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.

1 comment:

Rai Muzammal said...

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