Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Day In The Country

Yesterday might have been considered only a fair day for book buying, but somehow it felt like a much better one. We hit the road at seven a.m. to arrive at the first place by eight, the home of the woman who emailed me about the antiquarian books. I’m a city girl, born and bred, barely tolerant of suburbia and depressed by rural areas, so I was amazed to find myself charmed by the rustic life.  But I really liked the books’ owner who happens to be a friend of a friend’s. We “clicked” immediately, talking about books, cats, houses, writing, and of course our mutual friend. By the time we got going words tumbled around  us like the fall-out from a leaning tower of blocks. I was also taken by the fact that she’s a single woman living alone in a very old house and maintaining a barnful of chickens and donkeys in addition to three dogs and five cats while making a living as a freelance writer.

I do love an old house, but my taste tends to lean toward late 19th century through the 1920’s, yet somehow the 1825 cottage had me wrapped around it’s pretty little newel post in two seconds flat. The interior was dim, but snug and elegant, with oriental rugs stretched out casually on old hardwood floors. Bookshelves lined the walls and a small graceful white fireplace commanded the living room. As we perused the shelves the owner sat on a tufted brown leather sofa and talked about her favorites. Unfortunately, most of the books, while good, were common and the only one I wanted, The Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar from the early 1900’s (with photographs) had condition issues beyond my ability to cure. There was also supposed to have been a first edition of Gone with the Wind, but it turned out not to be one. It should have said May,1936 on the copyright page, but all it said was 1936. It also had condition issues and was missing its jacket, so I didn’t feel too bad passing it by. In the end I bought nothing and Eric got a few titles for the store for $30.

Our next stop was to her friend’s house which was only six miles away, but dropped us jarringly  back in suburbia. The fun part was that Eric knew him, as he’s a long time customer at the store. We had a great time unpacking boxes of books, but I laid claim to only one box,  plus two books from the My Travel Ship set in amazing condition. Eric bought the rest for the store, but we hadn’t brought the truck because we had no idea we’d be headed home loaded down, so we just repacked the books I got and stashed them  and one other large box in the car.

Just as we were about to close the hatch-back on Petey, the owner said, “Do you like genealogical stuff and old local history? We’ve got a ton of it, but we’re not ready to sell it yet. I just thought you might like to see it.”

Of course we would like to see it, so down to the very clean finished basement we trekked  and into a home office, the walls of which were lined with books. I took one look and felt like a character in a movie running dreamily into paradise in slow motion. Everywhere books flashed at me – bing! bing! bing! – all of them fabulous. One small section of shelf contained three Akron histories and a three volume Akron set, all of which I’ve sold in the past and all of which are very good. But even that was just a tiny fraction of what was there. We’re talking rows and rows and rows and rows of beautiful books. Some I knew and some I didn’t, but even the ones that were new to me wore their desirability like a diamond tiara. These were BOOKS – beautiful, gotta have, books! If they had been available I would have written a sizeable check faster than you can say First Edition, but of course that wasn’t possible. The family wants to go through the collection, take what they want, and sell the rest at some undertermined time.

All we could do is express our interest in them and let him know that even the leavings would be fine with us. Whether or not we get them remains to be seen, but I sure hope we do. In some ways it might have been better if we’d never seen them at all. But I don’t know. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the feeling that there’s nothing good out there anymore, so just knowing that somewhere an hour away there IS good stuff restores my hope that we’ll be able to find other good things too.

Maybe a drive in the country lives up to its reputation after all – even for a city girl.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Luck of the Irish

It isn’t even March and I’m already feeling the luck of the Irish. We had a great weekend in Michigan – pasta pesto at Cottage Inn in Ann Arbor followed by assorted shenanigans with the boys, each of whom provided one of the two most memorable moments of the weekend, not counting of course the sight of Eric and me with strips of blue plastic festooned with  colorful cards strapped around our heads to play a game called Headbandz. I  won’t belabor that one  --  I’m sure your imagination  can provide plenty of visuals.

The first sweet moment came when we used the Apple version of Skype to call Caitie and Joe in Maryland. At the sight of their faces the two year-old flew into orbit, running countless dizzying revolutions of joy around the kitchen table. Finally he crawled up on a chair, hollered, “Hi! Hi, Hi!” with great exuberance and  began telling them it was snowing. But then something white and gleaming on the screen suddenly caught his eye and his voice drifted off into silence. Very gently  -- and this kid doesn’t DO gently -- he reached out and touched Caitie’s face on the screen.

“Teeth,” he whispered. “Pretty teeth.”  And  then  he leaned in and kissed them.

Tyler’s turn came when he  shared with me his  deep dislike of girls. “I don’t like them  one little bit, Gran,  and I’m not going to marry them,” he told me.

“Really?” I said, “But I’m a girl and I think you like me.”

“I DO like you – a lot. But you’re a family girl. I only like FAMILY girls!”

After a  long walk in the snow, an hour of Sesame Street, and at  least ten hugs, kisses, and goodbyes we headed off late Sunday morning to an antiques mall in Findlay where  a bookseller we used to like at the Toledo mall had set up shop when that one closed. I emailed him Friday, so we had directions and his booth number, but before we found him we passed another bookseller who had an enormous display. All I can say is it must be cheaper to rent space there than it is here. We bought four books – two Ohio county histories, one book about oil lamps for our mall, and a gun book so dazzlingly underpriced it felt like stealing. After that I picked up a couple ephemera items, but the bookseller we came to see had a whole different set-up and we didn’t end up  buying  a thing from him. By the time we left I was big-time jealous because that mall allows sellers to erect signs with their business names. Ours emphatically does not.

The side-trip to the mall got us home late, but three packages awaited on the screened porch, the two items I bought from ebay since the rant a couple days ago and the earlier one which hadn’t arrived yet. I was so squirrely I made Eric open them but, surprise surprise! The paperback O’Brian novel for the big set of seafaring paperbacks was fine, the rare Pennsylvania regimental Civil War history was exactly as described, and the Irish books – oh, the Irish books! – are amongst the finest I’ve ever bought on ebay (see main picture above). I whirled and twirled over those ‘til I should have fallen over dizzy. Then Eric remembered he’d bought two books over the counter at the store for me Friday and  retrieved them from the car – Elmer Keith’s autobiography and a dazzling book about contemporary American muzzle loading gunmakers. So MORE whirling and twirling ensued. But after that I checked mall sales  and Saturday’s scraped some of the bloom off the rose. Fortunately, Sunday’s sales tripled Saturday's, so we wound up salvaging our worst month to date, thanks largely to that blizzard a couple weeks ago on the weekend.

Online sales weren’t especially good while we were gone  either – just a few  inexpensive titles that  overstayed their welcome. The only good thing was that the pretty little white mother-of-pearl wedding prayer book from the 40’s sold on my secret site for more than I ever could have  realized on a book site. But that leaves me asking myself if the Book Fair Effect could be starting already. The Book Fair Effect is that strange phenomenon where you indicate a desire to take certain books to the fair and all of a sudden their popularity shoots skyward. Already the little John Quincy Adams book sold and then the Japanese pottery book, followed by that big rose colored book about Ethiopian and Spanish coins in the Danish Museum that I included in the picture of random books that accompanied the blog about random things. And now the bridal prayer book sold. There’s five weeks to go until the fair, which means  I need to stay under the radar for awhile.

On the bright side though I  got an email from a woman wanting to sell antiquarian books. I called her and we set up an appointment to see them early tomorrow morning, but then she called back later to say that a friend of hers has books to sell also, so now we're off to see them all! I’m not holding my breath, but I am hopeful.

And very glad  to be a family girl.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Hair of the Dog and Other Good Things

As I write this a giant snowstorm hangs over Chicago ready to come roaring our way. Actually, I don’t think it will amount to much in Medina, but the problem is that we are headed through western Ohio into Michigan Saturday so we can replay the lost Valentine’s Day with the little guys which, as you may recall, got snowed-out two weeks ago. There’s a chance the storm  will move in today and be out by tomorrow (the wind is howling like a banshee), but at the rate we’re going here the Valentine candy could wind up sharing space with the jelly beans in their Easter baskets.

The good news is I printed out the pages of my novel and there are about a hundred spread out over five chapters all of which I actually like except for chapter one. This is an unexpected good thing except that chapter one is the most crucial, as it’s the first read by an agent or editor. If they aren’t charmed within a couple pages the book is toast, so serious rewriting awaits. The other good news is Judy came to do the article for the newspaper about our business and participation in the book fair. Judy’s an old friend whom I met thirty years ago when she worked at the library. Later we were in a (now defunct) writers’ group together and spent losts of fun times speaking on the Ohio writers’ conference circuit. Yesterday’s questions were not only interesting, but encouraged me to talk about how I feel about bookselling, which is a little corny probably and maybe even embarrassing.  But I’m looking at it this way -- the inquiry came from a poet and will be written by one, so the result may transcend me. The photos, however,  are another story.

Anyway, all the ebay books I complained about in the last post have been dealt with once and for all. I spent a great deal of time giving several a new life and shining up the last ones in the door which were basically good but needing sprucing.  A few I gave to Eric for  the store, and one got sent back to its seller. I even adhered to the old adage about the “hair of the dog” and jumped back into the auction game. I do wonder whether this was wise, but I’ve bought some amazing stuff on ebay in the past and even in the recent past, so I I tried it again. I was on there maybe five minutes when a beautiful four volume hard cover centenary binding of Thomas Moore’s Irish “airs”  had my heart crooning like Bing Crosby. The books glow like emeralds (at least in the picture) and are ornately decorated. But of course time will tell the truth.

Yet another good thing is the book in the photo above which Eric bought for me at the Indianapolis show last weekend. It’s a signed,  numbered 1977 gun book that only had a print run of 1500 copies and is most collectible. In this instance the internet saves the day, as not many Ohioans collect, or even see, too many early California rifles.I knew he got me something, but didn’t know what because he frustratingly enough forgot to bring it home THREE nights in a row. But I nonetheless whirled and twirled at least once to express my pleasure with it last night. If you recall, for awhile there weapons were me, but not so much anymore. One at a time each book  departed and now as I look at that category I realize how few good things are left, which of course makes this book all the more welcome.
Okay, one more good thing and then I have to get back to work. I know you’re not enamored of magazines, but it’s been a magazine bonanza over here this week. I shipped them every single day since Monday, all ordered on ABE. These included six issues (complete run) of American Art Review; twelve issues ( complete run) of Journal of Aeronautical Sciences; two issues of The Spur to one customer; four issues (a complete run) of American Indian Art and one issue of Air Trails for a total of $189.
Just sayin' …

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Book Buyer Blues

I need to play with the papers again. I really do. Three days into the new week and I’m already as jangly as a charm bracelet. I’d ordered fifteen books from ebay for stock, all of which finally showed up now in what at first glance appeared to be a mountain of fun. In case you haven’t guessed, “appeared” is the operative word here. By the time I finished opening the lot I felt as though I’d  slipped on a banana peel and catapulted head-first into Dante’s Inferno.

The first package showed up wet and the moisture had seeped through to the inside where it completely ruined the lower back corner of the book because the seller failed to provide interior protection for a box that had been used so many times it was as squeezable as a teddy bear. The second one was a soft cover book that could no longer close properly due to the fact that a thick bunch of newsletters (which were nice and relevant to the topic) had been stored inside it. Next came one peppered with holes from worm damage, followed by one on which the red inked upper edge had bleached to a mottled pink. To compound the problem on the latter the seller waited NINE days to ship it a nd then tried to extract more postage from me after I’d paid the invoice he sent me originally.  In this instance tried is the operative word.

Of the rest, only ONE truly lived up to its billing (see photo above) and this one's been here a week or two. This seller both described it and wrapped it like a pro but, wouldn’t you know, he’s the only one to get badly burned out of all these auctions. I’ve decided I’m going to send him another $10 because he truly earned it. Five other books proved to be reasonably good and the remaining six were good AFTER I made repairs which included new backing for a spine, pressing and weighting dog-eared pages, tipping in a loose page, and cleaning dirty covers. After a fairly good previous run, this time I hit at top speed a brick wall of sub-par sellers.

The point here is not my own annoyance, the repairs, and/or  the need to repackage and return unwanted books, but what the whole debacle says about the book business.  I strongly suspect  that the vast majority of these sellers know nothing about books and care even less about them. If I were the average reader buying these books online to either keep or give as gifts, I’d be pretty fed up by now because I wouldn’t  know how to make repairs and would lack both the time or inclination even if I did.  In fact, I might just decide that online book buying is more trouble than it’s worth. For sure I’d be afraid to buy on ebay. However, this is not a rant about ebay  – I could do that, but I won’t – because ebay itself is not the problem in this instance. The problem is that too many sellers regard books as rectangular little moneymakers that require next to no effort on their part.

Every time a book buyer ends up badly disappointed the entire business tarnishes a little more and we who devote our lives to the cause suffer for it. Mistakes happen – I know that – and I am very accommodating when they do. But there’s a big difference between an honest mistake and shoddy work. Sadly, so few sellers bother to showcase their wares which means that the buyer ends up having little choice but to take a chance and hold her breath. In the early days of the internet I certainly got my fair share of disappointing books, but none were ever as bad as what shows up these days dubbed as excellent or very good -- the exact words used to describe every item I bought. Interestingly  enough, all of the listings had at least one photo, but in the end it didn’t much matter. Despite the old saying, sometimes a picture  isn’t worth more than a thousand words.

Will I buy on ebay again? Yes, probably I will because I have had success.  Will I be more careful? I’d like to say yes, but I think I’ve already been careful, so I don’t know. Right now alI I can think of is the very scarce 19th century regimental history for which I paid $75. It's not even here yet and already I'm afraid to open it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tis A Gift to Be Simple

Yesterday was one of those days you wish you could carry with you forever as a reminder that for a day to be perfect it need not contain anything more, or less, than simple pastimes and simple pleasures. I never like it when Eric is gone, but I manage, and sometimes, like yesterday, I do better than that. I transcend all that annoys me, worries me, burdens me by deliberately shutting it out and slipping into a stream of creative silence.

The day began with the usual Sunday morning walk with Nancy. Please don’t equate the word usual with routine and boredom because a walk with Nancy is never routine and certainly never boring. Nancy is like Longfellow’s spreading chestnut  tree, rooted securely to the earth and yet forever reaching upward to the heavens. She talks me out of the gnarly forest of my own mind into open spaces and fresh air, agrees with me sometimes, challenges me other times, but reminds me always that, evidence to the contrary, life is comprised of more blessings than banes. After we walked we went to Panera for breakfast where I had a blueberry bagel and a mug of mango tea. Then we came back to my house to admire the new mirror and pick up a mylar cover for a new book her daughter got for Christmas.

I had planned to spend  the afternoon doing one of two things. I would either read “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair”  cover to cover, or rework chapter one of the novel. I do believe that if I am to write that thing – and I’m still not sure I really am – it’s going to have to be from the very beginning. Either occupation may have been sublime (or not), but I did neither because I suddenly remembered that when Eric was in Indiana last year I used the weekend to create the card for the gift basket that serves as a door prize for the book fair. An excuse to play with the papers is a gift in itself. Five minutes later I was sitting on the basement floor taking every last scrap out of two giant Rubbermaid tubs. A card is not large – the space on this one measures  4” x10” so we are not talking the need for a lot of paper here. A couple items and a dash of invention probably could do the trick, but I was beginning with a blank slate – not even a ghost of an idea lurked in the shadows.

When this happens the paper takes charge, or so it seems. I sort through it (see photo above to understand the magnificence of scope)  piece by piece waiting for a whisper. When one tickles my ear I set it aside. Every chosen postcard, torn magazine cover, stray page, or letter won’t  work its way into the project and almost never in its entirety, but still every one informs whatever happens in ways both soft and subtle.

It’s always scary to choose the first pieces and commit them to the paste jar, which of course is silly because collage is a forgiving art. One can always – must always – cover over mistakes, fifteen times if needed . But the beauty of it is that all those mistakes (as in life) add texture and interest, especially if a new layer is partially scraped off to reveal what lies beneath. Once I begin  the work time disappears. Watches stop flipping digital numbers, clock pendulums stop swinging and there is nothing  -- nothing -- to be done but what is being done in this river of complete and total peace. A card of course is not Art, the kind with a capital A, but that doesn’t matter. Yes, yes, I want to be happy with it. I want it to please me and will work on it until it does – but the process matters as much as the product and maybe even more.The process is key. The process is pay-off. The process is balm for the restless spirit.

Just as I came back upstairs the clock on the microwave flipped from 4:59 to 5:00. Three and a half hours of silence with no worries, no to-do lists, no nattering nabobs of negativism screaming from the TV. I have always wanted to use Spiro Agnew’s famous line “nattering nabobs of negativism" in a sentence and I just did, though mercifully not with the same intention it was uttered initially.

Amazing what a little paste and paper can do, even for the vocabulary!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sailing Right Along!

Well, this is very interesting! Remember Thursday how I complained about that small sale we went to? I had gotten  fifteen hard cover books on sailing, but earmarked  ALL of them for Eric for the store because people who know nothing about books and care even less about them have devalued them beyond comprehension. Since Eric is in Indianapolis for the weekend at a show, this morning I took them out of my new L.L. Bean bag and boxed them up for him. That’s when I spotted two excellent things that had escaped me earlier.
Okay, I confess -- I really didn’t look at these books individually as I was buying them. My gaze swept over the shelf and my brain quickly registered clean, familiar, good for the store. So I swept them up in one fell swoop, not realizing that in the mix was hidden a  first edition of Seamanship in the Age of Sail. This one used to be a goodie, which it deserves to be for its plethora of technical detail augmented by technical drawings. Still I figured it had probably plummeted, which it has to some degree, but  remains miraculously viable at $50-60. The other thing I got for him, but am now ALSO taking back for myself, is the sixeen soft cover volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical novels in the Norton set from the 1990’s shown above. I’m short four volumes, but in a sense only one, because the numbers run in consecutive order minus #11. So that means if I buy that one I could still list them as a partial set of 17 now and then keep an eye out for the three others, adding them and adjusting the price as I go if needed. Yes, it’s extra work, but it’s also a very worthwhile endeavor.

Now before you think I’m a book snatcher, and a mean one at that giving my husband something nice and then grabbing it back,  you have to understand that we have a pact. I get first dibs for online because it’s harder for me to find good competitive inventory these days and he has more books than shelves anyway. He’ll be happy for me – REALLY – and I’m happy for me too. I knew the novels were all published by Norton, but I wasn’t sure they all came from the same series. The fact that they are all  Aubrey/Maturin stories not only gives me a viable listing – ONE viable listing – but means that I didn’t waste my time yesterday after all.

Okay – zing! – we’re switching topics now. Here’s something quite interesting too. It’s a little gossipy, but you’ll find it fascinating I’m sure. Last night there was a sale we like very much, but  didn’t attend because Eric had already left for Indianapolis. A bookseller friend went and I made him swear he’d give me the skinny afterwards, which he kindly did first thing this morning. The reason I was so anxious to hear the news is that the last time they had this sale all hell broke loose. We had gone for coffee with another bookseller so we missed the big argument that almost came to blows, but what we did see was the woman sitting in the hallway blocking the entrances to both rooms while she scanned a mountain of books on the floor  -- at the CLOSE of the sale, mind you,  when  everyone was trying to get their stuff out of the building! The woman who heads the sale was so furious she looked like a lava lamp the color od a cardinal-- you could actually see the blood shooting from her neck to her face. Impending change was so thick in the air it was pea soup.

Sure enough, prior to last night’s sale  she sent an email to all booksellers announcing that this would be the last sale to allow scanning (YAY!) which was no big surprise. The surprise came in how she chose to handle things last night. You won’t believe it!  First of all, she emphatically stated that no one was to arrive before four o’clock for a five ‘clock sale. At that time, regardless of where you stood when she appeared with the numbers, everyone would choose a number at  RANDOM and line up accordingly at 4:45. No sharing of numbers between spouses or friends and no consecutive numbers for pairs unless by the luck of the draw.I have to admit I thought it was fairly diabolical, but Eric found it downright amusing.

“I have a hunch it will do exactly what it’s intended to do,” he told me, the Sister Martha Mary grin I’ve always loved twitching at the corners of his mouth.

I was not charmed. In fact, I harrumphed  at length about both the new policy AND  his lack of righteous indignation. And then I promptly forgot  about it since we weren’t going anyway. Yesterday though Judy had to postpone our appoinment for the newspaper interview about the book fair, so I thought of it again and zapped an email to my friend begging for a full report. This morning he told me that the place teemed with scanners (new people mostly! ) who were extremely put out over the whole thing and vowed never to return. Some of the old scanners vowed likewise which may not matter much either way because the books apparently didn’t warrant that much ire in the first place.

So then. It looks like I owe a very smart guy with a cute grin an apology. In fact, I even feel almost guilty for taking all those books back.  But not guilty enough.
They're mine.

P.S. I know from past picture experience that you guys have eagle eyes. So before you tell me I'm missing two volumes instead of one  in the photo at the top, I already know. I left it on my desk when I picked up the others on the floor to take the picture. Just imagine it's there.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Facing the Music

Excitement builds and work mounts as we move into the final weeks of preparations for the book fair. Last night we attended a board meeting to iron out all the details and gauge “the State of the Union.” I spent most of yesterday calling vendors and trying to find “hooks” with which to snag newspapers willing to run stories about them and their participation in the fair. It used to be much easier to do this, but as I may have mentioned, newspapers are shrinking while demand for space remains high. So far, one is looking like a go and I did an interview with a new shop I’m rather crazy about, so that should be fun and maybe even easy to pitch with a press release. I also landed a feature story about us – which makes me a little uncomfortable because this isn’t about us – but I am the only dealer from Medina and the local paper gave us a green light ONLY if the story featured a bookseller. I’m not writing it – the incomparable Judy Totts is doing those honors. If I could pick any working journalist in the whole state of Ohio to write this it would be Judy. So while I’m a little weird with it, I’m also excited to see what she will do. To understand this you have know that Judy was a former poet laureate of the state of Ohio and has won the Paul Laurence Dunbar Award, as well as many prizes for newspaper features.

You’d think, given all the stuff clamoring for my attention, I’d have the sense to stay home today (and not be blogging), but -- well, you know how that goes. I never seem to know when to say no.This morning we ran over to a small sale we’d avoided for two years and went back to last month. I knew there wasn’t a chance I’d be carrying out bags of awesome books as we once did there, but hope springs eternal. Of course hope met its match in the first five seconds and was roundly KO’d. I bought a couple insignificant titles for the mall (which better pick up soon because the weekend’s storm clobbered our sales) and loaded up probably fifteen nice nautical books for the store. For me it was pretty much a waste of time, but I have only myself to blame for that.

The big thing I need to do today is a chore I loathe and detest – buying needed items for the fair. Why I put this stuff off is beyond comprehension, but there you have it and now it’s like one giant order-fest from multiple vendors. I have to get cellophane bags for the ephemera from U-line; more mylar covers from Brodart and a couple scalpels (I meant SPATULAS! -- good grief!) because I can’t find either of mine and am going nuts without them; Japanese paper from Talas to repair a map I maybe shouldn’t touch, but am going to because I truly think I can do it; a pound of book deodorizer fro m Godsey's so I can bring a wonderful Cleveland ephemera item I got the last time I visited the singing auctioneer; and a musical mechanism from a musical mechanism store which I have to RE-find online because I didn’t have the sense God gave a gnat to stop and place the order when I found it initially.

I know you’re probably wondering why need a musical mechanism. Well, last spring I bought at auction the gorgeous 19th century photograph album featured in the photo at the top. The base is a music box which contains the original mechanism except that it’s been overwound and Eric couldn’t fix it. So what I want to do is get a new one and then package the old one so the buyer can have both. It’s also about half full of photographs, primarily of children – but not the same children. As you can see, there's a piece of ugly tape in the corner of one picture, but that too, will be fixed before the fair. Enjoy the cute pictures of some of the little people below. With any luck they all grew up to be old people.

Meanwhile I'll get down the stack of catalogs, figure out what I need, pick up the phone, and -- FINALLY-- face the music! .

Monday, February 13, 2012

Working My Way to the Book Fair

The storm has passed and life returns to normal. Yesterday the streets were clear, but the wind was biting, so we holed up for the second day in a row. However, from this experience we have learned something very important about ourselves. Unless we become so feeble that we can’t lift a book with both hands we can NEVER retire. Settling into a life of leisure may be the American Retirement Dream, but it’s definitely not ours. We told ourselves we could do anything we wanted this weekend which sounded extremely good except that after we read a lot, watched a Netflix documentary called Craft In America (a PBS show we’d missed) and talked excitedly about it for half an hour we were flat out of fun things to occupy ourselves. So Eric cleaned the house and I worked listing books and figuring out what we will take to the upcoming book fair. Only then – only when the vacuum cleaner roared and my feet flew up and down the stairs a million times did the house begin to breathe again. Clearly, we do not do idleness well.

I don’t know whether this is a good thing or bad thing, but I lean sharply toward good for the simple reason that there is no line of demarcation between work and play for me. I love selling books, I love writing when I’m in “the zone”, and I love playing with my art papers. So it’s not surprising that in the end, this weekend was salvaged by the call of the books. At least for me anyway. As for Eric, he doesn’t love cleaning, but he doesn’t hate it either, so for him there was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment which is much better  than frittering away time doing nothing. See what I mean? We lack the relaxing gene. My antiques dealer friend Darwin says he lacks it too and thinks we should probably buy a couple if they turn up on ebay!

Yesterday’s work also blessed me with a sense of peace and well-being regarding the upcoming antiquarian show. While I am certainly not bursting with books over here, I am not as bad off as I thought I was either. Over the past year I tucked away this book and that book and now all of a sudden there’s a small cache of real goodies including a signed copy of the Mark Twain biography written by his daughter, Clara; an 1895 Compleat  Angler; an early Ray Vietzen archaeology (The Ancient Ohioans); an 1849 copy of John Quincy Adams’ Letters to his Son (religious); and an 1812 copy of Washington’s Final Address. I also have a ton of first edition novels by the French mystery writer Georges Simenon, an impressive array of Easton Press titles from the 70’s that have never been read, a nice collection of pop-up books and specialty vintage kid books, that rare little baseball book I showed you not long ago, those 16th and 17th century vellum documents from England, a rare map (we'll talk about it later), and boxes and boxes of ephemera.
I also found something I got this past summer that confounded me then and confounds me now. It’s a book titled The Marrow of Astrology which was published in 1688. Truly, this is one of those books you could  easily pass by without even a glance due to the fact that it was rebound cheaply and plainly in 1906. We know this because the daughter of the former owner wrote it at the top of the foreword of the text. Both the title page and copyright page are missing, but the book is actually two books in one and the second part clearly shows the title. Of course the pages are very delicate, but can be carefully read, though you do  have to decipher ye olde English. What I love most about it is a section where the author numbered his many points on a topic and got all the way to thirteenthly!  

Handwritten notes and marginalia to the original text can be a sticky wicket, but I suspect in this case it may depend greatly on the sensibilities of the buyer, as they date from 1906. The tricky part of this book is pricing it. One lone copy exists on ABE owned by a British dealer who is asking $1300. His has been rebound also, but in calf, and is not missing the two pages as mine is. But then again, that makes mine the bargain copy -- which in a way is good, but in another way is the problem. The cheap binding and missing pages are egregious faults which devalue it by a good bit. But what is “a good bit”? There’s where it gets tricky.

I need to do some research on it, as well as on the 1812 Washington’s Final Address. As for the John Quincy Adams book of letters to his son – it looks like that one will be skipping the fair this year after all. I listed it on ABE yesterday because I couldn’t believe anyone at the fair would pay a three-figure price tag for a little book that measures 3"x4-1/2" and is not a first edition. JQ Adams died in 1848, the year the book was published and my copy dates from 1849. But it looks like I might have been wrong because it sold on ABE as I was writing this.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A "Gran"d Disappointment

If life were fair we’d be well on our way to Michigan this weekend in time for lunch at one of our favorite Ann Arbor eateries – the Cottage Inn. We first discovered this gem back in the late 90’s when Moira and Brian were undergrads at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. In those days there were two Cottage Inns, the main one in Ann Arbor and a secondary one in Ypsi  conveniently located on Washtenaw, the main drag, not far from campus. Oh, the delightful hours spent there over plates of pasta pignoli after basketball games when Earl Boykins, the  turbo-charged 5’3” star from Cleveland (second shortest player in the NBA after Muggsy Bogues) , cleaned house with whomever came calling.  Wine poured, glasses clinked,  and you waited for a table however long it took. But then a decade later the world changed somehow and that was the end of the Ypsi Cottage Inn, as well as the end of an era.

I could write a whole blog about this, but it’s really not the point, nor is Earl Boykins the point, though I still have a major crush on Earl Boykins even now. The point is that it looks like we woke up this morning encased in a snow globe. The wind’s howling, the white stuff’s blowing, and the temperature hovers ten degrees south of miserable. We called the kids at eight-thirty to say we’re still hoping to show up, but now I’m beginning to wonder if desire trumped reality here. It’s ten-thirty and it’s still not pretty out there. Well, it IS  pretty actually, but pretty isn’t the point either.
The point is we want to see the little guys for Valentine’s Day. I have their cards and presents wrapped and even hand-decorated the gift bags. Tyler at eight gets candy and a Target gift card, the latter because he told me over one of our 6 a.m. breakfasts-for-two  to please, please, PLEEEEEEEASE never, ever, EVER give him money.

“If you do, Gran, my mom and dad will make me put some in the bank. If you get a gift card they can’t.” Micro-Economics 101 delivered with a grin! Of course I pinky-swore on the spot that I wouldn’ even consider cash and, in fact, if necessary, would walk to Target in a blizzard to avoid it. If you don’t already know this, involvement in conspiracies is one of the major perks of grannyhood!
Two year old Dylan gets a little panda and a pop-up book. Right now small stuffed animals – he calls them “the babies” – and board books are an obsession. So I think Gran and Papa scored big on those. The funny part is he calls us both Papa. ALL  the oldies are Papas.

Anyway, getting back to the weather, it’s so miserable I didn’t even wrap orders this morning, but that might have been an excuse too since the post office branch at the grocery store is only a mile up Rte. 18 which is reasonably clear -- at least I think it might be. All I know is that for one rare day I have actually traded my bookseller hat in for my granny hat. Though of course I never actually wear a hat because  I’d rather freeze than get hat-hair.

Vanity, thy name is GRAN.

P.S. Eric  just returned from a trial run down Rte. 18 to Interstate 71 to  Rte. 3. The verdict, he informs me, is as clear as the icicles hanging off the gutters on the screened porch– no way, Jose!

P.S. Again -- Wow! I'm over 10,000 page views! Amazing. I actually stuck with the second incarnation of this blog. Maybe that novel could happen yet. :-)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Random Acts of Blogging

Well, I did it. It took me all day and I waited until the last possible moment, but I finally stopped avoiding the novel and opened chapter one. For a few seconds I panicked because the other chapters were labeled by number, but for some unknown reason  Chapter 1 had its own unique name. It’s amazing I ever found it given what I’d slugged it. Fortunately, or otherwise, I unearthed it fifteen minutes before my older daughter’s daily five o-clock check-in which gave me just enough time to read the whole thing before the phone rang. Did I love it? No. Did I hate it? No. I guess you could say it’s the battlefield and I’m Switzerland.
Of course today I have no choice but to dive in and keep on treading water. It looks like there are five chapters finished, though one is slugged Chapter Five and another Chapter Five1 which means that I must have done some radical rewriting at some point. We’ll see. I remember having a blast working on it, so I’m hoping a spark will ignite somewhere along the line so I can at least finish the first draft. I have a long history of abandoning stories – a loooooooooooooong history. In fact, I mentioned the novel on Facebook this morning and an old friend who is also a writer asked me which novel I meant! My reputation clearly precedes me. The only reason I ever finished the books I published was the fact that I was under contract.

Anyway, that’s on the agenda today, but so is pulling together my final sales figures and expenses so we can file our federal income tax return. Fortunately, this is not the trauma of the dreaded Ohio sales tax because there’s no computer involved and we have an accountant who turns what I give her into an official document. I love accountants – wouldn’t want to marry one – but they do make life easier.

We were supposed to go to an auction tomorrow, but I think we’re not now because they never posted any pictures at ALL, much less of the books. It’s too far to take a chance on finding nothing but mildewed, broken down, used up, very bad books. But it’s certainly not a good thing because we went nowhere last weekend and consequently didn’t buy any books at all. Even ebay failed me this week. I saw one good one I’d sold twice in the $60 range, the last time about a year ago,  but when I checked its current price it had somehow plummeted to $12! Amazing. But then the other day I also listed a book and everyone was tightly clustered in the $55-65 bracket except for one seller who came in at $22! I ignored him completely, but I do so wish dealers could somehow reach a consensus that books are not pork bellies. But of course that’s not going to happen.
The problem is that it’s not even just online books I need. My mall stash isn’t looking all that great either and now some very obvious space opened up over there due to yesterday’s  sale of that giant dictionary I showed you some time ago after we came back from Dayton in November. The same person who bought it  also bought a big Bible, so there’s yet another gaping gap to fill. You know you’ve got a problem when a collective twenty inches of open space  is enough to poise you on the edge of panic. It’s astounding to me that we continue to have an ongoing  acquisition problem when for years we dealt with a surfeit of books! But there you have it.

Oh, one interesting thing did happen though. Last week I sent out a program idea to the Summit County Library system in hopes of giving a talk on collecting books in the digital age and yesterday landed  myself a gig. ! wish it could be before the antiquarian show, but no such luck, as libraries seem to require a long lead-time. I had my choice of multiple days throughout the summer, so I called and locked in a date for mid-July. I don’t view this as a business promotion at all – at least not for me individually – it’s more of a volunteer effort for NOBS and  a chance to remind people that e-readers do not negate the pleasure of the physical book. I think as “book people” we can’t afford to sit back in silence on this issue if we wish to see books (and our businesses) thrive. I haven’t done any programming for a long time, though I used to do a storytelling workshop and give talks about my books, so I’m not  worried about it. In fact, I hope some more pop up.
So there you have the sum total of what's happening here in my small corner of Medina today. Only now I see that I have created a brand NEW problem for myself. I have not mentioned a single thing that can be photographed. But here’s a  photo of random books waiting to be listed. Okay, that's  probably reaching, but if you think about it it does makes a modicum of sense. Random books for a post about random stuff!

Monday, February 06, 2012

True To Type

I was talking to my writer friend Laurie on the phone this morning and she asked me if I knew about the latest craze in collectibles.  I told her I guess I hadn’t, but I was pretty sure  it wasn’t books.  She  agreed that it wasn’t, but said that it was something very surprising.  Yesterday morning she’d been flipping through the TV channels and chanced on a segment about the typewriter craze that has young people conducting something called “Type-Ins”  in coffee shops all over the country. Having never observed such an event , my mind immediately  rummaged through my 60’s box and pulled out a Love-In  replete with, beads, Baez, reefer --  and typewriters. 
The night, they drove old Dixie down, and all the people were singing! They sang ………”

Claaaaaaaaaaaack, clackety-clack, clack, clack, clack!

Groovy! Except I’m a  day late and a dollar short  on this one, as the New York Times reported this story last year which means it could be “soooooooo 2011” by now. But I just did a  quick Google search which proved it to be hanging in there, though not quite as I’d envisioned. Type-ins are serious events with speed  competitions involved -- there's nothing mellow-yellow about them. I bring them up for several reasons not the least of which is the solace of knowing  that even if books totally fall out of favor odds are they’ll  spring back  in another generation or two. Not that that  will do most of US any good, but it’s comforting to at least  be reminded that all things old are new again.

But the real reason I bring them up is that today is D-Day – Drag-Out-the-Novel-I-Began-Two-Years-Ago  Day so I can bring a manuscript with NEW writing to next month’s writers’ group.  Contrary to what you’ve observed here about my writers’ group, writers’ groups are not really about presents, pinot grigio, Darwin Cake and Christmas ferns. Those thing are supposed to be treats, little PAY-OFFS  for showing up faithfully with a manuscript every single month, pages  clutched in sweaty hands prepared to read and hear the verdict from your fellow writers. Our group  used to function that way too, but then Nancy landed  a newspaper editorship and then later a PR job which requires writing and I became a bookseller who wrote on the side and then, later yet,  an obsessed bookseller who never writes. Meanwhile the other two members, Laurie and Dandi,  remained dedicated authors  who have finally decided to stop giving me and Nancy a pass.  At one time this blog counted as writing , but no longer. The blog is fine, but the blog is NOT a novel, however much I add dialogue, description,  and other writerly embellishments to impress them. They’re over it.

So today I absolutely, positively  HAVE TO seriously read the completed  four or five chapters (I forget which it is) of the novel  tentatively known as Genre Friction and see what they sound like. And then remind myself that the whole thing is a draft, just a draft, and move forward with a new chapter by the first week in MARCH.  The thing is I’m afraid to look. I really am. You’d think  we were talking about a huge black, hairy spider hiding in a corner of the basement I’m so freaked.  Is it any wonder I’ve  started engaging in magical thinking?
In case you’ve never tried it  here’s how magical thinking  works: if I still had my old manual typewriter  it would be okay. Better than okay. I won prizes on that typewriter. I typed better on it than I do on a computer. And the sound! Oh, the sound! I roared down that  keyboard using just the middle fingers of both hands like Wonder Woman on speed.  In fact, I worked beside the ad guy at the newspaper office for a year and a half before he realized I didn’t even know HOW to type. That typewriter was me and I was it – a perfect symbiotic relationship.

And this is TRUE. It is! So why does Eric feel obliged to remind me  that every time I made a mistake on the typewriter there was White-Out involved?  And that when  enough White-out splattered on the page I had to retype the entire thing.  And revision.  Revision was torture.  Revision was the equivalent of having your fingernails ripped out by the Inquisition. Then there was the fact that I couldn’t even pick UP that clunky old black behemoth of a  Remington manual (bet I could now though). And the fact that sometimes its platen held pages every bit as blank and accusing as any computer screen

True, all true! But stop already!

I get it.

The hairy black metaphorical  spider stays in the basement because to suck him up with the central vac I'd really have to look at him. And the typewriter looks good because it’s gone. And I am writing about typewriters so I don’t have to read -- much less write -- the novel.

Friday, February 03, 2012

After the Party ...

I was so anxious to post yesterday, but never got a chance due to the weirdest situation. I was down the basement preparing the week’s books to be hauled to the antiques mall which I often do on Thursdays. More than an hour slid by before I went back upstairs to the computer. By then a ton of emails crowded my inbox – everything from orders to not exactly junk, but not exactly top priority either. Feeling rushed to get over here, I zoomed in immediately on the orders of which there were three. Order one was from Alibris for The Book of the Unimat. Nancy thinks that one ought to have been written by a Tibetan monk, though the subtitle – “Including SL and Mk3 A Guide to Its Operation, Accessories, and Possibilities Aimed Primarily at the User as a First Timer”  resoundingly squelches any notion of peace and meditation. It’s about machining (another of those technical things I like) and is not exactly a New York Times bestseller. I got it with a large book collection from a guy in Mt. Gilead, Ohio three year ago, so an order was enough to inspire some subdued whirling and twirling.
Order two came from biblio – a nice normal book about musical chords. Again, no stress, so on to order three which came from Abe. You will NOT believe this. I did not believe this!  The book requested was – ta da! -- The Book of the Unimat; Including SL and MK3 A Guide to Its Operation, Accessories, and Possibilities Aimed Primarily at the User as a First Timer. I would guess maybe four people in the entire universe would want such a thing, especially at $45, and yet two of them showed up in my inbox ten minutes apart. Because orders are backwards when you read them (that is, the first one to arrive is the last one you see) the ABE customer should have been the winner, but wasn’t because I processed the alibris order as soon as I saw it. I mean, really – what were the ODDS of two takers after three years?

My fulfillment rate at ABE is -- make that WAS  -- 99 per cent and I’d  been shooting for a perfect hundred until Unimat singlehandedly took care of THAT. Silll  I was more than ready to move on,  so for a whole five seconds I did just that – until up pops another ABE order. This time  it’s for a Cessna plane manual.These I’m not so crazy about, but I have a whole stack, thanks to the Late Great Elmer about whom I have written many times here. I’d have bet the extra copy of that cool Missouri history and genealogy I got Sunday  that I had it, as it had been a long time since I sold one. But It wasn’t in the box with the rest of them. It wasn’t shelved with either the technical books or what’s left of Elmer’s aviation stuff. I searched business ephemera. I searched how-to. I was so desperate I even searched catalogs and science. Two hours later I still had no Cessna manual from 1965. I decided to let the order sit and give it another go in the morning after I got back from the mall. But while I was AT the mall  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take  a quick look around on the half chance that  -- GOT IT!!!! Oh, the relief! The joy! The whirling and twirling!

Anyway, here I finally am, neither jangly and twitterpated, or whirling and twirling, and what do I do? Instead of telling you about the Christmas/Edgar Nomination/Hallmark Movie party I fixate on my neuroses. But here’s the thing. The party was wonderful. We opened our presents beside the Christmas fern, toasted our rising star Dandi with pinot grigio (she’s next to me in the photo above and I’m the one with the light emanating from her ear), had dinner, ate Darwin Cake, laughed a lot, and most importantly, made a hard, fast commitment to return to the old days when we met every single month and EVERYBODY showed up with a manuscript to read.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Obsessed With Books

Tonight is our THIRD attempt at the writers’ group Christmas/Edgar nomination party, so fingers crossed. I am about to bake my THIRD Darwin Cake which better be the last one because I can actually do it without the recipe now which is pretty scary! It’s funny -- I used to be so domestic, but these days I consider myself a goddess for successfully getting  dinner on the table. It reminds me of that old Louisa May Alcott quote – “She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain.”

Truly, there are so many ways that bookselling has changed me. My house used to be clean all the time even with little kids strewing toys all over the place. I baked my own bread, made homemade granola, and sent lunches off to school with bean sprouts on the sandwiches which of course were made from the homemade whole wheat bread. Even when I spent crazy hours working as Director of Sales and Marketing for the nursing home I did better than this, at least on the weekends, or when asked to bring something to an event. Chocolate raspberry cheesecake, homemade chicken soup, orange chicken with black olives …Oh well. That was then and this is now and nobody’s starving over here.  
But there are other ways that bookselling has impacted my life that may not be dismissed so easily. For example, I read less and  keep crazy hours. I used to read more and keep crazy hours, only in reverse. In those days I’d sit up half the night lost in a novel while these days I read in snatches, fall asleep by nine most nights,  and get up every morning between four and five a.m. I also used to volunteer for causes – the Farmer’s Market at the Episcopal church; the Christmas basket program at same; was president of the local adoption group; served as the Ohio contact for international adoptions;  worked the phones at Help Line, a call-in crisis center; ran storytelling groups; even had two foster children, both of whom were pregnant when we got them. Now? Now I show up one day a year at the community center for Christmas and volunteer as a board member and book fair committee member for NOBs, though I’m not sure NOBS counts, as it’s part of my obsession.

When I first began as a bookseller I was also writing professionally. In fact, most of the books I wrote I wrote while I was selling books. In those days I identified myself as a writer who sold books part-time. Now I’m an obsessed  bookseller who thinks about maybe writing again, but thus far has yet to add one sentence to the novel begun a year or two ago, despite the pile of writers’ magazines Eric supplied for Christmas. I have a hunch this will be discussed tonight and I will feel a.) guilty and b.) motivated to change it. But then I will get back to real life and one of two things will happen. If sales are good I’ll be flying high trying to make them even better. If they’re not I will be a fanatical crazy woman who will have to pried away from the computer until things turn around.

So how did this happen to me? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s a combination of things. All my life I have loved books best, so that’s pretty much a given, but as I gradually changed from being a commodity seller to a seller of older and antiquarian books and paper my interest deepened and I began to view bookselling as a serious time-honored profession in which I needed to prove myself as a serious player. Of course this also explains my craziness with scanning, book sites which seek to diminish one’s independence, bad bookseller behavior, bad listings which provide no information, and an obvious lack of pride and scholarship evidenced by the sad majority of the bookselling community as a whole. The fact that I work from a home office, even to supply the antiques mall, also adds to the whole sturm und drang because I never get away from it. Even when we go to Michigan for the occasional weekend I drag it along in my head like an extra piece of overweight luggage.

So what to do? Now there you have me. I have no idea. All I can do is hope the Muse will soon come calling again. Maybe I could leave her a piece of Darwin Cake … You think?