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Monday, October 31, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Two, in which our first Winner is announced

Well, the competition was fierce. Creative reasoning was thin, so ultimately the selection must be made on who will benefit most. Your Bibliothecary assembled a panel of four unknown judges to review the applications, and the selection was made following a three hour deliberation, and a Twinkie break. The envelope please...

And the winner is...

Stefanie.

[Aside]:Please email your mailing address so that we can post your prize promptly.

Though this was not a unilateral choice, Stefanie clearly made an attempt to appeal (which was part of the criteria) to your Bibliothecary, by reading his blog and coming to understand him as fair-minded, kind, and generous. She was also able to discern his appreciation of humility and honesty. She already possesses the other of what works well as a pair of books on writing, and together they should be. And she did skirt the creativity condition by stating "My artistic future just might be in your hands."

All judging aside, your Bibliothecary has been stirred to thoughts on Stefanie's comment. When is one a novelist? If you read a book, you are a reader. If you write a novel, you are a novelist. We who write should not need validation of who we are from anyone.

Or does one only become a novelist when one's novel is read? This harks back to my earlier musings in the action-packed Chapter Forty-Seven. Is it a novel if it is merely written but never read, or does it fully become a novel only when read?

What if you self-publish? Unless one is also a successful promoter, one's novel might still remain unread. What if one's novel is published by a small press? Or does it truly require the acceptance by a major publishing house for one to finally congratulate oneself for being a novelist?

When one begins to think in terms of novel-length fiction, to conjure characters and ponder plots, to envision scenes and tinker with titles, one is already becoming a novelist. When one puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and begins the writing process, one is a novelist. Perhaps one will cross the finish line of NaNoWriMo but never write again, and then one will be a former novelist. Perhaps one may never finish the novel that is begun, and then one will be a failed novelist. Perhaps one will earn a $400,000 advance from Random House, and then one will be a successful novelist. But the very fact of writing the novel gives one the title.

For your Bibliothecary, reading about writing, its rules and craft, fascilitates inspiration. Writing is a craft and requires practice. Stefanie has already been published, making her work public on the internet. She is already a competent essayist. And it would seem she has become a novelist, too.

Congratulations.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chapter Fifty-One, in which your Bibliothecary is an obsolete Skill

Like Sylvia, I don't normally take these quizzes. I once was looking for a fun activity for the Job With A Paycheck, and I discovered the Disney character I am most like is Minnie Mouse. Anyway, this one intrigued me, and if Sylvia can play along, so can I. And my results are in:

Songs of Innocence, Introduction

You are 'regularly metric verse'. This can take many forms, including heroic couplets, blank verse, and other iambic pentameters, for example. It has not been used much since the nineteenth century; modern poets tend to prefer rhyme without meter, or even poetry with neither rhyme nor meter.

You appreciate the beautiful things in life--the joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as a series of little poems. The result (or is it the cause?) is that you are pensive and often melancholy. You enjoy the company of other people, but they find you unexcitable and depressing. Your problem is that regularly metric verse has been obsolete for a long time.

Interesting, considering regularly metric verse, especially blank verse, is my least favorite of all forms of poetry (although William Blake is not half-bad). I do, however, appreciate the beautiful things in life.

What Obsolete Skill Are You?

Chapter Fifty, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Pipeful of Christopher Morley

We have mentioned this wonderful all-around literary man in previous chapters, and it seemed like a good time to add a little depth to the praise.

Morley began as a reader for Doubleday and was adept at identifying promising writers such as William McFee, Pearl S. Buck, and Stephen Vincent Benet. He became a regular newspaper "colyumnist" which gave him the opportunity to roam and discover or invent things literary and fun. His published novels are what he is best known for today. He also was a great essayist, speaker, and a prolific founder of clubs: the Three Hours For Lunch Club is one to which we all would like to belong, and as a member of the first panel to make selections for the Book of the Month Club, he set the standard for every mail-order service to follow.

So why isn't he more popular? Morley lived life and wrote with vivacity, naivety, and charm. His novels have a slow-paced, old-fashioned aura to them which is comforting. His greatest works, even when dealing with life's hard realities, are whimsical and enchanting. Rudyard Kipling characterised Morley's writings as being "about the insides of things." But in his prime, there was a galaxy of other writers producing gritty, realistic books which garnered more attention: Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Theodore Dreiser. While Morley's books were just as good, if not better in some respects, as those of his peers, his were rarely regarded as important, serious works of art.

Morley was a lover of all things literary, and he gave special reverence to bookstores. He was a great advocate for independent booksellers as public servants. The shops they ran, he said, afforded one pastimes as well as the chance to "discover the bread and meat of life." In an essay called "On Visiting Bookshops," Morley wondered why people only go into a bookshop when they need a particular book. "Do they never drop in for a little innocent carouse and refreshment?" he asks. It would be good to remember that, though you may not be in need of any books at the moment, there may be a book in need of you. And the right book can change one's world: The sky was sluiced with a clearer blue, air and sunlight blended for a keener intake of the lungs, faces seen along the street moved us with a livelier shock of interest and surprise.

Morley closes his essay with one of the most beautiful and moving passages in literature, one of the very "rare and sensational delights" which he is describing, those
...that set the mind moving on lovely journeys of its own, and mark off visits to a bookshop not as casual errands of reason, but as necessary acts of devotion. We visit bookshops not so often to buy any one special book, but rather to discover, in the happier and more expressive words of others, our own encumbered souls.
After all the day's tribulations, the go-go-go pace, the disheartening news stories--all the barbaric struggles of mankind--the best books are those that take us "home to the bedtime of a child." Christopher Morley is one of the greatest writers of those invaluable books.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Chapter Forty-Nine, in which an Interlude of Quotations appears

"The production of a book is an accomplishment, but it has not fulfilled its mission until that book is in the hands of the reader and until it is read." --C.D. Nicholson

"Bookselling is a very pleasant way of making a very little money." --Alfred Goldsmith

"The Bookstore is one of humanity's great engines ... one of the greatest instruments of civilization." --Christopher Morley

from "Ballad of the Antiquarian Bookman" by Willie Penmore:
Biography, Geography, Astronomy and Tides,
Astrology, Pathology, and Chemistry besides,
Longevity, Passivity, how to manufacture wine;
And Religion with precision aspires to heights divine,
To say nothing of the Novels, 'detective,' love, and more--
You'll find them if you grovel in an Antiquarian's store.

Abundance of all Knowledge, without surcease or stop,
In the Universal College of the Antiquarian's shop.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chapter Forty-Eight, in which a Prize is offered

Inspired by the generosity of Stefanie, I am going to begin giving away books to a lucky one of my two readers. Stefanie took names and drew from a hat (leaving me one of the dejected losers), but I am going to give away my first book in a much more subjective manner.

To win Book #1, please send your name and a brief statement about why you want this book. The winner will be judged solely upon the creative appeal to your Bibliothecary.

The first book offered is a Vintage paperback edition of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, subtitled Notes on Craft for Young Writers. I have recently upgraded to a hardcover copy, and so it is a perfect opportunity to pass along this essential work on writing.

Good luck to both of you. I will announce the winner at the end of the weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chapter Forty-Seven, in which Books are not written in Stone

Julie's comments in everyone's favorite Chapter Thirty-Nine have stirred thoughts in this chapter. If a book wows you when you read it the first time, and disappoints you when you read it a second time, what does that mean? Does a book have one set meaning, or can the meaning change with the reader?

When you were a child and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a great portion of it must have been nearly indecipherable as well as meaningless. When you mature and read it again, suddenly you find the wit and wisdom brilliant and cannot sing enough praise. In such a case our sensibilities change, and so our reception of the book.

A book such as Dracula was, in its time, bold edge-of-your-seat terror and unlike anything ever before published. Today, a young reader raised on Lestat and Buffy might find the classic silly and unconvincing, or slow and boring. In this case society has changed, and so our reception of the book.

I read The Great Gatsby for the first time many years ago. I still read it regularly. For me, this is a near perfect novel with sparkling prose throughout. And even though I know what is coming, every time Tom strikes Mrs. Wilson, I still wince. On the other hand, when I first read First Love by Turgenev, I was positively thrown. Now, when I read it again, I think it has lost its edge for me because I know who Zinaida's lover is. The story is no less well-written, but the shock of surprise is gone.

Finally, think of the many books that have been panned by highly-regarded critics when they were released, only to be praised as classics and masterpieces now.

Should our reviews and judgements of books be life sentences upon them? Perhaps if we enjoy a book we ought not to read it again, for fear it will lose its luster, or be revealed as something less than we had once thought. And perhaps if we are disappointed with a book, we ought to give it another chance after life has given us a few different perspectives. Could it be that books are not what authors make them, but what readers make them?

Chapter Forty-Six, in which Google is praised

Who wants to sell more books? One of the best things to happen for booksellers--but more importantly, for readers--is the Google Print Project.

Why the fierce opposition? Last week the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced a suit against Google in an effort to stop what they are calling copyright infringement. This action, claims AAP President and former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, was forced upon the AAP by Google's rejection of one proposal the AAP made during negotiations. Reality is Mrs. Schroeder is not doing anything she doesn't want to do. While a discussion of copyright laws could be healthy, this fight seems misguided.

Mrs. Schroeder noted that while “Google Print Library could help many authors get more exposure and maybe even sell more books, authors and publishers should not be asked to waive their long-held rights so that Google can profit from this venture.” But authors and publishers are not being asked to waive any rights. In fact, Google has promised to respect the rights of anyone who asserts them over any individual work. Clearly, the scare tactics and scenarios of doom Mrs. Schroeder used while in Congress are still part of her repetoire.

Google calls the project a "historic effort to make millions of books easier for people to find and buy." Couple that with the first part of Mrs. Schroeder's statement above, and you begin to see clearer to the truth. David Drummond, Google's general counsel and vice president of corporate development, said in a statement that "creating an easy to use index of books is fair use under copyright law and supports the purpose of copyright: to increase the awareness and sales of books directly benefiting copyright holders." [italics mine] How do they plan to do this? Instead of searching for just an author or title or keyword in some cases, users will now be able to search complete texts of books and determine if the results are relevant to their needs. A brief inclusion of, say, Natalie Barney in one book might now be revealed to a biographer who can determine, by the context, whether it is inconsequential or enlightening. If the latter, then the biographer can go forward and purchase the book. The process will be little different from my inclusion of this quote from Google:

when you preview [an item still under copyright protection] on Google Print, you'll only see snippets of text directly around your search term. This snippet view is designed to help users find the book in their search results and make a decision about whether to go find a physical copy of the book with just bibliographic information and a few short sentences around their search query.

Translation: additional book sales.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chapter Forty-Five, in which your Bibliothecary is revealed to be a Gambler

When is a book seller like a gambler? When he doesn't have a list of specific wants.


Your Bibliothecary attends a book sale with a list in hand of books his clients are looking for: Dean Koontz's first novel, for instance. If, along the way, he decides this client, or someone as yet unknown, might also be interested in the Lever biography of the marquis de Sade, and so acquires that book, he is engaging in pure speculation.


A good bookseller will study his clients. He will learn their interests, their habits, their shopping frequency. He will know if they have the stamina to make it through 800 pages, or if they start to give out after 200. And he will also keep track of previous results, know the records of authors and plots, and watch for their reappearance. He looks at all the odds--"What are the odds someone will want this book?"--and if the odds are good, he places his bet. The book is acquired. The book is placed upon the shelf. Now your Bibliothecary waits for his horse to come in.


The odds are usually good his bet will bring some return. But to do this one needs patience. A horse race is over in less than two minutes. A book may not sell for two years. Ocassionally one may not even make it to the finish line. But even those losers can be donated, so some good can come from a bad bet.


Doesn't one of the thrills of the book hunt come from finding a hidden gem for fifty cents and selling it a few days later for fifty dollars? How is that different from stalking a table until finding three queens and two aces in your hand and then cashing them in for several stacks of chips? Why do gamblers have a bad reputation and a support group, but book sellers don't? And then, why do gamblers have a popular show on ESPN, but book sellers don't?

Chapter Forty-Four, in which a Comment is overheard

At one of the four sales your Bibliothecary attended yesterday, a woman was overheard making the comment, "Someone said people are buying these books and then selling them on eBay," in astonishment and near indignation. I couldn't help but wonder to what she objects.

Perhaps she believes no one should ever part with a book. And yet someone parted with the books she chose to purchase, or they wouldn't have been there. Perhaps she dislikes the profit motive. Yet the potential for profit is what drives the book trade, and there would be no sales like that she was attending if there wasn't a market for the books, and publishers would quickly get out of the business of publishing books if they were not able to sell their products to this woman. Was she merely upset with herself for missing the opportunity then?

Maybe she was concerned for the authors of those books, whose works were being sold without royalties being paid. A noble sentiment; however, anyone familiar with marketing could tell her that a free or inexpensive sample of an agreeable product will often lead consumers to purchase more or similar products. You can see this principle in action every weekend at the sample tables inside your local grocery. If I can try The Infinite Jest for less than a penny a page, and I like it, I will be likely to want to purchase Wallace's next release at full retail, and maybe even buy a new copy of Jest to keep. But if I have to pay thirty dollars up front just to try something I might not find to my liking, I probably won't try it. That makes what this woman may see as a lost royalty actually a potential royalty.


Let us hope this woman is not being selfish. Shame on her if she is only thinking of her own offended values, or the profits of a book seller. She ought to think of the poor, housebound woman in Australia who, having received as a gift and read this week's new release from Nora Roberts, now wants to read her way through this prolific author's entire bibliography, and must hope to find copies available for purchase and delivery through eBay, or Amazon, or www.madaboutbooksonline.com.


Modern Western civilization is built firmly upon the foundation of capitalism, and it is spreading. Is she equally upset with the car dealer who bought a vehicle from General Motors and then sold it to her so she could drive to the book sale? What about the clothing manufacturer who purchased materials and refashioned them into her pretty garments? And doesn't Barnes and Noble do the same thing in their book superstores, purchase books directly from publishers and then resell them to consumers just like this woman?


There are likely some book sellers who simply process a sale, but there are many more who take the book they purchased and research it, clean it, repair it, and protect it, thus turning it into a new product before selling it. From the one Bible whose provenance can be traced back to Gutenberg himself, to the ten millionth copy of Dianetics, the market is the driving force of a book's life. And unless it's the duc de Montausier, no writer produces a book without the intention of taking it to market.


I hope the woman enjoys her purchases and returns next time for more.

Chapter Forty-Three, in which is shared some random Thoughts about technical Failures

We have been experiencing technical failures, those unwanted side effects of the miracle drug of the electronic age. All systems have been crippled, and while we try to repair, we are operating on a pieced-together backup, which itself is having circulation troubles. Let's hope it keeps working long enough to post this, at least.


Correct me if I am wrong: spyware and adware programs are supposed to watch a computer and report on what activities take place. If I visit the library website, I will receive ads and offers which are different from those targeted to users who visit the Silver Slipper website. How, then, do these programs do that when they completely cripple a computer? If my computer keeps shutting down, how can I do anything with it? If I can't connect to the internet, I won't be surfing anywhere to receive ads of any kind. Are these crippling programs designed by mischevious college kids with either a shortage or abundance of beer? Or are they maliciously introduced into the digital world by hawkers of spyware killers and adware cleaners?


Beyond these concrete queries, there are larger metaphysical questions to be answered. We have not been able to post anything since last week. Do any of our experiences in the last seven days count? If one cannot blog about it, has it really happened?


Last week we signed off on the way to a book sale with the promise to explore how gambling related to book hunting. Today we return from a different book sale, and will be able to use it as a launching point for the same exploration. The blog will continue today just the same as if it was still last week, and without this posting, no one would know the difference. It is as if everything that happened between last week's book hunting and this week's blogging is canceled, or lost, or deleted from the virtual world. Today is today, but I have been electronically stuck in last week. Am I existing in the past, or the future?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Chapter Forty-Two, in which is a brief Interlude

The Silent Partner gave your Bibliothecary a few days off. While I was gone there was reading and playing with the Barking Beggars and watching baseball and relaxing. I am reassured this was the right thing by the sales growth in the store while I was not there.

On Tuesday our billboard hit the streets. If you are not able to drive by and take a look, here is a peek:



Tonight I am going gambling. More on that tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Chapter Forty-One, in which a Bookstore is saved

From the San Francisco Chronicle comes this story. Here is a key portion:

Kepler's, founded 50 years ago, had been struggling financially in recent years, due to declining sales -- like other independent bookstores, it had lost customers to the Internet -- and rising costs.

If customers want the bookstore to survive, they will have to change their buying habits, said Kepler, citing a survey that found people who patronize independent bookstores buy 20 books a year, but buy only eight of them from independent booksellers.

"We need customers to say, 'I'm going to buy two, three, four or five of those books at Kepler's,' " he said.

Fewer and fewer people supported the store when it was open. When it suddenly closed, the lament and outpouring of support was tremendous. Why are people so complacent? The cost of a cure is always more than the cost of prevention. This story has a happy ending, and that's not always the case.

Here is my plea to book lover's everywhere: Don't take your local independent bookstore for granted. Support them. Buy your books from them. Buy your books through them. Tell your friends.


Feed the Need to Read::Buy a Book a Week

Friday, October 7, 2005

Chapter Forty, in which your Bibliothecary discusses unread Books

Yesterday's post about books that have produced life-affecting changes required me to peruse my collection carefully, and in so doing I was able to come up with a list of books I have not yet read but want to, or why would I have added them to my collection in the first place? Why I haven't yet read them probably cannot be well-explained. Perhaps a list here, made public to my two readers, will prod me into reading them soon so I can note progress being made; and perhaps two readers does not attain the critical mass needed to produce a good prodding. At any rate, I have this list, so here it is, with books that have been longest on the list first.

Top Ten Books I Want to Read
The Wandering Jew, Eugene Sue--from my period of indulgence in decadence and French literature. Then it seemed too long, and perhaps now my interest has waned.

Marius the Epicurean, Walter Pater--same as Sue above.

Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust--coming from roughly the same time period, I made a valiant start, and bogged down somewhere within a budding grove. I did not lose interest, but I have a habit of reading more than one book at a time, and so one book apparently led to another and I was distracted away. I would have to start over from the beginning now. And I am not interested in reading In Search of Lost Time or whatever the new English editions are; I absolutely adore the intricate and flowing translations of Scott-Moncrieff.

Gargantua/Pantagruel, Rabelais--suspected classics of wit and fancy that I believe would be a pure joy to read, along the lines of Carroll's Alice books.

King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabokov--Lolita is number three on the Yahoo list of best-selling books for what seems like the eighty-second week in a row. It's good, but I think Nabokov has done better, such as The Gift and Bend Sinister. This title looks and sounds like a potential masterpiece.

The Story of Civilization, Will Durant--on the heels of my enjoyment of Barzun's survey of history, the sheer volume of this series suggests to me it would be richly rewarding.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Peggy Noonan--this perhaps dating earlier than Durant, after seeing what appeared to be a televised version of her essays. I found her surprisingly soft-spoken, thoughtful, and grounded.

Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Alfred Jay Nock--a title highly recommended by a dear friend whose opinion I value to no end.

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene--suggested by my great appreciation of The End of the Affair, as this is often claimed to be Greene's masterpiece.

Silent America, Bill Whittle--introduced to me through The Nation of Riflemen, this is a marvelously articulate and insightful writer who has collected and expanded some material from his blog. He seems to genuinely have his finger on the pulse of America today.

So when will I read these? Well, for now I am rereading The End of the Affair, working through A. Edward Newton, and studying Christopher Morley. Perhaps one day in my spare time I will open one of these great unread books and...

Chapter Thirty-Nine, in which is listed the most important Books in your Bibliothecary's Life

Here is your Bibliothecary's spin on (let's see if I can get this pedigree right) the twist at This Space on Book World's version of Mental Multivitamin's riff on Pages Turned's survey of books that "have shaped, or even defined, the reader." Not sure I can adhere to the prohibition against classics, but let us see what happens. In order, from past to present, as best as I recall:

The Once and Future King, T.H.White--This was the first book assigned in school that ever really caught my fancy. By the time I made it to the middle, I stayed up all night in order to finish. It spawned a long interest in the Matter of Britain.

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo--A book assigned as an optional study in the same class as above. I started this too late to finish before the end of the school year, but I continued to enjoy it into the summer. This was the first masterpiece I ever read, and it spawned an abiding interest in the masterpieces of world fiction. Though I had read often as a child, nothing I had read before had struck me with awe. I thank that school teacher for introducing me to a real passion for reading.

The World According to Garp, John Irving--After several years of light to no reading, I picked up this book because it was what a cute neighbor was reading one summer. In it I found a joy of story telling and a grand display of life well lived.

The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald--I don't recall why I first read this, but I still read it today, and never tire of it. Fitzgerald commands a wonderful ear for dialogue, and his style is exemplary. I still wince, I still laugh, I still shake my head in wonder at Nick, and I still admire Gatsby. The last sentence is one of the finest in all literature.

Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont--Again, how I came to this book is forgotten. What is remembered is the permanent imprint it put on my understanding of love.

On Writers and Writing, John Gardner--Many years after reading through the Matter of Britain, I decided to try my hand at fashioning the various myths and legends into one grand historical fiction. An interest in the craft of writing turned up this book, and it spurred my desire to write more and better. Though it did not see me to the completion of my epic, it did and continues to spur me to drive the quill.

Modigliani, William Fifield--A blurb in Vanity Fair magazine made me search for Modigliani, and the story of the artist made me want to write the story of Alexandre Guilbert, which was the fourth book I wrote and the first to see publication.

Against the Grain, Joris-Karl Huysmans--In research for Guilbert's book, The Last Decadent, I picked up this and immediately was drawn into the lush and artificial world of decadence. I was sent in a whole new literary direction, along the path of Maturnin, Maupassant, Zola, Natalie Barney, Baudelaire, Louys, etc.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez--I heard of the author at the publication of Love in the Time of Cholera but found this earlier title first. This masterpiece of magic realism amazed me, and turned me down another new path where lurked Borges, Carpentier, Rushdie, Grass, etc.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Michael Baigent--Informs my belief (or disbelief) in Jesus and, despite the highwire plot, spells out the basic truths covered up by Christianity that to my mind seem obvious.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt--I was awed by this book before I ever read it. And once I did read it, I was a bit let down. Though well crafted and well written, I was far more impressed by the pre-publication publicity, by the bidding war for rights, by the advance eventually paid to this first-time author, and by the unusual physical qualities of the book itself, which plainly set it apart from every other title on the shelf.

Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley--What led me to this book I have now forgotten, but how wonderful that it happened. Though I had already admitted to a fondness for books, Morley showed me how to fall in love with them, and I did. Mad About Books is a direct descendant of that first traveling bookstore.

The Handyman, Carolyn See--From de Rougemont I had learned well the idealized forms of romantic love, but here for the first time I was introduced to the real love of a true woman. It is perhaps the most beautiful story I have ever read. I was so impressed I struck up a correspondence with the author which honored me greatly.

From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun--Days of emptiness were filled with the history of the world. I was impressed by the writing, and have since sought out more works by Barzun which have also impressed me. He has given me an appreciation of the essay. And his book gave me an interest in general history which has taken me, in the last few years, away from the once beloved novel.

This list was hard to pare down to just ten--I mean, fourteen--books. Ultimately, these are the books that truly produced some change in me, while most of the others on my initial draft list were (I hesitate to say merely) awe-inspiring, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy or The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence or Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. Perhaps one day there will be a list for those.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Eight, in which your Bibliothecary comes to an Understanding

I enjoy understanding things.

Several chapters back, reader Aubrey posted a comment about her fond memories of an old bookstore:

[I] was very happy to discover a small bookstore with an air of perpetual twilight in the college town. It was called the Blue Dahlia and I found many treasures there. I have not been back since 89 and its probably long gone, but if you can give someone a long-lived fond memory, with the existence of your bookstore, you will have done a wonderful thing!

A few days ago I clicked upon Kate's Book Blog where she had earlier posted some observations about independent bookstores. The proximity of the two experiences, receiving Aubrey's comment and reading Kate's posting, made me wonder if there was something special to independent bookstores.

To Kate I commented:

What is it that makes independent bookstores special? Why does one remember fondly a used bookstore, but not a library? Why don't we have the same feelings about a laundromat, or a grocery? Can feelings for a place such as a bakery, or a local fruit stand, match those for an independent bookstore? Is it the "independent" or the "book" or something else that makes them so special to so many?

My questions were not rhetorical. I enjoy understanding things, and I hoped to understand what may be a widespread phenomenon.

Kate, in fact, did have fond memories of a library. She also had fond memories of a bar and cafe, to which her analysis provides a start to understanding:

...it’s all about the ambience of the place -- the d├ęcor, the food, and, most importantly, the people.

I begin to wonder if the lure of independent bookstores lies most in the people. And then Kate sums up all the questions I had asked:

Being in a room full of books generates a paradoxical combination of comfort and excitement that I've only otherwise experienced in a really good relationship.

Did you just experience the "Ah-hah!" of understanding with me?

Here, then, is my interpretation. As many great book readers and lovers have said, books are like people, they are friends. When I walk into a bookstore and find the proprietor has for sale The Great Gatsby in first edition, I immediately have a bond with him. He shares my taste in books. And in reading that book, again and again, returning to it as one would regularly telephone an old friend to keep in touch, I develop a really good relationship with Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway and Scott Fitzgerald. Their familiarity comforts me, I listen to their stories as a good friend would, and I get excited at the prospect of spending time with them. Even though I may enjoy cookies, or kiwis, or clean clothes, I do not form a relationship with any of them, or the places in which they are found. And so an independent bookstore, as opposed to a retail outlet for publications, becomes like a bar or cafe, where one goes to congregate with one's friends, meet similar folks, and gossip with the proprietor and patrons about what Salman Rushdie has been working on.

I can't help agreeing with Aubrey: I hope one day my bookstore will inspire fond memories in someone in just this fashion. And so does everyone on the shelves, as they wait patiently for another friend to visit.

I think I understand now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Seven, in which the Windows are dressed anew

Banned Books Week is over, so away go the wrapped, censored, chained, and otherwise silenced books which decorated the windows last week. Take care with your window displays, for after only a week in the sun the paper that had covered some of the display books is yellowed and brittle, so nature surely attacks the other books in like, though less noticeable, manner.

Also gone now is the special table for science fiction. The front is returned to its normal look, with the catalog of Banned Books and special flyers promoting Buy A Friend A Book Week left on the table for perusal.

To the front goes a selection of haunted BOOks, including Dracula, Frankenstein, some Anne Rice vampire novels, and a survey of ghosts and hauntings. Perhaps we will bring out the secret scarecrow and prop him up in the window as well.

Other tidbits: three photographs of Madonna and her exceedingly rare and beautiful book collection clipped from Ladies Home Journal (or some such magazine) are now framed and accenting the stores aisles. We also received a telephone call today from a local radio station in response to last week's press release. Stay tuned for what that call may bring. And we have given the final approval on a billboard design, the first of which should be proudly on display in several days.

A final note from the weekend: we took a drive through town (elapsed time: 17 seconds) the other night, as we often do, for no other reason than to admire the store and the big "BOOKS" light from the street, and at the other end of town (the next block) we saw The Cracker Jack was cleaned out. This was the gift/junque store that opened shortly before ours in the building that we almost took last year. We also learned the owner had been living in the back of the store to save expenses on an apartment. He had posted a sign about six weeks ago advertising a going-out-of-business sale, but he hung on. Until now. It is sad he could not make it. I just hope books are a more compelling purchase than lamps and faux antiques.

So far, we are surviving, and we are optimistic.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Six, in which is heard the Proclamation of Buy A Friend A Book Week

buyafriendabook.com

So it is that quarterly time of year again: Buy A Friend A Book (BAFAB) Week.

The premise behind this is everyone goes out, to their local independent bookstore we hope, and buys a book for a friend for no particular reason (other than to celebrate BAFAB). Now is not the time to give your socialist-minded boss a lofty tome explaining the virtues of the free market, or your mistress a book about love letters. Ideally, the gift of this book will be a complete and unexpected surprise to the recipient. Think Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for your drinking buddy, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for your neighbor. You might even consider giving Grendel to your doctor's receptionist and make of her a new friend.

To find out more visit BAFAB.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Five, in which is described the Joys of Brodart

To a large extent, books are not yet made out of plastic. For hundreds of years the main ingredients--paper, ink, cardboard, cloth, leather--have remained remarkably the same, and are holding up well. But what a difference a bit of plastic can make!

Warily did I take up the experiment of equipping a select few of our books with Brodart archival dust jacket covers. I needed to run a few tests as to the affordability and ease of this product. They arrived quickly. The price was right. They go on shamefully easily. What's not to like?

While collectors may sometimes purchase a book for its materials, most readers still base their purchases on content. Still, often, appearance can help sell a book. This is especially the case with gifty books, such as a coffee-table book on Coffee. The beauty of the Brodart jacket cover is that it can help mask minor flaws in a dust jacket, it preserves the most delicate part of a book, and it gives a fresh like-new appearance to older books. Put several of these Brodart-protected books on a shelf, and our store no longer looks like a mere used book store, it is now a store that deals in fine pre-owned books. And the price being negligable, Brodart covers do not force us to raise the price of our books, while at the same time increasing their value.

If you haven't tried them, I highly recommend doing so. They come in all sizes, and numerous versions, to fit most any need. I have just placed my third order, each progressively larger, and in addition to the books in our store, I will soon be enhancing some of the books in my private collection.