Monday, February 28, 2011

Letting Sleeping Books Lie

Wow – I feel like I’m back from the dead. I know I wrote on Friday, but even that seems like a long time ago. I’m doing better, but am still not on top of my game. I just decided today though that enough is enough. The plan is to finish this post, add a handful of books, upload them to all my venues, and go to the antiques mall with the box of books I’d planned to take last Monday before I got derailed. It’s amazing to realize that I have not set foot outside the door in eight days!

I was just thinking about that when the phone rang this morning and a bookseller friend whom I haven’t talked to for three weeks since she had knee surgery called to let me know she was finally home. Listening to her story of surgery and rehab jolted me back to the reality that when it comes to having something to complain about I’m not even in the minor leagues. I’ve had spells of being out of the groove before of course, but this one not only knocked me for a loop but seemed to come out of nowhere. Still -- no whining allowed. It could be much worse.

The weekend brought us a visit from our oldest daughter and her family which means we had our grandsons, ages seven and 20 months, from Saturday afternoon through Sunday. I love when the kids are here, but I really didn’t have what it took to be the granny with the “mostest” this weekend. Normally I run around, play a million games, pick up the baby, dance with the baby, make homemade muffins, scrambled eggs and fruit salad for Sunday breakfast and spend pre-breakfast hours with the oldest doing whatever he dreams up for me. This time I had to really push to do anything and even then was a pale shadow of my normal self – which means the kids made their own fun, especially the little one who learned to turn on both the dishwasher AND the DVD player, examined the contents of every drawer and cupboard on the first floor, and pulled as many books off the shelves as he could possibly wedge out. He had both parents flying around like bats in the summer trees, while I sat back chuckling to myself at how much interference I normally run without even realizing it.

Sales, however, began to drop by mid week and remained lackluster from there forward. I had two fairly good ones though – one for a four volume set on the history of nursing from 1903 (my secret site) and one for a half dozen Mazo De La Roche Jalna novels in the Whiteoak edition WITH the dustjackets ( ABE). The latter should have been a slam dunk since they were headed to the author’s native Canada, but the buyer refused the required postage despite the mention in the listing that extra shipping was required for a multi-volume set. If this is happening now – and it is with greater frequency, or so it seems to me anyway – I hate to see what will happen this spring when the new rates kick in. Thankfully, the one thing that still churned out sales with consistency was the antiques mall – I had a very good week after a lackluster start to the month.

It has been my experience that to keep online sales active it’s necessary to list at least every other day. The more you slow it down, the slower sales will be. The thing is, it doesn’t take much to get the whole shebang going again. Add a couple today, add a couple tomorrow and in a day or so you’re firing on all cylinders again, wither you sell the new stuff or you don’t. I know this, I even planned to DO this, but somehow never forced myself to follow through. Partly it was because I was a little gun-shy from screwing up the magazines the morning I woke with the flare. I thought for sure I’d get into something over my fuzzy head and opted instead to let sleeping books lie.

But now it’s time for sleeping books to wake up and get cracking. So I am off to try my hand at rousing them and then head over to the antiques mall. I missed you all very much, but had nothing to talk about. Truly nothing, which is highly unusual for me. I could talk to a post about anything most of time. This time I couldn’t even post.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Who's Confused?

As I write this, winter rages outside the window – yet AGAIN. I am so tired of the relentless bad weather and this never-ending fibro flare in which I find myself. Ever since my last post I have worked very little and feel almost as though the outside world is something separate from me, sealed off by a veil of snow. Sales have taken a dive too which is not surprising because if you don’t keep listing you can be quickly out of the game. But I almost don’t mind because I haven’t the energy to deal with anything anyway. I’m here now only because I miss being here and can’t believe how long it’s been since I last wrote. I actually even found something worth telling you about which is pretty amazing given that the only other big news is that I read Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage.

An odd, odd thing happened though during my sojourn on the couch. I have been checking email only twice a day because in a flare my muscles get very tight and can be easily injured which compounds the problem greatly. One summer I stepped down off the porch and pulled a muscle in my leg and couldn’t walk for over a week. Then a couple weeks later I climbed up on the bed to dust the top of a window and did it again to the other leg! Anyway, on Wednesday I came up around four to check messages only to be greeted with an email informing me that I had sent someone the wrong book. Given my current state I could certainly believe it, so I clicked on it with a deep sense of resignation. But wait! HUH? The book, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, was a two volume set in facsimile edition, brand new in the publisher’s shrinkwrap. Immediately I remembered its size, heft, and navy blue cloth cover and knew exactly where it had come from and when. I bought it in 2005 in a lot of almost 4000 books, all of which were new, from a man who sold historical books at shows, but had had to quit due to debilitating fibromyalgia. (How’s THAT for irony?) There had been three sets, but a quick look at my database showed that the last one sold in 2006!

The buyer provided an ABE PO number, so I went over to search for it and drew it up immediately. The books sold to him on July 27, 2006 at which time he’d also purchased the set of Lee’s Memoirs in the same edition, also new and in shrinkwrap. But here’s the shocker – in the current email he told me that he had ordered the Grant and I had sent him the Lee. According to ABE’s records (and my own which I also dragged out and checked) he had bought both sets only to return the Grant the following week. Now he wanted to send the Lee back in exchange for the Grant which of course I don’t have. He also told me that he had reported the problem to ABE which added greatly to the oddness given the fact that I had had no communication from ABE about it at all. I tried phoning them, but they were closed due to a storm in British Columbia.

Eric and I chewed it over that evening and I finally wrote him a note sharing my findings and my amazement that it taken FIVE YEARS to note a problem if one occurred. I was polite, but certainly not exuding warm-fuzzies. Given how upset I was though I think I sounded like a bookseller channeling the Dali Lama. I hit the send button and went downstairs to wait for the scathing reply. None came

But the next morning I forced myself to call ABE anyway and explain the whole tiresome thing just in case they harbored the notion that he should be refunded. The poor woman who answered the phone was so baffled that she was certain I had the wrong PO number. When I finally convinced her that the sale had indeed occurred in 2006 she said, “Oh, I think this is man is very confused.”

Well, that’s not the word I would have used, but okay, we’ll go with it, especially since she said that the statute of limitations had run out. ABE has a 30 day return policy. She also told me I should impart that information to him and suggest that perhaps he could buy the Grants from another ABE seller. I managed a weak laugh at that, but did exactly as instructed and have still not had a response from the buyer. Something tells me I won’t either.

He’ll be too busy ordering his new set from another ABE seller.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Flare of Stupidity (Mine!)

In bookselling, as in life, we sometimes get what we want at the absolute worst time. Today is a case in point. You have never heard me talk about this and I will not be talking about it much in the future, but I have had fibromyalgia since childhood. It’s much worse in the summer than the winter , but even then, most of the time I cope very well, flying up and down stairs like a banshee many times a day. I do get brought up short every once in awhile though, which is one of the reasons why book sales make me so crazy. I am much better walking than I am standing for hours and the constant noise, stress, and sensory overload they produce can leave me in a dull, glassy-eyed stupor by the time I’m done.

However, now it’s winter. It’s cold, there’s snow on the ground again, and I did not overdo anything, nor have I been unduly stressed. Winter is supposed to be my best season. And yet I woke up this morning in a full-blown flare, every muscle screaming, dead tired, and with a gazillion other little symptoms too tedious to mention. It wouldn’t be a problem except Eric left Friday for an historical show in Indianapolis where he sells books and won’t be back until tonight. Because it was a long weekend and the post office was closed today for President’s Day I let all the orders go figuring I’d wrap them this morning in one fell swoop. VERY bad idea as it turned out.

I will do it – I HAVE to do it – but things got so much worse this morning I feel at this moment like I’m too incompetent for the job. Around nine I got an order for an issue of one of my favorite vintage magazines, The Architect. One more order shouldn’t be a big deal I reasoned, so I happily replied in the affirmative to the buyer. An hour later along came an email wanting to know what other issues of The Architect I have available. Under normal circumstances I’d be dancing on the ceiling with Lionel Ritchie over this turn of events, but today I literally dragged myself to the storage closet, hauled out two heavy boxes of stuff so I could pull out the enormous box of magazines and unpack them all. After I had them all out and stacked in a leaning pile I sat down on the floor and sorted them by years – 1926, ‘27, ‘28, ‘29, and ‘30. Many, many magazines fit that big box, but I dutifully wrote down all the dates, months and years and emailed back. I have to wrap the one anyway, so what would another one or two matter, right?

Right. Except she wants them all. Only she wants three now and the rest next week which sounds like a good thing, but didn’t turn out to be. The first thing thing you notice about The Architect magazine is the extreme similarity of the covers – black Pirenisi drawings against cream paper – and one of the typical things that causes cognitive difficulties during a fibro flare is an abundance of the same thing differentiated by only a slight variant. In this case I had to identify three issues with three different months and three different years. It should have been a snap and yet I screwed it up twice and took photos of the wrong issues. Then when I finally got that right I invoiced only for the two she had added, forgetting the original ABE order which meant I had to cancel the paypal money request after I sent it to her and do it again. By this time I was so upset that I actually told her why I was being so dense, something I have never done before and for some reason wish I hadn’t done now. I also told her that I would have my husband recheck everything tonight just to be on the safe side. The whole thing leaves me  feeling like I can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

This is so crazy I can’t even believe it. I have been a bookseller for 14 years. I’ve worked through many flares, two broken wrists with surgeries involved, and a rotator cuff injury two years ago. Never have I done anything this repetitively stupid.

On days like this I think I need a nice simple job. Let me know if you hear of any openings for envelope stuffers. As long as they all get the same insert I’ll ace it -- even in a flare.

Friday, February 18, 2011

All You Can Do Is Laugh

The picture above is the cover of a current Harvard University Press catalog and has absolutely nothing to do with anything other than the fact that my husband brought it home from the store last night. He gets a lot of publisher’s catalogs, as he sells new books as well as used. Mostly I never lay eyes on any of these  publications, so I was surprised when he handed it to me.

“What does this remind you of?” he asked, pointing to the half-dead damsel on the front.

For a few seconds I stared at it, then burst out laughing. “Me! After a book sale.”

He flashed me his very best Sister Martha Mary smile and stuck his head in the refrigerator. “I thought of you the second I saw it.”

I could see where he might.

No, no -- don't panic. I am not set to embark on another meltdown about book sales even though I went to a so-called good one last Friday and endured a loud argu .....We all know that I hate them with a passion as purple as my new antique office chair, so the last thing I want to do on this bright, sunny Friday morning is revisit THAT topic.I bring up my husband’s little joke only because it reminded me of something else that’s funny -- or not -- depending on your frame of mind. Sometimes bookseller descriptions make me want to stick my head in the oven (and the oven's electric) and other times the very same ones send me into hysterics. For awhile now I have been collecting the best of the worst, so I thought I’d share some of them with you. Grab a cup of coffee and check out these winners.

“Last ten pages missing, but it’s still a pretty good book.”

“Book is really ugly but at least you can still read it”

“Pages are kind of yellow, but you have to expect it. It’s thirty years old!”

“It used to be better, but I dripped a little coffee on the cover.”

“Shows definite wear and may show some markings inside. Shipped to over one million happy customers!”

“I don’t know anything about this kind of stuff, but there are cool pictures of furnaces in it and they sure are fancy!“ (I bought this one and sold it for four times the asking price.)

“There’s no date, but I know it’s old. I got it from my grandmother.”

“Book is very good, so little more is needed to describe it. It’s also worth much more than this.”

“Book has been in my mom’s basement for a lot of years, so it has an old book smell to it."

"Book smells musty, but will be shipped from a pet-free, non-smoking home."

“Binding is a little broken, but for the collector it’s a REALLY GREAT antique book from 1958."

“The front cover is yellow in color. All pages are in tact.”

“I would call this new if it weren’t for the slight writing on the cover – only three letters though.”

“Pages are an antique off-white. Not really on the pages of yellowing pages. This quality and color of paper are in average, near above average, very near pristine condition. All is in a very superb, beautiful condition.”

“I don’t know why this has highlighting on it cause its just a story, but it does. It’s pink, but not as pink some pink markers.”

“The spine’s sorta flat at the top like it got run over.”

But the grand prize winner, both for honesty and economy of words, goes to this entry:

“Pictures don’t lie! It’s crappy looking.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rough Around the Borders

The news that Border’s declared bankruptcy is flying around both the internet and Twitter at supersonic speed today. It’s not that anyone’s surprised – it’s more of a morbid fascination of watching a giant felled. I’ll be blunt – I have no love for the megastores which left so many dead independent bookstores in their wake. The deaths came so swiftly, and sometimes so suddenly,  there wasn’t time to give any one casualty a proper burial. All that could be done was toss them over the side of the ship one by one, throw in a couple thousand roses, and let a few lone buglers play Taps. Now, ironically, here we stand with one of the giants themselves lying on the deck gasping for breath.

I will have to say though that of all the megastores Border’s was, and is, the least onerous – which may very well be the reason they find themselves in such dire need of emergency care. Border’s seemed to show up late to every party – late to get online, late to cash in on used books, late with the e-reader – late, late, late for every important date. Several years ago in this blog’s first incarnation I wrote about the new Border’s opening in Medina and how underwhelmed I was at the prospect. As it turned out, I’m STILL underwhelmed by the Border’s store in Medina with the exception of one employee who runs around like the Energizer Bunny. I don’t know his name, or I’d mention it, but this guy knows books, loves books, is unfailingly cheerful, and even recognizes me when I walk in. I could almost – with the emphasis heavily on ALMOST– believe I was shopping at an indie, at least for a second. I hope they appreciate him because you can spin a lot of book racks and never turn up an associate that good.

The problem with the Medina store, aside from the fact that it’s a bland and sterile desert of wide aisles, few books, and a café so lonely you want to order a latte just to keep it company is that its very existence played a role in the collapse of the West Market Street, Akron store. I have to admit that there was a day when we’d go there on a Saturday night, browse through shelves crammed, piled, and heaped with goodies, grab a coffee at the café, listen to the live music, and invariably go home with at least one book, if not many more. I loved their low ceiling, crowded bookiness and other people did too. So what did Border’s do? They let that store slowly disappear until one day it’s a Hobby Lobby and Border’s Lite in Medina remains in all its slick barren splendor.

Yet all that being said, I almost want to chain myself to the Medina store just to keep it alive and well because the thought of no bookstore at all is too terrible to contemplate. According to the latest news, 200 Border’s stores are scheduled to be axed and I have every reason to think Medina may be one of them. I knew in January when I renewed my discount membership thing that I may never reap its full benefit, but felt almost morally obliged to re-up it anyway. Call it an act of faith, or an act of folly, but I can’t give up on Border’s. Just last week I popped in to buy a novel for a fellow bookseller who was in the hospital having knee replacement surgery and ended up buying one for myself too, again as an act of faith. Obviously, one extra book won’t buy a band-aid for a paper cut on the sickly giant’s thumb, but this store, banal though it may be, is OUR store.

When we moved to Medina in November 1987 the Village Booksmith sold all the latest titles and special ordered anything you wanted but didn’t see on the shelves. Now, twenty-four years later, we have Borders.



P.S. After finishing this post my internet went down for about an hour. When I was able to log back in the list of stores on the chopping block had been posted online. As I feared, the Medina store made the top two hundred.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Angle For Success

I wonder if anyone remembers my challenge awhile back to select a slow-moving title from your stock and try to create a little book magic with the time-honored bookseller superstition that if you touch it, change it, do something, (anything!) with it, you will sell it. I’d been on a bit of a roll with this and decided it was time to up the ante. So I selected Charles Thacher’s Angling Books; A Guide for Collectors which came out in 2006. At the time of issue I had had two copies and sold the first one handily for $200 in 2007. The second one, however, sat like it had been adhered to the shelf with Gorilla glue. If you want to refresh your memory of this check the archive for December and click Christmas Challenge.

I had checked prices once over the years and dropped it to $125, but that had been awhile, so it was time to get serious. Secretly I had hoped that taking its picture and talking about it here would be enough to convince the book gods to bless it with a pair of wings for flying out the door. But just in case, I also put my lucky stones on top with a stick of Indian incense. The end result was a very nice picture.

Soooooooo, I looked up the price again and – oh yeah --down, down, down we go! But I had very little invested in it, so I saw the $90 lowest price and dropped mine to $80. I’m not crazy about doing that and don’t usually, but I figured it was all for the good of the Great Experiment. The result, however, was a resounding silence. Okay then, on to Plan B. My youngest daughter, the marketing major with a minor in e-commerce, pushes me constantly to use social media outlets, so I facebooked, twittered, tweeted, and whistled Dixie. The result? Nada. Unless you count the two people who “Liked” it.

Finally, I made the decision Monday to haul it over to the antiques mall. I doubted very much it would sell there, but it was the only other thing I could think to do. DID it sell there? No, it did not, and I doubt it ever would have. It sold on Alibris Tuesday. Of course we all know that it shouldn’t have still BEEN on Alibris which is why I stormed around the kitchen for the duration of Eric’s breakfast filled with the righteous indignation of a woman who KNEW she’d marked it sold in her database and was marching upstairs right this minute to prove it. It was marked sold all right, but there’s a pesky little catch -- you still have to upload it so alibris knows to ditch it. Had I done that I’d have spared myself the angst of ignoring the order all day, fearful that with my luck it would have sold at the mall. But when I went over at 4:30 there it sat, the word Thacher so huge on the spine it beckoned me like a billboard.

The challenge began December 21st and it’s now February 15th, a total of 56 days, or almost two months. I suppose it could well be argued that there was no book magic involved, but I beg to differ, as less than 24 hours had passed from its departure to its sale. At any rate, I’m feeling lucky, so I’m going to give the process yet another try. This time it’s with a book called Hot Rolling of Steel (the sequel to Cold Rolling of Steel of course) by William L. Roberts which is coming up onto a year in my company. I chose it because its title contains the two things it needs to do –  warm up and roll outta here!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lost In Akron: Part II

When we last left them, Mary had told Bill he was the man for her. Given all his passionate declarations of longing to be with her, one would have thought this news would have had him swinging on the edge of the crescent moon. But, no, apparently not. First he waits weeks to reply and then when he does he rambles all over the place. First he says that when he kissed her it seemed that they were to live only for each other. Then--- EEEEEEEEEE! -- the brakes abruptly squeal and suddenly he’s blathering about how a man his age doesn’t seek love anymore, only friendship and companionship. This is in March 1912 – he turned 25 in January! But never mind that -- he forges on with it, intense as a poet, until suddenly a better idea occurs to him, one which might even be viewed as noble.

“I don’t think a fellow has a right to marry unless he has a good income, which I have not. I look around me and see the fellows who are married and what a struggle it is for existence. What right does a man have to ask a woman to slave for him the rest of her life?”

And now for the zinger -- "Anyhow, no future generations will look at your picture as it stands now. Hoping that you will forgive me and think of me kindly.”

Oh, damn it, Bill! By this point I wanted to toss both him and his letters out the back door. Had it not been for the fact that Mary had obviously stuck around given the number of missives left to be read, I might have quit right then and there. Actually, I carried a little grudge clear up until last night when in another flat I found some additional letters, the most informative of which were written by Bill in 1908 to another girl named Jenny. In those days Bill was still back in rural Ohio doing another thing he loved – working with horses. Oh, how he fancied Jenny, but the crankiest horse in the barn gave him more affection than she did. Next came Annie whom he was certain he’d marry, but Annie, too, let him down. Who knows how many others paraded by before he took up with  the cranky Lillian whose ring he’d lost? No wonder the poor guy got so flummoxed. What would make him think Mary would be any better? After all, she WAS sort of cheating on her steady with HIM, wasn’t she?

Time rolls on, change is as constant as the snow of this winter, and yet the same story plays out all over the world as we speak. Why does it matter? Why do these letters matter? I thought about this a lot after finding the new ones and remembered something else Bill said in the kiss-off to Mary. “I’m sure you will destroy this letter.” She didn’t though and a hundred years later a stranger read it. Is it a sort of voyeurism this dipping into the personal lives of long-ago people? Perhaps, but I also think it’s a kind of preservation -- not just of the details of daily life in a particular era, interesting though they are, but of the driving forces that propel people through their days and end up creating singular lives from common stories.

The letters also remind me not to be so quick to judge without remembering the culture of the times. Bill drops ethnic slurs on the page with the casualness of one tossing dirty socks down the laundry chute. Jews, Hungarians and Germans are all referred to by derogatory names, yet the slurs seem oddly devoid of malice. Which brings me to the strangest one he used -- in reference to himself.

After the firecracker of a letter that had to have left Mary reeling there’s a maddening gap which poses enough questions to hold an interrogation. One thing’s for sure though – the silent months were anything but dull. Mary must have worn him down like the heels on walking shoes because by July “Dear Friend” had morphed into “My dear Mary”. On July 13th Bill popped the question during a humdinger of a rainstorm in Piqua and Mary accepted. He planned to write to her father for permission (after the fact) and bring her a ring when he next saw her. Happiness, which in the past had eluded him, now spilled over the page like errant ink from a leaky pen. Yet, even so, his bread-winning capabilities wore heavily on his mind.

”I wonder what your father will think of me. Perhaps he will knock my block off, as I am nothing but a poor ragged nigger and you could have married some rich fellow.”




I don’t know whether I was more surprised that Bill was African American, or that he’d used such an ugly epithet to describe himself. Either way, it made me sad, as by now I was firmly planted in Bill’s corner. Who wouldn’t be crazy about a guy who said, ”There’s nothing I would like to do better on earth than help my folks someday, as I love them more than anyone else on earth, but you, Mary.”

Whatever Mary’s father thought about Billl is never mentioned, but the couple married the Sunday before Christmas of 1912. Within a few days Mary took suddenly ill and had emergency surgery at the hospital in Piqua. (Imagine the horror of THAT in 1912!). Once she was out of the woods Bill had no choice but to return to work in Akron where he wrote by the fire every single night of January, 1913 with their new kitten at his feet. By then “My dear Mary” had become my “My Dear Honey Bunch”

There are two last letters, which I also found last night. One is postmarked 1915 and one 1924. In both instances Bill is home in Akron working while Mary visits her family in Covington. She remains always My Dear Honey Bunch.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lost In Akron

I was gone all day yesterday. If you peaked in the window you’d say I'm a pathological liar though because there I was from eight-thirty in the morning to two-thirty in the afternoon sitting on the family room floor surrounded by three piles of sorted letters. Somehow I fell into a black hole and wound up in 1911 Akron right at the beginning of a long distance romance. As you know, I love ephemera, so finding a heap of letters all addressed to the same woman from Covington, Ohio penned by a man who’d left rural Covington to find work in the manufacturing cities of Barberton and Akron was like following bread crumbs in a fairy tale. The letters begin in April 1911 and abruptly stop in January, 1913, but do reach a satisfying conclusion nonetheless. I’d bought the flat because of a bunch of other items, not realizing that the scattered letters combine to tell the story of a woman named Mary and a man named Bill, two ordinary people starring in their own private drama

First I sorted the letters into piles by year, and then by month, and finally date, so that in the unlikely event that a story hid in there it would unfurl chronologically. Since Bill wrote all the letters we only have his side of the tale, but he references things Mary said and did and records his impressions of her – “I think a precise person (which I'm not) suits you best as you are of a poetical turn of mind. ” Mary also seems to be of an actively dating turn of mind when the story begins, though she also nursing a broken heart over a mutual friend named George who dumped her for a woman in Michigan he was planning to marry soon. And poor Bill had past relationship problems of his own due to the unfortunate fact that he had given his pin to an ex-girlfriend named Lillian who in return had given him her ring. The problem was Bill lost the ring in Pittsburgh and now Lillian was spitting the blue fire of a blow torch in his direction. So he wrote to ask Mary if she’d explain to Lillian that he didn’t do it on purpose and would give her an even nicer ring if she’d accept it. Mary played go-between, Lillian agreed, and finally sent him back his pin along with “a sassy letter” which made him not care if he ever laid eyes on her again

At this stage Bill’s salutation never wavered. Letter after letter began “Dear Friend.” At first he lived in Barberton across the street from a lake (likely Lake Anna), which was great because hundreds of people “bathed” in the summer evenings and on Sundays he could do what he loved best – drift along the silent, dark water in a canoe under a canopy of Van Gogh stars. Later, when he moved to Akron for a job at a boiler works, he took to the canal, but had to be careful because the launches zipped by so fast they raised the canoe straight up into the air. Bill loved gazing at the stars, sleeping late, reading the Saturday Evening Post, and going to plays, though he thought Akron had “gone dippy” over vaudeville and never got any decent shows. Bill mentioned several times that he had no intention of ever getting married, but so did Mary, even though she admitted she had a “steady.” But steady, schmeady – a boyfriend never stopped her from meeting Bill from time to time in Piqua where she moved to take a job in a law office.

In addition to the relationship’s dramas and traumas, scattered about the pages of Bill’s letters are historical references of note. He mentions that Akron offered men great opportunities in the tire building trade where they could earn a wage of $5 to $6 a day, but, sadly, admits that it’s not for him because it’s “a dirty, unhealthy business and the smell of crude rubber is the most offensive smell in the world.” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I did grow up in south Akron not far from the Goodrich plant and the old joke was to take a deep breath and say, “Ahhhhhh! Good, rich air!” Bill also makes casual mention of an auto tooling down East Market Street past his rooming house (he lived close enough to see the Goodyear plant) chiming out the song “How Dry I Am.” I’m not sure how it did that, (did they have car radios then? I doubt it), but he thought the car probably came from Canton because Canton, Ohio was a dry town.

To add to the intrigue, mixed in with Bill’s letters are a couple from other men addressed to Mary. One of these Romeos had just met her (in 1910 -- see photo) and was finding it very hard to keep a lid on his cauldron of roiling emotions. I’m guessing though that Roger, the newspaper reporter, was the steady boyfriend. He definitely caught my interest anyway, probably because in an earlier incarnation I shared his profession. Roger covered the police beat for the most conservative newspaper in Columbus and was actually based AT the police station where he had a desk, a typewriter, and a phone. He’d type out his stories, which had to be disappointingly short, and send them over to the paper by messenger. Roger fought boredom with the one-two punch of Mohammed Ali in his prime, constantly looking for ways to stay awake and snag a big byline. He figured he could wage the battle and still slip in 10 to 12 hours of coursework at OSU while he looked around for a better gig. But I digress here. The story, after all, is about Bill and Mary. Roger is only a bit player.

Bill was a slight man, weighing only 145 pounds, but he figured he’d get pretty fat once he had a real apartment instead of a room and could cook for himself, or maybe sample some of Mary’s bread and pies. He’d “never loved a girl sincerely, he admitted, and had had only a string of relationships “where a guy goes with a girl for companionship.” (Yeah sure, Bill – companionship). What Mary thought about this is lost to time, but one thing is clear – old Bill, like generations of men before and after him, sent out mixed signals. In one letter he chides her for thinking about the other guy all the time and never him and tells her he would like a thousand kisses, only to then say it’s a joke and draws a picture of candy. Then when she womans up and tells him he’s the ONE, what does he do but whirl like a dervish and nearly blow the whole thing!

Fascinating, isn’t it, how the dance of love never changes. Advance, retreat, cha-cha, tango – on and on it goes in dips and spins through time. This thread of human longing and folly is the warp and weft of our humanity. The voices of the past, even those --maybe especially those -- of ordinary people beg us to listen. So we’ll pick up tomorrow -- I PROMISE! --with the rest of the Saga of Mary and Bill. I also promise a couple surprises.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Little Bookshop That Grew

Snow, snow, and more snow! Usually I like winter best, but this year I’m ready to trade in fireplaces, afghans, my new winter coat, and even homemade soup for an endless ribbon of dry road. Even though northeastern Ohio didn’t get slammed nearly as hard as other areas have the weather's certainly taken a toll on business. For the first three days of February I sold NOTHING at the antiques mall (unheard of!) and one of those days they didn’t even open. Not that I blame them – that day it was more like popping wheelies than driving. Saturday and Sunday things returned to normal, but now there’s lost ground to be made up and- -- ACK! -- it's snowing again as I write this.

Friday Eric and I hauled the new bookcases over and  immediately unloaded one of the original ones along the back wall. We wrestled it out (well, Eric wrestled and I played navigator) and guided in the new one only to realize that the new ones aren’t as wide as the old and wouldn’t completely fill the back wall -- which meant of course that we had to exchange bookcases once again and reshelve all the books. From there it was easier except for the fact that Eric had to keep stopping to talk to all the store customers who came by. I am amazed at how many times we’ve been there and he’s run into one of our store regulars. Though a nice diversion, it kept us at our job most of the morning. We rearranged the furniture, took away two small temporary bookcases, reoranized the books,which meant moving lots of them, added a ton of new stuff and cleaned the whole thing with Pledge and the vacuum cleaner. Eric even touched up a couple nicks on the new shelves with a dark stain.

The sight of that booth all spiffed up with ROWS of new books made me dizzy with joy as if I'd spun in circles and fell down flat. In fact, I was so excited I forgot to take a picture and didn’t remember until we were having a late lunch at Panera (do try that new Thai salad if you like spicy food. Heaven in a bowl!) By then Eric had had it with the mall, so we went home, fired up the gas-log fireplace and sat down in the middle of the day and read our books – he something by Harry Turtledove and I the very weird, very quirky new novel Her Fearful Symmetry which lured me in despite my protests that it wasn’t my thing. Anyway, forgetting to take the picture is my excuse for tardiness here. I’ve had so many excuses of late that the next time I’ll have to borrow Paula Danzinger's title The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, even though I lack both a physical cat and (thanks heavens!) a gymsuit. I actually met Paula Danziger once in a Westin hotel in L.A. when a telegram addressed to her was delivered to me. But that's another story.

In today's story we stopped back at the mall yesterday and got the photo above, but what should have taken a couple minutes dragged into a half hour because I could never find the booth empty of people. Yeah, how cool is THAT? I’m not complaining and I’m not gloating (well, maybe a teeny-tiny bit I’m gloating), but I do think the book gods will close one eye seeing as how I admitted that I’m not yet where I should be for the new month and none of the people bought anything while I was there. The little table in the front of the photo is the French one I got at the auction. I only wish I’d taken a separate picture of it because it’s the height of elegance. But it may well be that its prominent location trumps its Gallic charm. We took it over last Sunday and I immediate adorned it with a miniature antiquarian set of Ruskin and sold the set the very same day after it had sat  unloved on the other side of the booth for six weeks! What I really need though is a small, but sturdy chair (hear that, Cheryl?). I think it’s hard for people to see the bottom shelves which could explain why very little sells off them. But it easier to find a gold nugget under the lilac bush than it is to get a chair because, of course, the chair needs to be an antique.

Which brings me to something else. After we snapped the picture yesterday afternoon we decided to take a mini road trip to check out another large antiques mall that’s quite a distance away. We have friends who have a booth there and there’s also a volume book dealer who's been there for years. Of course now that we sell in a mall ourselves we regard other malls with new and knowing eyes. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was how much nicer our mall is – most likely because of the nothing-later than-1974 rule. As you may recall, I didn’t care for that restriction initially, but I have to admit that this purity is what makes the place sing. The second thing I noticed is that while the volume dealer does have some nice stuff, he or she may be struggling just as hard as we are to get a quantity of high end stock. We did, however, find two underpriced children’s books and bought both – one for the mall and one for online.

As I write this, a strange new thought I’ve had more than once keeps clamoring to be heard. I hesitate to even say it out loud, but here goes -- I think maybe I’m falling out of love with online selling.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Book Gods Adventure

I hope my last post didn’t seem like a rant, as it truly wasn’t that so much as it was an awakening. For so long I have felt a sense of desolation after returning from library sales, but this time I finally decided to do something proactive. I also don’t want to leave the impression that the weekend was horrible because it wasn’t. In fact, it was downright wonderful once you carve out the rotten library sale.

On the way back from The Very Bad Sale we decided to try to salvage the day. Both of us felt funky and needed a lift, so we took a detour by way of Akron and stopped at an estate sale we’d seen in the paper. We were late getting there of course, but it didn’t matter because they didn’t have any books we wanted. What they did have though was bookCASES – beautiful ones in a dark espresso color that would be perfect with the black ones already at the antiques mall. (Anything that keeps me from painting in the frigid garage is worth working for.) The cases dominated the side wall of the living room, and stood out not only because of their handsome color and arched top shelf, but because row upon row of Franklin Library classics sparkled inside them like the Jewels of the Nile. At $10-$12 apiece these were too expensive for resale and I really didn’t want them anyway, but the sight of them gave me a frisson of pleasure that was sorely needed.

But of course we were there for shelving, not for swooning over books we weren’t buying, so we quickly got serious and huddled in the corner for a little confab. Did we want to just take them at $95 apiece, for a total of almost $300, or did we want to take our chances and come back the next day in hopes of a bargain? I vacillated so many times Eric was about ready to write the check and be done with it, but I finally decided they weren’t the only shelves in the universe, so I’d wait. Believe it or not, I didn’t even obsess about them for the rest of the day either!

That might have had something to do with the fact that my friend Nancy and I sallied forth at 6:30 for a Girls Night Out at Sully’s Irish Pub in downtown Medina. My favorite Irish band, the New Barleycorn, were scheduled to rock the place at eight-thirty, but to get a good seat requires going for dinner and staking out your territory. Dinner was fabulous by the way– shepherd’s pie topped with colcannon – mashed potatoes and cabbage --which always reminds me of my Irish grandmother, Katie. We ordered a bottle of wine and settled in for a long, raucous night that had me so jazzed I could hardly sleep that night. ("No, nay, never! No, nay, never no more! Will I play the Wild Rover, no never no more!")

But the next morning found Eric and me headed back the estate sale in Akron with a phalanx of book gods rattling around in the back of the PT Cruiser all the way. It’s not that they deserted us at the library sale – they were just smart enough not to go in the first place. But in Akron they showed up with both a smile and a sly wink, the latter because we expressed our desire to buy the bookcases seconds before somebody else offered to buy them too. But here’s the good part. Everything under $100 was half-price, so we got them for $47.50 apiece. It did mean going back to get the enormous cube van which we didn’t bring originally because it was at the store which is ten miles in the wrong direction and it made no sense to go through all that when we didn’t even know if the bookcases were still available. So Eric dropped me off at home (what good is a hundred pound weakling with metal in both birdlike wrists anyway?) and set off on Operation Retrieval. He returned an hour and a half later smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

“Guess what? I got some books too.”

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? I didn’t want those even at $5 or $6 apiece! Please tell me you didn’t get carried away!”

“No, I just got around thirty-five.”

THIRTY-FIVE! I was about to keel over in a dead faint when I spotted the mischievous grin I always call his Sister Martha Mary smile because it reminds me of a nun I had in high school.

“You did NOT! I almost fell for it too, but I know you knew that I …”

He cut me off in mid protest, went out to the driveway, and returned seconds later hefting a good-sized carton. “ Yes, I really did,” he said, holding out the box for me to peer inside. “There are exactly thirty-five books in here. I know you didn’t want them even at half price, so I didn’t consider it. But when I was taking them off the shelves a worker asked if I wanted the lot for $25.”

Well now! That changed everything, especially once I saw that they had never been opened, and still had their original bookplates laid-in. Immediately I conjured up the sight of them back in their original nesting place, only now in our booth at the antiques mall.

I'm not sure, but I think the book gods giggled with conspiratorial delight.