Category Archives: book repair

The Monday Book: TIME WAS SOFT THERE by Jeremy Mercer

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights. That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

mercerJack and I got the idea for using shopsitters at our place – people who receive free room and board in return for living there – from Shakespeare and Co. This is a famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

On a listserv of bookshop owners, talk turned to books about bookstores. (I received ego strokes, and then we went on.) Mercer stayed at the shop for some time, watching the ebb and flow of people who ranged from down and outs to up and comings. He also spent significant time with George, the shop owner (although not its founder – Sylvia Beach did that) and some of the regulars.

Mercer’s book is in many ways journalistic, showing his roots as a true crime writer. Yet he portrays the under humanity so simply with his “this is what happened” prose. One of the blurbs on the back calls the book a romanticized version of the bum’s life, but I don’t agree. The book is far less romantic than wistful.

Among the things Mercer does is get George’s daughter to visit, and ultimately secure the shop’s future. It has a fascinating history: closed during the Nazi Era, considered a hothouse of sedition in the 1960s student riots, monitored by the CIA in the 1990s if George is to be believed.

There are a couple of startling moments: an ethnic hate crime results in murder and Mercer is less concerned about the murder than the police sniffing around a bookstore full of people with improper visas to be in France. He seems more concerned when the 84-year-old George gets engaged to 20-year-old shop worker Eva. That kind of thing. It all just sails past, along with the adorable moments of scorn for “30 minute tourists” who just want to stick their head in the door because the place is famous, having no understanding of or interest in its true ethos.

And there’s a very funny cynicism to the scheme three residents come up with, to sit and write in front of the tourists and sell the pages, story by short story. The description of this was, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny.

This isn’t a story about books, but about the bookstore itself, its inhabitants, and its purpose. Mercer’s final paragraph is a good summation: “In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can.”  

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Books a Bazillion

In which Jack returns to writing his weekly blog post, and sighs patiently over a subject known only too well to bookslingers everywhere.

garbage-landfill Yesterday one of our cafe regulars asked if we bought books. I explained that we didn’t, but gave store credit if the trade-ins met our needs and standards.

“Oh, I can just donate them,” he said, and headed for his van.

That seemed like a clue that these weren’t going to be top of the line, but I went out to watch him struggle up the front steps with an enormous TV box–the kind I advise folk not to use, as they weigh a ton when full of books.

A better man would have helped, but I admit to you my moral failing: I knew what was coming and just didn’t care.

A quick glance established that most of his donations were older Grishams and Pattersons; to add insult to injury, they were minus their dust jackets. After explaining as gently as I could that  these were pretty much useless to us, I raked through to find eight acceptable hardbacks as well as more (useless) battered paperbacks. At this point he shrugged and said he’d got them from a friend.

(So – a friendship wall?)

This was the third time in as many days we’d had much the same experience, having to explain that we don’t take hardbacks minus their jackets, torn or stained paperbacks, romances including Danielle Steel or kids’ coloring books already colored in. It’s the law of used book shops: people don’t want to dump, so they donate. And they mean well for the most part, but a couple months of that, and customers will have a hard time differentiating your shop from a dump site.

Surveying our store the other week, with its spiraling pinwheels of shelves moving toward the center of every room, eking out the final frontiers of space, I resolved to become even more choosy about what to accept. And perhaps instigate a cull.

After all, folk are generally pretty sanguine when I explain our policy. What I hope is that people will begin to weed out themselves before bringing stuff to us, but in the meantime, I’ll stifle a sigh. And maybe help with the box next time.

Perhaps I can build a garden wall somewhere with all those jacketless Grishams and Pattersons? Wendy would like that….

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Welcome Shopsitter Kelly, and Humiliation Contest Updates

embarrassedThe entries continue to roll in, and they are side-splitting, sweet-tea-spitting, pants-peeing funny. Books are a noble calling, be it writing or selling-and it can go wrong in so many interesting ways!

You have until Sunday at 11:55 pm EST to enter your host or author humiliation story. Scroll down to Monday’s blog to get the rules and prizes.

If you’re visiting the blog, enjoy checking out the independent bookshops profiled on the BOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TRIP page. 3000+ still going strong in the States alone!

Today, we welcome Kelly and her daughter Rachel, who will be shopsitting while I’m in Scotland for a week. In their honor, I’m rerunning a blog for last year’s shopsitters, giving them a taste of what they’re in for:

When shopsitters tell their friends about coming to The Little Bookstore, reactions tend to divide into “Can I come too?” and staging an intervention.

We sympathize. Preparing the shop guide, we find ourselves typing bald statements like “When Valkyttie gets angry she pees down the bathroom heat vent.”

Will they even read the rest, the tried-and-tested wisdom of our cleaning guru, herself the owner of an angry kitty, plotting kitty, grrr, grrr, grrr? “Put a paper towel on the duster stick by the vent, swish-n-soak, then spray shaft with Heather’s magic elixir. Make sure it’s off first or you wear the elixir.” Or will they run in terror from a bookshop whose CEO is a pissing-mad eighteen-year-old Scottish cat clever enough to maximize effects?

Given corporate culture today, perhaps peeing down a shaft is not that bad, and having no boss is part of our bookshop’s fun. The place is yours: do as you will! The shop guide is assistance, not direction.

Jack and I wonder how Kelly and Rachel will react to the section “COLORFUL LOCAL CHARACTERS,” explaining the crazy psychiatrist, the schizophrenic man who believes he has PhDs in–among other subjects-canoeing and radiology. How ’bout Mr. S, a customer whose spider tattoo wraps around his bald head. Fixated on Fred Saberhagen, Mr. S keeps saying “BEE-serk-ER,” like a French surname, despite Jack’s efforts. Six foot six, hands like banana bunches, Mr. S picks up foster kittens and coos to them as he wanders the shop, fur baby curled purring against his chest.

Then there’s the back-scratcher hanging in the kitchen. Without it, you can’t turn on the light. One night Bert got this essential piece of equipment in his mouth and Jack and I chased him through the shop, screaming, “Drop it! Don’t chew!”

I’m not even going to talk to you about finding the light switches in this place, Kelly. They’re ALL behind bookshelves, so I’ve listed the titles you should look for.

As for dog chases, the guide tells how to recapture Bert and Zora should they slip out. [Equipment: two leashes, raisin-less breakfast bars, and a car key, kept in a Ziploc pouch at the back door.] It’s the kind of thing one doesn’t think twice about until explaining to someone else….

So, welcome Kelly and Rachel. And have fun while you’re here! I’ll be in Scotland if you need me.

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EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST SATURDAY, JUNE 21

  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. –Sir Francis Bacon, English author (1561 – 1626)

We’re holding our first ever EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and we’re really looking forward to it!

What is an edible book, you ask? Well, it is a clever and consumable representation of a book that you liked. For example:

twilight

or

humpty dumptyor

20000 leaguesor one of my personal favorites:

grapes of wrath

All of these are edible book contest entries from other places, and they’re all lovely. (I suppose Twilight was inevitable, yes?) Anyway, bring your edible book to Tales of the Lonesome Pine’s Second Story Cafe  Saturday, June 21 for 2 pm and join the fun. Judging will be done by our guest shopsitter JanelleJanelle Bailey (a staff member of the Wisconsin Book Festival and high school English teacher). Janelle and her two youngest daughters will be minding the shop for a week while Jack is in Scotland. She will be joined in judging by Second Story’s official dessert Erinbaker Erin Dalton, who is pretty much Emily Dickenson reincarnated.

Still confused about how to make an edible book? You can google the concept – there are lots of great pictures out there – and here are the rules:

  1. Everyone can participate: the young, the old, the professional and non-professional, residents and non-residents, and even groups.
  2. Entries must be book-related. Examples of this can be found online.
  3. Entries can be made out of anything, as long as it is edible.
  4. Entries must be family-friendly.
  5. Entry is free and does not require pre-registration. Just bring your edible book to the shop for display at 2 pm. (If you’re going to need to assemble it here, come earlier. We regret that you may not enter the cafe kitchen, but we can loan you some basic tools or heat something if you need us to. You’re not allowed in the kitchen. Health stuff.)
  6. Winner will receive either a free weekend trip to a mountain cabin, or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore – winner’s choice. All entries will receive a $10 gift certificate to the bookstore.

So get cracking and make us an edible book of such tastefulness as will set Big Stone Gap talking – not that that takes much, but you get the idea. Come one, come all, and let’s have some fun.

edible book

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Caretaking the Eternal Library of Humanity

My friend Anita out in Kansas is looking to relocate the bookshop she manages, Al’s Old and New Books. She has discovered that some people think used bookshops are…. downmarket, while others prefer the term “passe.”

Bollocks!

Jack and I have often commented that we oversee a library of ever-changing leftovers, some of which have mass appeal, some of which have esoteric appeal. But the reason we like what we do is that we’re not full of the latest bestseller, face outward on the aisle so mega-shoppers walking to the mall can be enticed by “Oh, I heard about that on Twitter!” impulse moments.

We have the long-term, hardcore stuff. The 1970s classics on Marxism, the Leif Ungers and Robert Fords and Lisa Changes. People who write well but disappeared into the well of marketing madness with nary a splash. My agent Pamela and I were talking one day about the “nebulous” position of used book stores in the publishing world. “After all, NYC doesn’t make any money from them,” she said, but then added, “but we all benefit from them. You are the caretakers of humanity’s eternal library, aren’t you? Like a benevolent dragon trying to get the gold horde out there instead of sit on it.”

Used book stores are the place where the sounds of silence outweigh the shrieks of hawkers telling you why THIS BOOK is the Next Great Thing. You can look for yourself–and thus see for yourself–in a used books shop. In a society that equates old with “has been” rather than “wisdom,” used books shops are a place for those who know when not to swallow a line.

We love running one. And this week, we’ve sold an amazing number of  what from a mainstream point of view would be “nobody’s gonna buy these” books. We sold about 20 volumes of philosophy. No, really, PHILOSOPHY! Mostly 1960s textbooks and treatises.

We sold a great wheen of French novels, both translated and in the original language. And we sold a set of plays written in the 1700s. A cheap, simple copy for someone who wanted to look at their structure. $3.20 and out the door she went.

This is part of why used book shops matter. It’s nice to have big well-lit shops with the bestsellers in them at full retail, but it’s also nice to have a dowdy little community center where you can think for yourself. That, and the $1.50 cuppa and the comfy couches and the cat option and the fact that if you come in and say, “Oh crap, I left my wallet at home,” we will say, “Fine, we’ll write it in the ledger and you can pay us next time you come.” And the customer, who only gets down from Ohio four times a year, stares at you like you’ve gone mad, and comes back two months later and pays up.

This is why it’s important for us to be here. Downmarket, my arse. Up the caretakers of the eternal library of humanity!

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Never Judge a Book by its Black Sack Covering

books It continues to be a delight to have our lives revolve around the bookstore, to meet folks almost every day who have read Wendy’s book and made a trip to see us, and to be surrounded by ‘bookstore friends’ at the regular events we put on.

But in the middle of all that fun, we deal with the more mundane–and often tedious–jobs such as pricing and shelving the donations and books that show up—usually at the busiest times of the day or week. These unforeseen arrivals often come by the truckload, and that can be a real challenge., since we no longer have hidden spaces to store books until we can find time to sort them. In some cases, we wind up checking their current value on the Internet as well as “stick-n-stash” (as we have ignobly nicknamed pricing and shelving).

A few days ago Wendy was sitting back heaving a sigh of relief, having just dealt with a slew of these incomers; they’d arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the day, and she was proud of having cleared them in a timely manner despite having a record number of customers in the shop.

And then the door opened.

In came our good friend Cyndi Newlon (you can see her in the video tour of the bookstore, playing the corpse in our mystery room). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03cmGdapxPQ

Cyndi runs a writing center at the nearby college, and she’d asked if we wanted “some old library books.” Apparently, today was the day, and “some books” turned out to be ten large tightly knotted black sacks. Each one was seriously heavy, I discovered, as I helped get them out the back of her SUV and up onto the dry half of the porch.

I had been in the process of getting to grips with our brand new power washer, cleaning the soot of our front porch and outside chairs and tables after the recent big fire across the street. The arrival of Cyndi was a mixed blessing – respite from wrestling with the washer, but ….

We knew that the sacks couldn’t be left lying outside, so there was nothing for it but to dive in and start checking. Old library books are a mixed bag, often useless, but sometimes wonderful. We quickly turned up two or three hard-to-find William Faulkners, as well as quite a few rather attractive very old poetry and short story collections.

Our hearts beat faster. We warmed to the task. It’s not easy to explain to “normal” people, but bibliophiles will understand the excitement of digging through opaque sacks of old books, exclaiming over long-forgotten friends, discovering new titles.

And that’s just thinking of them as books. When you think of them as objects to be sold, well, usually with old worn ex-library books you’re lucky to find maybe one or two in every fifty that would worth hanging on to, but we were amazed with this collection. As we trawled through, we found many first editions, along with rare titles containing beautiful illustrations.

So we are grateful to Cyndi and Don for thinking of us and, once again, we learned to be grateful for what on first blush looks like a lot more work at a busy time. And we learned that you never know what good things might be hiding in a bulging black sack.

 

 

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WTH Happened in Cookbooks?!

After a long period of neglectfulness because of Busy Life Syndrome, I moved with purpose and dusting rag yesterday afternoon toward the section of our bookstore housing Horror, Cookbooks, Hippie Interest and Crafting.

Yeah, we put ‘em in the same room. Doesn’t everybody?

Anyway, it had been a good long month since any staff had touched the area, other than the quick sweep-n-mop that keeps us from drowning in doggie dander. For some reason, our black Lab Zora loves to doze evenings in the hallway between Homeopathic Health and Cookbooks. Maybe to a dog’s sensitive nose those books smell pleasantly of herbs and bacon. I don’t know.

The scene that met me was worse than anticipated: VC Andrews sat chumming it up in the knitting section. (I wonder what Debbie Macomber would say to that?) Brian Lumley was Cooking with Oprah, the hippies hanging with Stephen King. And the diabetes diet books leaned with a drunken slant against Cakes for Christmas.

A little neglect goes a long way. Over the next two hours, I bookwrangled the wild volumes into a semblance of order. I’m pretty sure Day of the Triffids snarled at me as I separated it from Wilderness Survival, but the world doesn’t need any more horror novels about plants gone bad.

The whole time I was pulling John Saul off Julia Child, that Boston Globe article about wealthy retirees buying “failed” bookstores and reopening them lay on my mind. It was a great article from a bookslinger’s perspective: how the bookstore is not only not dead, but in full-blown revival, climbing the charts of “most wanted retirement careers” to number eight from fifteen in just two short years.

But I hope those dear, sweet people understand that it’s a lot of work, and in many ways a lot of the same work over and over again. You will spend less time discussing Russian Literature than you will separating it from Amish Christian Romances.

Jack and I wish you well, you new crop of bookstore owners, and we wish you the joy that comes from co-mingled dust and ideas. You’re going to see a lot of both.

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