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, 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.

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.