Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Spine Nine: Bookends

One of the stops we made on our northeast trip in August was to Bookends in Florence, Mass.  We added a good number to our library (Pt. I | Pt. II), and had a very nice talk with Bookends' owner, Grey Angell.

Grey was also kind enough to participate in our Spine Nine series of Q&A with bookstore owners, which we post below here.

Thanks, Grey!

Name: Grey Angell
Bookstore: Bookends

1. When did you know you wanted to be a bookstore owner? Why? In some sense I've wanted to work in a used bookstore since I was a teenager and first discovered such things as used bookstores. (I knew about new bookstores since I was little, and loved those too  -- especially the one in Andover, MA that served cookies next to a crackling fireplace! -- but a used bookstore has a different and more adventurous mystique, and exerted a stronger pull on me.)  Oh, sure, I was "sidetracked" for 20 years by college and "professional" jobs, but eventually I was reading the local "Help Wanted" section and there it was, an ad for an assistant at a used bookstore only a few minutes from my home!  Do such things really happen, outside of stories?  Sometimes, evidently.  But working in a used bookstore is not the same as owning one.  When after six years the prior owner decided to sell or close the store, I had a tough decision.  Even after I agreed to buy the place, I still felt nervous.  I'd say the day when I knew I would enjoy owning a bookstore was my first day as owner -- especially when the day was over and we had an opening-day party for friends.

2. Do you have a book which is your white whale? If so, would you actually sell it? Do you mean a book I've been looking for for years?  Sure, many of them.  And yes, I would sell it, after I looked through it (maybe).  That's not to say that many books do not end up in my house.

3. If you could assume the life of any character from a classic work of fiction, who would it be and why? As I think about it, I'd have to say bad things tend to happen to a lot of the characters in fiction.  That makes it less appealing to be one.  In a sense, I admire Don Quixote, but I'm sure it's better from the outside looking in than to actually be him.

But if you stretch the definition of "classic," one answer would be the character of Jonathan Bing, master cheesemaker and book afficionado, in James Blaylock's 1982 fantasy "The Elfin Ship."  There's menace in Blaylock's world, but lots of wonders and cheery comforts as well.  I always enjoy the atmosphere of Blaylock's books, and it might be a nice atmosphere to get lost in.  (I could almost say the same thing about John Bellairs' one adult fantasy, "The Face in the Frost," except the dangers in that book are too scary to want to actually experience!)

4. What was the experience of selling your first book like? I was working for someone else, so it didn't have quite the frisson my first sale as a new owner might have.  I honestly can't remember -- I was probably mainly concerned with being sure I gave the right change!

5. The Kindle/Nook/etc. is ... not a book, but a tool to access an electronic file.  I can't say I see the appeal.  Not cost-cutting, because if you buy your books used, it's cheaper than buying the text on an e-reader.  Anyway, I like books, not electronic files.

6. Describe your most memorable acquisition experience. I do get books from odd situations sometimes, but the more memorable acquisitions are ones that went into my own permanent collection and have a personal memory associated with them.  For example, when I started at Bookends, I was the assistant to the original owner, Ed Shanahan, who had read more widely than I had in older novels.  At one point when we'd gotten to know one another,  he was talking up an obscure Irish novel from 1912 called "The Crock of Gold" by James Stephens, which led me to pull down a battered old hardcover we had in the store.  By the end of the first paragraph I knew I was in for a unique experience, and it's since become one of my favorites.  In the intervening years I've seen many other copies, some in better shape or with nice illustrations, but I've kept the copy I originally read because it has associational value for me.  (And I've since turned many others onto this quirky and cranky and magical book.)

7. If classic novelists were like rock stars or athletes, which three posters would be on your walls? I'm not a big reader of classic fiction.  If it was classic non-fiction, the three posters might be William James, Henry Adams, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I actually do have small photos/engravings of Thoreau, Jung,  and Darwin on my shelves at home -- but the Darwin is mainly there because it's an interesting picture of the older Darwin with a long beard.

If it's novelists we're looking for, and more recent ones are allowed, my choices would include Robertson Davies (who knows how to look good in photos) and Jim Harrison.

8. In 25 years, used-book stores will be ... Still around!

9. If someone wrote a novel about your bookstore, what would it be called? How about Bookends: The Story of a Bookstore.  I have to say I'm a bit tired of all the cute and clever titles that are so prevalent these days.  Or, since it's to be a novel, how about Comings and Goings -- it sounds more novelistic than the previous non-fiction sounding title, and captures the serendipitous nature of a used bookstore, as well as the open door of a streetfront retail operation, where all sorts of people wander in.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Spine Nine: Gabriel Books

While in Northampton last month, we stopped at Gabriel Books, where we picked up one book and got a very nice parting gift from Gabriel Books' owner, John Riley.

John was also kind enough to participate in our Spine Nine series of Q&A with bookstore owners, which we post below here.

Thanks, John!

Name: John Riley
Bookstore: Gabriel Books

1. When did you know you wanted to be a bookstore owner? Why? I practically grew up in used-book stores. My mother, Edna Riley,  was a devoted fan of the two used-book stores in Santa Rosa, California, where I grew up. (The Book and Bible, a combination used-book store and religious artifact shop run by a minister; and Cipriano’s, run by a husband and wife). Nearly every Saturday morning we made the rounds. She was usually looking for Sonoma County History books and I was let loose to look at everything else. When I got older I became friends with the owners. When I went to college at UCSB I had a collection of nearly 3,000 books, so what was I to do, but open a used-book store. I opened my first bookstore while still a senior, closing shop or having a friend take over while I went to classes. To save on rent I lived in the back. At night I pulled the curtains over the front windows and had a great private library in which to entertain friends.

2. Do you have a book which is your white whale? If so, would you actually sell it? Probably the first edition of Finnegan’s Wake signed by Joyce, bound in full red Morocco. I spied it once in a shop in Charleston, W.Va. It cost $2,000 and I couldn’t afford it. I’ve never seen one since, but it must cost much more now. I wish I had bought it in installments. I wouldn’t sell it.

3. If you could assume the life of any character from a classic work of fiction, who would it be and why? Don Quixote. He loved books and travel and adventure. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a fan of wind power.

4. What was the experience of selling your first book like? “I might actually be able to pay the rent on this place.”

5. The Kindle/Nook/etc. is ... A pain in the butt to read on, but a brilliant distribution device.

6. Describe your most memorable acquisition experience. I was reading through the want ads after returning from vacation and was plowing through nearly two weeks of papers when I saw a little ad for “Books for sale. Best bid takes them all.” I went with my wife Patty not expecting much, but it was a beautiful library that sat intact from the early 1900s. The grandparents had passed and the grandson was anxious to clean out the house. What we found were amazing complete sets of Thoreau, Emerson, Twain, Hawthorne, Dickens , etc. all bound in full leather,  all signed and containing many holograph manuscript pages, many unpublished. It was like entering King Tut’s tomb. We maxed out all our credit cards and won the bid. We spent months cataloging and relishing this extraordinary find.


James Joyce
7. If classic novelists were like rock stars or athletes, which three posters would be on your walls? Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett (with trading cards of Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, Jack Kerouac, Woody Allen, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Poe, Henry Miller, Dino Buzzatti, and Roald Dahl)

8. In 25 years, used-book stores will be ... Specialty shops, much like vinyl record stores are now. In the meantime used-book stores will be the only bookstores around, as new-book stores close or morph into gift shops.

9. If someone wrote a novel about your bookstore, what would it be called? The Perpetual Orgy  (actually the title of a book-length essay by Mario Vargas Llosa about Flaubert and Madame Bovary. Since you can’t copyright titles of books, it could be appropriated in honor of Flaubert.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

The longest novel and other finds

While visiting family in Western Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago, we couldn't resist paying a visit to our old recycling center in Northampton for its fantastic book shed. We lived there for the 2010/11 school year and were regular visitors of the shed -- this was all pre-"Get a Spine" so we don't have a log of what we found then, but suffice it to say that our current library would be much smaller if not for the book shed.

As is the nature of these "take some, leave some" free book exchanges, it is hit or miss depending on who has dropped off recently and who has been by to browse. If you're looking for classics and you see our car, best come by another day!

That day we walked away with two paperback copies of Pride and Prejudice, because you can never have enough of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. One is a Signet Classic edition with a rather uncharacteristically dispassionate drawing of whom I can only assume is Elizabeth Bennet; a peacock -- whose reference is beyond me; and a lock -- equally enigmatic. I'll ponder over these awhile. (If you have any insight, leave a comment!) The other copy we found is nothing fancy but the cover has a subtle prettiness to it that I like: a matte grey cover with purple text and a little etching of a gentleman bowing to a seated lady.

We also found another Riverside Edition to add to our growing collection. We're going to need another bookshelf just for all of our Riversides soon! This one is Clarissa by Samual Richardson -- another title we're not familiar with, but happy to discover. Interesting fact about this book: it is the longest novel in the English language based on word count, beat only by Marcel Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time (originally published in French). Who knew?

We also added Spoon River Anthology to our collection. We already had The New Spoon River (also acquired at the DPW Book Shack, oddly enough). It is a neat collection of short free-form poems that collectively describe the life of the fictional small town of Spoon River as described by its deceased former residents. Originally published in 1915, we snagged a paperback edition printed in 1969. For free, it works.

All in all, a worthwhile trip to our old book shed.


Books added: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (x2!); Clarissa by Samuel Richardson; Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

Publishers (in same order): Signet; Washington Square Press; Houghton Mifflin Co. Riverside Editions; Collier Books

Years: 
1961; 1961; 1962; 1969

Where obtained: Northampton DPW Book Shack

Price: Free!