Friday, March 30, 2012

Bookseller Review: Random Row Books

Random Row Books
315 West Main Street
Charlottesville, VA
Random Row books is a bookstore of used, rare and uncommon books. The large bookstore space is multipurpose, hosting community events such as concerts, open mics, film screenings and lectures. 

What we like: Excellent fiction section with lots of older editions. The owner is young and friendly and we always enjoy chatting with him when we pop in. The space is neat, like a big garage with bookshelves lining all the walls -- it isn't your average rowed bookstore and we like the feel of it. 

What we don't like: No complaints. Random Row is one of our favorites.

Would we go again? Again and again. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A random discovery of Sherlock Holmes

For my money, the best bookstore space in Charlottesville is Random Row Books.

It's probably because it's a bookstore that also hosts many community-oriented events, and so it is a wide-open, loft-like space, though only a one-story building. I'm not sure of the history of the building, but it was possibly some kind of garage or warehouse in the past. Whatever it was, it makes for a gritty yet extremely welcoming bookstore space today. Plus, what other bookstore do you know where you can walk in looking for books, and walk out with a free set of sewing-machine needles for the old Kenmore sewing machine you just received as a gift?

Anyway, books line most of the walls, from floor to ceiling, and while browsing, I found a little corner shelf containing a couple of piles that looked to be yet-cataloged additions to Random Row's offerings.

In these piles I spied what looked like a worn-leather spine, with a crack or two, and as I am always curious to see how old a book that looks like that will be, I took it up and gave it a closer look.

It was The Sign of the Four, the second Sherlock Holmes story written by Arthur Conan Doyle. What it actually was was The Sign of the Four and A Study in Scarlet, which was the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bookseller Review: Second Story Books

Second Story Books
2000 P Street NW
Washington, D.C

One of the largest used and rare bookstores in the world, they have two locations in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Together they house over a million books in all categories, as well as collectible manuscripts, maps, ephemera, prints and posters. 

What we like: Large selection of general fiction, both paperback and hardcover, with many older classic editions. Bargain book carts outside of the store. 

What we don't like: They have a large collection of amazingly old, beautiful editions of classic literature - but the prices are pretty steep. Too rich for our blood.

Would we go again? Anytime we are in D.C. we would stop by to browse the books carts. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our first time at Second Story

Back in our prior lives, in the days before "we," Deborah and I both lived in Washington, D.C. We both lived in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. For a time, we both lived within two blocks of Dupont Circle in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Yet it wasn't until today that either one of us had ever set foot inside  -- or lingered outside near the book carts -- at Second Story Books, on the corner of 20th and P Sts. NW.

We were on a little vacation in the nation's capital, the cherry blossoms were in full (early) bloom, and the day was too good to do anything but be outside. So after lounging a bit on the lawn at Dupont Circle, we stopped by Second Story before meeting up with a friend of Deborah's.

It wasn't long before we had our hands full from the "$4.00, or 6 for $18.00" carts outside on the sidewalk. We took our haul inside to check out the shop proper, and while impressive, most of the items of interest to us on the inside were too rich for our blood. Definitely cool, and desired, but we had to pass.

One thing we learned the hard way: when traveling on foot in a major city, bring a bigger bag if you think there's even the smallest chance you'll be going to a bookstore. It's no fun to paper-bag it for many city blocks with a pile of hardcovers.

Books added: Adam Bede, Middlemarch, Romola, Essays, George Eliot

Publisher:  A.L. Burt

Year: c.1900

Where obtained: Second Story Books, Washington, D.C.

Price: $3.25 each.

Book added: The Red Rover, James Fenimore Cooper

Publisher:  W.B. Conkey Company

Year: c.1900

Where obtained: Second Story Books, Washington, D.C.

Price: $3.25

Book added: The Siege of London, Henry James

Publisher:  James R. Osgood and Company,

Year: 1883

Where obtained: Second Story Books, Washington, D.C.

Price: $3.25

Book added: Classic Myths, Charles Mills Gayley,

Publisher:  Ginn and Company,

Year: 1911

Where obtained: Second Story Books, Washington, D.C.

Price: $3.25

Book added: Our Old Home, English Notebooks, Nathaniel Hawthorne,

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin and Company, Riverside,

Year: 1885

Where obtained: Second Story Books, Washington, D.C.

Price: $3.25

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A note about our collection

As we said in our first post, our collection is made up of, in part, the books we each had prior to us getting together.

It wasn't until we became "we" and began collecting books together that we started to develop a more specific approach to building our library. So while there are many works of great literature in our collection... there are also many editions of those works that we would like to replace (if not forget about entirely...), now that we have a common goal and approach in our search.

Like we said in our opening post, we are not opposed to having multiple editions of the same work, so long as we like all the editions. But if we're not happy with our edition of George Eliot's Silas Marner, for instance, we'll be on the lookout for one that better fits our ideas for what we want our library to be.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bookseller Review: Read It Again, Sam

Read it Again, Sam
214 East Main Street
Charlottesville, VA

Good-sized used bookstore right on the downtown mall. They have all of the usual suspects, with an enormous selection of paperback mysteries.

What we like: They have an amusing way of labeling their sections. For example, they have a Nautical section, but within that they have a shelf labeled Pirates and another; Shipwrecks.

What we don't like: The fiction section is pretty small, way in the back, and mostly newer fiction, or newer editions of classics.

Would we go again? We do go every few weeks because it is right on the downtown mall and we walk by it daily, but if it weren't so convenient we probably wouldn't go out of our way very often.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bookseller Review: Heartwood Books

Heartwood Books
5 Elliwood Ave. Charlottesville, VA

Heartwood Books, over on The Corner, by the UVA campus, specializes in Literature, Americana, Virginia, and Thomas Jefferson.

What we like: Good-size collection of older used fiction. The owner knows we're on the hunt for Riverside Editions, and holds them for us as they come in. There's a rumor that there is a rare/antiquarian room next door, but we've yet to explore it.

What we don't like: Not a lot to dislike, but because it's close to UVA, the fiction section can be overrun at times by newer editions of classics, likely sold by students who no longer need them, and then bought by students who do.

Would we go again? Yes. Anytime we're over by the UVA campus, we pop in for a visit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bookseller Review: Blue Whale Books

Blue Whale Books
115 W. Main St.
Charlottesville, VA

Blue Whale Books is located on Charlottesville's downtown mall, and has all of the usual sections, but seems to specialize in old prints, maps, Virginiana and art/architecture.

What we like:
The location can't be beat, the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, they often have a dog to visit with, it's probably the cleanest used-book store on the planet, and they separate "new arrivals" from the rest, so it's easy to know what you haven't seen lately.

What we don't like:
The fiction sections, both paperback and hardcover, tend to skew a little more toward the newer side than we'd prefer.

Would we go again? Because of its location, we do go often. If it were somewhere else in town, our visits would be less frequent, but we'd not stay away for too long.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bookseller Review: Daedalus Bookshop

Daedalus Bookshop
123 4th St. NE
Charlottesville, VA

Daedalus Bookshop has three floors and over 100,000 books. They specialize in fiction, but they have a little bit of everything.

What we like: 
A huge selection of the kinds of books we are looking for, including the best hardcover fiction section we've encountered, by far. Sandy, the owner, is extremely nice, helpful, and funny. And they're open seven days a week.

What we don't like: 
Hard not to like everything here. If we had one complaint, it'd be that some of the paperback fiction is alongside the (narrow and winding) staircase to the basement, which makes it difficult to browse through a decent chunk of the alphabetical-by-author offerings.

Would we go again? Absolutely, it's a weekly visit when we are home.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's always been the best of times...

It wasn't until after nearly a full year of having lived together that our respective book collections finally met. And from that moment, the shelf space just hasn't been able to keep up with the additions.

We've certainly done our best to keep pace, though. Whether it was buying two bookcases out of the the storage locker of a former-professor-turned-fringe-Massachusetts-congressional-candidate, or re-purposing an old hardware-store paint-display shelf to accommodate our growing collection, we've made sure our books have a home.

That home has been in Massachusetts -- where we did some serious damage via the Northampton DPW's book shack -- and is now in Charlottesville, Va., where, due to the great number of quality booksellers dealing in used books, it is very easy for one to always be in "add mode."

The "Get A Spine" blog chronicles our search for used classic literature (novels, mostly) -- as well as the places we go in our search -- to add to our personal library.

Everyone's definition of "classic" differs, and so we won't presume that ours is the definition. For us, both born after 1975, it almost always (but not exclusively) means anything written pre-1960, and our search generally limits our scope to any edition of a work published before 1970 ... and we really love finding anything published before 1930. And love even more pre-1900, and so on, and so on. We're not after first editions, but we certainly don't ignore them if they're attainable, but our goal is to build our library economically.

We believe foremost that great works of literature are a supreme form of art, but we also strongly believe that a book, in its physical form, can often be a work of art. Of course, the degree to which it is considered "art" is subjective. For us, if something grabs us visually, we're likely to add it to our collection ... even if we have several other editions of the same work. We definitely have our repeats, as this blog will prove.

This blog is intended to be as much about the adventure as it is the acquisition. It is the moments of discovery, of surprise, and of joy that often accompany an outing in search of used classics that create a full story, and give the book a life of its own -- by the memories associated with it -- once it's in our house. And we view our collection as something to one day be passed along to our daughter, who we hope will have the same love of books and literature that we do.

Last, but certainly not least, while "the look" of a book is important to us, we believe the books we collect should be read. Our library is not a museum, and we don't want to live in a world where actual books are only display pieces.