Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bookin' A Table At the Savoy

First we need a little music, so go ahead and hit the play button. Don’t worry – you can read and listen at the same time. Jazz like this is as smooth as a gimlet.

Next we need a book. So – snap! – here’s a book! And not just any book either.

What we have on the screen is the crème de la crème of 20th century cocktail books written by Harry Craddock, head shaker at the bar of London’s elegant  Savoy Hotel. It’s still in print, but this particular one is Harry ‘s baby, a first edition from 1930. It may not look like it, but the Savoy Cocktail Book shines like the paint job on a 1930 Stuz-Bearcat ---- all metallic glitter and glam in gold, green and black. It’s so Deco it practically invented Deco. And guess what? I have TWO like copies. I knew I had one when we bought the collection by the lake in Cleveland, but the second one popped up out of a box like a rabbit from a hat.

So, now that we’ve got the music and the book we need some background.  To appreciate this book you have to know that it’s author was an American who is said to have mixed the last legal cocktail in New York the night before Prohibition kicked in. But the next morning Harry Craddock packed his bags and left in disgust for London – no backroom speakeasies for him - where he presided over the Savoy Bar from 1925 to 1939. By his own account he created 240 cocktails which may well be true considering that he has 104 containing the green siren song known as absinthe  in the book. But never mind absinthe or its spoons and sugar cubes. Harry’s signature drink was the White Lady.

So maybe we need one of those too. Okay, somebody run out and fetch some fresh lemons, Contreau, and dry gin and we’ll join the endless  stream of famous Savoy guests over the decades – George Gershwin, Noel Coward, Caruso, Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Harry Truman, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Beatles, all raising  merry glasses of  toddies, flips, nogs, slings, highballs, fizzes, coolers, shrubs, rickeys, daisies, fixes, juleps and frappes many of which are still offered at the Savoy today. The book even offers recipes for non-imbibers in a section labeled Cocktails for a Prohibition Country. This sounds tame and IS  -- except of course for when it’s not.  Mixed in with the non-alcoholic recipes are such sly potables as the Oh Harry! which consists of one-third vermouth and 2/3 hooch whisky with a sugar cube soaked in raspberry syrup or granadine.

But enough about cocktails. There’s ART to be considered here! The book’s illustration and design, which provides most of the razzle-dazzle (though the chapter by the French novelist Collette on wine deserves a nod too) is the work of Gilbert Rumbold. You’d think that after this creation and The Wayside Book there would be more biographical data available on him, but I had to scrounge to find any and what I unearthed is not all that much. He did some advertising work for the automobile industry in addition to the books and at some point lost an arm in a train accident. By the 50’s it seems he was branded a neighborhood “character” who wandered around with his art supplies painting the environs and selling the finished works -- a sad ending for an artist who personified the feel of Art Deco. Take alook  at THIS and you’ll see what I mean about Deco …

Oh, and just so you know, the Savoy has at least one literary connection. It figured prominently in the trial of Oscar Wilde, as Wilde chose the hotel to conduct his infamous love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” for “homosexual offenses” and sent to Reading Gaol, a hard labor prison which later inspired his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The edition below is from 1928.

Another sad story, but let’s not end on that note. Hit the button again and listen to Stompin’ at the Savoy. This time watch the video too!

Monday, June 25, 2012

STILL Mellow in Medina

Well, here it is Sunday and I’m still feeling fairly chipper even though the estate sale I crawled out of bed at 5:30 yesterday morning to attend was not all that great. It had been touted as one of those once in a lifetime, so-fabulous -you -will -keel -over-at–the- wonder-of -it-all sales, which maybe it was, but I sure wasn’t feeling it. A bookseller friend who was behind me in line  precisely summed up the books with my favorite word – pedestrian. How you could own a houseful of beautiful paintings, rugs, art glass, and furniture  only to have a library filled with low-end – um – well, let me use the word the estate sale workers used – “antique” books? As it was, I bought an Akron history for the mall, three minor late 19th century biographies in excellent condition, also for the mall, and an art catalog I found on a table in the living room for online. I’m not swooning (except maybe over the catalog), but I’m not ranting either, so consider this a marked improvement in my normal post-estate-sale attitude.

This morning we hit the Medina Flea Market which, as always, was more flea than market, but I did have a smattering of small successes about half way through. I  bought one hardcover book – a Datig title on gun cartridges I had before which is fairly good at $45 and one softcover book from 1904 called A Treatise on Modern Drawn Work In Color. This one’s a humdinger – self-published by a woman from Tiffin, Ohio who somehow got advertising to help offset the cost of what turned out to be a very handsome needlework book. The color plates are most attractive and the  book is quite seriously and expensively produced.

From there I picked up a soft cover two volume set of Wyoming history, a paperbound centenary history of a town in Kansas, a souvenir of the inaugural voyage of  the S.S. Aquarama, a 1950’s cruise ship, which has great color photos of high times on the high seas. Think  Ozzie and Harriet  take a cruise. Oh, and just as we were leaving I  spotted a book about Saengerfest, a musical  event held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in 1927. This was the second to the last such celebration of German music held in Cleveland and it  proved to be quite the extravaganza with a closing concert dedicated to Beethoven on the centenary of his death. Twelve thousand people packed the hall for that one. The book is fairly thick and contains programs from all the shows, plus info on the stars. It’s really more of a paper item than a book, though it looks and feels like a book.

After the market we headed uptown to the square and -- wouldn’t you know it—once again  I failed to bring a camera. They had an antiques show in uptown park and by ten-thirty the place was already rocking and rolling. I was underwhelmed myself because the emphasis appeared to be on primitives. As my friend Cheryl said when we ran into her and her husband, “What’s with all the primitives? We’re OVER it!” Yes, we are – and we have been for decades. I found out later from my friend Darwin, the antiques dealer, that they specifically requested that kind of stuff which left him out. The whole square looked like an edition of Country Living magazine circa 1985. There WAS, however, an upside to this which I think benefited me. The crowd remained steady all day long  (we were uptown three times – once for the show, once to drop my culls to Project Learn’s bookshop, and once for ice cream at Lemonberry which I have been erroneously calling Limeberry. We walked the third time, so we saw lots of coming and going.

Anyway, sales shot up remarkably at the antiques mall yesterday and we think it very definitely had something to do with the show. The crowd was too big to be just locals, so I’m wondering if people got tired of looking at the same old stuff and decided that since they’d come so far they might as well  drop in at the mall which is only about  two miles away. I ended up selling a three volume set for $225, plus some other books in the $25-$40 range. It has been sloooooow over there since April, a phenomenon that doesn’t appear to have affected only me, which of course I thought  was the case. At Saturday’s sale THE topic of conversation among dealers of whatever who sell at malls (which is practically everybody and there are more malls than just mine) was the pronounced and unprecedented drop in revenue beginning in April.

Last year the Fourth of July weekend rocked at the mall, so now I’m hoping it will again. I remembered last night that I have these brand new red and blue oversized napkins sprinkled  with white stars which I’m going to lay over a tablecloth to decorate the ephemera table. I am going to temporarily take away most of  what’s on it and replace it with Americana and red, white and blue books of special interest standing upright in the new Lucite holders Eric bought from Brodart. I had been feeling blah about the whole thing, but after all those sales I’m jazzed again.

On that note it’s time for me to hit the online books though,  as I’ve essentially been off duty since Friday. As always, slow down production and reap the sad results!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mellow in Medina

Here it is Thursday already and almost time for the weekend acquisition parade. There are very few books available at the estates this week, so my anticipation is sub-zero. As it turns out, we didn’t go to Cincinnati after all . Eric had been keen on it originally and I less so, then he talked me into it, then I talked myself out of it, and then last Friday’s terrible estate sale first made me feel desperate to go and later deepened my suspicions that it was a bad idea. Finally, on Monday, Eric changed his mind too. We decided that if a formerly stupendous sale like Case Western Reserve University’s experienced a sharp decline in donations this year, a township library system probably isn’t staggering under the weight of collectibles either. It would have cost upwards of $300 to go, which we could easily call entertainment ,at least in part, but in the end it really wasn’t worth it.

So I keep listing and the books keep disappearing. What’s very interesting to me is that my secret site, which does not normally outperform the book sites, is steamrolling ahead of alibris ten to one which makes me begin to think that it might be time to ditch alibris and put more muscle behind the victor. I think what’s happened here is that the more I move toward antiquarian and collectible books and ephemera the smaller my share of the alibris customer base becomes. I’m okay with it really because it’s just one less place to worry about. So far this month I have sold them ONE book so it’s not like I’m in danger of losing a small fortune. I’ve been with ABE since 1997 and with alibris  since 1999, but to tell you the truth I could walk away happily from the latter which of course I  may l be doing if things don’t pick up. ABE meanwhile has been good and Biblio better than normal (though never brisk) with several three figure sales.

The one thing I’ve learned in these fifteen years in the book biz is that change is inevitable and to stay alive you have to keep reinventing yourself. I remember thinking when I first started that the whole thing was pretty darn easy and I’d do it forever just exactly as I was doing it then. It’s laughable I know, but I did think it. Since then of course I’ve experienced  so many tweaks and turns that the only  thing I know for sure  is that I’ll be tweaking and turning until the final chapter ends. And so will everybody else.

On the bright side I’m feeling kind of mellow today. It’s high summer here – a little hotter than I’d like, but pretty glorious. It has me thinking Shakespeare (“Can I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate ...") and showers of golden sonnets set against  the lush backdrop of a rip-roaring BBC production with rolling green hills, blue skies, and endless fields of wildflowers
Last night we embarked on Part One of our 42nd wedding anniversary celebration by packing a picnic – pasta salad on a bed of fresh baby spinach, a bakery baguette, fresh fruit salad, and a bottle of a Spanish wine that we’d gotten as a gift (I don’t recommend the latter – too fruity, too bitter, too something)  and heading to Blossom Music Center in Akron which is also home to the Porthouse Theatre. We chose the theatre and had tickets for Damn Yankees which is a sillier than usual play of the musical theatre genre, but still great fun. What’s not to love about a wickedly funny devil, a gaggle of cute little kids from the area, dancing baseball players, and that old song You Gotta Have Heart?

Part Two of our celebration will be Friday. Eric is taking the whole day off so we can shop for the things needed for our upcoming house renovation project followed by a dress-up dinner in the evening. I’m not sure where we’re headed, but there’s one requirement - - it absolutely, positively must have salmon on the menu.

So. There’s what’s happening here. I was a little disappointed that more of you didn’t chime in about the state of acquisition on my last post, but I really didn’t think you would. Maybe it’s all been said before. Maybe you aren’t experiencing it. I don’t know.  Here in northeastern Ohio it’s a huge problem, but for now just call me Scarlett.

I’ll think about it tomorrow.
No, I won’t either.

Maybe Saturday.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Booking A Conversation

As usual, there’s been too much running around and not enough time for anything else. I had planned to post Friday after the estate sale we went to, but came home so demoralized I couldn’t bear to bore you with the awfulness of it. In a nutshell, this particular company has been raising their prices on books exponentially right at the moment when the future of  the printed book hangs in the balance. It’s interesting to me how all these years when books were a hot commodity I could pick them up at this company’s estates for $2-4 a volume and now when prices are tumbling for most titles they think they’ve joined the revolution!

To give you an idea of how truly bad this has gotten they had a mind boggling array of early hard cover Grace Livingston Hill and Emily Loring titles priced at $10 each. You can buy these for peanuts online ( though why would you want to?) and even less at sales where they pop up as frequently as dandelions. They also had a copy of an Akron title  --  A Centennial History of Akron 1825-1925 – which I’ve sold three times over the years at $45, $40 and (most recently) $35. Theirs? A ridiculously optimistic $45! I think perhaps what bothers me most is that every time they run an ad they brag about their “always reasonable” prices. I used to really like this sale, but I think I’m about done with it. I know I’ve said that before, but truly this is getting outlandish.

We had also planned to go to a second sale Friday night, a fancy one  with wine and food, but I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm after wasting three hours in the morning. So guess what happens Satuday afternoon? I hear from my antiques dealer friend Darwin who tells me he bought five books on Oriental rugs for his own reference library only to find that one about Caucasian rugs, for which he paid $6,  lists online in the $200-300 range. I’m happy for him, but it’s possible that he just got lucky. Still, it I did make me wonder what else I missed. By the time we showed up on Sunday there was very little left. I bought three workaday titles for $2 each and will probably sell them in in the $20-25 range, so no big excitement.

I did, however, snag a gorgeous table for the antiques mall (see above). I got a tremendous deal on it and knew I could easily triple my money  at the mall, but now I don’t want to sell it. We took it home, put it in our formal living room “just to see” and immediately roots sprung out of its legs and through  the wood floor into the basement ceiling where they knotted themselves into an impenetrable snarl. So I guess that pretty much killed that idea. I did get an ugly chair, much like the other ugly chairs I sold in my booth (no, Saturday Evening Post, NOT the green ones), which is good because it gives people somewhere to sit to check out the lower shelves. Because of their extreme beauty, the GREEN chairs had been cordoned off – no sitting allowed.

So there was my weekend,  a rather strange one which made me think again of Linda, my bookseller friend who temporarily dropped out to have a knee replacement and never came back. Linda loved the estates and bought a good deal of her inventory there. Today you’re lucky to find an estate sale that advertises books at all  and when you do you have  to brace yourself before you can even think about entering  the fray. If estate sales were my primary source I’d sell maybe two books a month at this rate.

It probably seems to you that I'm awash in books anyway given the collections we bought recently, but I have been listing pretty steadily, so lately a sense of panic overcomes me when I see the pile in the office diminishing even AFTER the books I got with Cheryl last week. Remember, too,  that the one collection we got was comprised totally of Ohio titles which will sell in their own (sloooow) sweet time. Everything in me screams that the sale I told you about in Cincinnati will not be the golden event of two years ago, but I’m desperate enough to pay it no mind. I’m over the part about finding the rare magazines there, so it's not that. I know that was a fluke never to be repeated, but I’m worried enough about summer’s slower acquisition rate to book a hotel anyway.

I know I've been yakking about all of this for at least a year and hope I'm not boring you to death with it.  The only reason I bring it up today is that I'm wondering if maybe we could start a conversation here. I really want to know what you guys think! If you're a bookseller, or even a seller of vintage whatevers, please join in and let's talk. Antiques dealers and booksellers complain about the very same things these days -- acqusition is harder, prices are higher when you buy and lower when you sell, and the trend is away from both books and antiques. So, that being said, whadda ya think? Wanna talk?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's On the Bag!

I wish I could tell you that the reason I haven’t been here is because of all the work I’ve accomplished, but that wouldn’t be true. There’s a been a fair amount of lollygagging going on, especially yesterday when I indulged in a four hour lunch with my neighbor Linda. It was her birthday so we went to Sully’s Irish Pub for lunch and then to Limeberry for frozen yogurt which we ate while sitting on a bench on the sidewalk like we had nothing to do but watch the people with agendas stream by. I wish I’d taken my camera as Medina sparkled in the sun like a glossy Chamber of Commerce ad.

One funny thing did happen though. For some time now my friend Darwin has been encouraging me to view estate sales as a venue for buying  things other than books – nice things, practical things that can save you a ton of money. So this winter I finally got into the swing of it and bought two vintage purses (I have quite a penchant for these, but used to pay top dollar from vintage clothing people), a tape dispenser, and a giant basket of acrylic paints, for which I paid $2, $1.50 and $5 respectively. As it happened, it was January  when I bought the gorgeous straw purse shown above, so I stashed it in the closet and pretty much forgot about it But just as we were leaving for lunch I remembered it, raced upstairs to get it, and quickly dumped the contents of my old purse into it before I flew out the door.

I had to go to the post office to ship books (Eric has been in Indiana for a week), so I decided to get that odious job out of the way first. Going to this particular post office is an ordeal for which one would be well advised to chug down a bottle of pino grigio in advance . I had no choice though  because the one sole foreign order zapped the possibility of going to the branch at the grocery store where life is good and people are nice. But – surprise, surprise! – behind the counter stood  a new young man, a young man who smiles at you and will even read the numbers on the address for a Woman of a Certain Age who’d forgotten her glasses and was squinting to fill out the customs form. I can’t tell you what a rush this was. I was so happy with the whole thing  I even snuck an admiring look at the new purse when I put my checkbook back. That’s when I saw it – the small $2 price tag facing out on display for the long line of customers to view! At least it was a major good deal. These straw purses, especially with a label, do not come cheap – unless of course you buy one for $2 in the back bedroom of a house in Wooster. My fashionista friend Jessica (the only friend  I have who carries a dog in her bag) stopped by this morning and declared it a major score.

Despite all the fun and games I did manage to get a lot of books listed this week and even sold some. Sales seem excruciatingly  slow to me, but when I look at the numbers I’m doing better this month than last, thanks in part to three vintage children’s books Eric got when I was sick from the woman who used to be an antiquarian seller and belonged to NOBS. I even tossed a little virtual confetti over the one pictured below, as it’s fairly scarce and commanded a good price on my secret site (it also sold in two hours!). Actually I sold FOUR books over there this week, but I think that streak’s deader than Gingrich’s run for the presidency.  Even my Alice Under Ground which, as you may recall, had been lost for months in my mall  booth where someone had deliberately hidden it, failed to dazzle them. If they aren’t charmed by THAT (see photo below) than I doubt I’m going to be winning any popularity contests soon. The only real bright spot is the chairs. Remember the pair of fabulous green leather designer chairs (oh, Saturday Evening Post, ye of little faith) I took to the mall? Well, I sold them for $425!

Eric’s been gone all week though, so that’s been a bummer. He’s coming back tomorrow (not soon enough!) and perhaps then we’ll do that thing we used to like – estate sale shopping (I need serious furniture for the mall again). The estates sales have just been dreadful here of late. I can’t recall going to anything since before the antiquarian show. We’re also thinking we might take a little road trip to Cincinnati next week. Two years ago we hit a nice sale there where within two seconds I’d found a pair of rare Knight Errant magazines that sold  here on my blog a year after I wrote about them. We’d planned to go last year, but my friend  Jessica (she of the dog in the purse) gave us tickets for Jersey Boys for my birthday and – wouldn’t you know – it  coincided with the sale. It’s a long haul to Cincy though and requires a hotel which makes it expensive, but Eric is pushing to do it, so I guess we will.

I’m not expecting much though. Lightning, or so they say, never strikes twice. When it comes to computers that's actually a GOOD thing! But with book sales --  not so much.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Birdie At the Book Sale

Okay, first the bad news. Stupid NBC canceled my favorite show Who Do You Think You Are? Why am I even surprised?  As soon as any of the networks (with the exception of PBS) picks up anything intelligent they sell out  for mindless trash reality shows that will rake in the big bucks. Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay – I hear you -- no rant today. But I do want to go on record as saying that I am really, really, REALLY disappointed.

Now then, I am also feeling pretty chipper today. Cheryl and I went to Berea yesterday to the book sale which is always a treat due to the drop dead gorgeous lake across the street. This is an urban lake too so check out  what we saw! We think he’s a  great blue heron, but even though he looks grey in the picture, he was pretty white in person, so we’re not entirely sure. We have herons at the lake in our backyard and they DO look like this, but I’ve only seen them from a distance. This guy was certainly impressive though, especially when he picked his way over a couple boulders on those skinny-minnie straw-like legs, then spread wings (that would rival the span of a Piper Cub), and soared off over the water which sparkled in the sun like a million tiny pave diamonds. By the time we tore ourselves away it was almost time for the sale.

This is the library I told you about earlier where you pick a number at random to get in. It’s also the one which is banning scanning after this sale. The natives were all there for one last hurrah I guess, but aside from much moaning and groaning about their numbers, they were at least  reasonably subdued. I pulled a rather high number myself, but it didn’t matter too much even though this time the tiny specials room was JAMMED. I still got a lot of books though, almost all without ISBNs,  and quadrupled what I paid, so what’s to complain about?

After we hauled my several heavy bags out to the car we decided to hit Olive Garden for dinner. Cheryl ordered some cheesy shrimpy pasta thing that looked pretty great and I had Mediterranean chicken. We laughed and talked for hours and then talked some MORE in my driveway which means I didn’t get  in the house until 9:30. When I saw the time on the microwave I thought for sure it was wrong and ran upstairs to double check. That’s when I saw the SALES – amazing, wonderful, over-the-moon happy SALES -- two of which were on my secret site and both for books I just put up (see photos below). 

My favorite is  Paris Cafes, Salons and Studios published in the 20’s when the Lost Generation hung out at Sylvia Beach’s American bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. There’s a great photo in it of Sylvia herself with James Joyce, the Irish author of the much-banned Ulysses. It’s amazing how such an experimental book which is barely accessible to a tenth of the population could create such a red-hot furor! Anyway, the buyer, an Australian, loves this period too so I was happy enough to dance an Irish jig around the office, and might have, if it were possible to step between the piles of books. All the work I’d done this week fell apart when I hauled in three enormous tote bags of books from the Berea sale. But summer can be a tough time for buying inventory, so I’ll be happy later.

Actually, I’m happy NOW. And if NBC would realize what a wrong-headed move it was to cancel Who Do you Think you Are? I’d be downright ecstatic.

P.S. Photo of Birdie by Cheryl Sturgeon who's photos have appeared more than once in theWestfield Insurance Company's annual calendar.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ethnic Stew; Or Another Dip In the Gene Pool

Perhaps you recall that at Christmas my sister took a DNA test and sent it to Family Tree, the organization that, in part, sponsors my latest TV addiction, Who Do You Think You Are? It’s not on anymore since it’s summer, so Friday nights lack their former zip around here. But don’t let me get started on how these so-called TV seasons amount to less than a flea-bite out of what used be to a season. What I wanted to tell you is that our family dipped another toe into the gene pool a few weeks ago and, once again, came up with a surprise. Ever since my sister livened up Christmas with the astounding revelation of our Jewish roots my oldest daughter and her husband wanted to have a go at it too. So last month they gave other each other a DNA test for their birthdays.

As you know, we were in Michigan over the weekend. The timing was exquisite, as the test results had just come in, though Moira’s were a tad disappointing since the number of Asians already in the computer was not enough to provide the slew of matches most people get. They assured her that the numbers were growing though and as  new DNA came in she would be notified of any close matches. It sounds like a dud I know, but it wasn’t. In fact, her test results provided the biggest surprise of all! Her husband had always believed his family to be English, Irish and Scotch with one-eighth Native American. The test showed English, Irish , Scotch,  French,  and Italian. But Native American? Nope, just a family story that didn’t pan out.

Moira, on the other hand, was born in Seoul, South Korea and was theoretically  Korean. But it turns out once again that what you think is not necessarily what you are. My Korean daughter is one hundred per cent Japanese with a .01 margin of error! While I’m stunned that the percentage is so high,I wasn’t surprised enough to need resuscitation because of three incidents,  all of which occurred in the first two years of her life. The first was shortly after she arrived in 1975 at age five months. At the time we had sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family with the stipulation that we would find them jobs, a place to live etc. They arrived in April and lived with us about two months, but by September when Moira showed up they were all set up in their own place, fully self-sufficient. So we took her over to their house almost right away where everyone waited expectantly. Of course she was a huge hit, but then all it takes to make the Baby Hit Parade is a toothless grin and a willingness to be passed around like  a box of chocolates. As we were leaving though the Dad took me aside and whispered, “Your baby is not Korean. Does not look Korean. ”

I didn’t pay much attention to it, but then about six months later a Japanese couple approached us at the mall and asked if the baby we were pushing in the stroller was ours. We said she was and that we had adopted her from Korea. Immediately the husband shook his head  emphatically “no”.

 “She came from Korea, yes,” he agreed. “But she is not Korean. This baby is Japanese.”

Again, we pretty much dismissed it, though conceded that since Japan had occupied Korea there was a chance that she was perhaps part Japanese. The subject never came up again until another  six months later when our babysitter’s family sponsored a Japanese foreign exchange student. One evening we hired a different babysitter and took both girls to a dinner theatre to see Fiddler on the Roof. On the way home Noreiko told me how much she loved playing with Moira.

“But I don’t think she’s Korean,” she said.  “I think she’s Japanese like me.”

You would  think that three such instances in rapid-fire succession  would give a parent a new perspective, right?  Well, maybe not so much if those parents are us. We filed the notion away in a mental folder marked Odd Occurrences That May, or May Not, Be True and never gave the subject much credence for the simple reason that it didn’t matter. We not only thought our gorgeous little girl hung the moon, but crayoned in the mysterious Man who supposedly lived there too. Believe it or not, no one ever again from that day forward whispered a word about Moira being Japanese either.

So when I heard the news last week I initially jumped up and hollered “Whaaaaaaaaat?” And then right away sat back down again. On some level I think I knew she was at least part Japanese all along

Once I realized that though my next thought was what about our younger daughter  Catie and Moira’s two little boys, all of whom were also adopted from Korea? Are they entirely Korean, or perhaps a mix? Or could they be 100 per cent something else? For now we don’t know, but I have a hunch we will someday.

What I know right now  is that Moira gave me a coupon for $100 off the price of  testing, so I think I might go ahead and do mine just to see how my percentages match my sister’s.

There won’t be any surprises this time of course. But that’s okay. I think there will be more down the line. The entire family wants to do it now!

P.S. The two little boys above are our grandsons and their mommy is Moira who is at the right in the same line (she no longer has the Polynesian Princess hair). Our Catie is in the middle and Eric and I are on either side. Together we’re a stew of Irish, Portuguese, German, Swiss, Korean, Japanese, (that tiny bit of Bedouin my sister turned up) and who-knows-what-else!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Of Books and Bubbles

I have lots to talk about today, as we have twice been to the Case Western Reserve University book sale and to Michigan for our grandson’s third birthday. The take-away message from the last event is this – we should all stop worrying and working so much and invest in a plastic lawn mower that trails clouds of bubbles in its wake when you push it around the backyard. Then we should order ourselves  a bakery cake with Mickey Mouse on it and get ten people to sing Happy Birthday to us whether it’s our birthday or not. Judging by the high hilarity and transcendent joy of the little one who had all these things happiness is much closer and simpler than we realize.

Having said that, I did very much enjoy this year’s book sale too, as the crowd for the preview was down considerably which meant I got to talk to Peter and Patrick even though they were ahead of us in the relatively short line. We even had time for coffee and were able to leave without wondering if our bags would be trampled like grapes in a vat when we got back. The crowd proved polite and calm, probably due to the fact that  it was so easy to walk around with none of that grab-it-now-or-you’ll-never-see-it-again feeling that makes my brain freeze harder than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

There WAS one piece of very bad news though and I am still wearing black in mourning. My favorite spot, the antiquarian section, will no longer exist after this sale due to the fact that donations of such age and quality are in short supply. I usually load up over there, but this year bought only two significant things – a four volume set of Don Quixote published in Dublin, Ireland in 1796 and in amazingly good condition and a book entitled Some Letters of Edgar Allan Poe to E.H.N. Patterson of Oquawka, Illinois With Comments by Eugene Field. The second I saw the latter I went temporarily mad with desire, but didn’t buy it on Saturday because it was $60 and I had already sprung for Quixote. But then all the way to Michigan I pined – yes, PINED -- for it. So of course first thing Monday I sent Eric off to find it, which he did, a fact I still can't believe considering how many books had been sold! This book contains actual facsimile letters leaved through the text which is printed on fabulous handmade paper. But get this – the book was published in 1898 for The Caxton Club by R. R. Donnelly & Sons. Print run, 186 copies, THREE of which were printed on vellum! Mine is not vellum, but mine is gorgeous and cost only $30 on half-price day!

The number of books overall at the sale appeared to be less though and of course the number of early dealers was down too, but even so the sale proved to be a spectacular success which gives further proof to the notion that the physical book is FAR from dead, slow internet sales to the contrary. In fact, SO successful was it that they made more money on the first day than what’s normal for the entire four days! It makes me wonder if people yearn for bookstores, if buying online has become a frustrating and, in some ways, crass endeavor which doesn’t hold a scented candle to the experience of browsing through REAL books you can actually see and hold. I know I loved it and at times forgot the business aspect entirely and just drifted along in a bibliophilic haze of happiness.

I could be wrong of course and the success really had to do with Facebook, Twitter, and hyper technology. But I would rather not think so. In my mind the sale was kind of like the plastic lawnmower, the Mickey Mouse cake, and ten people singing Happy Birthday.
Good. All good.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Great Purge Plan

Another month has ended and I have written only seven blog posts even though  May gifted me with an extra day! I am greatly dismayed to see this, as I had been writing at least a dozen posts a month for more than a year. It seems though that these recent days of bookselling have been the hardest of my fifteen year career. Partly it’s because of the fading public desire for physical books, but it’s also because of what a bookseller needs to do to succeed in this decade of blazing technological change. The motto seems to be “We can, therefore we must.”

I hate to sound like an old lady sitting on the porch swing reminiscing about the good old days, but I do think it’s interesting that I managed to write thirteen published books while being a bookseller during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Today I couldn’t take time to  write my NAME, much less a sentence, or God forbid, strings of sentences that weren’t about books. Today I not only write researched descriptions for my titles, but I also take photographs, and engage in endless social media. I confine the latter to blogging (which I love), facebook, linked-in, and twitter (which I do not) and still feel like I’m running like a hamster in a maze.

There’s a number of reasons why this is so for almost all sellers – the deluge of online “dealers”, an economy still struggling to get its sea legs, e-readers, print-on-demand, free downloads  etc. – but even THAT’S just part of the equation. For years books came our way in vast quantities (Elmer’s enormous collection and the bookstore we bought in LaPort, Indiana spring to mind) and at reasonable prices. Back then I was the typical commodity seller though, only beginning to make the switch to antiquarian and collectible titles. Now that I have seriously  zeroed in on my goal the time spent with each book I list has become exponentially protracted, but also vastly more interesting. However, the desire to build a better, higher quality  list has also resulted in two other consequences I’m not nearly as happy about. The price paid per book rose dramatically, thus decreasing the profit margin, and such books as I seek have become ever more elusive. At least twice a week people phone wanting to sell us books, but rarely do they have anything  I want to buy.

By choosing to be an antiquarian and collectible seller I have also created a shrinking online  inventory. Even though the shrinkage is of my own doing – I am purging books with a vengeance these days – there’s no question that less books translates into fewer sales. So why ever would I do this? The answer is three-fold  – a.) I want a pure list which reflects who I am as a seller at this point  n time b.) many of the titles purged can be sold in the store or at the mall and c.)I will not ship books at bargain basement prices. Right now I have a lot of new inventory, but the need to get it online is pressing (see photo of my office above!). Right now I only have about 4000 books online and the number drops exponentially every day as I purge even more. I suspect that when it’s over I’ll be down to about 2000. Fortunately, I have a lot of new inventory right now, but what I lack is sufficient time to get it listed quickly.

Which  brings me to another problem with purging. Presentation is primary to me when it comes to wrapping books, so it costs me about a dollar for every package that goes out the door, a dollar which comes straight out of the selling price. Could I do it for less? Most definitely I could, but I choose to do it this way because it pleases both me and my customers. Therefore I cannot (and don’t even want to) ship inexpensive  books.

I guess it could be argued that I’m making it all much harder than it has to be, but I don’t think so, at least not in the overall scheme of things. As we speak, the market groans under the weight of commodity booksellers (most of whom are lacking in both passion and knowledge), at a time when readers drift in significant numbers towards electronic devices. The current system simply cannot sustain itself. There WILL be fall-out and I don’t plan to be part of it.

So my new motto is  "I MUST, therefore I WILL continue to purge my inventory.