible to say, “Beam me up Scottie!” I’ll be a traveling maniac. Just think – no overhead because you wouldn’t have to beam up until it’s time to get in line. And then when you’re ready to go home – a feeling that usually overtakes me with great suddenness – you’re back where you started from safe and sound. While I never did share Eric’s fondness for Star Trek in all its many incarnations, I really did like that transporter. It sure beats having to look at the former Captain Kirk in all his current portly, florid, bombasticism on Priceline when you make reservations.

But seeing as how reservations are required and we’ll be driving on this trip we can anticipate four hours each way. The good news is there are two large antiques malls along the way. Upon occasion I have spotted some great book bargains in antiques malls, particularly one that closed earlier this year in Toledo. The first time we ever went there I thought we’d discovered the secret of the universe, as I got four books so dazzling I was afraid we’d get to the check out and they’d inform us they’d all been mispriced. They didn’t and I sold all four in three days, but we never again got that lucky there. From that point on we found maybe two or three fairly good titles a trip, but the mall nonetheless became the highlight of the trek home from Michigan to see our little grandsons. Actually, it was only one little grandson then. The shiny new one just flew in from Korea this past April.

Well, three hours have passed since I started writing this. I’ve made dinner plans with our friends, arranged to buy my customer’s books, and  nailed the hotel deal with Captain Kirk. Never mind that it’s jumped in price by $10 since I originally spotted it. While the rest of the sale-goers will be catnapping in their cars we’ll be ensconced at the downtown Doubletree Hotel, a lovely place we stayed in once before when we went to Dayton for a wedding.

I just hope it doesn’t have bedbugs. The odds against it are good though, right?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Encountering Lathrop C. Harper

In my last post I mentioned buying a Lathrop Harper catalog and since discovered that I had actually bought two. I thought for sure I had and it was the 200th one I wanted to mention, but I couldn’t find it on Saturday. Turns out it was still in the bottom of the bag that held all the estate sale goodies. So now that I have a total of three Lathrop Harper items I have good reason to talk about him. I love those old booksellers of the past and Lathrop’s my favorite because he used to sell books to Belle Da Costa Greene  for the Morgan Library. You may remember that I wrote a post about her in September (The Belle of the Books). I’m crazy about Belle, so if Belle liked this guy I liked him too.

Lathrop Colgate Harper first came on my radar screen through the purchase of an antiquarian book entitled  A Face in a Crowd and Other Stories written by Ella Adelaide Harper, who also wrote under the pseudonym, Ruella Lennox. I wish I could say I bought this book for its literary merit, but the truth is I acquired it for its own exquisite beauty. It’s finely bound in half leather with marbleized boards and matching marbled endpapers in green and gold. The spine boasts raised bands and crisp gilt lettering and the top edge of the pages is also gilded. I'm here to tell you -- hold this small book in your hands and John Denver sings the chorus of Annie’s Song EVERY time. ("You fill up my senses ... ") I didn’t realize, however, until I got it home that tipped-in behind the endpapers is a typed note on Lathrop’s business stationery.

It reads: “For Deisher, A book of short stories written by Mr. Harper's sister. Published in Waverley and other magazines of the time. After her death, collected and privately printed by her family. Written in the leisurely style of the day, but shows something of the author's lovely character. And from her pictures she must have been very beautiful. Unfortunately, she died quite young. As you are interested in privately printed books, I thought you might care for this one from the Harper family." Beneath is a very, very tiny back-sloping signature, the last name of which is Harper. The other two names cannot be read, but do not appear to be Lathrop's. 

Immediately I launched a search and rescue party on the internet to find this book dealer with the literary sister and, sure enough, I did. I also got some help from The Dictionary of Antiquarian Booksellers by Donald C. Dickinson where I  discovered that Harper entered the book trade in  1881 with his brother who’d established the business earlier. I don’t know a thing about this brother and don’t much care because my crush is solely on Lathrop (I’m a one bookseller woman I guess). Anyway, Lathrop is bookseller enough for anybody, having been an expert on incunabula, Americana, and medieval manuscripts. He also helped form what is today the core of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Lathrop and his wife lived in the upscale Gramercy Park neighborhood of New York City and took regular jaunts to Europe to buy books and antiques. In addition to his scholarship and business acumen, the other thing that turned my head  is the fact that he wasn’t freaked out that his wife used her maiden name for business. For thirty years she penned a syndicated column entitled The Married Life of Helen and Warren, a fictitious account of her life with Lathrop.Any guy who could handle all that back in the early 20th century deserves this post for that alone. Wouldn’t it be fun to have all those columns? I’d settle for just one.

Lathrop died in 1950 in his office with his hand on the phone. That, too, is fabulous, as he was 83 years old and still selling fine and rare books and producing the gorgeous catalogs for which his business was famous. From 1928-1930 he published a record five just of  incunabula.  For thirty years his chief cataloguer was E Miriam Lore whose nephew, Douglas G. Parsonage, eventually entered the business to help with the cataloguing too. Two years after Lathrop’s death, however, a German businessman and collector named Bernardo Mendel bought the stock and let Parsonage and Otto Ranschburg run the business. When Mendel died in 1967 Indiana University bought much of the stock and the business was dissolved. But two years later Parsonage and Ranschburg bought the rights to the Lathrop Harper name and with the remaining stock renewed the business. It’s their catalogs that I bought last Friday.

I love being a bookseller, but how I wish I could have been one in another time. Probably not Lathrop’s, as bookselling was a male dominated profession then. But I fervently wish I could have done this at a time when bookselling still required passion and scholarship. I have plenty of the first and have happily spent the last 13 years reading, studying, and learning. Even so, all  I know about books and bookselling would fit inside a thimble with room left over.

The amount of information a bookseller could strive to know is so vast I doubt a lifetime is enough to master it. But what a trip it is to try!