(Picture will follow, but there seems to be a technical issue. Can't load it. I finally decided to just post.)
By now you probably know all about The Last Book Sale held in Archer City, Texas last weekend by Pulitzer prize-winning author and long-time bookseller, Larry McMurtry. At age 76 McMurtry decided he was ready to close three of his four bookstores all located in this small town 150 miles west of Dallas. It was, he figured, time to allow 300,000 of his 425,000 volumes to re-enter what he calls “the river of books.” I find that phrase especially apt, as I often flash on that very image myself -- a current of books moving rapidly, volumes tumbling over volumes in their colorful, endless progression to -- somewhere. When you think about it it’s really a rather strange visual though coming from a seller like me who can’t even find a dozen good books a month these days!
By all accounts less than two hundred deep-pocketed bidders converged on Booked Up which was the name of McMurtry’s collective stores, only one of which (by design) now remains in his hands. He opened the first of them in 1988 (I actually remember this – I think I read it in Writer’s Digest magazine), but it was not the first store he’d ever had, as he’d previously owned shops in D.C. and Tucson. Is it just me, or does anyone else thinks that 150ish bidders is a very small number to show up for a sale that monumental? I’ve seen more people than that in line at the Planned Parenthood sale in Dayton. Perhaps it’s because of the remote location and the cost of hauling hundreds of pounds of books home, but that didn’t deter some dealers, and even some wannabe dealers. From such far-flung states as Arkansas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey they came, filling up cars, trucks and trailers with inventory for which they paid very little in most cases. The lion’s share of the books were divided into 1500 lots of 200 books each, and sold for under $200 a lot for the most part. The pricey items were the McMurtry 101, all handpicked titles sold individually, and deemed by their owner to be the most interesting, though not necessarily the most valuable. The biggest bucks seemed to have been spent on a book of collected erotica by Anais Nin and Henry Miller, among other authors. That one fetched $2,750 from an east coast dealer who plans to resell it.
All summer long the bookseller forums buzzed with stories of huge inventories and low sales and just this morning a friend mentioned that she’s had zero sales all week – all WEEK – from either amazon or ebay. My own online sales are down too this month,, especially from ABE, my front runner, and I certainly haven’t gotten many new books in here either – which brings up the next big question. If nobody wants books any more where are all those unwanted books hiding ? The river should be logjammed with them.
I don’t know. I truly don’t. It’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question of our profession. As I read the many McMurtry sale stories online the first book auction I ever attended played in my head like a movie. It was a good 14 years ago and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems to want me to tell it again. There used to be a small antiques mall in Akron which became home to at least three booksellers I can think of. One of them – Harry – decided he was old and it was time to close up, so he had an auction at which we bought a LOT of his inventory straight off the shelves at the mall. As we were packing up I remember going out into the hallway for more boxes and spotted Harry all by himself at the end of it. The sun was setting and there in front of a large window he stood, his back to me, a small almost-silhouette, head bowed, hands in his pockets. I remember wanting to run down the hall and tell him, no, no, it’s all been a mistake! Take them back! Take them back! I didn’t of course and eventually Harry bought more books and dove into the business again. But then eventually there came another day when we bought parts of his inventory again. By then I think he was too sick to mind much though.
Yeah, THAT thing .