Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Me on the Balance Beam?

I finally have everything out from under the Christmas tree and in doing so couldn’t help but notice that my husband appeared to be sending me a message this Christmas. He knows from long experience that I am not dazzled by diamonds, perfume, clothes and fripperies (though there was one very memorable amethyst and diamond ring that was a big hit some years ago), preferring almost always the practical to the pretentious. Among the offerings this year I found three writing magazines published by Writer’s Digest, plus a year’s subscription to same, paint brushes (two kinds), and a new bag for carrying books home from sales.

Had it not been for the bag I would have thought these gifts were a gentle warning that maybe books won’t survive the Kindlization of the world and I may soon need a fall-back occupation. Even WITH the bag a nagging little worry nibbled at my edges even though every item delighted me. Finally I broke down last night and asked him point blank , “Are you trying to tell me I’m going to be out of work soon?”

“Whaaaaaaaaat?” He looked at me like I’d just suggested we summer on Mars. “Why would you say THAT?”

“Because Christmas sales weren’t as good as last year both online and at the mall and because a gazillion more people got e-readers for Christmas and it won’t be long before every book known to mankind can be bought on them.”

Yeah, that got his attention all right. For a second he mulled it over and then said, “Well, all that’s true, but I’m not ready to go there yet. I still think there’s a market for books and there will be at least until our generation’s gone.”

Like that’ll be a long time from now. But still, he had a point. “Okay, you’re probably right and I choose to believe it too. But I never have time for anything but books and now with things the way they are booksellers are going to have to work harder than ever to compete.”

As soon as that last part was out of my mouth I knew what was coming. And sure enough …

“It isn’t possible to work harder than you already do! You’re OBSESSED. And meanwhile all the other things you love – writing and art – fall to the wayside. I’m just suggesting that you need balance this year. You started a novel and it’s good. You need to finish it.”

Ah, the novel. Well, yes, I did start it. And I did (do) want to complete it. BUT. After flipping through the writing magazines it’s evident that in the ten years since I last wrote anything for publication an earthquake also rocked the publishing world. No longer does it work the way it used to. These days a writer apparently needs a platform or platforms. The only platforms I ever had was a cool pair of shoes back in the 70’s, so this is not looking too good. What this means is a writer needs to conduct a social media popularity contest before even THINKING about writing so much as a grocery list for publication. I show up over here more than I do on Facebook or Twitter which isn't as much as I'm supposed to and I know I don’t promote anything the way I should. Consequently, I doubt very much that my 41 blog followers, 60 twitter followers, 25 Facebook business followers and 46 or 47 (I forget which) Facebook personal followers will make me a hot commodity.

But that being said, I still think that perhaps Eric is on to something. The odds probably aren’t great for any of my three passions on their own long-term, but maybe together they’ll end up being a whole job. And I’ll end up being a more balanced person.

But you know what? There’s a noisy little part of me that STILL thinks that if I could get some decent books in here on a regular basis like I used to we wouldn’t be having this conversation!

Monday, December 26, 2011

My O. Henry Christmas Story

I saw a picture on Facebook yesterday of a little girl sitting under the Christmas tree in her fleecy “feetie” pajamas, her legs encompassing a mound of presents. That would be me today with gifts both tangible and intangible. I feel almost at a loss for words this morning , but I think maybe if I work at it here I can probably scrounge up a few. The trick is to isolate one of the many gifts of Christmas and zap it with a bright beam of light. So I will tell you just one story today, the one I mentioned the last time I wrote. It’s amazing to me that I used the words “trivial and silly” to describe it because it wound up being so huge I would never be able to find a box big enough to contain it.

It all began with the Chinese soapstone bookends. Remember those? My friend Nancy saw them here on the blog and told me a funny story about having collected a single chipped one when she was a kid during a door to door treasure hunt for merchandise to hold her first (and last) rummage sale. Of everything in the red wagon she used to collect the loot the chipped bookend was the only thing she remembered decades later. I told you that and about how she rediscovered the original not long ago in her sister’s house in Utah. But what I didn’t tell you is that the day I went to the mall and found them stolen was the day I went to get them to give to Nancy for Christmas. If my reaction to their loss seemed extreme that would be the reason why.

As soon as I wrote that they’d gone missing Nancy sent me an email saying that if by any chance the mall found them (I filled out a missing item report) to let her know because she wanted to run over and buy them for her brother-in-law for Christmas. Hours later I also got an email from her sister in Utah saying that if they reappeared SHE wanted to buy them for Nancy for Christmas! I told them both that I found it highly unlikely, but would let them know if a miracle occurred. Shortly thereafter a THIRD person wrote expressing a desire to buy them too, though this woman I didn’t know. I ran an internet search and found two sets in the exact color and design, but both were priced at $150. Mine were just a third of that.

“No wonder they were stolen,” I told Eric. “We’ll never see them again and there’s no way I can get another.”

A week later I was signing us in at the mall while Eric hauled the week’s books back to the booth. Normally he’d start shelving, but this time he came back to meet me. “There’s something I think you’ll like back there,” he said. “Come on!”

I couldn’t believe it. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT. Both bookends with my ticket still attached sat on the tea cart as though they’d been there the whole time. There was also a single brown one in the exact same design with no ticket at all! I turned that one in at the front desk and discovered that mine had been hidden by someone who apparently wanted to get them, but didn't have the money right then. Wow -- talk about energy, these things were fairly buzzing!  Suddenly I felt desperate to get them out of the mall, so I sprinted back to the booth and snatched them up just as a guy came by, glanced at the box on the floor beside me and thought I was taking them out for display.

“Those for sale?” he asked.


Okay, so that might have been a little dramatic, but at this point I wouldn’t have given to them to the pope, the president, or the Dali Lama. Didn't I tell you in the last post that you couldn't make this stuff up?

But here’s the sticky wicket. Who should get them? Me who wanted to give them to Nancy? Nancy who wanted to give them to Wayne? Or Nancy’s sister, Kathy, who also wanted to give them to Nancy? It was easy to eliminate the new guy and also the woman I didn’t know on the internet – they were out in five seconds flat, as was the person who hid them, though that of course was by default. By the time we got home Wayne was crossed off the list too. Clearly, the bookends belonged to Nancy who knew they were special long before anybody else did. But the big question remained. Who should give them to her? Me, or Kathy?

Selfishly, I wanted it to be me. Nancy is – well, it would take more words than you want to read to say what Nancy is to me. But something kept telling me they weren’t mine to give. No matter how many times I reframed it, the truth was that the bookends represented a moment shared by Nancy and Kathy long before I ever entered the picture. So of course I ended up emailing Kathy and telling her they were hers. At first I had planned to engage Nancy’s daughter to hide them until Christmas morning, but her work schedule was so insane I could never nail her down and, if I did, it would just be adding another level of stress to it all  So I wrapped them, wrote “Love from Kathy” on the card and presented them to Nancy on Friday when we had breakfast, exchanged gifts, and did our Christmas grocery shopping.

I don’t want this to turn maudlin, but here’s the thing. In every way that mattered the booksends were a gift from Kathy. Yet somehow they were a gift from me too. And a gift TO me. I can’t explain it, didn’t expect it, but here it sits today, under the tree with my mound of other presents,  right smack in the middle with my pajamed legs around them all.

Oh, and one more thing. I bought the bookends at an estate sale in Akron at the home of Robbie Stillman who, believe it or not, turned out to be a long-ago friend of Nancy’s. Random chance?

Not a chance!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A LOT Like Christmas!

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas ….” – FINALLY.

I had a small setback which had me parked on the couch all day yesterday in a snit until I realized there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it. There was no choice but to give in to the inevitable and spend the day reading Abraham Verghese’s glorious first novel Cutting For Stone. Verghese is a medical doctor, but also a writer of the first order and a graduate of the famous Iowa writing program. His use of language, attention to detail, and almost painterly craftsmanship dazzles me, humbles me, makes me wonder what the hell I’m even thinking calling myself a writer. I wish I had discovered his book before I went Christmas shopping, as there would have been many copies under the tree.

As I have mentioned maybe once or twice (we don’t enjoy talking about it, so we try not to), I have had fibromyalgia all of my life. Anyway, I went into a flare on Monday. On Tuesday after I finished the tree I took the empty boxes down to the basement only to have my knee buckle on the way up, sending skyrockets of pain shooting throughout the area. I crawled the rest of the way up and hobbled to the couch where I pretty much resided until this morning when I realized I just might live to tell the tale. The good news is I can once again walk upstairs using both legs. But the bad news is there will be no alcohol, fat, or sugar for ME this holiday. No sherry trifle, no lasagna, no wine. No fair.

But I do know something pretty fun that I can’t tell you yet because somebody who shouldn’t might chance over here and see it. This is absolutely hysterical! I’m telling you, even Verhgese with his all prodigious skills couldn’t make this up. Even if he could he wouldn’t of course because it’s too trivial and silly, but I LOVE it. This story has so many twists and turns that experiencing it was like cruising the Pacific Coast highway in a convertible. So now I’m hoping for a bang-up spectacular outcome. Stay tuned.

Tonight Catie and Joe will be here overnight on their way to Joe’s dad’s house with the dog. They’ll leave Leo the dustmop cat with us tomorrow morning and then come back on Saturday which will be our family Christmas because Moira and Brian need to get the little boys back home to Michigan in time for Santa. I used to hate this, but I understand that they need to be home, so I’ve adjusted as grannies must. Tomorrow morning Nancy and I will sally forth to breakfast at The Mill (I’ll probably be eating bread and water) and exchange Christmas presents before we do our Christmas grocery shopping together. We always do this—I know it sounds sort of weird – but it’s a fun and festive thing, so just pretend you agree.

And then check out my little guys. Are they cute, or what?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Little Like Christmas ...

I can’t believe I told you I’d be here Monday when I knew full well I was supposed to be with Nancy at the community center for my annual volunteer day. We’ve been doing this together for a lot of years and it’s one of the special days of Christmas for us both. I know I mentioned it last year, but in case you forgot or never read back that far, it’s a very cool program which allows people who need help for
Christmas to come “shop” for their kids. Shop of course means in this instance to peruse the array of brand new toys, clothes, books and puzzles and select items their kids would like at no charge. It used to be a two day event, but now there are pre-shopping days, so the Big Event is womaned only by me and Nancy which means it rocks and rolls big-time because we have a blast doing it!

The shoppers are great fun and sometimes there are cool surprises when drop-in donors play Santa just when the pickings start getting slim. Last year it happened twice and this year just once, but WOW did it happen! A man showed up mid-afternoon bearing skateboards, helmets, watches. pajamas, games, jewelry sets, toddler toys, DVDS and nail polish. The last item proved to be very funny because the second we showed up in the morning we’d spotted this stupid brown leather box that’s been rejected at least four years running. It’s one of those items that have no purpose for being. We moved it to this table and that table and still it was a dog. So when the nail polish arrived we quickly put all 12 bottles inside and –voila! -- they were a perfect fit. And guess what? Not even half an hour passed before the stupid brown box was history. Now, THAT’S what you call retailing! :-)

Believe it or not, I had not one, but TWO, great orders yesterday, both of which were from the new books we bought in Akron. One was actually a Christmas present headed priority mail to NYC, so I ended up down the basement early this morning after all. After I got the mail out I got some books ready to go the mall too just n case I can find time to get there. All I did was replace what sold because I don’t think I have enough room to do anything else. We probably won’t get there anyway though because the store finally kicked into Christmas gear yesterday and pinned Eric to the wall. I talked to him at lunch and he’s crazy-busy today too. Yayyyyyyy!

Well, Aunt Ruth’s pop-up book turned out to be the hit of the party Sunday. Her pleasure in it exceeded my wildest imaginings. She knew it was a birthday party, but asked me whose birthday it was. I told her it was hers and she asked how old she was. When she heard 92 she said, “Me? That’s me that’s 92? Oh, dear. That can’t be right.” Later on she sang Happy Birthday and stopped abruptly at the “dear -------" part and said, “I don’t think I know whose birthday it is.” So we had to tell her again and again she was blown away by her age. But she opened her presents with a glint of glee I didn’t expect and seemed entranced by the elaborate pop-ups. She even read some of the text  out loud. I bet you there’s not a Nook or a Kindle on the face of the earth that could have a elicited a response like THAT!

And speaking of Nooks, Kindles, and other such killjoys, a volunteer at the community center yesterday brought us some more books to restock the shelves around five o’clock. I was in the book room neatening up when I overheard her pointing out good titles to the moms. After thanking her for bringing us more goodies I commented on how knowledgeable she was about children’s books.

“Oh, I love books!” she exclaimed. “All my life I’ve loved them and been a big reader. You’ll never see ME getting one of those e-readers. NEVER! It’s not the same experience.”

I'm not sure, but I think maybe that was the exact moment when a host of seraphim and cherubim appeared in a golden light singing their little angel hearts out!

P.S. The photo above is my unfinished Christmas tree which I am off at this moment to decorate. Sshhhhh – don’t even TALK about the unwrapped gifts. I already know they’re still in their bags heaped by the back door where I dropped them Friday. I’ll do them too. but first things first ........ Meanwhile here's a funny picture I just found -- me at 29 with four year-old crying Moira who didn't love Santa even a little bit! Check out the hair color though. I'd completely forgotten my dark brown phase. I think I've had every brown and red shade L'Oreal ever made, but mostly I've stuck to the reds. My nautral color -- who knows?!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Little Christmas Project

I thought I’d be over here bright and early this morning, but I started a little project at five a.m. and now at twenty past noon I finally finished it. As I mentioned, we went Christmas shopping yesterday, a task which ended up being great fun with lunch at Olive Garden to break it up. I did have to reluctantly buy from a few large stores inspite of myself, but I made sure to choose ones which haven’t done any evil things (that I know of) lately. The really great part was that everywhere we went perfect things awaited us, so no stress. I hadn’t planned on being creative this Christmas, but two ideas popped into my head while we were out, both of which require time. The one won’t be too bad, but the other was the project I started this morning and which is pictured below.

A couple years ago Eric got me a huge array of gel pens in every color you can imagine and some you can’t. Our oldest daughter flipped over them, but we never spotted such a packaged array during the holidays again. I thought about it while we were out yesterday and decided to buy gel pens individually and then get an old-fashioned pencil box to store them. Well, one thing led to another and pretty soon we’re at Pat Catan’s (fondly known as Pakistan) looking for a container for me to decorate. The box we chose – plain brown heavy cardboard -- is so perfect that all the pens fit inside as though it were made for them. I couldn’t wait to get started decorating, so I flew out of bed at four-thirty this morning, made a pot of coffee, ate a cranberry bagel, and was down the basement tearing paper in fifteen minutes flat. But lest you think it’s all fun and games over here let me mention that rapture extracts a price. As soon as I finish talking to you I’ll be scraping bits of stuck paper off my workbench and gathering up the piles and piles of unused scraps on the floor. But until then here’s what it took to do it -- two catalogs, Acacia and Signals, gold paint, vintage paper, a canceled one-cent stamp, part of an old photograph, part of a new photograph and card stock that I layered to make the button on top. For now at least I like it, but I’ll be wrapping it ASAP because I never tend to like anything I make for more than a day or two which means I’m back fussing with it again!

In addition to shopping we hit the antiques mall yesterday to stock up for the weekend only to find that we had to struggle to shelve it all because we’re running out of space. Eric was saying on the way there that if we wanted to get another booth we could just about do it. But wouldn’t you know – both of the empties in our aisle have filled, including the one next to ours. There is, however, a double across the aisle and down a couple booths that must have vacated this week. If we had a lot more stock I’d be up for the work of moving, but as it is now I shudder to think of it after all we’ve done this week with the Akron books. I don’t even want to think about all those boxes from there waiting to be sorted. We worked on them every day this week and we’ve even sold some books at the store, online, and at the mall, but of course it’s nothing compared to what’s left.

Tomorrow we have to go to a birthday party for Eric’s great-aunt Ruth who lives in a nursing home and is 92. All of her life she worked as an adoption social worker in Akron and was a whirling dervish of activity – she belonged to a church group that baked bread, volunteered at the children’s theater, drove for Meals on Wheels, traveled the world, took painting lessons, took our girls to Sea World and for overnights, and kept track of a gazillion friends. But these days her world has shrunk to the size of a small room and her short term memory is nearly gone. So what to buy for her birthday? Last year I got her a box full of warm fuzzy, fun socks, including a to-die for black pair with leopard faux fur around the tops. I told her I HAD to get those if she wanted to be the cutest girl in the place, which made her laugh.

But this year she’s slowed way down and it wasn’t so easy to find something for her. She used to be a voracious reader and even last year was reading the Jan Karon novels, though of course she’d forget the plots immediately and read them all over again. But no more. As always,when in doubt, I turned to books and bought her a fabulous pop-up of A Christmas Carol that has small books inide that are mechanical too. I hope she loves it because she’s my hand-down favorite of Eric’s relatives. Every Christmas Eve when the kids were little she stayed with us so she could be here when Santa came in the morning. She even went to Chautauqua for a week with us one summer. Personally I think old age is a design flaw. I don't think we need to live forever, but I think it's totally unfair that our Aunt Ruth,who is the BEST, has to wither away in a nursing home.

Anyway, I now have an enormous pile of gifts to wrap, so on that note, I will talk to you on Monday. By then I should have lots of time. Online sales fell short of dazzling this year, though Thursday I hit the jackpot with two days worth of orders compressed in one day, including one three-figure book. But yesterday was down to two orders and today to just one so far. At this rate, by Monday I should be the Queen of Leisure.

P.S. It's okay that I showed you the pen box. Moira doesn't read my blog. She doesn't need to -- she hears all my stories anyway.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Running Fast!

Sorry I've been out of the loop, but it's been CRAZY. I am running around like I'm training for the Olympics, but I WILL be here tomorrow. Eric and I are headed to the antiques mall in five minutes and then off to Akron for the final Christmas shopping of 2011. Stay tuned ....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Misery: Day Two

If anyone thinks bookselling is glamorous I would challenge them to join us for Day Two of the misery. Compared to yesterday Sunday was a leisurely stroll through the library of Trinity College, Dublin gazing at the illuminated manuscripts. Not only did we pack and haul sixty cartons of books, but we had actually done forty-five Sunday which I somehow had thought were only twenty. It’s not the manual labor that was the problem – I am really quite strong for a hundred pound weakling with metal in both wrists and have great stamina for stairs. For five hours yesterday I worked like a teamster and am none the worse for wear. My problem was with the highly charged atmosphere in which we labored.

The bath remodeler was there again, as was the sister (who turned out to be very nice). The poor remodeler was on the clock so it certainly wasn’t his fault that he had to block access to the back door most of the day. Why he didn’t have an assistant I don’t know, but he truly had little choice but to press Eric into service again. Even that was okay – Eric can do both demo and plumbing with the best of them in an emergency which is what it rather startlingly became. As with most remodeling projects, removal of fixtures revealed hidden problems which required further work and expense. The remodeler came into the room where I was packing and explained the difficulties to the homeowner. Having done our share of home improvement projects I thought it all sounded pretty par for the course. The homeowner, however, begged to differ. She leaped to her feet (no small feat either considering all the pill bottles lined up next to her) and flew into a rage that colored the air as blue as the Adriatic Sea with a string of creative expletives. It was fairly stunning.

Now imagine that scene in a room with the heat cranked up to at least 75 degrees on a fairly warm day and you will appreciate the perspiration expended by the poor remodeler. Even I, who am notoriously cold, would have bet any profit we make on this that I would very soon melt like candle wax. The remodeler tried again to explain the situation, but gave up abruptly and told her her options. After a second round of histrionics she finally agreed to let him buy the extra parts and finish the job, then promptly got on the phone and ordered enough greasy food to clog the arteries of an army battalion after which she marched out into the kitchen and informed him that if her dog ran out the back door he was DONE.

Just as on Sunday I had deliberately sequestered the books I wanted for online and the mall so they would be easily retrieved, but after that performance I distributed them willy-nilly through the row of open cartons, taped them up, and moved them on out. By the time the food came (the heat in the room and the smell of the grease was enough to knock you dead) I briefly thought maybe death wasn’t such a bad choice given the circumstances. But the grease seemed to revive the reluctant homeowner because after she ate she became inexplicably cheery and sang Eric’s praises to the roof. He was a saint. A saint! (Yes, he is, and his canonization will be held this afternoon at three). By then I didn’t care if she preferred a plague of locusts to us. All I could hear in my head was that old song by The Animals “We gotta get of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do ….”

And so we did. Eventually. Get out.

And then we went home, collapsed on the couch, and ordered a semi-greasy vegetarian pizza for dinner.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I’m sure you can guess why I’ve not been over here. We spent a great deal of time yesterday packing and loading the book collection we just acquired. If life were fair it would be done by now, but life isn’t always and so we are headed back to Akron at noon. Eric offered to let me bail on it, but I’d feel too guilty if I made him face the misery alone. I just hope it’s not as crazy as it was yesterday. You’d have to have been there to appreciate the breadth and depth of the horribleness, but perhaps this will give you an inkling. While we worked a contractor remodeled the bathroom and the book owner’s wife visited with her sister in same room with me while I packed. You know that old phrase “the elephant in the living room?” Well, that’s what I felt like. Eric didn’t fare much better. Not only did he haul sixteen heavy cartons of books down the stairs and out the back door, but he also ended up helping the contractor haul in the new bath fixtures!

I did manage to isolate what few things I wanted for online and the mall so at least that stuff's easily retrievable. I found one more volume of the set pictured at the top of the last post, so that was cool and also got some nice Formula One Watkins Glen United States Grand Prix racing programs from the 60’s, a miniature French needlework book with color plates, Jane’s Fighting Ships 1906-7; Jane’s Fighting Ships 1914; a scarce book on WWII fighter pilots and a box filled with unused linen postcards from the 40’s. There’s some other good stuff too, but I can’t remember what it is and by the time I got home I no longer cared.

On the bright side I took seven or eight books from this buy over to the mall the day we loaded our car with the eight boxes and already sold one, so that was encouraging. The mall performed wonderfully again this weekend, so by last night I was restored to my former cheerful self. The best sale was a leather-bound medical lexicon from the early 1800’s, but we also sold Civil War, England, books about antiques, natural history, vintage movie magazines from the ‘30’s, vintage travel and even early school books. Online sales finally picked up yesterday too which meant I was up this morning wrapping at four a.m.. The downside is that Christmas is at my house and I haven’t finished shopping, decorating, wrapping, or even thinking about food.

I suppose I should have done some of this Saturday, but I really wanted to research those English documents I showed you last time, so I whiled away a lot of time on that which proved to be most interesting. I also took time to examine the ones I have. There are sixteen in all and one actually dates back to the mid-1600’s! As I suspected, they are indeed handwritten on vellum and are land transfers, though they are called indentures which would make you think at first glance that they had something to do with involuntary servitude. The red disc at the bottom is sealing wax stamped with the “mark” of the seller and the blue ticket at the top is the revenue stamp. But here’s the part I love. See that hand-cut scalloped edge at the top? I thought it was an attempt to be decorative, but it was actually a safeguard. The attorney who drew up the document would make two copies (imagine the work of THAT!) and to insure that they were exact would put them together and cut the design free-hand. The client got one and he kept the other in the office. In order for them to be true copies that scalloped edge had to be identical. I also learned that I can get the documents to lie flat by putting them between two boards and exerting a little pressure. I probably won’t do most of them, but I think I might on the oldest one so I can take it to the book fair in April.

The one pictured below is not the oldest, but I chose it because it IS very early (1707) and smaller in size so easier to photograph. What’s interesting about it is that there is no actual date, so I had to read the first line, ‘’This indenture  the sixteenth day of August in the sixth year of the reign of our sovereign, Lady Anne, by the grace of God Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland …” Queen Anne’s coronation was in 1702 so her sixth year was 1707

Anyway, all of that was great fun and it is truly awesome that a 300 year-old document has somehow landed on my living room floor. I would love to dally with it some more today, but I do have to upload some books. In less than three hours indenture will take on its likeliest meaning as we pack and haul  once more in Akron.

P.S. I must be getting dotty or something because I was halfway to Akron when it occurred that I called these inscriptions when I meant indentures. I have no clue what THAT was about, but I just changed it!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Like A Spring in the Desert ...?

Online sales remain lackluster, BUT things are definitely looking up. Yesterday morning I got a tip from my antiques dealer friend Darwin about a book collection for sale. He only had a name and a phone number -- no details on what it was comprised of -- but Eric immediately recognized the name as a long-time customer whom he’d heard had died. So he made the call and, sure enough, that’s exactly whose books they were. The family didn’t know we sell books, though recognized the name of the store immediately and said we could come over as soon as we wanted. So just after lunch we hopped in the car and an hour and a half later owned a crowded roomful of books, magazines, and paper a la the infamous Elmer from whose estate we bought 35,000 items some years ago. Oddly enough, this guy and Elmer were buying at the exact same time and at the exact same sales and both not only chose the same kinds of items, but in some cases, the exact SAME items! Also, both subscribed to the theory that if you like something buy it whether it’s good, bad, or downright ugly. Which means of course that we have a major job on our hands.

When we left home we had no idea that we would be making an offer on the lot, so we took the PT Cruiser which couldn’t even begin to handle it. All we could do is load up Petey with eight full banker’s boxes with the understanding that we would come back for the rest with the store truck Sunday morning. It turned out to be a win/win for both parties, as they wanted them gone and we have the capacity to handle it all neatly and efficiently because the store is huge -- 10,000 square feet including a warehouse to absorb the overage should there be any. I actually like buying a big messy, confused bunch of stuff because the price per item goes down exponentially due to the fact that it’s impossible to examine it all and there’s enormous work involved. In fact, when I packed the boxes I noticed that many free dust bunnies came with the bargain! Clearly, the books hadn’t been touched in years. Some were shelved and some piled on furniture, but most were leaning starboard on the floor or packed chock-a-block in the two closets. Every last one will require cleaning and in some cases small doable repairs and all the dustjacketed ones will need mylar. So if you need me in the next few weeks I’ll be down the basement!

What will happen of course is that the collection will split three ways – store, antiques mall, and online. There’s also the outside chance that MAYBE it could mean being able to grab the empty booth next to ours. I’m afraid to be too hasty because of course we haven’t even seen all of this stuff and won’t until it’s here. But I have to tell you I’m about ready to duct tape my phone dialing finger to the desk to reduce temptation! .I’ve already been through all the stuff we brought home yesterday (worked on it until midnight last night) and Eric got the preponderance. The mall got the next most and I kept about ten things for online, though I’m in no hurry to get them there. My favorite items include the first nine consecutive bound volumes of The Confederate Veteran magazine – handsomely done facsimiles and the cleanest of everything we brought home; a sleeper book I had a hunch would be good and IS; and a stack of amazing British documents handwritten on vellum and dated from the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s. They're enormous and sport a decorative handcut top and are marked with sealing wax. I have do some studying up on those, but the one pictured below seems to be a land transfer or its equivalent. I apologize for not being able to photograph the entire thing, but it's huge and won't stay open. I also apologize for my knee, but I couldn't position said knee out of the picture and still get the portion with the sealing wax.

As for the the above mentioned book,  I'm going to save it for later because it may end up being a blog in itself due to the fact that not only will it make an interesting post, but is absolutely the most innocuous little tome you ever laid eyes on yet provides us all with a lesson much like the one I expensively learned with Bird Sanctuaries As Golf Clubs. Remember that one? Yeah. Not good. But this time will be different. Before I do a thing I am going to put some serious time into it, first of all to verify the astounding prices online. I'm a bit optimistic though, as  I already know that one of NYC’s most prestigious antiquarian dealers treats his copy like the Crown Jewels. His is better because it’s an association copy in a clamshell box, but his is also many times more expensive than what the other ABAA sellers are asking for their copies which are exactly like mine.

So I guess it looks like my friend Nancy was right. I need to stop thinking doom and gloom, and concentrate on intention. However, at this point the only things that are flowing like her “spring in the desert” are the dollars surging out the door and the unknown books rolling in. Sales? So far, not so much. But call me grateful anyway. It’s been quite a 24 hours.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gone Fishing

I’ve been thinking of this blog since I got up this morning – late at 5:30. From then on it’s been one continual race, as I had to wear two hats today, that of P.R. person and that of bookseller. I haven’t had the first hat on since my last outside employment which I finally quit in 1993. In its former incarnation my PR hat was a very sleek and chic sort of thing – the kind of hat that makes many statements that may, or may not, be the truth on behalf of the client who provides it. Those who knew me then thought it fit me to a tee, but they were oh-so-very-wrong. Just because I did it and did it pretty well did not mean that I liked it. In fact, I hated it very much. So doing P.R. for the 30th annual Akron Antiquarian Book and Paper Show coming up in April required some major hat renovation.

After much nipping, tucking, and stripping away extraneous froo-fraw an entirely new hat emerged. It’s the kind you hang on a peg when you come back from a day’s fishing – honest, basic, and strong enough to keep your head from getting sunburned. Not that I’ve ever been fishing, but I think if  I DID go fishing that’s the kind of hat I’d want. At any rate, I wanted to put it on as quickly as possible today, get comfortable, and write up something for the FABS newsletter (Federation of American Bibliophilic Societies) about the upcoming Akron book fair in April. This is a very special fair for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it will the 30th annual. To celebrate there’s all kind of new stuff happening this year, the biggest of which is the inclusion of paper (ephemera) dealers for the first time. I did really well with paper last year, so I should probably be cringing at the competition, but I’m not (too much) because it could very well bring in a bunch of new people which is crucial if book collecting is going to remain alive and well in this crazy Electronic Age. The other big change is the addition of two symposia, one each day of the fair, which should prove both fun and educational, especially for new collectors. And, boy, do we need those new collectors!

The first day will be a sort of Antiques Roadshow for books. My book guru, Jim Best, has done this previously, so he’s going to talk about the monetary value of “old books” and provide appraisals for books people bring to the fair. On the second day a roundtable of collectors and/or dealers representing various genres of collecting will field questions and also offer ideas for beginning and building a meaningful book collection.

I’m really jazzed, but I knew I needed to get on it quickly because there’s a lot of lead time before publication with a quarterly newsletter, so I carefully composed my copy, emailed it to the president of NOBS, got the okay, searched for the FABS website, and emailed the contact to ask whether they wanted it sent electronically or on paper and to whom it should be addressed. He wrote back in under ten minutes saying he needs it NOW, as he will be done with the issue at the end of the week. Whew! Right under the wire I flew. All it took was copy, paste, SEND, and we’re done!

So now I’m feeling pretty darn good about that, even though my bookseller hat feels downright itchy today. Sales, which had been just fine, given that it’s no longer the 90’s or the early 2000’s, fell off the map the last couple days. I got a fairly good order from a university library an hour ago, but otherwise I wouldn’t brag about today. I was thinking about why this would be happening in light of the fact that I just uploaded new stuff, when a weird though flitted across my mind like a sugar plum fairy in the Nutcracker. Maybe Christmas is HURTING me rather than helping me! Okay, so what does that mean? I thought about it some more and it actually makes a cockeyed bit of sense. There’s only so much money people have to spend on the holidays, so if real books aren’t high on Santa’s list, or the existing stock is not what’s wanted for gift giving, a seller like me with a large ratio of old stuff, but not enough old stuff (there’s NEVER enough old stuff), could be sunk.

I can hear Nancy already as she reads this. Once again I’m doing that thing that starts with a “p” that I NEVER remember, but means I’m sort of losing it.

So maybe I'd better just  put my PR hat back on and call the library. I need to nail down a date in March for a program about book collecting which, with any luck, will send a herd of Medinians stampeding to the book fair April 6th and 7th!

Monday, December 05, 2011

True North

Well, I think I’m finally back among the living. Yesterday I forced myself to go to the NOBS meeting even though it was cold and windy and my sinus headache pounded messages like an African drum from the Gambian bush. There were a few moments when the wind almost sent me airborne as we crossed East 21st Street from the parking garage to the Cleveland State University library, but once we got in and got settled I miraculously revived. Maybe it was the chicken and string beans, but I think it was really the conversation with my book guru, Jim Best, who runs The Bookman of Kent, and Andrea Klein from The Bookseller in Akron.

Sadly, there was only a small turn-out this year, so the festivities ended up a bit more subdued than usual. I’m not sure if was the weather, or the uncharacteristic late date (it’s normally held in October), but only eighteen people showed up. In past years – at the Akron Art Museum, at Baldwin Wallace College, and at Akron’s Greystone Hall where last year we had a rollicking program about the dancing feet of Fred Astaire replete with movie clips, the bibliophiles poured forth in healthy numbers. I didn’t realize that Cleveland State only opened its doors in the mid-1960’s, so while interesting, their special collections were hardly a match for Baldwin Wallace’s Bach collection with notations by Bach. That may have been a factor in the size of the crowd, but my gaze fell on several mighty nice stacks of books about the Cleveland interurbans that I had never seen before and would sure like to find. They also have possession of the entire morgue of the old Cleveland Press and lots of great stuff on the building of Terminal Tower, the architectural drawings for which could be framed as art.

But the best part (aside from the fact that the annual meeting only took two minutes –yay!!!) was the lecture by professor Patrick Chura, author of Thoreau The Land Surveyor. Eric did some surveying when he worked for the Forest Service after his college graduation and before Uncle Sam sent him to Vietnam, so all that talk about 66 chains, true north, magnetic north, sounding holes, and bearings were to him the equivalent of suddenly realizing you still have a grasp of your high school French. Most of the technical stuff flew over my head, but I was nonetheless caught up in the metaphyiscs of mathematics which I found very poignant because Thoreau, too, recognized in his own calculations a kind of poetry. I can only thank my buddy Sunday Morning Joe who, if nothing else, has taught me to see numbers with softer eyes.

We bought the book of course and I am anxious to read it because it is actually accessible to unmathematical dummies like me. I have always been fascinated by the convergence of such amazing talent – Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom wound up at the same time in Concord, Massachusetts, a place so small it was a dust mote on the face of America. All were Transcendentalists and, though Bronson in his earlier years may have been a little loopy, they remain resounding voices in our collective literature. I once had an 1895 first edition of Margaret and Her Friends or Ten Conversations with Margaret Fuller Upon the Mythology of the Greeks and Its Expression in Art. The talk filled me with an enormous pang of regret for having sold it to a college in Texas for its special collections.

One thing that added greatly to the lecture was a slide program which showed Thoreau’s actual surveying instruments. In the course of his research, Chura, the son of a surveyor, actually borrowed antique equipment equivalent to Thoreau’s and re-surveyed Walden Pond. Not only did he find that the great naturalist was an excellent surveyor, but he also identified a bundle of metal rods lying idle in a museum as being Thoreau’s chaining pins . We also saw a picture of Thoreau’s yellow house as it stands today along a main street in Concord. Chura pointed out a stone post in front at the street and mentioned that there had been another one just like it, but it had recently been removed to build a storm drain. Both were ordinary hitching posts, but – get this – the one they took out was the one Thoreau used to site true north.

As interesting as all this is, two things will stay for certain with me long after the rest recedes. The first is the image of a downstairs window of the stately yellow house in Concord which Chura pointed to on the screen and mentioned almost as an aside that behind it lay the room where Thoreau died. The second is Thoreau’s moral struggle between the beauty of the land he so loved and surveying, the discipline that he also loved. Because his work caused him to parcel lots for woodcutting which resulted in a significant loss of woodland he wrote two essays near the end of his life exploring it. I need to reread, Walking, and read for the first time Life Without Principle in which shortly before his death he struggled on the page to find peace with the need to make money and the need to be true to ones self  In the end though he could finally say, “I am a surveyor” and be at rest.

As you know, I too, sold out my writing which I loved for financial gain and for ten years didn’t write because of it. Only now am I beginning to think of myself as a writer again. So for me Henry David feels like a kindred spirit. I think perhaps to revisit him from the vantage point of his surveyor's compass will help in the ongoing quest to find my own true north.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Eight Years and Thoreau

I never expected to be gone this long, but I woke up Wednesday zapped with a monster sinus infection. I felt so bad I didn’t even work (is the world still standing?????), but I really had no choice, as every time I stood up I swayed like the leaning tower of Pisa. Yesterday was better, but not by much, so I zoned out most of that day too. Today I’m working, but definitely wouldn’t call myself ready to do battle at an estate sale. I AM, however, well enough to lodge a complaint with whoever’s in charge of sickness. When a person gets a cold, or a sinus thing, I really, really, REALLY think it’s only fair that they be allowed to read all day long if they want to. There I was flat on the couch in front of the fire wrapped up in a blue and green plaid wool Conemara blanket I bought in Ireland when I was younger than both of my kids, a mug of hot tea at my elbow and  a brand new biography of Flannery O’Connor and it actually HURT to squint at the page!  My only solace was Caitie and Joe’s cat, Leo (aka The Dustmop), who has been here all week while Joe worked in the Toledo office and Caitie was in Canada to meet her client. As Nancy always says, every sickbed and every Christmas tree is improved by a dozing cat.

Of course having not worked for two days meant that today got off to a rousing start with many more books than usual to get out the door, plus the need to renew my ownership of my website’s domain. The latter sounds easy, but it’s not because first I had to find my user and PIN numbers for GoDaddy to do it. Once that was accomplished (no small feat, as I haven’t been over to that site in nine years!) I was immediately jolted to learn that I had to decide how many years to extend ownership. How in this crazy business would I possibly know THAT? I haven;t a clue what will be happening in ten years. Will I still be selling books? Will ANYONE be selling physical books? I don’t know. I think so. I hope so. But do I think and hope it enough to renew for ten years with the casual confidence I signed up with the first time? As it turned out, they would only extend it eight years anyway, so I tossed the devil to the wind  and went for the full eight which means that as of this moment I am offcially having shown by my bold and daring move that I do believe in the survival of books. On some level, anyway.

I did manage to look at the estate sale ads this morning, but was not even a little bit tempted. There’s one I might have gone to  but  can’t because I’m resting up  for the NOBS annual meeting. This is always a fun event and should be this year too. It’s going to be held on Sunday at Cleveland State University where we will first eat stuffed chicken, red potatoes, string beans and apple pie and then will hear Patrick Chura, an English professor from Akron University speak on his new book, Thoreau the Land Surveyor. It explores a puzzling dichotomy that I knew nothing about before this. It seems that the great nature lover, nature essayist, and environmentalist ran a surveying business that often parceled out land designated for wood cutting. It will be interesting to me to see how THIS resolves itself and of course my husband will be happily blowing the dust off this forestry degree, so a good time should be had by all.

Following the lecture there’s a general meeting too. I hate to say it ,but I’m not much of a formal meeting girl, so I have to struggle to keep alive during this part. But after it’s over we get to tour the university’s Special Collections which ought to be fairly dazzling. I’m really jazzed to go, so today and tomorrow will be purposely low-key so that come Sunday my brain will be rocking and rolling.

Until then, maybe I can finally read about Flannery.