Thursday, March 29, 2007
There are two bibliophilic resources that I use and peruse each day.
The first is the Bibliophilegroup mailing list. I have been a member of the Bibliophilegroup mailing list for about ten years now and I just can't recommend it enough to my colleagues in the bookselling and bookloving spheres. It costs $30 a year to join, although you get a free two-week trial period to check it out. It is the best $30 I spend on my book business all year. You join a lively circle of book fiends, booksellers, book collectors and rabid readers and learn cutting edge marketing tips, news, book fair schedules, computer help, book reviews and recommendations and the spiciest biblio-gossip. The list is owned and moderated by the surfing bookseller and bullfighting aficionado, Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson, who keeps everyone regaled with items about his new digs in Baja, Mexico, as well as offering the occasional ceviche recipe.
The Biblio list, as it is known to its regulars, remains as invaluable to me now as when I was a novice bookseller. It is always entertaining and enlightening as one hears what colleagues around the globe are reading, eating, listening to and imbibing. Biblians are able to post two for sale listings per day, so I also make money from my investment many times over. I've also scooped up some great books and ephemera from others for the shop and (more often) for my personal library. I can’t recommend this list enough to any bibliophile or bookseller.
My second essential daily book vitamin comes from the Bibliophilegroup Bullpen, a blog for members of the above Biblio list, run by Massachusetts native J. Godsey. Again, more precious continuing education, particularly about book repair and things typographic, is to be gleaned here. You'll also get a walloping dose of outrage over book desecrations and censorship, literary news and anniversaries, the coolest free book tools, and great visual images. I make this one of my first stops in the morning when I click on the computer so that I can enjoy "A whiff of old books with my coffee" as the site's motto indicates.
The Bibliophilegroup Bullpen is a free resource of course, but you can help support the blog by purchasing one of the cool book-themed T-shirts, aprons, book bags, coffee mugs and other items in the Bullpen store. These are of great quality and make excellent gifts. I would also recommend the purchase of Godsey's "Unbound: Book Repair for Booksellers", if anyone on your shelves is becoming unhinged or half-cocked.
Lately we've been going through the many boxes of books purchased throughout our tenure in the old open shop and categorized as "to be dealt with later". After ten years, we're not exactly sure where the majority of these books come from. On a busy Saturday of book trading and selling we might have someone drive up with a pick up truck load of books to offer and they go down in the basement so as not to clog up the aisles. Alternately, we might have bought a large private collection or hauled away a gargantuan load from a fantastic library, church, estate or garage sale and they get tucked away.
My New Year's Resolution was to mine through the stepped pyramid of book boxes in the cellar and the following treasure of unknown provenance comes from this biblio fritto misto. It was part of a particularly dusty batch of children's books and unreadable older novels. Three soft rags later, I knew that it was a great book because it had pictures and rhymes by Edward Lear and many other charming poems and illustrations by other clever types. I was flipping through it carefully, because children's books tend to have a lot of wear and tear and I wanted to be sure all pages were present and unblemished.
Everything looked alright and I got out my pencil to write in the price on the front free endpaper when I my eyes roved over to the polar bear bookplate on the front pastedown. Polar bears are unusual subjects for bookplates and teddies are the usual bears of choice for children's books. Then I noticed the owner's name: Marie Peary Stafford. Hmmm. Peary, polar. The image of my high school social studies teacher floated above my head knocking me with a blackboard pointer. It finally clicked. Robert Peary is credited with discovering the North Pole! Maybe Marie Peary Stafford is related to him. A little book and Internet research later and the mystery unfolded...
This book is available for sale in the shop and online at our bookstore website. Here are the particulars:
Such Nonsense: An Anthology, edited by Carolyn Wells, NY:
NY George H. Doran Company, 1918, first edition. Decorative grey cloth binding. 249 pages, index of titles, index of authors. Many whimsical illustrations accompanying this compendium of humorous verse, drawings, stories and other tidbits, intended for younger readers. Boards splayed, soiled and rubbed, several pages lightly soiled. Polar bear bookplate of Marie Peary Stafford on front pastedown endpaper. Gift inscription to Stafford on front free endpaper from her Uncle and Aunt Bobby.
Marie Peary Stafford (1893-1978) was the Arctic-born baby of Rear Admiral Robert Peary, nicknamed the "Snow Baby" by the Greenlanders of her birthland. Robert Peary is the persistent discoverer of the North Pole in 1909, ably assisted by African-American explorer Matthew Henson and many Inuit guides. The Snow Baby grew up to champion the plight of Denmark and Greenland during World War II, when German blockades threatened food and other supplies to these icebound areas. She also helped lead an expedition to the Arctic to erect a monument memorializing her father's North Pole discovery. $125.00
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
What do booksellers do on their days off? We love to go to other bookshops, of course! And yesterday Dan and I gave ourselves a "perfect treat" to quote Virginia Woolf and visited John and Jan DeMarco of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs. Lyrical Ballad has been a cornerstone of the downtown Saratoga retail scene for 35 years. The DeMarco's reputation as the deans of the Capital District used book world belies the warmth and graciousness of these colleagues, especially when we were utter book novices and peppered them with business questions.
Named after the Wordsworth poetry title, Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a wonderful labyrinth of books. The shop is located at 7 Phila Street, right off Broadway, in the lower space of a former bank building. The original bank vault remains, but instead of being filled with bags of filthy lucre it is loaded with the rarest and scarcest book treasures.
The front rooms are stunning, lined with corniced wood shelves that frame the book jewels to great effect. The accompanying photos show the two bookcases I most covet, an antique revolving bookcase that looks like a castle turret and the glass-fronted bookcase of miniature books. And then there are the myriad of bookends above all the shelves for more biblio-frisson.
Lyrical Ballad specializes in books about art, dance, horses, history, classic literature and fine bindings, but it has just about every other kind of book category radiating off the entrance space. A roomful of antique prints lies in the back and I can't browse the Books about Books section without buying a volume or two. The DeMarcos also rent books for movie and stage sets (pay attention to the books in those Merchant and Ivory films) furnishing libraries for interior decorators and exhibiting at the Boston and New York Antiquarian Book Fairs.
About twenty years ago, John landed his Grey White Whale of book opportunities when a local antique dealer approached him about a trunk full of papers owned by an elderly client in the nearby hamlet of Gansevoort. The customer was a descendant of Herman Melville and it turns out that the "Moby Dick" author frequently visited his Gansevoort relations and spent much time writing and revising his work. The papers turned out to contain a large collection of family letters and heart-stoppingly, a handwritten, extensively corrected first draft manuscript of "Typee". These were sold to various public and private collections and it is safe to say that biographies and other scholarship about Melville using these items will continue for many, many years.
You must stop by Lyrical Ballad Bookstore whenever you are in the Saratoga Springs area. The store is open every day, with extended hours during the Summer Racing Season. You can contact the DeMarcos at (518) 584-8779 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org to find our more information.
Monday, March 26, 2007
We greet Spring this week in upstate New York with cool temperatures and still lots of snow on the ground. In attempts to lure the sun and maybe a few book browsers, I've loaded up the front window with all my neon orange books and some real-life expensive oranges. This is certainly one of my most eye-catching window displays in a long time. But have yet to sell an orange book....
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Our book trout logo was designed by my excellent daughter, Leigh, a high school freshman and very talented artist. I must brag that she just won Best in Show at an exhibition, The Young Artists Palette Project, sponsored by the North Country Arts Center in Glens Falls, New York. This impressive art exhibit featured wooden palettes decorated by high school students. There were fiber art palettes decorated with home-grown, home-dyed wool, sophisticated self-portrait, a couple of frogs on lily pads and a great palette decorated with painted rabbits. Leigh's mixed-media design involved a wooden figure holding a palette covered with painted organs, antique anatomical images and a graffiti-like vibe all over. Look for more Leigh designs on this blog in the future. And my Book Minnow also wants to let everyone that she will work cheap, so drop a line to Mama Book Trout if you need some graphic design work.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I like to collect book images and bookish things and have a book in my personal collection about the artwork of Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He was a court painter for the Hapsburg Emperors Ferdinand I and Maximilian II and painted many formal portraits, but found a niche market amongst the royals for allegorical portraits. Arcimboldo's fanciful "The Librarian" is displayed here and shows a man constructed of books. Other works along this theme include gardeners made of vegetables, cooks made of meat, admirals made of fish and other works which seem to be simple still life scenes until one views them upside-down and they transform.
You can admire other Arcimboldo images at Olga's Gallery.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Anne Diggory will be giving a gallery talk on Thursday, April 19th at 7 pm at Riverfront Studios. The Book Trout will see you there.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
One of my customers was recently shocked to discover that I had never read Michael Shaara's THE KILLER ANGELS and so it was consigned to the teetering biblio-tower on my nightstand, where it was housed for way too long. I like historical fiction, but not military history and felt that this novel about the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg might be a bit dry. Not so.
Shaara's writing is vivid, poetic and tinged with the tragic. The reader and the major characters know that thousands of men will suffer and die fighting in the hot several days running up to Fourth of July, a day formerly celebrated by all. We step inside the mind of General Robert E. Lee, struggling with his worsening heart disease and trying to remain upright, literally and morally, as he mulls battle strategies, all of which are imperfect. Shaara, also felled early by a heart attack, describes his "hollow, glassy heart" that stops beating and flips over when he thinks of the upcoming fight and of the mingled regrets and honors in leading the Confederate Army. We get inside the mind of Lee's hulking second in command, James Longstreet, his most trusted General since the death of Stonewall Jackson, and there is another complicated set of emotions and thoughts. Longstreet broods not only on the recent death of three of his children, but is conflicted between his devotion for Lee and his orders to direct the attack on the well-fortified, better ground of the Yankees. His character contrasts with the lovely General George Pickett, whose ringlets, perfume and unabashed acknowledgment of his last place standing in his West Point class would make him the comic relief in this drama were it not for his unswerving courage on the field of battle.
On the Union side, the characters are no less interesting, though historical hindsight does make them less tragic. The professorial General Joshua L. Chamberlain, leader of the decimated 20th Maine regiment, is the most engaging. Just before he is given the challenge of defending the key defensive position of Little Round Top against massive enemy forces, he gets the mixed blessing of 120 new troops who are sullen, mistreated mutineers from another Maine unit. Chamberlain's other concerns are complex. He thinks about the immediate safety of his younger brother Thomas, has dreamy reveries of his cozy, bookish family life, and startlingly-ambivalent(to him) thoughts about a wounded, runaway African-American slave who wanders into the Union camp just before battle.
This novel received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975 and is ranked highly in Robert Wooster's "The Civil War Bookshelf: Fifty Must-Read Books About the War Between the States" (NY: Citadel Press, 2001), among heaps of other accolades. I was surprised to enjoy this book so well and am pleased to offer it as the first recommendation of the Book Trout.
Friday, March 16, 2007
The busiest time of the year is in Summer. Nearby Saratoga Springs has the world-class Saratoga Race Track, where thoroughbreds and the glitterati converge during the six-week racing season. Saratoga Springs also has a great Performing Arts Center which hosts a jazz festival, and is the seasonal home for the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as many other musical events. Other visitors include boaters docked on the Hudson River and history buffs checking out the Saratoga National Battlefield, the Battle Monument, General Philip Schuyler's summer
residence and other area historic landmarks.
We have two floors in our bookshop, with all of the fiction downstairs and a lot of the non-fiction housed above. We have a special kid's section to corral the young ones, although it is frequented most by nostalgic adults.
The last time we took inventory we had between 50,000 and 60,000 books and these are divided up into over 90 categories, from circus books to labor history to Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. We have strong collections in history of all kinds, but are particularly deep in the American Revolution and Colonial history sections. Dan and I love art, music, cooking, gardening, how to books, natural history and mysteries, so those sections are well represented.
Dan has a love for the Modern Library imprints, so we have a special corner for these classics. He's also a fan of vintage paperbacks (at least their cover art) so there are many beauties from the 1940s-60s in our paperback section, organized alphabetically by publisher and then by author. The books are a hoot, from "The Terror of the Handless Corpse" by William Dale to "After Doomsday" by Poul Anderson to "White Witch Doctor" by Louise Stinetorf. Certainly there is a variety of wild sci-fi, western, mystery and sexy titles to peruse.
Store Cat Sam presides over the shop. He's a skinny stray we adopted after he was dropped off at my neighbor's barn. The resident barn cats would have none of him and he was slowly starving, since he couldn't penetrate the ring of cats surrounded the communal food dish. We brought him to the vet and then the shop and he quickly doubled his weight and is now actually on a perpetual diet. We've had to fend off well-meaning cat lovers from slipping treats through our mail slot when we're closed, especially after the morning I found breakfast sausages on the floor, crawling with ants. Sam does favor a spot of blueberry yoghurt now and then. And catnip anytime.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
First off, we underestimated the weight of the boxes of books accumulating in our house and though it's a sturdy structure with mercifully-thick floor joists, our floors started getting very spongy. The teetering towers of books were a hazard to our then toddler, so we rented a storage unit for our book stock. Most of our books were gleaned from library sales, garage sales and thrift stores, and we did have the sense enough to concentrate on acquiring nonfiction, but as we read more and more books about books, and devoured the AB Bookmans Weekly issues, we kept revisiting our potential inventory and winnowing out more and more chaff.
The big boost to our education came with acquistion of the "Leonard Collection". Dan had spied a Pennysaver ad about a used bookstore going out of business downstate. A titanic collection of books were for sale at a pennysaver price and blinded by biblio-lust, we bought the lot. With the help of Dan's cousin and a rented moving van, we made several trips to collect our treasure. The learning curve was steep after handling this mass: there were some good books, but they had been picked over quite neatly, leaving a tonnage of common and uninteresting books and a singularly disgusting collection of dirty magazines devoted to specific anatomical parts (Big Butt Magazine,et al). Even after ten years, I sometimes find a Leonard book on our shelves and reach for my rubber gloves for extraction and circular filing.
Aspiring used bookstore owners should obtain the invaluable book "The Complete Guide to Starting a Used Bookstore", by the late Dale Gilbert. We borrowed a copy from the library, read it over and over and then bought a copy that we still refer to today. Although Gilbert wrote about the used bookstore in the pre-Internet day, his model for acquiring books, setting up your retail space, accounting, and other information is worth the price of acquiring this out-of-print gem (starting at $35.00 online). His writing style is clever and full of real-life examples. While we don't do everything according to the Gilbert model (location in a strip mall, for instance), it's a fantastic tool and I can't recommend it enough for the any bookseller.
We found an inexpensive and large retail space in the Hudson River town of Schuylerville, with a great landlord who has owned the property for 30 years and maintains its 1880s historic character with annual improvements. The long-vacant storefront had former lives as an antique shop, pharmacy (with a lunch counter where a woman choked to death on a ham sandwich), general store and bar. A leaking roof had caused a lot of damage, so we were able to barter some rehabilitation for rent. Dan built all the shelves and exposed the brick walls and we think it's a funky, lovely space.
With a grand opening scheduled, we were disheartened to see our book accumulation quickly suck into the shelves with way too much empty space, so we faced out as many books as we could. Flocks of bookdealers initially came to scoop up our under-priced mistakes and we were thinking the first month's cash flow would be indicative of long-term buckets of money, but this was a bubble. Over the years our financial progress has been slow to rise, with many backsteps and quicksteps into a wildly changing bookselling market. The rise of Internet bookselling has caused us to learn more about websites, SKUs, ISBNs, and now blogging, than we certainly ever wanted to, but is has grown to over half of our store income, so we've tried to evolve. We've grown to over 50,000 books in the shop and added and renovated a second floor space when it became available five years ago.
It's been over a decade and we've gone through three store cats and several village mayors while at the helm of Old Saratoga Books. We're not rich on the balance sheet, but we still love what we do. We don't sit around reading books and sipping Lapsang Souchong as we snuggle store cat Sam as some customers fantasize. Instead, we're scrubbing the bathroom, reorganizing, cleaning and repairing books, answering emails, scratching our heads over the accounting or trying to figure out the latest Internet business tool. However, we dress as we please and commute along a wildlife corridor where we've seen pheasants, weasels, snapping turtles and a bull moose once. Our kids like to "shop" here when they are conscripted into dusting duty. And each time that we unlock the store door, breathing in the book perfume and spying all the books that Sam has knocked over, there's the sense that this is where we belong. Riches untold.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Welcome to Book Trout, the blog for Old Saratoga Books, a used and rare bookshop owned by Rachel and Dan Jagareski. We are located on the Hudson River in the historic village of Schuylerville, New York. About 250 years ago, Schuylerville was the focus of world attention because of the British surrender of arms in 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. This was the first major victory for the American Revolutionary Army and is referred to in many sources as the Turning Point of the Revolution.
The most authoritative and engagingly-written history of the Battle of Saratoga is Richard Ketchum's "Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War" (NY: Henry Holt, 1997). Mr. Ketchum was kind enough to do a book signing for us in 1997, our second year in business, and he was as witty, kind and interesting in person as he is on paper.
What is a Book Trout, you ask? Well, the Brook Trout (added r) is the only trout native to the Adirondacks and is a spectacularly beautiful and tasty little fish. A Book Trout (no added r) contains book musings, book reviews, information about events, sales and specials at our store declarations of book passion, and other biblio-tidbits which are hopefully as beautiful and tasty to all you bibliophages out there. The additional bonus of multiple fish puns and logo opportunities beckons as well.