Tag Archives: used book stores

SHELVING: THE FORGOTTEN ART

Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

Fun with Philly Bookstores

I went to Philadelphia wearing my college hat, talking about rural health infrastructure and entrepreneurial activity. But of course there were a few spare minutes here and there, so I got to visit four bookstores. :]

chaucerThe first was the Quaker-run Book Corner, just beyond the Free Library of Philadelphia. THEY HAVE STAFF CATS! Catticus Finch declined to have his picture taken, but this is Chaucer. Book Corner supports the nearby library, which is how they wound up acquiring the cats. The two boys were trying to get into the library last winter, and it was cold, so the Quakers did as Quakers do, and now they have staff cats.

The boys weren’t all that interested in talking to me about Hadley et al; apparently they are sophisticats. But the lady who staffed the bookstore was very friendly, and at $3 per hardback, $2 per trade paperback, I had a grand old time!

book trader 1 book trader 2Then it was off to the Book Trader (shown above) across from historic Christ Church – a place of looming shelves and sideways books and a cheerfully curmudgeonly shopkeeper. When you think “used books store” this is the place you think of. Also, he proved cover color theory – just look at his display of Chick Lit books!chick lit

 

The conference started so no time for excursions again until today, when I got to catch up with old friends Ann and Adam. Ann owns The Spiral Bookcase in nearby Manayunk, and had just come from a photoshoot featuring her store. (She’s a brilliant marketer and a tireless community organizer!)ann and adam

Since our schedules wouldn’t permit meeting at her shop, she trained over, her husband Adam walked down from his office, and we had a late lunch at an upscale, trendy wine bar. “The kind of lifestyle one aspires to,” we agreed, nibbling on cheese that had been described on the menu as having a “fluffy personality.” (Yes, it kinda did.)

curtisRealizing we were near another bookshop owned by a mutual friend, we walked over to Neighborhood Books, run by Curtis. It’s so much fun to talk shop with fellow bookslingers: “What do you do with your old romances? Do you sell much sports? How often do you cull? When’s your biggest tourism season? How do you brace shelves that curve? Etc. etc. ad infinitium. Bookslingers can talk strategy all day long, and then move on to the great themes of literature over dinner.

Unfortunately, our schedules wouldn’t allow dinner either, so we said goodbye and headed back to our respective places in life. Walking back through Phillly, my head was buzzing with good ideas from the conference and good ideas from fellow bookshop owners.

There’s gonna be some work to do when I get home. Heh heh heh…….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Too Many Books

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“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

 

I’m depressed.

OK, maybe depressed is the wrong word. I’m here in Big Stone Gap, knee deep in kittens, good food, and friendly people. I’m happy, I’m content. What’s better than living in a bookstore? It’s kind of a dream come true, right? So why am I…wistful?

I believe it’s the unavoidable realization that I will never be able to read as many books as I would like. This may not seem like a big deal. I mean, there are plenty of things I’ll never get to do in my lifetime, that’s what the Travel Channel is for. In the normal course of things, I can accept that my life will contain the pleasure of reading only a small, finite number of books. There are times, however, when I feel the weight of all those unread words. This feeling is strong when I visit libraries, and naturally, bookstores.

When I first arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the shelves bursting with books whispered possibility as only bookshelves can. The knowledge that I had all month to peruse left me giddy. Who knew? Maybe I’d take a gander at the romance section; I’m not proud. Or the Westerns. I’ve never read a Western! The craft section! The gardening section!!! THE MYSTERY ROOM!!!! It was all at my disposal. I imagined tiptoeing through the shelves at midnight, as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played softly in the background.

Two weeks in, I’m feeling a little less giddy. Maybe it’s because I’ve only finished two books since I arrived. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide what to read next. Maybe it’s because, with only two weeks left in December, the dream of endless reading possibility has been effectively cut in half.

I can take books home. As many as I want. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I will never read all the books on my ever-shifting list. Maybe this is OK. The ultimate Zen lesson. A reading life can never be fully satisfied. But why would you want it to be? Imagine the tragedy of actually, literally, having nothing to read. When I die, I will not have read the vast majority of the books my fellow humans have produced. Dreary thought? Perhaps, but I will certainly have enjoyed the time I spent trying.

 

 

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Hidden Pleasures in the Night

One of the coolest things about running a bookstore is the nighttime raids. On any given evening, when the shop is closed and Jack and I head downstairs to our bedroom den, one of us might say, “Oh, I finished my book.” Thus begins a pleasant twenty minutes of discovery.

Jack and I take turns minding the store, so while we each have a really good idea of inventory, things are likely to come in on the other’s watch that we don’t yet know about. Trolling the shelves brings happy surprises. “Oh, I didn’t know we had the latest Sarah Allen!” Or “Hmm, a book about building fake ship docks and air bases during World War II.”

The little gems sit on our shelves waiting for us to traverse a section, not straightening, not searching, just browsing. It is such a pleasure to browse one’s own bookstore. And that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” thing? Hah. Yes you can. You can tell what’s targeting women – hello gorgeous ballgowns or period dresses with the wearer’s head not shown on the cover–and what’s marketed toward lit lite readers, covers edged in a dignified gilt frame, or photos of faraway cities and characters splashed behind a new author’s name.

A gorgeous photo, the judicious use of color, a drawing where a second glance reveals a second meaning: these are guaranteed to make me flip the book and read the blurb. If I’m not hooked by then, I do the random test taught me by a browsing customer years ago. Open to page 123 and read it. If the author’s writing is personally appealing, take the book downstairs. If not, there are 35,ooo more to browse.

I don’t think this would work if we didn’t live here, as we’re too absent-minded to remember to bring the books back once we’ve read them. And of course, if someone wants something, we have to bring it up from the den. I once sold a book Jack was reading from right off the nightstand, removing his bookmark and swearing later I didn’t remember seeing it. (Don’t tell him; he still doesn’t know I did that.)

Yeah, it’s a business. But when the main lights go out, and the relaxed evening hunt for something to read begins, it’s pure hedonistic happiness to live in a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Tails of Dogs and Cats

Jack’s weekly guest post –

I’m a bit of a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, ever since I stumbled across the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I also fell for his Scotland Street series as well – particularly for his very accurate depiction of a certain element of Edinburgh society with which I’m familiar. The slightly down at heel Georgian New Town intelligencia, complete with their locked private gardens!

One of the characters in the Scotland Street series is a dog called Cyril and McCall Smith manages to get inside his mind wonderfully. In many ways Cyril became one of my favorites.

But then along came the incredible Freddie De La Hay – one of the residents of Corduroy Mansions a new series set in the Pimlico neighborhood of London. Freddy is first introduced as an ex-drugsniffing dog made redundant from Heathrow Airport as a result of a campaign against sex discrimination (all the drugsniffers were male). Once again McCall Smith gets right inside the mind of a dog as it smells its way around its world, eating expensive shoes and catching Russian spies along the way. Despite a fascinating range of humans, it’s the dog that once again does it for me!

What got me thinking about this was an experience I had yesterday. We took in an older cat a few days ago that had initially been rescued by our friend Jessica. She was going to keep her, but her existing feline co-habitee didn’t approve at all. So Jessica paid to have Sweetie Pie spayed and then she came to us until we can find her a permanent home. All well and good!

Wendy left at lunchtime yesterday for a couple of days of business in Richmond and I was left keeping an eye on the lodger. Sweetie Pie seemed quite content relaxing on a stool in the mystery room. Then Kellie, our cafe chef, came in around 5 pm from a grocery run – “Sweetie Pie’s outside”, she said. “what?” I said – –

Sure enough – she was out in the front garden and when I went to pick her up she ran down onto the sidewalk. We both tried to catch her, but she kept running further off. eventually it got too dark to see where she was and I gave up. What on earth would I say to Wendy – and Jessica – how would we tell her that the cat she recued and paid to have spayed had run away on our watch? Wendy phoned later and I broke the news. We commiserated with each other and agreed that at least she had been spayed so there wouldn’t be exponential explosion of kittens.

Feeling disconsolate, I headed down to our basement bedroom and noted both dogs and our three indoor cats all in their favorite spots. Sitting on the edge of the bed to take of my shoes, I glanced up. Owen Meany had been lying beside Zora but now he was magically up on the window sill! No – wait – he’s still beside Zora – what?

Sweetie Pie holds court

Sweetie Pie holds court

There she sat, calmly licking her paw and preening herself. “What?” she meowed – “fine neighborhood you have here. Nice cats! What’s for dinner?”

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor

The law of unintended consequences

Jack’s weekly guest blog today reveals the bookstore planning methodology.

Regular readers of this blog will recall my guest posts towards the end of last year describing the conversion of our basement from a dark dismal hole into a light and airy work-space for Wendy. I thought maybe that would be the last major building work for a while – – –

But there’s the other half of the basement, which remains in its original cobwebby state, replete with concrete floor, brick walls and exposed roof beams/wiring/water pipes et al. But not for long, for Wendy has been thinking – – –

When Wendy says “I’ve been thinking – -” I just know there’s going to be work to do. Her latest wheeze is to make the second floor of the bookstore into a proper eating establishment. To explain – we’ve had a food license for  few years, with the intention of serving lunches in the bookstore. However the ever increasing bookshelves mean we’ve never really had the room to do that except occasionally when requested.

But we spend most of our free time in the store anyway and only sleep upstairs and, besides, there’s a perfectly good kitchen and bathroom upstairs as well as a couple of good sized rooms and a spacious landing. One of these rooms is currently our bedroom, so – – –

The still-to-be-converted additional room in the basement will become our bedroom, thereby making the whole space into our living apartment. It has a door into the yard in which I’ll fit a dog flap, so Zora and Bert will still have access to the yard and a place to hang out inside. That will also mean they will no longer be barking at customers from behind the gate at the bottom of the main staircase.

As we discussed all this and began to think about food styles and menus, Wendy said – “you know, I’ve been thinking – -. We could extend the bookstore upstairs as well. You’d only need to make a few more bookshelves – – -”

Aaarrrggghhh!

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We Have an Anchor

It’s been a hard week here at the bookstore, and that’s a fact. Jack is getting on with the basement renovations, despite crazy weather (from 4 to 62 degrees Farenheit in two days?!) crooked walls, and mucked-up windows. I’m working my way through piles of donations from people who cleaned closets in January, and greeting new customers and new friends the book has brought us. Business is thriving.

But some outside pressures we need not go into have got me rattling just like the basement windows in these bitter winds: confused, pressured, cold and battered. Rattled.

Books are excellent therapy in such times. Walk the shelves, straightening and arranging; set the spines upright; run your fingers over familiar titles and remember when you read them. Breathe in the dust and ideas that float on the sunbeams of a second-hand books shop. Sit at the table and drink a cup of tea, surrounded by the weightiness of all those books holding the collected weight of human learning.

There’s a hymn that says, “We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” 

I’m a person who believes in Jesus as He presented Himself, and who turns a suspicious eye toward many of those offering to interpret Him for the rest of us. Perhaps I have two anchors: the eternal one I neither take for granted nor feel compelled to force on others; and the “take time to think” drag force of 38,000 books, just sitting there, reasonable and silent, in a world full of people screaming for attention. Pull one down at random, read a page at random. Just breathe. Drink tea. Relax. Read about–learn from–someone else’s experiences.

Dust, ideas, silence. Peace in a buffer zone. Our bookshop is a space whose walls are lined floor to ceiling by books. Inside them are ideas enough to start a hundred revolutions, yet oddly enough I feel like they shelter me. They remind me that this too shall pass, that there is very little new under the sun, that how I feel now has been felt by hundreds of real people and fictional characters in the past, and will be in the future. It’s okay to be rattled; I’m in good company in these high winds.

We have, here in our little bookstore, an anchor and an Anchor. And that’s enough.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA