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, 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.