Saturday, December 29, 2007

All's Fair in Love, War and Library Sales



It was at a library sale of yore that I first picked up a copy of "All's Fair" by the political polyblend power couple of James Carville and Mary Matalin. I was holding this book up to read the dust jacket blurb further when it was snatched out my grip by an aggressive white-haired matron. Somewhat bemused to let this "hot" book go, I thought then and often since about how the prevailing myth at library sales is how aggressive booksellers are. I can honestly say that I have never seen one of my bookseller colleagues display any rude behavior at such a public venue. It just wouldn't be good business sense to push local book people around to make a quick buck on a book when the longterm ill will would harm your sales. The number of book people in a community is slim and they share information readily, so it just wouldn't be a good idea to act like a warthog at a crowded public venue.

There is, however, another sort of biblio-creature, the book "dealer", who elbows out any competitors during the opening minutes of a library sale and zooms in to a favorite section to hog all the books. Then the dealer sits in a corner and decides whether or not to invest 25 or 50 cents on each title, often accompanied by a ponderous thumping of a handheld Internet device. The leftovers sometimes get put back in their proper sections, but often as not, it's a long-suffering library volunteer has to restore book order so the rest of the crowd can have at the books.

In the first years of our shop, Dan and I went to a lot of library sales to get store stock. One of us would have to mind the young 'uns (so they wouldn't get brained by one of the dealer rudies) and the other would try to shop quickly. Inevitably, the fog of book zen would take over and we would hopelessly lose track of time. We soon discovered that it was much more pleasant and safer for our offspring if we went on off-times. (Also less opportunity for the baby-sitting spouse to carp on the book-befuddled gleaner) The kids would glom onto the free magazines piles for some reason (shinier pages?) even as we tried to steer them to the children's literature. One year they both decided to buy the biggest and heaviest books they could -more bang for the book- and miraculously they each had a pricey out-of-print history reference in their stacks. I had to barter with these ruthless babes to swap out some suitable book replacements. It turns out they wanted to press flowers in them.

Now that our shop is more mature and the kids can be left at home while Dan and I check out the library sales, it is a pleasant book date for us to go on the last day of a sale and hoover up books by the bag. It is much less cutthroat and we often get to chat with customers or fellow booksellers in between scanning the spines. We can get into book zen mode and it's an especial biblio-frisson when we scoop up a rare book from among the picked-over tomes. One time I got two signed Katharine Anne Porter titles during the closing hour of a library sale; another time it was a first edition of Zora Neale Hurston's "Moses, Man of the Mountain", mixed in with dusty religious pamphlets and innumerable copies of Robert Schuller's writings. On another occasion, my biblio-truffle was a rare Irish country cookbook picked out of a pile of romance novels.

Back to Matalin and Carville's "All's Fair". As with most books about politics or current events, they have a pretty short public attention span, and this title soon showed up in our shop, in triplicate. I got to read snippets of it and have a copy on our politics shelves. Now, if only someone would come to snatch it out of my hands now....
--

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Hunger for Books


The Guardian carried the full text of newly laureled Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize acceptance speech and it is a very moving and thoughtful piece. Here's the link to read it in its entirety, including vivid passages about the hunger for reading in Zimbabwe, India and other parts of the globe. It is often easy to overlook the great wealth we have here in the United States and when one is a bookseller surrounded by books at work and at home, I often forget how very rich I am to have the thoughts and knowledge of so many writers at my fingers.

At Old Saratoga Books, we are reminded of our book wealth at monthly intervals by a friend, Joyce, an education professor at a local college. Several years ago she asked about children's books featuring black children in them and I managed to find a handful from the stacks. She told me she takes them down in her luggage to Antigua where she goes twice yearly to help train local teachers. She said that the teachers are ecstatic when she hands out the books, because their classrooms don't have many books, and indeed, the entire Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda (69,180 population) has only one public library, in the capital of St. John, which holds 50,000 books.

We have been donating books for this annual pilgrimage to the Antigua schools ever since that first encounter. Twice yearly Joyce and some of her accompanying graduate education students fill their suitcases to the airline poundage limit with these books and stagger off to Antigua to pass them around. They used to send M-Bags full of these books before the postal prices went up this past Spring but now just use themselves as book mules.

Thankfully, our small contributions are not the only book resource for Antiguans. I just did a little Internet research and found that there is a New York City group, The Friends of the Antigua Public Library, that raises money to help the library with operating expenses, books and reading program materials, so this is a positive development. They accept book donations for Antigua, so metropolitan NYC residents might want to check this out.

Incidently, Antigua boasts a fabulous native writer, Jamaica Kincaid, whose Annie John relates the education of a young, bright girl coming of age in a stifling environment, where she yearns to break free of the limited life paths that set before her. (Kincaid is today a citizen of the kingdom of Vermont and a renowned writer of fiction, memoir and beautiful garden books). In today's Antigua, my friend tells me that the school system is fairly well geared to grooming future workers for the nation's luxury tourism industry, although individual teachers try to offer other options to their pupils.

Hungry for books indeed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Most of my Books are Gluten-Free......


Here I am innocently cataloguing books at the old bookstore, when this wild example of medical hucksterism jumps out at me. Tucked at the rear of a seemingly upstanding book, "Dick Cheveley", by the staid historical novelist, W.H. D. Kingston, are several advertisements, a common enough practice with nineteenth century publishers looking for extra simoleons. There is an ad for Sohmer pianos, and one for Sapolio soap, but then my gluten-sensitive peepers (husband Dan can't eat wheat)lighted on an advertisement for the Health Food Company of New York City and their marvelous GLUTEN SUPPOSITORIES!

E.L. Ripley of Burlington, Vermont, no shy hemorrhoidal victim he, notes "As Sancho Panza said of sleep, so say I of your Gluten Suppositories: God bless the man who invented them!". And the Rev. John H. Paton of Michigan, a chronic, constipated dypeptic, heaps accolades on the mighty tablets, stating "I believe their food-remedies to be worthy of the high praise which they are receiving on all sides". These gluteal gluten poppers are billed to relieve intestinal torpor and kindred evils, but pity the poor celiac or wheat-sensitive soul who popped them in seeking relief.

Giving thanks for modern medicine.....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

w00t w00t w00t

Merriam-Webster Dictionary picked "w00t" as their word of the year. W00t is usually repeated in triplicate with fist pumped in the air as an expression of victory. First used by online gamers, this expression was immediately recognized by my 1990s vintage offspring, but Dan and I remained befuddled until we saw them demonstrate as
described above. It's what young folks say today instead of "hooray" and "huzzah", I suppose. This could be a sign of the text-messaging takeover of modern spelling and usage. idk. I am not LOL. Reuters has the in-depth scoop here.

For more than you perhaps would ever want to know about "w00t" and other waves of our language future, known as "leetspeak" you can check out The Lexicographer's Rules blog.

As for me, I think Merriam-Webster should have gone with runner-up word "blamestorm", defined as a group meeting where everyone is finger pointing. So much more visually expressive.

w00t w00t w00t!

Your BFF Rachel

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ten Gift Ideas for Book Lovers




There's still time to get your Christmas shopping list pared down and here are some ideas from the Book Trout:

1) Book lovers will make good use of a rugged and useful book tote bag from the Bibliobullpen site in the classic design of an elderly gent in front of a fire with his glass of wine and books at his feet (needing to be properly put down to avoid cracking the hinges). I use mine daily to lug books back and forth from home to bookshop, but it also serves duty hauling library books, groceries, and packages to mail. Check out the rest of the site for bookish designs on T-shirts, clocks, baby apparel and thongs (thongs can also be used as bookmarks). $14.99

2) A Book! If you can engineer a secretive peek at whatever list your loved one has to keep track of books they've heard about and want to read, grab it and copy it and then sneak out to obtain a copy. Bibliophiles also welcome "upgrade" copies of their favorite books, as in a lovely hardcover to replace a well-thumbed paperback edition or replacement for a beloved book that has been loaned out but not returned. It is common here at Old Saratoga Books to get last-minute phone calls at the holidays to track down a replacement copy of mom's bespattered and scorched favorite cookbook or sleuthing with few clues ("It had a red cover with a bunny on it") for a lost childhood favorite. If all else fails, you can always get a gift certificate from your recipient's favorite online or in-person bookstore.

3) Cool bookends. Bookends are not inexpensive anymore, as they seem to have hit the collectible category in the last decade. I try to get inexpensive, mismatched or solo bookends, to sprinkle around the shop and a true bibliophile will love some weighty bookends to help dress up the bookshelves. Thrift shops and tag sales seem to be the best bet for bookends under $20.00. If you are crafty, you could whip up some sturdy bookends from bricks covered with fabric or at least some cheap felt for the bottoms to avoid scraping delicate tomes and shelves.

4) A Literary calendar for 2008. Some folks like those quote a day calendars from literary legends and some just like monthly calendars with a literary theme. $10-$15 easily ordered online from any number of sources (google "literary calendar") or from most brick and mortar bookstores.

5) Simple book repairs and maintenance are easily achievable with the products and tools obtained at this book repair supplies website. There are even videos to show you how to use the products or effect simple repairs, like removing bookplates, tipping in loose pages and cleaning book covers. The Basic Book repair kit contains Book Deodorizer, Dry Cleaning Sponge, Large Dry Cleaning Pad, Dusting Brush Set, Leather Dressing, Bestine Solvent, Nylon Label Lifter and Scotty Label Peeler. $36.00

6) How about owning the a Bust of your favorite author? That's pretty classy and they can also serve double duty as an overly large bookend. At this website you can pick from Balzac, Aristotle, Hippocrates, John Wesley, Plato, Socrates, Voltaire, Shakespeare, Dante, Darwin, Einstein, Goethe, Homer, Sappho, Freud, Robbie Burns, or Schiller. From $32 for a sale priced Hippocrates up to triple digit prices.

7) Perhaps your gift intended covets The Book Lover's Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them, by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger (NY: Ballantine, 2003). Available used on the Internet starting at $1.00 plus shipping.

8) A book switchplate for the home library. I really want some of these to dress up the old bookshop. They are available at the Folger Library website for $9.95 apiece. The Folger Library also has a collection of other great Shakespeare gifts for Bard lovers, including Hamlet finger puppets, mugs, a Shakespeare rubber ducky, and other amusements. $9.95

9) Male bibliophiles may enjoy a necktie printed with book images, Shakespeare heads and other reading images from this teacher website ($10.00-15.00), while book women might enjoy a bookish scarf from the same source ($10.00-$11.95).

10) Time to read is perhaps the most precious gift for a bibliophile. Finding the time to fit in a good stretch of book time is hard when work, holiday gatherings, shopping, cooking, kids and all the business of modern life gets in the way. If your favorite bibliophile has kids, a coupon for child removal for an afternoon of blissful quiet with a good book would be just the ticket. If your book lover is just too busy and stressed out with life, a coupon allowing him or her to pass on some errands and just chill out with some reading time would be thoughtful indeed. $$$$$Priceless.

For loads of other bookish holiday suggestions, check out the Library Support Staff website. It has many other bibliophilic gift ideas and links which should keep you browsing and shopping for hours.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy holiday season with lots of relaxing reading time thrown in.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Book Cart Art











The good folks at the library comic strip site, Unshelved recently announced winners of its second annual "Pimp My Bookcart" contest and there are some attractive champions. My favorite is the Yellow Submarine entry and the woolly mammoth "Oloch". The grand prize winner was an electronically-wired UPS delivery van fashioned by the creative students of Missouri's Timberland High School. While perhaps not the most interesting book cart cocoction, the winner got kudos for the breadth and quality of its pimping. Certainly they also get points for creative product placement, and I hope UPS is giving the school library some book cash instead of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Perhaps it is time to "pimp" our four overworked bargain book carts. We bought these red enameled beauties unassembled at a local hardware store at least 8 or 9 years ago, and they have been flogging our 50 cent (3 for $1!) books on the sidewalk from broiling August afternoons through sub-zero January twilight. The wheels don't work quite right on two of the carts anymore so we leave them parked inside. Pricing jumbo-sized replacement wheels made me gasp, so they will remain hobbled. The other carts are a tad unnavigable, like most supermarket carts I end up with, after hauling so much biblio-avoirdupois. They are not as rectangular as they used to be, in fact, they are quite definitely parallelograms. Perhaps it is time to consult a welding book from the how-to section.

The Unshelved Cart contest reminds me of a great book I have in the home library, "Meat, Metal & Fire: The Legendary Australian Barbecue", by Mark Thomson (Sydney: HarperCollins, 1999) which features photographs of the creative ways these Southern Hempishere blokes (and a couple of token sheilas) have fashioned their barbies. Here's a fire-breathing dragon and rocket launcher to feed your eyes.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Holiday Food and Wine Books


Rachel has an article in latest issue of Biblio Unbound, the online magazine of things bookish by the bookselling website, www.biblio.com. This month's issue features books about food and wine and Rachel's article highlights some personal favorites. You can check out the full article here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who is this Metal Head?



The Book Trout's weekly treat is to sneak out in between customers to grab a slice of pizza and have a quick scan at our community thrift shop, Second Hand Rose. There are always great finds, some bookish, some just plain interesting, and all of them bargains. I've gotten wonderful book ends, cool retro Christmas ornaments, sweaters, Fabric, a few book treasures, funky old plates and doodads and last month, this Metal Head dude.

The Metal Man is wearing mid-1800's garb with turned-up collar flopping over his frock coat lapels. He has the brushed-forward sideburns and hairstyle of a stylish man of the mid-19th century, but I am unsure who he might be. He doesn't look like an American president (although perhaps Andrew Johnson could be fit into his features), and he's not resembling any literary figure I can think of, so if anyone has any great ideas, please send them on. The Metal Man plaque seems to be made of pot metal and measures 7.5 x 5 inches.

I bought him to hang on the wall of the bookstore(there are two nail holes on the reverse side for mounting) but would like to place him in the right section. Thanks in advance for any and all detective work.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Book Trout Lives Under Rock


The Book Trout apparently lives under a rock, because it was news to me when I read in the newspaper recently that "The Education of Little Tree" by Forrest Carter is not a fictionalized memoir of a Cherokee Indian's boyhood but a tale spun out of wholecloth by a white KKK kook and George Wallace speechwriter. The book showed up on an Oprah website suggested reading list and was summarily ejected when this was pointed out publicly. To her credit, Oprah had, in 1994, talked about her ambivalence about the book after hearing about Carter's wacko past and discussed ow she removed it from her personal bookshelves, unable to reconcile its beautiful spirituality with the ugliness of its racist author.

I somehow missed this whole brouhaha when it was revealed not long after the book won the first ABBY Award, bestowed by the American Booksellers Award for literary gems most beloved by independent booksellers. Although I have not read the book myself, I had many customers who raved about what a poignant story it is and so I would pick up copies when I was out book scouting because of its popularity and its presence on many a high school reading list. There are at least two book buddies who will be crestfallen when I let them in on its Hall of Shame provenance.

A far better Native American coming of age story would seem to be Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", which yesterday won a National Book Award. It is a semi-autobiographical young adult novel, following the path of a young Native American hydrocephalic teen, who decides to leave his family and Reservation to seek education and challenges in the white world. The Seattle Times has a great article here about Alexie's book.



Alexie, incidentally, was quoted by the Associated Press after the Oprah website incident as saying
"'Little Tree' is a lovely little book, and I sometimes wonder if it is an act of romantic atonement by a guilt-ridden white supremacist, but ultimately I think it is the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist,"
.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Waves of Grain


Joyce over at the Bibliophile Bullpen introduced me to the vocabulary word challenge that helps the hungry. The Free Rice website challenges visitors to guess the correct definition of a word. If you guess correctly, you have earned ten grains of rice to donate to the United Nations World Food Program and you get a harder word to try next time. The goal is to keep guessing correctly to fill your rice bowl and accumulate higher donations, while testing your brain power. I keep trying to hit the highest vocabulary level (50) and have kissed it a couple of times in the last few days, but basically I hover around the 47 mark. It's a great way to bone up on some vocabulary, while helping a good cause. It has certainly replaced solitaire as my favorite timewaster.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Missing Local Child

A twelve-year-old boy, Jaliek Rainwalker, is missing from the nearby village of Greenwich since November 1st and we are passing along the information from the New York State Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse in the hopes that someone may have some information to help bring him home. He and his family have been in our bookstore many times so this is a personal plea to keep an eye out for any kid that may resemble him. He is soft-spoken and a nice kid and our heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

If you believe that you have seen Jaliek contact NYS MECC at 1-800-346-3543.

NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services DCJS LogoNew York State Banner Picture of Missing Child
Age at Disappearance: 12 yrs

Date of Birth: 8/2/1995

Date of Last Contact: 11/1/2007

Race: Bi-racial

Gender: Male

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 105 lbs

Eyes: Green

Hair: Light Brown

Missing From: Greenwich, New York

Notes: Child may be wearing a yellow fleece pullover, a gray t-shirt with a dragon on the front, blue jeans and black canvas high-top sneakers. Jaliek may use the nickname Jay. He has a golden brown complexion, lime green eyes and curly light brown hair with blond highlights in a short 2" afro style. He also has a slight speech impediment, pronouncing an "r" like a "w". Jaliek may be in the Albany or Altamont, NY areas.
Investigating Police Agency: Greenwich Police Department

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Book Trout Poem

THE BAITE

Come live with mee, and bee my love,

And wee will some new pleasures prove,

Of golden sands, and christall brookes,

With silken lines, and silver hookes.

There will the river whispering runne

Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the Sunne,

And there the’inamored fish will stay,

Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swimme in that live bath,

Each fish, which every channel hath,

Will amorously to thee swimme,

Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seene, beest loath,

By Sunne, or Moone, thous darknest both,

And if my selfe have leave to see,

I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,

And cut their legges, with shells and weeds,

Or treacherously poore fish beset,

With strangling snare, or windowie net:

Let coarse bold hands, from slimy nest

The bedded fish in banks out-wrest,

Or curious traitors, sleavesilke flies

Bewitch poore fishes wandring eyes.

For thee, thous needst no such deceit,

For thou thy selfe art thine owne baite;

That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,

Alas, is wiser farre than I.

-John Donne

Monday, November 5, 2007

OverReaders Anonymous


While surfing the web I came across the blog for New York Stories, an English language bookstore in Stockholm, Sweden. It's an interesting look at the doings of a bookstore carrying new titles. One of their clever promotions is to offer enrollment in their "ten-step" OverReaders Anonymous self-help program, with book prizes for the OverReader of the Month and benefits for all enrolled OverReaders, such as bookstore discounts and reserved seating at literary events.

Here is the clever New York Stories OverReaders Anonymous program:

Welcome to OverReaders Anonymous

Becoming an OverReader is easy! While most addictions are helped by a 12-step program, only 10 simple steps will prepare you for a happy & fulfilling life as an OverReader.

New York Stories 10-step program for diagnosis as an OverReader:

O Cultivate an Obsession with books and the places they are found: bookshops, libraries, book fairs, flea markets, car boot sales, the bookshelves of your friends and families.

V Variety is the spice of life. Understand that an OverReader will (and must!) read whatever happens to be at hand: the backs of cereal boxes, random flyers found on the bus or subway, 10 year old boring magazines found in the dentist’s waiting room, good literature, bad literature and everything in-between!

E Adopt the wise words of the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus as your motto: ”When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

R Read entirely too much. Refuse to define ”too much”.

R Realize that you are powerless over your bibliophilia. Let it control your life.

E Enjoy your role as an OverReader and take pride in being a bibliophile.

A Make receiving the ”OverReader of the Month” Award one of your primary goals. Once you have won, nominate a fellow OverReader!

D Desire every book you see.

E Embrace your Excess need for the written word.

R Remember to support your local independent bookshop


– New York Stories!


Are you already an OverReader? Take this test created by Tom Raabe, author of ”Biblioholism” to determine the level of your addiction.

  1. When you go to a bookstore with a friend, are you usually carrying more books when you leave than your friend is?
  2. Do you wake up the morning after, unable to remember how many books you bought or how much you spent on them?
  3. Do you, inexplicably, yank down a volume from the store shelves, open it, and shove your nose deeply into the binding, hungrily inhaling the ink and paper smells?
  4. Have you ever bought the same book twice without knowing it?
  5. When you go into a bookstore after work, thus arriving home late at night, do you lie about where you have been, telling your spouse you were at a bar?
  6. At Christmastime, do you buy your loved ones books that you want to read?
  7. Have you ever given up on a book before you started it?
  8. Are you unable to walk through a mall without stopping at a bookstore?
  9. Do you have a personal library on an entire subject, none of which you have read?
  10. Do you ever buy books simply because they were on sale?
  11. Have you ever bought a book because you liked the cover design?
  12. When at a garage sale, is the first thing you look at the books?
  13. Have you ever been fired from a job, or reprimanded, for reading?
  14. Have you and your immediate family ever ”discussed” your book-buying and reading habits?
  15. When you watch TV, do you always have a book in your lap for slow parts and commercials?
  16. Do you ”watch” television sports with the sound off?
  17. Does panic set in when you find yourself in a barber’s chair or at the salon with nothing to read?
  18. Have you ever suddenly become deeply interested in an obscure topic and immediately bought six or more books on that topic?
  19. Do you ever lie about how many books you’ve bought?
  20. Do you devise grand and devious strategies for getting your books into the house to avoid your spouse’s or family’s scrutiny?
  21. Has your book buying ever embarrassed your family or friends?
  22. When a stranger walks into your house or apartment, are his or her first words usually a comment about your books?
  23. If someone asks you for a reading list of the twenty most influential books you’ve ever read, do you happen to have such a list on your person?
  24. Do you have at least six books next to your bed?
  25. When a bookstore clerk has been unable to locate a certain book in the stacks, have you ever been able to find that book?

Count up the number of yes answers. If you answered yes to more than four questions, you are looking down into the deep and woeful pit of biblioholism. If you answered yes to more than eight, you are hanging by your fingernails on the edge, your legs kicking in the emptiness and your eyes imploringly turned heavenward for rescue.

Congratulations – you are an OverReader!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cooking the Books



This is not a post on illegal accounting practices at the old bookshop, but a consideration of that interesting breed, the Edible Book. I had never considered such an animal until I saw Book Patrol's report about the Deep Fried Books of artists John LaFalce and Drew Matott. The pair battered and fried up platters of books as part of Columbia College's Manifest Urban Arts Festival in Chicago this past May and have done this kind of performance art/cookery at several other venues. The results are certainly interesting and in the example shown here, somewhat disturbingly like a human ribcage.

The samurai-haired Matott has launched his own Deep Fried Book Blog where you can read about the subject more in-depth. No information on shelf life or whether trans fats were involved with these erstwhile edibles. I should think in their vacuum-sealed wrappers they might last longer than a Twinkie but less than the cockroach species. The Blog also contains video footage of other Book Fries and solicits book donations for upcoming events, should one be so inclined.

Prowling other biblio-culinary websites, I came across the Festival International Du Livre Mangeable (International Festival of Edible Books) where one can feast one's eyes on bookish characters and scenes made out of food and book-shaped food, mostly cake and chocolate constructions, from all over the world. This annual festival is celebrated each year around April 1st, the birthdate of French culinarian and author of "The Physiology of Taste", Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Each year many libraries, museums, and artists collaborate on this visual feast and produce these fanciful book and food sculptures.

Rebecca Federman's Cooked Books blog explores all things culinary at the New York Public Library. There are tidbits about cookbooks, cooking-related art exhibits and and other biblio-canapes which are worth sampling.

Eat. Read. Love.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Number 20,000


In between snacking on chocolate eyeballs intended for trick-or-treaters that never arrived at our rural home, I managed to catalogue our 20,000th Internet book title. I started Internet sales when my youngest daughter entered full-day kindergarten and now that she is in the seventh grade, I've accomplished this book listing milestone. Book number 20000 is a Dalziel/Pascoe mystery, "Recalled to Life" by the ever-wonderful Reginald Hill.

In celebration of this eight-year-long achievement, Old Saratoga Books will be having a 20% discount on all Internet books throughout the month of November. You can go to our website,
www.oldsaratogabooks.com and enter the coupon code "Hooray" and your purchase will be discounted by 20%. All books are included and you can use the coupon code repeatedly.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Book Review: Cookoff


Book Trout Book Review:

Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America, by Amy Sutherland (NY: Viking, 2003)

My grandmother collected recipe booklets from food manufacturers from the 1930s through the 1970s, saving labels from cans and bottles, cutting out tabs from cardboard packages and redeeming them with her postpaid envelopes to get various soft cover cookbooks prominently featuring the company product, whether it was shortening, flavored gelatins, canned pineapple or baking powder. I remember many summer afternoons leafing through her cookbook collection and getting the sense that every home cook wore a ruffled pinafore apron, a happy smile and high heels. My grandma and her wonderful cookbooks made meal preparation seem like a fun and rewarding thing to do and I think of her a lot when I'm cooking.

It was with that sense of fuzzy nostalgia that I picked up a copy of Sutherland's book, expecting that I would snack on satisfying stories of plucky cooks rewriting bespattered copies of family heirloom recipes and winning fabulous prizes. Was I wrong. The American competitive corporate cooking scene is more like a grim battle among a small cadre of obsessed contesters (the major leaguers who have hundreds of contest wins and cheerlessly run through recipes designed for corporate marketing appeal rather than taste). Grandma would be sad and puzzled to meet up with these robotic chefs.

What an unappealing lot these major leaguers are with their whining websites, backstabbing complaints about fellow contestants, and mean-spirited attempts to psyche out the hapless few amateur cooks who blunder into this tense scene. Sutherland certainly doesn't describe any joy at the Pillsbury Bake-Off, the Build a Better Burger Contest or even the Gilroy Garlic Festival. If you can't have fun while wearing a garland of the stinking rose, it is a sad day indeed.

There is an interesting chapter about muy macho barbecue and chili cookoffs and the decidedly-not-corporate contesters who spend their vacations (and retirements) (and their retirement savings) at these events. Certainly the accounts of the various eccentrics who name their barbecue teams and trailer-sized cookers and imbibe liver-busting amounts of alcohol at these events seem to have a little more camaraderie.

Cookoff was an eye-opening book for me and one that ultimately got rather depressing. I didn't even feel like jotting down any of the contest-winning recipes because I got so disgusted at the winning cooks. I applaud Sutherland for keeping her cool when surrounded by so much self-absorbed nastiness in the kitchens. The writing could have been a little more punchy, but I guess when your main characters are so leaden, it is hard to keep things light.

Recommended reading for foodies, the strong-hearted and military strategists.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pruning the Bookstore

Last month the Bookshop Blog had an interesting post about deadwood book categories that should be expurgated from the bookshop. Despite a suppressed desire to become the Empress of Books and thus have copies of every out-of-print book, I realize that there is only so much shelf and floor space at Old Saratoga Books and therefore, routine book pruning is required. I have "killed" sections at our shop in the past, such as the foreign languages section and the various categories of paperback romances that I used to shelve by publisher and number (oh, the humanity!).

After reading the Bookshop Blog post I am tempted to wield the book pruning shears again. While I don't agree with the blog comment advising the consignment of the biographies to the guillotine, it does make sense to shelve artists in the art section, authors in their own literary biography section, scientists in science, etc. There are always oddball and interesting biographies, though, and so we do retain a larger-than-I-would-like biography section, but I do keep a gimlet eye on them every time I go upstairs. If someone's been hanging out too long, they get sent to the rack...the bargain rack.

I am often tempted to ax the true crime section. I love a good fictional murder mystery, but reading about real people getting killed is creepy. I am little scared by the purchasers of these books and I try to offload most of them into the bargain carts or sell them in box lots on ebay just to get them out of here. I do have the true crime section in the furthest reaches of the upstairs just so the weirdos that buy them are out of my sight. Lately there has been a flush of interest in Mafia-related books, probably because of the success of the Sopranos television series, so I haven't yet whacked this section. It's definitely on probation. Same goes for the off-putting horror fiction section.

Another book section worth killing would be local history section. It sounds reasonable to want to have books about your area in the shop. We certainly get a lot of inquiries about titles about Saratoga County history and the Battle of Saratoga and I used to try and scout these out in my travels and purchase them from other book dealers. They are hard to come by, as most local historians hang on to them throughout their mortal coil and because they usually have a small print run, making them even scarcer. When such a book comes into the shop, it is a rare event, and therefore, gets a rare price. The local history buff then comes in and spies this treasure but wants to pay the equivalent value of a Danielle Steel paperback and there is usually lots of whining about needing the book for important research. It's also a popular section for folks wanting to "just borrow" the book overnight or who boldly ask whether I have a copy machine. I love having history books in the shop, but one day all the local history book section will definitely be killed.

The magic about killing a section, or at least stripping it way back, as Nora of Rainy Day Books notes in the Bookshop Blog piece, is that it does seem to revitalize sales in that area. A completely full shelf of books just does not sell as well as a partially full shelf with a shiny book or two facing out. Then there is the bookseller's mojo of having touched a section that immediately makes some of these moribund titles suddenly become desirable. It's spooky how many times I've pruned, fluffed up and dusted a section only to have a book that's been in residence for years spring into a customer's hands.

Drama is a real dead dog in our particular location, but I haven't had the heart to strike a stake in the heart of Shakespeare, Beckett, O'Neill and Company. I have made sure the plays are in alphabetical order and I often pull plays out to reside in the Classics section, where they then make their way out the door.

I was interested to read the Rainy Day Books comments about having the spy/thriller section morph from "an absolute bloated dog" to a bestselling section. Hmmm. I'll have to get on that, because it is not a real seller for us. I have these "shoot 'em ups", as my uncle calls them, mixed in with regular contemporary fiction and perhaps they need their own space so they can radiate their testosterone-packed, cyber-spy, mercenary/CIA agent/misunderstood loner energy out to potential readers. It certainly is harder to ferret them out quickly by cover design as the old Cold War hammer and sickles and Nazi insignias of our erstwhile global villains have been replaced by slick techno art. I guess a big gun will always dictate their placement unless a horse is involved (western) or alien with big mammaries (sci-fi).

William from the always-interesting Hang Fire books blog ("Epic Battles in the Salvation Army, Homeric Journeys to the Post Office"), noted in his comments to this piece that in his retail bookstore experience, a Curiosities section worked well in the place of some dead zone material and I will have to follow up on that. I have a Miscellaneous section, but if I pruned out the housekeeping/organization/wacky laws and place names type books, there would be some weird and wonderful titles to perhaps shelve with the circus shelf into a Curiosities section. (Note to self: don't just type this up and forget about it).

Off to knock off some books......

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Doris Lessing, Nobel Laureate


Congratulations from the Book Trout to the newest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the prolific, Persian/Iranian-Rhodesian/Zimbabwan-English writer Doris Lessing. I cannot comment on Ms. Lessing's works as a whole, having read only The Golden Notebook, but she certainly seems to have been an innovator and progressive thinker. Her life has certainly been long and interesting and I think I will pick up one of her books of memoir before another work of fiction. I am intrigued by someone who when told by the journalist crowd at her door that she had won the Nobel Prize answered "Oh Christ..I couldn't care less". Perhaps she curmudgeoningly overlooked the million dollar attachment.

As a used book seller, I was selfishly happy to see this honor bestowed as I actually have a large number of her works in stock. Previous Nobel Laureates, such as Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz, Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, Austrian novelist/playwright Elfriede Jelinek and Franco-Sino writer Gao Xingjian were maddeningly underrepresented on our bookstore shelves. We do currently have a hardcover set of the five novels in Lessing's science fiction/Sufist master work The Canopus in Argos: Archives Series, as well as many other novels by Ms. Lessing in stock, so feel free to contact us at Old Saratoga Books if you would like some Nobel quality reading matter.

For more information about this interesting author, here's a great site to check out a biography of Ms. Lessing, bibliographies, and other links.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Some of the Best Novels You've Never Read?









New York magazine has an interesting article in which sixty-one literary critics discuss their favorite underrated contemporary novels (and several short story collections and memoirs). There are some authors on the exalted list who do seem to have garnered their share of attention (John Lanchester, Carol Shields, Norman Rush, Martin Amis, for examples); after all, winning the Pulitzer Prize guarantees a bit of press and book sales, but I suppose when compared to being anointed by Oprah it is small potatoes. I can heartily agree with Ron Rosenbaum's choice of John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure" as a wondrously wicked novel, and I am putting several other contenders on my Christmas wish list: Russell Banks' "The Darling"; David Fulmer's jazz mystery "Rampart Street"; and "The Extra Man" by Jonathan Ames. Hopefully some of my loved ones are reading this blog.

The Book Trout swam about Old Saratoga Books and rounded up eight of the Best Novels You've Never Read as noted in the New York article and we offer them for your consideration below. You can click on the photos of each book if you are interested in purchasing a copy from our secure website.

  • Nunn, Kem, Tapping the Source, NY The Delacorte Press 1984. "What Hemingway's Nick Adams did for fishing, Kem Nunn does for surfing".
  • Harrison, Jim, The Road Home, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998. The sequel to Harrison's novel "Dalva".
  • Sapolsky, Robert M., A Primate's Memoir, NY: Scribner, 2001. A memoir of two decades in Kenya studying baboons.
  • Epstein, Leslie, San Remo Drive, NY: Handsel Books, 2003. "It is a large, public book that explores the glamorous life of Hollywood and evokes the landscape of Southern California both as it is now and as it appeared before the migration to it of millions" (from front jacket flap).
  • DeWitt, Helen, The Last Samurai, NY: Hyperion, 2001. The author's first novel, nominated in New York Magazine by Sven Birkets for exalted literary status "for its playful, steady, angst-attuned intelligence and its utter conceptual exceptionality".
  • Rush, Norman, Mortals, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. A doorstop of a novel set in Botswana.
  • Hellenga, Robert R. The Fall of a Sparrow, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998. The author's second novel, in which classics professor "Woody" Woodhull goes to Italy to attend the trial of the terrorists who killed his daughter in a bombing.
  • Shields, Carol, Unless, NY: Fourth Estate, 2003. The late author's last novel, shortlisted for theOrange Prize, the Man Booker Prize, The Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Chris over at the great Book Hunter's Holiday blog, where the posts are organized as chapters, has a great review of books about books which should be perused by every bookseller and bibliophile. Chapter 33, "Required Reading for Those New to Antiquarian Books", covers biblionovels, books about used bookselling, rare booksellers' memoirs, and books about book collecting. Great stuff. And now I must add to my nightstand reading pile since there were many titles I haven't explored.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Secret of Lost Things: A Biblionovel Book Review


The Secret of Lost Things, by Sheridan Hay (NY: Doubleday, 2006)

After hearing a radio interview with the author I had to buy a copy of "The Secret of Lost Things". Biblionovels are one of my reading passions and this book did not disappoint. It provided a neat interweaving of bookstore novel, unusual character studies and a literary puzzle.

The book is a coming of age story about a red-maned Tasmanian daughter of a milliner. Upon her single mother's death she is taken in by her mom's best friend bookseller. The friend sagely suggests having an adventure while she is young and firmly insists that she move off her island and onto another: Manhattan. Our eighteen-year-old heroine, Rosemary Savage, then finds cheap lodging in a women's hotel managed by Lillian, the grieving mother of an Argentine professor, one of the thousands of "the disappeared", tortured and killed by the military junta that ruled during the 1970s.

Rosemary then stumbles into a job at a Strand-like used bookstore, The Arcade, where the characters are eccentric all. There is the store owner, Mr. Pike, a blustering man with Victorian speech patterns; Arcade manager, Walter Geist, an albino with failing eyesight; Nonfiction manager Oscar, an emotionally-stunted fountain of textile minutiae; Pearl, the flirtatious transsexual cashier and would-be opera singer; and the Czar of the Rare Book Room, Mr. Mitchell, a rubicund, pipe-smoking teddy bear who skillfully presses the buttons of upscale book collectors.

With this disparate crew, Hay inserts a small voyage to retrieve a lost Melville novella. There are many interesting scenes at the New York Public Library, collectors' mansions and at Rosemary's second apartment, a heatless and downtrodden flat in the Lower East Side. The theme of the selfish collector, one who amasses the world's treasures but does not share them with others, is fleshed out perfectly with this description of the curator in charge of a millionaire collector's cabinets of curiosities:

"A peevish woman appeared, in her late twenties but dressed expensively in clothes more suited to a woman twice her age. Her hair was set severely in a bun, and she was round without seeming fleshy, somehow taut inside her clothing, at once plump and stiff".


While the novel did not contain as much bookstore gossip as I had hoped, it was an elegantly-written and -plotted book. And, oddly, the central character, Rosemary, seemed the most remote to me. She seems somewhat numb all the time, despite having the most unusual experiences. Still, an absorbing read and another book I am anxious to share with others.

I especially loved the comparison of the millinery supply shops Rosemary would travel to each year with her hatmaking mother and Mr. Mitchell's lair at the Arcade:

"No doubt my fondness for the Rare Book Room came in part from a sense of familiarity. It was a version of Foys' hat workroom from childhood visits to Sydney. There were no piles of skins, no wall of drawers filled with bric-a-brac, but each old volume amounted to something like the same thing. A book was like a drawer; one opened it and notions flew out."


Recommended reading for bibliophiles, Big Apple lovers, Melville fans and most everyone else.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Candy Freak

The promise of "Candy Freak", by the appropriately-named Steve Almond (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004) was much like unwrapping a jumbo size Sugar Daddy caramel pop : toothsome at the outset, somewhat cloying in the middle, and ultimately an unsatisfying oversaturation.

The subject is certainly interesting. Who doesn't want to relive childhood sugar rush memories? Almond's writing was breezy, informative and packed with interesting sidebars about obscure candies and the Willie Wonkas that manufacture them, but there was also too much filler about his angst over his relationship with his father and often tedious information about candy factory machinery and marketing strategies.

Where "Candy Freak" succeeded was in the author's unadulterated passion for candy and its many permutations. He could also be flat out funny. I picked up the book while on vacation this summer and read large passages while sipping white wine on my hotel's street side porch. (Literary correctness dictates that I should have been stirring a chocolate soda with a peppermint stick, but I needed a restorative libation). I snorted a large measure of Sauvignon Blanc off the hotel balcony while reading the following passage:

I have been endowed with one of those disgusting metabolisms that allow me to eat at will. To physiologists, I am a classic ectomorph, though my ex-girlfriends have tended to gravitate toward the term scrawny. The downside of this metabolic arrangement is that I am a slave to my blood sugar. If I don't eat for too long, I start thinking about murdering people, and I am inexorably drawn toward fats and carbs. I hate most vegetables, particularly what I call the evil brain trio--broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts--which tastes, to me, like flatulence that has been allowed to blossom.
Recommended reading for fellow candy freaks and candy company executives, but unfortunately not a sweet read overall.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Droolworthy Home Libraries



Dutch book lover Kim over at the fun book blog Kimbooktu has an ongoing project, Yourshelves, in which she's trying to collect images of home libraries of bibliophiles around the globe. After many years of having piles of books around, books in milk crates, bedside book ziggurats and precarious book stacks on every horizontal surface in the house, Dan crafted a beautiful library for us in our old house with warm wooden shelves along every wall. It's everyone's favorite room now and with lots of window light during the day and strategically-placed overhead lights for our aging eyes at night, it's a perfect reading room. We snuggle up on the couch with our two cats and enjoy many a good book.

If you would like to contribute a picture of your home library you can click on the leatherbound book logo above and send Kim an email.

Friday, September 28, 2007

My Father's Dragon Lady

Today I had a customer come in and politely ask for directions to the children's section. She came back a few moments later and had the good taste to have a copy of L.M. Boston's "The Children of Green Knowe" in her hand. We chatted as I rang up her purchase and she commented about how used bookstores are such nice repositories of older titles and mentioned that she was an author herself. Ever-curious and ever-bold from my downstate New York upbringing, I asked what she had written. She demurred and said that she had written a book published way back in 1948 and that I probably had never heard of it. I pressed on with my queries and she very modestly said that she had written a children's book called "My Father's Dragon".

My mouth flapped open. Not heard of "My Father's Dragon"! Unthinkable! This book is a wonderful children's fantasy, and a winner of Newbery Honors. I not only read and loved this book as a kid, but I read it aloud to my kids when they were younger and have pressed many copies into the hands of parents and grandparents asking for recommended reading for their small fry. I restrained myself from running around the counter and squeezing the no-need-to-be modest Ruth Stiles Gannett in a bear hug, but couldn't resist asking if I could take a picture of her holding a copy of her much beloved book. She was gracious enough to inscribe this new family heirloom to my two girls, "daughters of the enthusiastic seller of books of yore".

I mentioned this author encounter to my next several customers and both were knocked out. They too, had not only heard of this book but had read, re-read and gifted this book to others. I found out that there are two sequels to this title, "Elmer and the Dragon" and "The Dragons of Blueland", which I will now have to purchase. A euphoric day at the old bookshop indeed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Further Adventures in BiblioArchaeology


Last month we reported on our excavations regarding the biblio-mounds in our bookshop basement, the result of over-exuberant buying over the last several years. It has been entertaining and exciting going through these boxes and remembering the in-shop exchanges, library sales and other book purchases which ended up in these boxes. And it has been a good idea to take a breather from buying and trading books in the shop to catch up on these previous acquisitions.

Going through a pile of children's books gleaned from a library book during its last hour, I was delighted to come across a lucrative find: "Jellybeans for Breakfast" by Miriam Young. I had originally picked up the book because it was in good shape and was a cute story about two little girls with unflattering 60's short hairdos who imagine a time when they can get together without parents constantly telling them what to do. They can slop water out of the bathtub, ride their bikes up to the moon, stay up all night, keep as many pets as they want, and most importantly, eat jellybeans for breakfast. Since buying this book I had become more familiar with its desirability among nostalgic baby boomers from the great book blog Book Ride, driven by the good folk at London's Any Amount of Books bookstore. I felt that this would be a good candidate to put up for auction on eBay and it netted a respectable $52.01.

Deeper into the heart of the book pile I hit a vein of mysteries from an estate purchase. I had immediate customers for some British mystery authors, including Jonathan Gash (author of the the Lovejoy series featuring the roguish antique dealer and sleuth) and Margaret Yorke (an amazingly prolific writer of psychological suspense novels, in the same vein as the divine (or rather B. Vine) Ruth Rendell). Other mysteries have gone onto our Mystery and Mayhem catalogue on www.oldsaratogabooks.com, including some lovely jacketed vintage mysteries, so be sure to check our website if you are interested in this genre.

I've also put lots of jazz books in our music section. I uncovered a box of great books about Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Dinah Washington, Woody Herman and jazz of the early 20th century, and these are all on the bookshop shelves. Some have even made it to our online jazz catalogue, but I find that they sell well in the shop, so most are in residence there. A few boxes of art books were also unearthed from this same purchase and are renewed with jacket protectors and a good dusting and cleaning.

I can never turn down a good history collection and so a box of Russian history reared its head out of the book mine. Russian and Soviet material seems to have reached its English language publishing apex during the Cold War years, but there is always room on the shelves in the second floor World History section for some new comrades.

Dan and I can't recall where we picked up a batch of earth science books, but we are happy to have an interesting compendium of photographs of various parts of the earth seen from space in "Geomorphology from Space: A Global Overview of Regional Landforms", published by NASA in 1986. This hefty volume has beautifully detailed remote sensing photographs of all kinds of mountains, geological formations, volcanoes and other natural wonders, and while I did enjoy perusing it over several nights, I am willing to consign it to the bookstore shelves.

Another day's excavation uncovered a long-forgotten batch of literary criticism and biographies from a retiring college professor. While these are not hot sellers, I find I always have room for them at Old Saratoga Books. It is always rewarding to place these books in the hands of an avid T.S. Eliot fan or graduate student studying Melville's poetry or Renaissance drama.

Dan and I are making good progress gleaning through the book mounds (nipping downstairs in between customers, and sometimes on our days off) and hope to make some more progress before the basement gets too chilly. It has been refreshing to be subterranean during the summer months, but soon our benumbed fingers will not stand hour after hour of sorting through the book piles, so it's back to the basement for these two biblioarchaeologists. Heigh ho!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Book Arts Lecture in Chicago tonight


Lucky Chicagoans will be treated to a free lecture by book artist Julie Chen tonight at the Columbia College Chicago, Center for Book and Paper Arts, at 6:30 pm. The College is located at 1104 S Wabash Ave, and the lecture will take place in Room 502.

Chen is the founder of Flying Fish Press, which produces extraordinary letterpress books, such as the delectable "Bon Bon Mots" pictured here. What a treat it must be to explore the words and art in these biblio bon bons. The Flying Fish website features many other intriguing and beautiful examples of Chen's art, including a lovely tribute to the music of Erik Satie with die-cut windows, and other books shaped in various configurations.

The Center for Book and Paper Arts has many other lectures, workshops, exhibitions and classes focusing on bookbinding, letterpress printing, and it will certainly be a required stop on my next visit to Chicago.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Woodrow Wilson on Books



On Being Human, by Woodrow Wilson (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1916)


The 28th President of the United States published this lovely little volume, a rumination on those qualities which mark us as distinct from the other members of the animal kingdom. The first chapters of this extended essay are a paean to books and how reading and sharing information are important components of our humanity. Here is passion indeed from this preacher's son:

You devour a book meant to be read, not because you would fill yourself or have an anxious care to be nourished, but because it contains such stuff as it makes the mind hungry to look upon. Neither do you read it to kill time, but to lengthen time, rather, adding to it its natural usury by living the more abundantly while it lasts, joining another's life and thought to your own.


President Wilson's tenure in office and his advocacy of the League of Nations were hampered by his many health problems, sadly, and one can only wonder what world events might have been altered if this stalwart humanitarian had been well. If only more book lovers ruled the world.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Buffet of Bookish Bits



I've rounded up a smattering of book-related Internet goodies which may be of interest to others:

1) An article about the Book Trout's favorite book illustrator, Edward Gorey, in this month's issue of Harvard Magazine, accompanied by a photo of the bearded one snoozing among stacks of books and cats. Now that's a holy trinity.

2) A hilarious piece from The Mystery Readers Journal by mystery author Elaine Viets about her stint selling books.

3) San Anselmo bookstore Heldfond Book Gallery has a great website with a funky, noir feel. In addition to ogling their rare books, you can check out bookstore videos and their campy paperback book art which you can order as an 8x10 image suitable for framing.

4) The BBC website reports on the mountain climbing mules that bring library books to remote Andean villages in Venezuela.

5) Author Bill Peschel, who has the good taste to be photographed next to a Robertson Davies novel, provides ongoing biblio-tidbits on his blog Planet Peschel, which also is linked to his hilarious Museum of Modern Kitsch.

6) The indefatigable J. Godsey in Massachusetts maintains a number of book-related blogs, but I had never checked out her book repair supply site, sicpress, which has a swoon-worthy array of brushes, dusters, erasers, adhesives and supplies for the bookseller, collector, librarian or anyone needing to patch up a much-loved volume. There are even many instructional videos to demonstrate the use of these products and how to do various book repairs. Bookmark it.

7) A review of Geraldine Brooks's yet-to-be-released biblio-novel, The People of the Book, from theBookseller.com. I read and loved Brooks' evocative novel about the plague in rural 17th century England, "Year of Wonders" and have yet to scarf up her Pulitzer Prize novel "March", and now this new book will have to go on my wish list. Or possibly moved up to the Christmas list. Husband Tony Horwitz is also on the Book Trout's recommended author list. His account of traveling in Captain Cook's footsteps around the Pacific, "Blue Latitudes" is witty and informative, as is "Confederates in the Attic" about rabid reenactors. How much fun these two would be at the dinner table!

Enjoy your literary surfing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

We get some of the nicest people coming to our bookstore. Many folks comment on Sam, the portly feline that drapes himself about the books, and I usually get a few photographs of the grey eminence sent to me each year. This striking photo of Sam hard at work is courtesy of Dan Wilcox, who maintains a great blog on the Albany, New York poetry scene.

I have been surprised and delighted by other kindnesses that our customers have bestowed upon us: homegrown catnip and handmade cat toys for Sam, plates of holiday cookies, perennial flower cuttings, bags of bubble wrap and packing peanuts, orphaned boxes of books left on our doorstep, and once, a plate of fried fish, complete with napkin and cutlery, after I was spied sucking down a tepid and insipid cup o' soup behind the desk in sight of my fairy cod-mother. Another great advantage of the bookselling life.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Old Saratoga Books Article in Biblio Unbound


Our bookshop makes an appearance on the Internet literary scene today with an article in this month's issue of Biblio Unbound, the new magazine attached to the Biblio.com used book marketplace. I wrote an article rather longishly titled "Essentials of the Home Library: The Reference Section. Initially, it was to be an article about all the sections one might have at home, but the 500 word limit proved too daunting. Sam the cat looks so annoyingly more photogenic in the accompanying photo that I may have to cut his catnip rations in retaliation.

This is only the second issue of Biblio Unbound, and the editors are soliciting other bookish articles, so check out the website if you have the urge to write. They offer payment in money or books, so you can feed either need. Biblio.com is one of the smaller used and rare bookselling sites, but it is the cleanest and easiest site to use for booksellers and book buyers in my recommendation. You earn Biblio-bucks back for each book purchase, so the biblio-obsession can just keep feeding itself.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Booking in Central Vermont


Taking advantage of some maternal babysitting, Dan and I headed off for a romantic 48-hour trip to Montpelier, Vermont. Both of us had never been there before and we love country drives, book hunting and small cities, so this turned out to be a very relaxing and interesting trip. As summer vacation-weary parents, we are also counting down the days until school starts, so it was a much-needed break.

We drove small highways into Montpelier, the Vermont state capital, which has a lovely gold-domed capitol building featuring lots of Vermont granite and marble and topped with a statue of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. There were lots of young folks playing frisbee, reading and basking in the sun on the Capitol lawns and we joined them the next day to loll about with our books. But the first order of the day was to scout the bookstores and find some lunch. We first stopped at Bear Pond Books, (77 Main Street) an indie new book store with lots of unusual titles and a great children's section upstairs. Got a couple of great books, including a remaindered copy of Steven Almond's "Candyfreak" which I have been coveting and a hardcover of Cornelia Funke's "The Thief Lord" for the kids (alright, for myself). We then headed across the street to Rivendell Books (100 Main Street), a used book store with lots of new remaindered titles. Rivendell Books has the added attraction of Veruca, the resident tortoise, whom I almost stepped on while in my book trance. Dan secured a copy of a book about building with green wood which he had long been searching for.

Feeling faint from our biblio-exertions, we needed some lunch, so after a walk around the funky downtown we decided upon Rhapsody Natural Foods, which was so good we ate there the next night. The place is painted a vibrant orange with art and photographs along the walls and features a self-serve buffet of cold, hot and sushi delights.

Thus fortified, we were about to prowl around the local paperback exchange shop, where I got the delightful Modern Library reprint of "Clementine's Kitchen", by Phineas Beck (aka Samuel Chamberlain) which recounts the World War II era meals prepared for the Chamberlain family by their Burgundian cook, Clementine, in France and then in the U.S. after the war broke out. A delightful little book that I devoured later that evening, glass of Chablis in hand.

We strolled around some more in this lovely college town and checked out another great new and used bookshop, The Book Garden, (50 State Street)where we picked up a few local history titles and chatted with the lively owner about nutrition (she's a devotee of lacto-fermentation) and things bookish. Next on our list was the radical and scholarly books offered by the volunteer workers' collective Black Sheep Books, (4 Langdon Street) which was unfortunately closed on Monday. We did manage to squeeze one more book buying stop in that day as our eyes caught the sign for an indoor flea market at Beavin and Son's Custom Printing (100 Gallison Hill), (with an eBay business in the upstairs). I was pleased to scoop up a hardcover copy of Brian Jacques' "Redwall", as an upgrade to my battered paperback and some other art and history titles.

Tired but biblio-victorious, we settled into The Capitol Plaza hotel, which was a nice, clean, family-run hotel located directly across from the town's movie theatre and unfortunately also across from the City courthouse with its hourly chiming of the clocks. However, we loved the Plaza porch and settled there for a drink and people watching both evenings.

On the advice of Pat from The Book Garden, we headed out to Plainfield, Vermont, home of Goddard College, to check out The Country Bookshop, (35 Mill Street) a great labyrinth of books surrounded by beautiful gardens. Lots of funky signage, good complimentary coffee and an interesting selection of books in just about every category. Interestingly, the shop specializes in folklore and books about bells and carillons. I got some Adirondack material and an interesting book about jazz from the 1930s. Next, we headed south to Barre, an historic granite sculpting and quarrying town, where we scrounged for books in the local thrift shop, including the major score of the day, Christopher Moore's "Practical Demonkeeping", which was missing from our collection) and scooped up some Vermont-made goodies at L.A.C.E., a downtown grocery, cafe, community space started up by the late and fantastic Warren Zevon's daughter, Ariel.

Heading west back to Montpelier, we ended up stopping at the cool ReStore (186 River Street) that recycles various business leftovers for people to buy and reuse. I got some homemade paper scraps to forge into bookmarks and Dan acquired some big plastic tubs to add to his collection of big plastic tubs. Oy. Then, we had a grand lunch feast at Finkerman's Barbeque Restaurant at 188 River Street, with pulled pork, fried trout, sauteed kale and blues music on the stereo.

Another round of drinks and reading on our hotel porch ensued as we digested our fabulous lunch and then we walked around downtown Montpelier again, ending up with another great round of chow at Rhapsody Natural Foods.

All in all, a very enjoyable trip to this eclectic and picturesque college town. The people are friendly and smart, the food is fresh and good, and there are plenty of book hunting opportunities all around.