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 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. 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.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


We've put a hold on book buying in the shop for the last year so we could catch up on the amassed boxes of books in our store basement. Then we got an offer we couldn't refuse: bookseller colleagues retiring and paring down an fantastic collection of books about history, fashion, biography, art, music, Western Americana, etc. More boxes were added to the piles and then of course, Dan and I can't help ourselves when we're out running errands. We must stop at our favorite thrift shops, church sales, library sales, and other secret troves of bibliobsession.

Last month we got another fabulous biblio-offer, so six van trips ensued and our basement book mastaba only has grown. Then, the local librarian called and asked if we'd cart away their library sale dregs last week. We gave them a donation and hauled away another van load. Now things cellarwise are at a crazy state and we have to get the piles down to keep the books on the bottom from becoming damaged and to avoid squashing Sam the Cat. We certainly don't want to take over the title of World's Most Dangerous Bookstore.

Stay tuned, as we continue to unearth various treasures and post some Internet specials.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart

The Glens Falls Post-Star has a nice article today about Saratoga Springs native Frances Steloff, who founded the Gotham Book Mart in New York City, and who is a legendary bookseller.

The Glamorous Life of the Bookseller

Several weeks ago I was preparing for a busy, long day at Old Saratoga Books. There was the usual active Summer Saturday's business as well as extended hours to tie in with two art gallery openings on our block. I tidied and dusted, put out some fresh books, got some customer snacks and was looking forward to a nice day when one of my regulars informed me that the toilet wasn't working. I fought my way in to the smelly restroom and had my arms in the tank up to my elbows when another customer came right in with me to inquire about a particular title. I smiled tightly as I washed my hands and closed the door behind me to help her out.

I finished this bit of assistance only to discover that someone else had nipped into the bathroom for another bout of bowel busting, apparently not noticing that the guts of the tank were all asunder and parts of which had been directly lying on the closed lid.

The glamorous life continued yesterday, when after a week of beastly heat and humidity in our climate-uncontrolled shop (it has 14 foot high ceilings, so air conditioning is out) I spent the day fighting about 50 yellow jackets swarming in my front windows. The colony must've sailed through the rip in the screen door which a delightfully loud toddler customer made earlier this week. I found my can of hornet spray had dried up so I fended them off with my flip flop in between customers. Sam the store cat and several store spiders are assisted in this regard.

The glamorous bookshop life; it ain't all beer and skittles.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Poking Fun at Books

The Book Trout flips through many, many books each day at the shop or out bookhunting and must rely on her visual acuity to discern which titles to purchase and shelve and which to leave behind. In the course of a day of scanning book covers and jackets, it is possible to be floored by the utter luridness of some crazy jacket art or weird book design. Mind you, this might mean that the book is a winner and deserves its spot at Old Saratoga Books (usually in the vintage paperbacks sections or pantheon of 1960s-70s fiction), but more often than not, the offending book merely gets a head shake and perhaps a toss into the to-be-donated/recycled box.

I've recently come across a highly entertaining blog, Judge a Book by its Cover, whose long-suffering librarian author must scan through many cheesy books each day. She heroically musters the strength to review these book design disasters and hilariously dissects them on her blog. Very entertaining stuff.

Another website maintained by Seattle booksellers, Pistil Books, maintains an equally enthralling analysis of horrendous book packaging, The Museum of Weird Books. From "Looking Forward to Being Attacked", a women's self-defense book featuring lots of helpful photos of trench-coated felons with paper bags over their heads (remember the Unknown Comic on the Gong Show?) to "Bomba the Jungle Boy in the Steaming Grotto" (politically-incorrect juvenile literature from the 1930s) to "Face Lifting by Exercise" (older beauty and fashion books are always a blast to peruse), this Museum provides an interesting excursion into the biblio bizarre. I must say that I retain a degree of affection for one of the books highlighted in the Museum, Peter Beagles' 1975 craft classic "American Denim: A New Folk Art", which I checked out of my local library numerous times in my youth. I was one of those groovy chicks who embroidered her teen jeans, bucking the tide as a self-styled bohemian as most of my peers sailed into the Danskin and Bonjour jeans phase of the late 1970s disco era.