Thursday, February 28, 2008

Armchair Travel with the Book Trout

Rachel has an article on The Bookshop Blog about the pleasures of traveling in the comfort of one's own home. If you haven't checked out this blog before, it is recommended reading even if you don't own a bookshop, as there are many bookish tidbits, reading recommendations and good Internet advice.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bookhunter on the Prowl

Eldest daughter had an art class last night in downtown Saratoga Springs, so I needed to find something to do from 7 to 9 pm on a cold evening. The lunar eclipse didn't start until 8:45 pm and not much else is open late on a February Wednesday night except for a couple of coffee shops and a Borders Book Store. If I went to Borders for two hours I'd feel obliged to buy a book or two--something I highly approve of and try to impress on my own multi-hour customers with meaningful, cocked-eyebrow glances.

Buying books at retail makes me implode, so I went to the Book Bag, the volunteer-run bookstore inside the Saratoga Springs' Library , which was open until 8 pm. It was a luxurious and warm hour spent speed-reading book spines and I came away with two bags of books, some for the shop and some for our home library, including:

~A beautiful hardcover reprint to replace our battered paperback copy of Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family, a howlingly funny account of life with two rescued screech owls.

~John Grogan's bestseller, Marley and Me, which has not yet arrived in our bookshop, and which features another unruly-animal-in-the-house saga, this time starring a 90-lb. golden retriever.

~The Winter Woods, written and illustrated by John R. Quinn. Dan and I are suckers for this kind of elegiac nature writing and the accompanying lino-cuts expertly showcase the stark beauty of leafless trees, pileated woodpeckers, and animals tracks in the snow. Our own background abuts many acres of cornfields which are now leveled and covered with snow and ice. They are the quiet home for flocks of turkeys, the occasional mallard family, and many hungry deer, although at present, this lovely white palette has been covered over by a fresh sprinkling of dairy farm manure. This does cut down on the snowmobiling noise pollution out back, however.

~I got some other good store stock, a vintage fishing book, a P.G. Wodehouse novel, a first edition Granville Hicks autobiography, a karate book for a voracious martial arts customer, and Elsie Dinsmore book in a dust jacket, some poetry titles, a cookbook or two and then....the score of the night:

~Recent Forgeries, by Viggo "Aragorn"Mortensen, an exhibition catalogue from his first one-man show of paintings and photographs, with a CD tucked in the rear cover of Viggo reading his poetry and a euphorically over-the-top foreword by Dennis Hopper. Not sure if this book will make it to the shop, as I plan to squirrel it away for future perusal.

Can't wait til I can browse the back half of the Book Bag next week. Stay tuned for more book treasure-hunting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Those Lovable Book Customers

It's been almost three weeks into our annual February break at Old Saratoga Books and as usual, I haven't cleaned and reorganized the shop as much as I would have liked (I get lazy and cold with the heat turned down and leave the shop with many a shelf-mile to dust another day) and the many projects I had planned to accomplish have dwindled to a paltry number. Dan and I have waded through an enormous pile of books accumulated through our eleven years in business and taken a few loads to various libraries, thrifts and one enterprising local youth and yard-sale king. The fiction section has been scaled back a bit and a few book sections moved up-, down- or below-stairs.

This annual break is always welcome at this iciest time of year in Upstate New York, but I do admit to beginning to pine for some of my favorite bookish customers.

*There's Duff Man, so-named for his blue-flowered duffel bag into which he incongruously stuffs macho thrillers and "shoot-'em-ups" (my uncle's term for spy novels). He always brings me in a stack of paperbacks to trade and then insists on just taking out a few new titles for his floral portmanteau, despite the fact that he has racked up scads more money in store credit. When I try to convert this overage to a store credit at the bookstore, he demurs and always mentions something about wanting to see our shop succeed.

*I also miss the perennially upbeat Julia Child lookalike that scoots in every couple of months to stock up on gardening, cooking and literary titles. She is so contagiously enthusiastic about books she has read and (even more remuneratively) books she plans to read as scooped up from our window displays and shelves. I beam every time I see her come into the shop and look forward to an engaging conversation about a new author I must try or about a garden project she has just tackled and wants to research further. Not to mention a few sales.

*There's the former art teacher and his wife who grace our shop every once in awhile and bestow advice about parenting the temperamental artist, offer favorite new recipes and always have good gossip about the local art and political scene.

*I miss charting the growth spurts of the now-teenaged denizens of the pre-school story hour my friends Jacky and Linda and I organized at the local library. These little ones have now morphed into interesting young adults, some of whom remember me, but more often just remember store cat Sam from later visits.

*There are a few shelf-feet of paperbacks stockpiled for my avid cozy mystery reader who comes in for her weekly fix and berates me for not having read all the great mystery classics she has ingested. And a few titles are squirreled away for the 11-year-old cutie pie who loves poetry and Goosebumps and has such excitement in her voice when she finds a good book score in the shop.

*I even pine for some of the wacky cat people that come in to pamper and cosset Sam. They come in a pick him up and purr to him and let him drape across their laps and the napes of their necks. The exclamations alternate with each cat lover: the first exclaims that "Sam's really put on weight", while the next cat fan pronounces that his new diet has really slimmed him down. Fact: Sam the cat weighs 16 pounds. Last year, the year before, this year and no doubt, next year. 16 pounds. I have the veterinarian records to prove it.

*I miss the retired bookstore owner who now has the time to research genealogy and local history in between tending to her 20 foster cats. They have their own cattery built onto her house and are all in some state of unadoptability: having feline AIDS or leukemia, multiple disabilities or missing limbs. She always comes in with a homemade catnip toy for Sam and some interesting local history tidbit unearthed since her last visit.

I have enjoyed having the time to go to my daughter's sporting events this month and spending some more time in hobbitude before the woodstoves and dare I say, even reading a few more books than usual this month, but the social aspects of this business are something special. See you March 1st, 10 am. Bring catnip and coffee. I'll supply the books.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Seeing Shelley Plain: A Bookstore Book Review

Even before Dan and I became booksellers, I enjoyed reading memoirs by bookstore owners for the vicarious thrill from their book hunting adventures. They still delight me and I just finished reading a very atmospheric bookseller memoir, Seeing Shelley Plain: Memories of New York's Legendary Phoenix Book Shop by Robert A. Wilson (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001). Wilson also wrote the bibliophilic classic "Modern Book Collecting", but this book focuses on time he spent as proprietor of the Greenwich Village bookstore from 1962-1988.

Wilson started his bookseller career in his forties, having served as an Army soldier during World War II, a diplomat in Poland and South Africa, a Broadway actor wannabe and a cuckoo clock factory office manager. A long-time book collecting passion (he collects Gertrude Stein and various poets' works) led him to become the fifth owner of the Phoenix Book Shop in New York's Greenwich Village. Wilson developed the store's specialties in poetry and first edition fiction, and there are lots of great anecdotes about dealings with Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Alice Toklas, Alan Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Glenway Westcott and others.

The writing is a bit old-fashioned, but that only serves to enhance the reader's immersion into a gentler time in New York City bookstore history. I loved his account of his first day at the helm of the Phoenix, when his gracious colleague, Frances Steloff, of the legendary Gotham Book Mart, came to bless his shop with his first sale. There is a wonderful photo of the snowy-haired Steloff animatedly chatting with a smiling Wilson that captures their mutual delight with each other's company.

As a bookstore owner, I relished Wilson's accounts of venturing into the homes of some exceedingly eccentric authors and collectors. He has a courtly way with words and an understated way of relating how prickly some of these dealings can be. At least twice, however, he hinted at some crazy behavior or insult that he had to endure but then did not dish out the details, so I was annoyed at that. Half-hearted dish is worse than leaving out the incident altogether, but I suppose the publisher's lawyers may have had the final say on these tidbits.

If Oak Knoll's legal department did have the final edit, however, I wish they would have addressed the distractingly large number of typos in this book. I was astonished at the multitude of misspellings, weird punctuation and uncapitalized proper nouns in a book coming from such a literary author and publisher. There were at least two or three such jolts per chapter, which will hopefully have been addressed in any later editions. I can only imagine that Wilson, a publisher himself of an impressive number of literary and poetical titles as noted in the text and in a list at the rear of the book, must have pulled out hanks of hair after seeing these errors in print.

Overall, a book highly recommended for bibliophiles, poetry lovers, fans of literary New York City history and bookstore prowlers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Hunting in Our Neighborhood

The last Book Trout post offered up some of the literary landmarks in Saratoga County and as a follow-up, here are some ideas for book hunting, besides our shop, Old Saratoga Books of course:

Lyrical Ballad Bookstore
- Run by one of the nicest couples you'll ever meet, John and Jan DeMarco, who have had an antiquarian bookstore for over 30 years at 7 Phila Street in downtown Saratoga Springs (right off of Broadway). Lyrical Ballad is a labyrinth of great books, with strong sections in the arts, horses, children's fiction, and dance. The shop is located in a former bank and the expensive stuff is located in the bank's former vault. The shop is open seven days a week. For hours and directions, call them at 518-584-8779.

The Saratoga Springs Library's "Book Bag" store - This bookstore is run by volunteers and housed in the grand new Public Library located at 49 Henry Street. The Book Bag has a generous room and a half of books for sale, mostly newish donations and library discards. Prices are cheap, there is lots of turnover and the money helps fund the library, so it's all good. Hours: Mon-Thurs 10 am to 8 pm, Friday 10-5, Saturday 10-4, Sunday 1-4. You can also check out the Friends of the Library website for more information.

The Village Booksmith
- 223 Main Street (Route 4), Hudson Falls. Located about 1/2 hour north of Saratoga Springs and Schuylerville. This is a great shop located in two adjoining former houses with tons of books in all subject areas. The owner, Cliff Bruce, is another wonderful colleague with a gentle, funny personality. He is also a magician, so there is and extensive magic section with books and props. Hours: Wed-Sat 11-5. Call 518-747-3261 for more details.

Owl Pen Books - Open seasonally from May through October, Owl Pen Books has two big barns full used and rare books. Owners Edie Brown and Hank Howard have lovely gardens all around and welcome book browsers to pack a picnic when they visit. Owl Pen Books is "tucked in the hills" at 166 Riddle Road, Greenwich, New York and it is best to call ahead for directions at 518-692-7039.

Twice Told Tales, 80-82 Milton Avenue (Route 50), Ballston Spa NY. This lovely shop has lots of great fiction titles and books for the younger set and is located in the historic village of Ballston Spa, known for its antique shops, National Bottle Museum and the Brookside History Museum. Hours change seasonally, so it is best to call ahead: 518-885-6976.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Literary Landmarks in Saratoga County

If you find yourself traveling in upstate New York, you may want to visit these literary landmarks in Saratoga County.

Cooper’s Cave
- At the northern edge of the village of South Glens Falls, underneath the bridge that crosses into the City of Glens Falls, lies Cooper’s Cave. An area extending into Cooper’s Cave was recently opened, overlooking the rushing waters of the Hudson River. The Cave was a site that inspired some of the scenes in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “Last of the Mohicans”. You can visit Cooper’s Cave from Memorial Day to Halloween, 9 am to 8 pm. Admission is free.

Yaddo - Yaddo is an artist and writer’s colony founded in 1900 by philanthropists Spencer and Katrina Trask on their 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs. Yaddo is located on Union Avenue, just at Exit 14 of Interstate I-87. Residencies are offered to writers, filmmakers, musicians and other artists, during which they are pampered with food and laundry services that allow them to work undisturbed.

Writers that have stayed at Yaddo include Truman Capote, Elizabeth Bishop, John Cheever, Louise Erdich, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, A.M. Homes, Chester Himes, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Dorothy Parker, Tillie Olsen, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Eudora Welty, and many, many others. While the rest of the estate is off-limits to the public, you can soak up the atmosphere in the Yaddo Gardens from 8 a.m. to dusk each day. If you would like a guided tour of the gardens and learn a little more about Yaddo history, you can do so for $5.00 on weekends from June to September. I was priveleged to have a rare tour of the Yaddo estate when my artist friend Katie DeGroot was in residency and it is a very atmospheric place: dark, dusty, Gothic arches in the woodwork trim and full of books that needed to be straightened up in this bookman's view.

Grant Cottage - High atop Mount McGregor in Wilton, New York is a rustic Victorian cottage where President Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life writing his memoirs. Grant was suffering from advanced oral cancer, probably due to his constant cigar smoking, and he was desperate to finish up his two-volume memoirs in order to provide some income for his family after his death. Grant died at Mount McGregor in 1883 and the house is preserved exactly as it was after his death with dried funeral bouquets in the parlor, and Grant’s couch in the sitting room where he stayed up most nights, writing through the pain. It is a poignant setting.

The Grant Cottage is a State Historic Site open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. You go to a parking lot at the base of the Mountain and then catch a ride in a State Corrections vehicle up to the Cottage, as it sits on the site of a low-security prison. Here's the link to get directions and hours.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Librarian is Champion Couch Potato!

Good Grief! I missed this epic battle last month, but it seems that a New York City research librarian, Stan Friedman, duked it out with fellow sloths to win a television-watching marathon. Friedman and his fellow Potatoes were required to endure a soporific blast of college football games while ensconced in a recliner. Unlimited quaffing of food and drinks was allowed, with the proviso that bathroom breaks were rationed out only once every eight hours. Naps were also verboten, and the camel-bladdered Stan was able to keep his eyes on the prize for 29 hours, winning the New York City Couch Potato Contest and parting gifts of a large-screen television, recliner and a potato-topped trophy.

Friedman was quoted as stating that he was not sure if his television prize would fit into his apartment, so one wonders what the allure of this contest was for him. He is also noted in the article linked above to be a baseball fan, so again, I marvel at his powers of alertness.

But I do have some questions to ponder: Does this win enhance the popular culture appeal of librarians and book lovers? Did Stan have a hidden book tucked into his chair? Will he swap his hard-earned booty for a bookstore gift certificate?

Off to find a corporates sponsor for my dream marathon-reading contest...