Thursday, April 26, 2012

Books About Books -- A Singular Pleasure

One of the secret pleasures of minor illness is the freedom to read. I discovered this early in childhood when my mother, who liked the IDEA of reading, but was not so crazy about the execution of it, would leave me blissfully tucked into bed with a book as long I displayed visible signs of something contagious.  This was not so much because she thought I might as well learn something while I was out of commission, but because her hypochondria trumped her dislike of solitary pursuits. At any rate, I have always cherished reading when I’m sick, so was deeply disappointed when the ordeal of the past weeks strangely provided very little opportunity. Whether to blame the pounding sinus headache, the endless cough, the back pain, or all of the above, is anybody’s guess, but I have been plowing through the same book for twenty-four days! Last night I finally finished it.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I collect books about books and am especially partial to the memoirs of the great booksellers of the day. When Eric bought the books from the former NOBS seller who was moving to a retirement place I seized within seconds -- even in my weakened condition -- David A. Randall's Dukedom Large Enough. Randall spent much of his career selling rare books for Scribner’s and rubbed elbows with all the major players of the era including my heroine, Belle da Costa Greene,  whom he described as  "the FORMIDABLE  Belle Da Costa Greene" (use search box to find related blog post).

I’m telling you  those were the days to be an antiquarian though. The stuff Randall got his hands on included one of the few extant original copies of the Declaration of Independence, first edition, first state copies  of every major work by anybody who was anybody in American literature, and  the remains of Washington Irving’s  handwritten manuscript of The Sketchbook which still contained Rip Van Winkle in its entirety -- 38 leaves. But here’s the part that will blow your mind. During the Depression the high end commanded prices in four figures and sometimes as high as five! Book collecting was very much a rich man’s pleasure, yet it’s not really the prices that make me yearn for a time travel machine. It’s the reverence for the book itself, the pleasure of building an imaginative library one book at a time.

Imagine the shock and awe if these sellers from the past resurrected long enough to observe the current state of the industry, especially internet pricing and sellers who have never entertained the notion of learning anything about the trade. They’d probably have heart attacks and be dead again within the hour. Admittedly, they commanded the top of the food chain just as there are still sellers today who wheel and deal in colossal numbers. But there are also plenty of current ABAA sellers who sell many of the same books I do just as there certainly were back in the good old days. The difference is that then it was a lot easier to make a living, whereas now they find themselves jockeying for position with the “may haves.” In case you’re wondering who the may-haves are they’re the people who dominate the first page of nearly every online listing with low, low  prices and caveats that their books “may have” underlining, loose pages, cracked bindings, dog-ears, or just about any other fault a book can endure. It seems to me that the true definitition of understatement is this -- our current system of purveying antiquarian books is deeply flawed.

How I would have loved being a bookseller in the golden era! Of course it was a man’s game, but Belle played with the best of them  and so did Madge Jenisen who owned Sunwise Turn and the incomparable Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, who discovered a long-lost manuscript penned by Louisa May Alcott. Actually men still dominate today at the antiquarian shows, but I don’t care a whit. It has nothing to do with me or what I’m trying to accomplish and they have been more than welcoming anyway. Besides, we're all shouldering the same changes, problems, and concerns for the future.

Well, this has certainly been a roundabout way to get to what I thought was my major point, but apparently wasn’t! I hoped to tell you about a great book I read and offer a list of titles I’ve loved in this genre. So if you’re interested in reading about books here’s a sampling in no particular order, just as they came to mind. Some are about the rare book trade, others about new books. I loved them all and have plenty more if you're interested

Time Was Soft There, A Paris Sojourn At Shakespeare & Co, Jeremy Mercer.; Picador, 2005

Dukedom Large Enough; Reminiscences of A Rare Book Dealer 1929-1956, David A. Randall;,Random House, 1962

The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter; A Rare Bookman In Search of American History, Charles P. Everitt, Little Brown, 1952

Sunwise Turn, A Human Comedy of Bookselling, Madge Jenison; E.P. Dutton, 1923

The King’s English, Betsy Burton; Gibbs Smith, 2005

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, A Memoir, A History; Lewis Buzbee; Greywolf Press, 2006

Old and Rare; Thirty Years in the Book Business, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern; Abner Schram, 1974

A Memory of Vermont; Our Life in the Johnny Appleseed Bookshop 1930-1965, Margaret Hand; Harcourt, Brace, 1967

The Seven Stairs; An Adventure of the Heart, Stuart Brent; Simon & Schuster, 1962

Book Row; An Account and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade, Marwin Mondlein and Roy Meador; Carroll & Graf, 2004

Black Sun, The Brief  Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby, Geoffrey Wolf; Random House, 1976

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And Sometimes You Lose ...

As the old saying goes, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Yesterday was a losing day at the book sale, though rather impresssively so, if that counts for anything. It’s too bad too, as my friend Cheryl had never been to a library sale, and had to have been grandly underwhelmed by this one. Not only did we buy so little we carried it out by hand, but there wasn’t even any drama and trauma such as I’ve reported in the past to liven things up. The sole high note was lunch at a Chinese restaurant across the street from the library with my bookseller friend Paul.

This is usually a decent sale, but something went way off the rails last night. As always, I buy mostly from the specials, but this time they offered nothing but trash -- Harvard classics, stray volumes of sets, cheap editions by unknown authors etc. etc. and all priced to the rafters. They announced that they researched everything and marked it at twenty per cent of the online value. What they forgot to say was that it was twenty per cent of the HIGHEST online value. I have many times bought books here in the $50-200 per item range without regret, but this time I was the personification of buyers’ resistance. You won’t believe it, but my entire take was one cookbook for myself, two books for the antiques mall, and a small cache of board books and chapter books for my grandsons. I can only remember one other time in fifteen years leaving a sale with nothing for online inventory, but there you have it. Needless to say, I am not anticipating their fall sale.

The crowd seemed good though and the scanners scanned their hearts out. Enough boxes of low-end items got hauled out of there to make me think that e-books must not be taking too much of a bite out that market yet. But I have a hunch that one tactic that had seemed promising to the Friends previously may well have fizzled. A couple sales ago they came up with the novel idea of boxing excess books by category and selling them sight unseen for a flat price (I think it was $15 a box). Back then it was Vegas night at the church social, but yesterday very few sellers seemed willing to gamble. Clearly the odds had favored the house and their money had turned into a donation rather than an investment.

As we were leaving with our meager bags of books  one of the sale volunteers who had been at the Akron antiquarian book fair earlier this month commented on what nice books we have. I thanked him, but got to thinking about it last night and realized that very few of them were acquired at FOL sales. The lion’s share  had come from private collections with estate sales and auctions accounting for most of the rest. I would say that less than twenty per cent derived from FOL sales, but most of which did had come from THIS particular sale! It makes me wonder if the high prices were a direct result of the poor donations. When you are trying to raise money for a cause you have no choice but to maximize the potential of what you have. The “best” book offered was an admittedly hard to find Scribner’s children’s book from 1929 in nice condition but lacking its jacket and priced at $75. One copy appears online from a Canadian seller for $150, but I harbor serious doubts about it. I will spend if I believe a book is worth it, but I have no regrets about turning this one down.

So all told, it was an odd way to spend an afternoon and evening. I am not kidding when I tell you that we left here at noon and did not return until 8 p.m. But disappointing as it was, I somehow managed to have a good time. Paul is great company, the hunan chicken was amazingly good, and Cheryl and I could talk about the price of grapes and be entertained. So no complaints, or at least not many, from this quarter.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Miracle at the Book Sale

I’m still standing upright, so we made it to Michigan for the weekend which means more bibliophilic adventures to report. In order to be on time for Tyler’s soccer game at 10:15 though we had to be out of here at seven a.m. Saturday morning, so the hijnks got a very early start. After a nice lunch out we then headed to Greenfield Village which is an adjunct to the Henry Ford Museum  and utterly enchanting. If I had had the presence of mind to bring my camera I could have shown you, but I seem unable to grasp the concept of taking pictures for pleasure. On Sunday we woke up with the chickens again and crept out the front door without waking the little one on our way to Bookstock in nearby Livonia.

This sale is so enormous it’s held in a shopping mall. We went twice before, so thought we knew the drill, but it as it turned out we didn’t which meant we wound up playing a lively round of Let’s Make A Deal. Remember that old game show where the contestants had to choose one of three doors in hopes of winning a great prize? The mall sports at least that many doors, but we zoomed confidently in on Door #1. It wasn’t until a half hour passed and we were still there by ourselves (call us slow learners) that  the truth finally dawned -- we’d chosen what game show emcee Monty Hall used to call the zonk.

By the time we got to the right door at least a dozen people had lined up which sounds bad, but actually didn’t change the outcome for us a whit. TV cables slithered across the floor like multicolored snakes which meant the elderly dealers in front (no, not US!) had to prudently pick their way through the maze. Of course that had the crazies in the back foaming at the mouth, so once again they sprinted forth leaping all hindrances in a single bound. I had to laugh though when a lone voice behind us snapped,  “What IS this, the running of the bulls?” I believe I said that myself just the other night.

As usual, we headed for the special tables which are located in Outer Mongolia and not a hotspot for the scanner types. Trouble is, the specials weren’t all that special this year. Think blue plate at the local greasy spoon. We hung around though because we knew from past experience that the volunteers  continue to fill in spaces with new offerings. Little by little we accumulated stuff, but it felt off-kilter and half-hearted. In the end our tally came to just $210 and that included the $20 admission fee. And yet – and YET – a miracle occurred! I wouldn’t call it on par with the loaves and the fishes, but it was at least the equivalent of a nice glass of wine at a wedding. Somehow our few meager bags of books priced out at over a thousand dollars.

As I was looking it all up something interesting caught my attention. For years Eric picked for the store and I picked for the internet. In the last year though he has begun to not only pick for me too, but to do it extremely well. When you look at the books we took home you could stack them up in two piles – the ones he chose and the ones I chose – and  you could clearly see the difference in the picker. My taste, as you know, has veered sharply toward older books. Eric’s, however, seems to have done the opposite. Every book he chose had an ISBN (as opposed to only two of mine) and every last one was worth no less than $45. This realization was, and is, worthy of some serious whirling and twirling which I would do right this minute if I weren't still dragging around. Seriously, this is important because now we are covering both bases, the old and the new, and doing it well. I may have won the blue ribbon for most expensive book of the day, but Eric handily won the aggregate.

Oddly enough, my best find was once again Judaica published in Israel in 1930 – a gorgeous book with a metal relief on the cover and pages of delicate tipped-in illuminations depicting the Song of Solomon (see below). The treasures at the top of the screen are all Eric’s doing. Nice, huh?

After the sale we called the gang back at the house to meet us at Bob Evans for breakfast. As soon as we assembled at our table, put in our orders, and took the first sip of  the first blessed cup of coffee of the day our son-in-law Brian asked how the sale went

“Oh, not that great," we said. "We might not even do it next year.”

Yeah -- right. And we won't be having Christmas either J

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shaking It Up In Shaker Heights

We did not hit the road for Cleveland the day after I last posted after all. I overdid it packing the 100 boxes of  books and paid for it big-time. The crone returned in all her hunched over glory --  all she needed was a cauldron in which to toss some eye of newt and central casting would have hired her on the spot for the opening scene of Macbeth. I ended up missing the NOBS meeting again and  was so upset over it you’d have thought I slept through Christmas. I had been taking notes on things I wanted to ask or to comment on, but by the time we meet again it won’t matter because the book fair will be ancient history.

Yesterday I was better though so Eric agreed we could go to the Shaker Heights sale as long as I swore not to pick up anything heavier than a Kleenex. We went early, parked our bags at the library and were actually first in line, though it didn’t matter because when the sale started the crazies roared down the hall like the bulls at Pamplona. Not that I cared because we headed straight for the specials room and remained there for the duration. But once again this lack of civility symbolizes everything I dislike about online selling these days.

Anyway, after we stashed our bags at the library we went to explore some places we’d been wanting to check out. First stop was a storefront on Shaker Square where a long time bookseller and collector was selling off part of his collection. Because he’s so well known and we missed the first day of the sale due to my bad back we found that  it  had been picked over like a turkey carcass the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so of course we didn’t get anything. That’s okay though because right next door was a charming Hungarian restaurant called Balaton where we enjoyed a wonderful soup the name of which I can’t recall, fabulous bread, and  stuffed cabbage. I love ethnic restaurants, but here in Medina they don’t exactly sprout on every street corner. So this was a great treat.

After that we headed over to Loganberry Books, a store so enchanting it’s like entering a third dimension.  I knew I would swoon when I saw it because I’ve visited online many times, but the sheer size of it, plus the never-ending surprises far surpassed my expectations. The only thing that was missing was Otis the cat who stayed home that day, but we nonetheless left happy, satiated and $118 poorer. I also loved the display of altered books, an art form very similar to what I do with my collage. I’ve dabbled in it a little, but every time I see a display like this it makes me want to learn more. I would join their group in a heartbeat were it not for the fact that it’s an hour each way from Medina.

The other thing about Loganberry we wanted to see is what I refer to as the magnum opus on the side of the building (photos above and below). The mural stretches  an astonishing 74 feet across and was created by Cleveland artist Gene Epstein who photographed and enlarged each book, the titles of which came from community suggestions. It’s  printed on a special coated vinyl that can withstand harsh weather – at least for a decade or so. Truly, it’s a dazzler.

As for the library sale, in some ways it felt like an afterthought, but was still fun, especially considering that  we managed not to get trampled like a pair of bugs and I spent lots of time talking to one of my favorite sellers. I didn’t buy a lot because the prices are high in the specials room – I think maybe I got 20 books or so, but they’re in the garage on the bookshelves because I can’t  bring one more thing into  my office until I process what I already have or  the Magical Makeover will be history. I did, however, isolate my favorite thing ( see below). It’s a Jewish Bible made of metal and encrusted with stones. It was printed in Israel, written in both Hebrew and English, and illustrated with color plates. I’m probably going to hang onto it for awhile, or forever, depending on how I feel later.

So there you have the latest shenanigans from these parts. Now if only I can keep upright we might even have some more!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Notes From the Book Trail

Easter is already a passing memory, a blur of plastic eggs, baskets, cooking, birthday celebrations and little boys racing around the football field in post-rain wildness. Reality showed up bright and early Monday morning with big demands and no mercy. By 7 a.m. we were on the road headed toward Cleveland to retrieve the books Eric bought late last week. Our friend’s son helped, which was great – I shudder to think what time we’d have gotten home had he not. The problem is that even though we packed one hundred boxes a quarter of the books require a second trip. The store’s enormous cube van is roomy, but Eric feared we might be exceeding the weight limit, so we stopped at the hundred mark (we also ran out of boxes!). We do, however, deserve straight A’s for efficiency. I packed the boxes, Eric put them on the dolly and took them outside, and Andy hefted them onto the truck. Once we got them home the guys unloaded them into the garage and stacked them neatly against one wall.

Today every muscle in my back keens like a hired mourner at an Irish wake. If I’d had the sense God gave a gnat I would have gone inside and worked on something else when we got home, but did I? Of course I didn’t. Within five minutes of Andy’s departure I was out there rifling through the boxes in search of buried treasure. I wish I could say I found a lot of it, but I didn’t.  As I had guessed and Eric confirmed, most of the books dropped in online value. In fact, had I gone along to see them I may not have bought them, or at least offered less for them. We’ll do okay – it’s not that -- but it’s a lot of work for what it is, despite the fact that the lawyer seems to think we got  the Crown Jewels.

The best book so far is the 1933 signed limited first edition of Ohio Indian Trails by Frank Wilcox which I’ve had  twice before. It sells in the three figure range, but I’m not putting it online this time. Last weekend at the antiques mall I sold that beautiful Ohio book I told you I bought at the book fair, so I’m thinking I might haul the Indian Trails over there too and save some on the commission. As I’ve mentioned at least two billion times, my love affair with online selling has drifted so far south it’s been sighted somewhere off the coast of Georgia.

I did, however, find a lot of stuff for the mall already, which is good, because even with all the books we’ve gotten in here in the last few months my stash isn’t looking all that “stashy” these days. So far I also found eleven titles to list online (see photo below), so that’s good too. As much as I would like to pull the plug on the internet of course I can’t really do it. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

Here’s a jaw-dropping statistic for you though. In the last month I uploaded a grand total of ten books to my various sites – that’s right, TEN books – primarily because of the cold and the book fair. Why I have sold anything at all is anybody’s guess, but it’s certainly been nothing to write home about. So today there’s no choice but to hunker down and do some serious listing. In addition to the new books from yesterday I have quite a lot that I’d been hoarding for the book fair. I actually like to list – it’s what comes with it that I’m not so crazy about. But I’ll make a pot of dark roast coffee and lose myself in the process, which should make for a satisfying day even if I do mutter endless curses at what I see on the screen.
Then come tomorrow morning we’ll hit the road again in search of yet more books. Believe it or not, we have another lead in Cleveland.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Books, Baskets, Chairs & Monsoon Easter

Well, so much for my great prediction about the book collection we made an offer on three years ago and reiterated two years ago. I clearly remember stating in my last post  that I was certain this third opportunity would wind up being just one more wild goose chase. In part this was because it was never made clear to me that this time the books were really up for grabs. So Thursday night  I sent Eric along by himself to have another look and submit a new offer based on current prices. I knew without even seeing them again that most of the books had dropped in value, but was equally certain that the owner would still demand at least the original offer.  So when the automatic garage door rose signaling my book warrior’s return from the wilds I didn’t even fly out the door like a banshee to hear the verdict.

“I got them,” he said by way of greeting as I looked up from the book I was reading.

“You got them?”

“Yes, I got them. And for half the original offer. You were right – a  lot of them had dropped drastically. But I think it was a fair offer and we still did okay.”

“He actually TOOK that?”

“He did. Right away too.”

 It’s a good thing I’m not a gambler. The big problem now is that we have to retrieve them which sounds easier than it is because the house sits very high on a bluff and I am pretty much useless this time due to fibro pain from the ORDEAL which has my whole left side screaming. Eric is hoping to hire a friend’s son who’s working only sporadically at the moment. So fingers crossed on that one!

As we speak I should be getting ready for what we have dubbed Monsoon Easter due to’s prediction of 36 hours of rain.  We never celebrated last weekend due to the book fair, so I have a ton to do to get ready. The kids will be here from Maryland and Michigan today and tomorrow the games will begin. I made the baskets, filled 38 plastic eggs with treats, including a special silver dollar for each little guy, and cleaned a lot of the house. Today I have to finish the latter and prep what food I can. I kept it simple with a baked ham, curry rice, fresh asparagus, rolls, and that salad made from romaine, avocado, candied pecans, fresh pears and Roquefort cheese in a mustard vinaigrette. For dessert I’m baking a raspberry cake from scratch.

Yesterday I managed to haul some books to the antiques mall for the weekend, but I’m mad at myself for not taking a photo of that gorgeous Ohio book I got at the book fair. This thing is amazing, so what do I do but put in a box and take it away. We also took over two green leather chairs I got at an estate sale over a month ago. The gunsmith at our store (antique firearms), redid the legs and they look amazing. I totally love these chairs. There were four originally, but the owner kept one, so I kept one too, and just took the pair as per the instructions of my antiques dealer friend Darwin. He and I both really grooved on these, but I think Eric is much less dazzled. I guess they’re one of those things you either find drop-dead gorgeous or totally ugly.

Today’s post  had few booky picture possibilities, so what you are seeing above is the lone green chair, with some books needing to be listed, the plastic eggs, and one of the kids’ Easter baskets. I know, I know -- not exactly an Ansel Adams moment, but the best I can do.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Perfect Book Fair Book

Here we are three days post-book fair and already I’m hoarding new books like a squirrel with a pile of October acorns. Eric and I are shamelessly emboldened by our success at the Akron show and are now entertaining the notion of the Cleveland NOBS show this fall. Last year we couldn’t do it because he had another show for his business that day (it’s only a single day event) and we really didn’t have a great inventory anyway. But I bought some books Monday – architecture and Asian art – and they’re pretty darn good, especially the two stand-outs pictured above.

We have a shot at some other books too, but this is really an odd situation. Three years ago we received a call from an attorney about a collection needing to be sold to settle an estate. We went to see it and offered $4000, but were refused. I was a little disappointed, but not a whole lot, so was amazed when a year later we were offered it again. Though we assured him that the same offer held, we still didn’t get the books! I’d long since forgotten about the whole thing, but now, out of the blue, comes a THIRD try. Of course an offer made three years ago in this volatile market is stone cold dead and I told the guy that on the phone. If we go see them we have to start from scratch. He agreed, but something tells me we’re off on another wild goose chase because I doubt very much they’re worth what they were in 2009. The interesting part though is that no one else has snapped them up in the interim. Bottom line – I don’t care one way or the other.

All of this did get me to thinking though about the perfect book fair book, if such a thing exists. From my meager three years experience doing book fairs I would nominate something by, or about, Mark Twain. Our first year we sold a first edition Twain, the title of which I embarrassingly can’t recall for the simple reason that I got it right before the fair and sold it on the closing bell two days later. This year we also sold My Father, Mark Twain written and signed by Twain’s daughter Clara Clemons, an amazing feat considering the fact  that I’d forgotten a box of books by the door when we left home Friday, so it never got to the fair until Saturday. The third reason I’d nominate Twain is because this year’s door prize basket (which I never got around to showing you due to my galloping case of the winter crud) featured a brand new copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain which in itself (never mind the coffee, scone mix, jam and giant mugs) attracted so many entries the collection box looked like Santa Claus’s mid-section.

Of course sometimes an ideal book fair book can be one you price too low which causes it to get snatched up by a dealer before the sale even begins. This year that happened to us no less than four times. Included on the list was the Ravenna Bible which I showed you not long ago, but I was okay with that because I tripled my money even with the twenty per cent dealer discount. The other books which were also fine with me included a children’s book in a box that Eric bought last week and a first edition of The Great Lakes and the Vessels That Plough Through Them which I bought three years ago and am tired of looking at. It’s one of those books that lists at a lofty price, but no one seems to like it that much. There IS, however, one book that was bought by a dealer that makes me  totally crazy. Okay – batten down the hatches because a mini-rant is about to be unleashed.

Last year I bought  a first edition of the racy poem The Wild Party which everything in me said was a humdinger of a book. (You can find it here on the blog using the key word search.) But of course copies had landed in the  hands of sellers who want only to move the product without learning anything about it, so the online price, even for a first, had plummeted to the basement. I stuck my copy in the closet and left it there until last week when I hauled it out and discovered that it hadn't improved an iota. Briefly I debated it, but finally marked it up slightly over what I paid and took it to the fair where an out of state dealer IMMEDIATELY grabbed it. To be fair, we scored two Ohio titles from two different dealers at give-away prices too so that handily made up for it. But it still frosts me that people who don’t love books can manage to destroy the online market and ...
As we speak, one last box of Frank Lloyd Wright titles clamors for my attention, so  on that note I think I'm going to shut up now and go see about them. In just five short months I'll be needing some perfect book fair books. Who knows? Maybe Frank's the man for the job.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Talking Fairly

Whew! The Akron book fair is over and life is slowly returning to normal. I have lots of things to talk about today, but I think considering all the build-up, I will focus on the fair and leave the rest for another day. It was a little iffy as to whether or not Eric would be manning the booth by himself, but I rallied on Tuesday and worked like a maniac playing catch-up. We showed up on Friday, the first day, traveling a little light. But in the end  maybe less was more, as we wound up having (by a considerable margin)  the best of the three fairs we’ve done. While I was thrilled –  and truly still am – our own situation temporarily  skewed my vision of the fair in the broader context. It’s only today that I am able to take off the rose colored glasses and have a hard look at both the good and the bad.

On the positive side, this year we experienced much less price resistance and no one – NO ONE – asked us if we would take $20 for a $200 book. We had one scanner in the booth, but he was there last year and just like then worked assiduously on all of our firearms titles. While I still think it’s rather crass to scan in a retail sales venue, I didn’t even care this time. In the overall scheme of things it was the equivalent of a whining gnat – pesky, but not worth hauling out a can of Raid over. Did he buy anything? Of course he didn’t, but then I already knew he wouldn’t.  

The flip side of all this – and yes, there is one – is that the number of young people dropped precipitously this year. Gone were the young architect and his wife, gone the fun guy who bought his artist wife the pin-up girls, gone the young guy who bought Sylvia Beech’s book about her famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Co., and gone, too, the cool guy from Cleveland Heights who bought an issue of Don Freeman’s One Man’s Manhattan and with whom I enjoyed a memorable talk. I missed them all – not just for the sales they represented, but for their energy, their humor, and most of all, for the future they represented. In the end everything hinges on that future, you know. EVERYTHING. We dare not for a single second  lose sight of that even if we’d been lucky enough to sell every book we’d brought. When you’re in for the long haul, as we are, it’s okay to celebrate the micro, but not at the risk of ignoring the macro.

So then, what happened? Why did the under-forty crowd  abdicate this time when last year they seemed to have a blast? I wish I knew, but I am totally and completely baffled. The large city shows – New York, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Boston seem to be on the ascent. Yes, we’re hanging on just fine in Akron, and certainly  lots of books were sold this past weekend,  but we are not consistently drawing the buyers of the future. Can they be wooed, or are they a technological lost cause? I don’t know and it’s that ignorance that scares me most.

But I don’t want to end on a sour note because there was much about this show to love. We had great publicity – several newspapers did stories and the Akron Beacon Journal sent a photographer over on Saturday. A picture of a dealer who had a copy of the much storied Gun Wad Bible made it into the print version while five or six other pictures landed online, including one taken in my booth just seconds before I sold a 19th century die-cut of a chldren's book entitled Father Christmas produced by Raphael Tuck, maker of postcards, in England. Here's the link.
We also featured talks for the first time this year during the fair – one on the worth of old books and one about book collecting, the latter given by three dealers of varied backgrounds. Both were enormous hits which required extra chairs. In fact, two my of friends who are readers, but not book collectors, stopped by the fair and heard Jim Best (aka my book guru) talk about old books. Afterwards they came back to my booth and one of them held up both thumbs and said, “your book guru ROCKS!”
As you can see, I’ve uploaded a new picture of me taken this year on my – okay, I’m finally ready to dish -- 61st birthday which coincided with this year's fair. It was at the end of the day, so the hair had gone a little wonky and the eyes a bit black-circled, but please note that the bookseller IS upright which is no small feat, all things considered!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Enticing Wellness

I’ve been gone again a long time, but by the afternoon of the last day I posted I was felled again by the same bug I had originally. Most people seem to have a second phase, and some a third (oh please let it not be me!) which is actually worse than the first one. It’s also different from the first one. The only good part is that the food aversion was gone, so I was able to eat more and gain back some of the weight I lost. But the bad part is profound fatigue and an unrelenting cough which caused  my lower back to spasm. For two days I hobbled around like a little crone trapped in the skeleton of a bird. Now it’s gone from my lower back and I can walk, but it moved up to the middle of my back and is very uncomfortable to say the least.

I was thinking about this this morning as I wrapped orders. Orders – now there’s something interesting. I have uploaded absolutely nothing in days and days which meant sales slowed from a crawl to a halt until Saturday afternoon and evening when all hell broke loose. I sold three important books on ABE that I had planned to take to the fair, one other important one on my own site, one not as crucial book on ABE, and two not crucial at all ones on alibris. How can it be? I don’t know, but it can. They equaled a fair amount of money, so March ended up not being the worst month after all which is good I guess.

But as I was saying, I was thinking about all this this morning and my thoughts settled on my bookseller friend Linda. She was such a good seller – truly relished her work, obsessed as much as me over every package, and was totally in love with the books themselves. I speak of her in the past tense because I haven’t seen her since a year ago January when she temporarily went offline to have knee replacement surgery. She even made a deal with the doctor that she had to be able to go to the Case sale in May, but when May came to Cleveland that year Linda did not. How could it be? I’ve asked myself this so many times because it was truly unimaginable to me that someone who worked with the same intensity I do could just drop out of the game. But I think maybe after these past two weeks I finally get it.

First what happens is the world shrinks to the size of your house. And then to the size of one room. And then finally to the size of your body. Everything that is not that is peripheral and dispensable. You don’t care if orders fail to come in – in fact, you prefer they didn’t. You don’t care if new books fail to get to the mall and so when the weekend’s sales are ho-hum you expect it and it doesn’t even matter. I don’t mean to say that I am giving up – not at all – but there is about me an unwelcome ennui that I can’t shake and probably won’t until I am well. Yesterday I worked on the fair with Eric’s help, but I have much to do and very little time left to do it.

The fair opens on Friday, my birthday, and I was so looking forward to it. I took out all my books yesterday and was so amazed to see that my stock is not as depleted as I feared. The sight of all those lovely books cheered me then, but today I am worried, sick, and wishing the whole thing was over. Will I be better by then? I don’t know because I think some of what is ailing me now is complications from the dreaded fibro.

But today I will price my books and bag ephemera and somehow try to entice wellness, the elusive genie hiding in the bottle.