Monday, April 27, 2009

Myles of Books, Part the Fourth - With Dog Ears

The next morning the problematic window only took a bit off Topher's mood. Arthur had bought them a fine dinner and they had talked at length of books and sales and book folks of the past and present. Topher thought again how he looked forward to what lay ahead of him and what he had to learn. What lay ahead after the sign was fixed, that is.

He checked the answering machine for the shop. No messages from Tom. He went over unlocked the door, made a paper sign that noted a correction for the window was on the way, and his second day began.

Things were a bit slower. He did see the spellchecker walk by his shop with a flock of other women, who stopped briefly outside the shop to talk excitedly and peer in. Topher half waved, but they had already looked away and were clattering onward.

He had finished with psychology the day before, so he took the opportunity to review his final layout. Art, hobbies, sports, and new arrivals near the front. Mystery, Science Fiction and Early History across from his desk. Religion was right next to his desk. Arthur and his other mentor, book scout par excellence Ned Pack, had warned him that religion is where most of the book lifting was liable to occur. He wasn't worried, but he followed their advice. Pack also suggested he make an out of the way place near the door and put books he wanted to get rid of there. "If you can't sell 'em, let the thieves nab 'em." Topher was still mulling that one over.

The rest was straightforward. The shelves in the center of the shop had European and American history on one side, with the other social sciences on the other. On the wall across from the history his small section on military history and next to that ethnic cultures. There was an alcove across from the social science shelves where Topher had cookbooks, movies, and science and technology. Those subjects didn't necessarily go together, but they fit the space. The back third of the shop held the literature, drama, music, and literary criticism. Here and there he had small benches, but the only customer chair was the Dunning. Topher had made small signs for each section, and had room left over on the shelves to put a number of books cover out, which appeared to have paid off so far. "You don't buy cereal from the spine," Arthur had said. "You buy what's on the front." Topher also had a number of books in the window, including an attractive but cheap Tolstoi set and group of the more attractive Modern Library titles.

Satisfied, Topher sat down in his squeaky chair. He piled his internet orders in front of him, and began packaging them. About half way through the pile, he heard the door open.

A woman and a small boy came in. Topher greeted them.

"Do you have any children's books?" the woman asked.

"No, sorry. Have you tried The Midnight Stand Bookshop on the other side of campus"

"Oh yes. He had piles of picture books on the floor and shelves. It was a bit hard to find things."

Topher smiled. "Yeah, that is kind of how he arranges things. You can find some nice books there, but it takes some work."

The woman smiled back, and looked around. The kid was standing in the leather chair, eyeing a particularly bloody book cover.

"Do you just have rare books?" she said.

"No ma'am. Most of our books run between five and fifteen dollars. And things look this clean because we just opened yesterday."

"Oh, you do have a lovely shop."

"Mama, is this a library?" asked the kid, tearing himself away from a gory cover.

"No dear, but they don't have any books for us. Thank you sir. " she reached for junior.

"No they don't. They should get kids books so we can come back. Otherwise we won''t. " He took his mother's hand and they left the shop as Topher looked on, a bit shocked.

Topher had avoided kids books because he knew so little about them. But Arthur said folks always had something to say about running someone else's bookshop, he thought. He just didn't expect the first comment would come so soon, or from someone so short and blunt.

By the end of the second day, Topher had sold another hundred and fifty dollars worth of books. A few less people had come in than the day before, but a couple books were on his hold shelf behind the desk. Someone had wanted to buy his reference book on Mark Twain that he kept above the hold shelf, but it wasn't for sale.

"Not for sale? In a bookshop?" the man had shook his head and left. Maybe I need to make a sign, thought Topher.

Just as he was taping up the new sign on his reference-not-for-sale shelf, another woman in flopping ears and a dog related t-shirt stepped in the shop. Slightly younger than Priscilla with a forest of hair, she took off her ears almost immediately upon entering.

She raised her hand. "Hi, I'm Jen. I work for Priscilla next door."

"Ahh, Yeah, Priscilla mentioned you and Walter. Nice to meet you."

"You too. This is your bookstore? Looks good." she said, attempting to order the mass on her head. The mass won in a way that suggested it had never been defeated. "She's making us wear these this week."

"Well, it certainly makes an impression." Topher said, smiling.

"Heh, yeah. It looks ok in the pet store, but I'm not gonna look like I'm from a clown convention when I'm out and about." She stuck the ears in her belt as she glanced around. "I think this is just what we needed."

"I hope so. We do have three other used and rare shops in town."

"We do? Oh, you mean that jumble of a place and that other one that sells antiques too. And the closed one. Yours seems more like a regular bookshop, not a junk pile or museum."

Topher laughed. "Yep. Peyterson's Fine Books and Masterworks. They have some museum quality stuff, certainly. "

"It'll be a few lifetimes before I can go in there and buy anything, and only then if I get a discount. I do have a book that is kinda old, but not in great shape. We've had it in our family a long time. Heck, we go back as far as the Peytersons here. Too bad our money don't".

Topher nodded. The Peytersons made money back in the early 19th century and folks said they had been coasting on it ever since. Not very fair, but it did have a grain of truth. Honestly, Topher thought, coasting had its appeal at times. He was hoping he would have that opportunity himself in a couple decades.

The woman turned to him, her reddish tipped black hair shaking like a bush assaulted by small, furious animal. "You ever deal in old books? Or just these newer ones here?"

"We do have some older books. Not many. I'm still new at this, but I hope to have more over time." he said.

"Can you tell me what an old book is worth?"

"I can try. I have some reference books here," he said as he pointed to his new sign. "and I can use others at the University. The Gebers Foundation has references too."

"Does it cost?" she asked, looking as if she expected the worst.

"Well, it depends on what you need. If you need a formal appraisal for insurance or a donation, I can refer you to Arthur Bailey, who has a lot of experience with that. He would charge something depending on the time it took. If you just want a quick idea or if you want to sell it, I can probably help with that."

"Hell no, I'm not donating this book. It's an old furniture book, lotsa neat pictures. If it's expensive, we'll probably sell it. Walter and I have a couple girls getting ready for high school, and we're putting money in the bank for college, as much as we can. If it's not, then we'll just keep it and pass it on I figure."

Topher nodded. "Fair enough. Bring it in anytime, and I'll take a look at it. We'll go from there. Even it isn't expensive, I'm sure I'd learn something from it, and that's always worth it".

"Ok then. You're eager, I give you that," she said. "I appreciate it. I will try to bring in the book in later this week or early next." She pulled the ears from her belt and put them back on, where they sat deep enough that only half or so were showing. "Good luck....?"

"Topher," he said. "Topher Myles."

"Good meeting you Mr. Myles. Good luck with the shop."

"Thanks, and just call me Topher. That's good enough."

"Will do." she said, and through the door she went, ears, hair, and all.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Myles of Books, Part the Third

The rest of the day was better, which is to say no further glaring problems were presented to him. He had perhaps a dozen folks in between ten and six, counting his initial walking spellchecker. About half mentioned the misspelling, and the other half asked if he really had miles of books. Only one asked him if he had read all of them.

A few even bought some books. Most notably a professor he had seen at the university bought an solid but not expensive book on the Iroquois in the Revolutionary War by Mintz. Topher had placed it cover side out on a shelf because of its attractive dust jacket. "Let the book work for you." his friend Arthur had said, and he always tried to keep that in mind.

By five o'clock he had made over a hundred and fifty dollars in the shop, and had orders from the internet for another fifty-five. After subtracting the cost of the books and credit card and internet fees Topher figured he made about one hundred and thirty dollars, give or take. Not great, he thought, but not a bad day either.

Arthur came in beard first just as he was finishing the numbers and gave an appreciative look around the shop. "I see you still have a few books left. Good. I guess you'll still be open tomorrow ."

"Yeah, sold a few but not all. That'll be next week. Thanks again for all the help in getting this off the ground." The two men shook hands.

"A pleasure my boy, a pleasure. Usually used books seem to be a game for the older crowd, so it is good to see a young person enter the trade. Not so jaded by the world, not so cranky." Arthur sat down in a comfortable leather-seated Dunning chair near the mystery section.

Topher sat down on a step stool opposite. "You're not so cranky."

Arthur's white teeth shone through his artificially dark beard. "No, but I don't have an open shop. And I certainly don't have to get out there every week to hunt books. That can turn some men into ogres. Take Harry Cherin, over at Open Door Books. Closed his shop 5 years ago. Best location in town, great books, now doesn't want to deal with the public at all, except over the internet. Doesn't even buy collections anymore. Just hunts library and estate sales. Last time he was at the Lugston sale I heard he got into fisticuffs with not one but two, " Arthur help up two plump fingers. "Two bookscouts. He won, but the ladies tossed all of them. They might have been allowed to stay if they had come close to real boxing rather than just flailing about, I heard. Art is often appreciated when you least expect it."

"What book were they fighting over?"

"What book?" Arthur chuckled. "No particular book I imagine. Too many hands in the same place. A shove or a grab. Tensions run high at some sales. There's not too many things at a sale I would fight over. Maybe a Marilyn Playboy."

Topher smiled. "I'll make sure I give him a wide berth. Anything good sell for you lately?"

Arthur looked absently over Topher's shoulder for a moment. "Ah yes. A nice little batch of letters written by William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Kansas Gazette. Good bits about barbed wire at the Republican convention podium and Taft being pried out of a bathtub. Biting stuff. Not too expensive these days, but great for Teddy Roosevelt and political collectors. And for those who like barbed wire and naked presidents I suppose."

"Well, if there is much call for naked presidents I'll have to start a section." Topher said as he stood.

"Don't, my boy. Such things always attract the wrong sort. How about an old bookman taking the younger out for dinner after his first professional day? "

"Sounds great. I still have hour or so to go. I better not close early my first day."

"Of course. Now, I'll just peruse your early American history section for any overlooked treasures." Arthur leaned forward and rose with just a bit of effort from the Dunning, and began quickly scanning the shelves. "Never pass up War of 1812 books, Topher. Even the new ones are good. Ahh, yes, here's Quimby. Excellent."

Arthur then caught the name of the shop on the glass as the sun poured through. "Topher, you should call Tom about his lettering work. You paid him before he did that, didn't you?"

Topher glanced up at the big window. "I already called him, but yeah, I paid him after the shelves. I figured he just had a bit left to do, so I'd get it out of the way."

Arthur chuckled. "Well, he'll feel bad about it. Just don't pay him early anymore."

Topher shook his head and went back to his records. Arthur's presence must have been good luck, as a few more customers came in and for a while the shop looked busy, with no comments on misspellings. The day ended strong, with the Quimby going to Arthur and other books of literature and religion sold as well. The extra two hundred dollars almost made up for the window.

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HoB Nob - Histories of the Book in 7 countries

There are many books about the minutia of publishers, printers, booksellers, and authors lives, or how books are made, or how to collect books, or how a particular library was put together. On a grander scale, there are many books on the broad sweep of books, covering cuneiform tablets to ebooks, or the greatest books or libraries in the world. But the middle ground, the book histories of a particular place across time, or of a particular time across places, are less common. National book histories are important landmarks in this middle ground, and it is remarkable that such books on seven major English language nations are all coming out at nearly the same time.

Start clearing bookshelf space now.

Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland , Scotland, and New Zealand are the countries in question, with the university presses of Cambridge, North Carolina, Toronto, Queensland, Oxford, and Otago doing the heavy lifting, and the American Antiquarian Society helping out the US effort. The works are in various stages of completion, with Vol. 3 of Britain's history by Cambridge leading the way in 1999, and Canada being the first of the countries to finish, with their 3rd volume appearing in 2007.

Britain's history will be seven volumes, 3 of which are already printed, with 2 more on the way this year. The three volumes out, vols. 2-4, cover the period from 1100 to 1695, with the next 2 covering 1695-1914 out by the end of summer. On series page, a brief discussion of the series states:

The seven volumes of the History of the Book in Britain will help explain how these texts were created, why they took the forms they did, their relations with other media, and what influence they had on the minds and actions of those who heard, read or viewed them.

The books will be collections of essays that collectively will cover the period thoroughly. It will be the most scholarly of the group (though all will be well done I think), I imagine, and also the mos expensive. I have vol. 3 and I think they do a fine job, and will slowly buy the rest as the reference purse permits.

The United States series started shortly after the British, and has a bit more of a convoluted publishing history. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester MA is the prime mover in this series, originally working with Cambridge University Press to produce the first volume in the series, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. It was reissued by the AAS and the University of North Carolina Press in paperback in 2007. What prompted the change in partners for AAS I do not know - perhaps Cambridge already had enough on its plate with the British series. In any case, vol. 3 The Industrial Book, 1840-1880 followed in August of that year, and vol. 4 Print in Motion: 1880-1940 was just released in January 2009. V. 5 The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America is promised in September of this year, and will be a major addition to book history of the most recent period. All volumes except for v. 1 are available from UNC in hardcover only, but for about a third of what the British series costs per volume.

The Canadian series by the University of Toronto Press (Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal is doing the French edition) is, as mentioned above, the only one of the six to be completed. Starting with vol. 1 published in 2004, the three volumes cover to 1840, to 1918, and to 1980 respectively. Our reading group here at the shop read vol. 1, and while I would not recommend it other reading groups, it is very informative and an excellent resource. As with other series, the Canadian is a one of a kind resource and a well constructed set of books. The price for these volumes runs approx.. $85 USD each or so new, a bit more than the US series.

Australia's effort by the University of Queensland Press is affectionately called the HOBA, for A History of the Book in Australia. Like Canada, this is a three volume effort. Volume I is not yet scheduled for release, but vol. II 1890-1945 came out in October 2001, with vol. III Paper Empires : 1946-2005 arriving in summer 2006. Like the other series, a collection of different essays and case-studies are presented to provide a broad view during the different times. Vol. II appears to only be in hardcover, while vol. III appears to have a paperback edition in addition to the hardcover. Prices for the hardcovers are around $75.00 USD.

The Irish book history series of 5 books is being published by Oxford. The first work in that series is Vol. III The Irish Book in English, 1550-1800 came out in early spring 2006. Again a collection of essays by scholars and well made. This volume looks primarily at the printed book in Ireland and its effect on the culture and covers the spread of presses throughout ireland from English areas to the rest of the island. I did not see when the next volumes were scheduled, and I fear that the downturn in the world economy may delay this series and perhaps others. The book costs 195.00 USD for new copies, and I don't think used ones will be very common.

The University of Edinburgh is publishing the Scottish series through its Centre for the History of the Book. The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland Project, or EHOBS, started off with a bang on St. Andrews Day 2007, with two volumes released at once. The two, Ambition and Industry 1800-1880 and Professionalism and Diversity 1880-2000 are the last two in the series. I could find no scheduled date or tentative titles for the first two. The volumes are, like the other UK works, expensive, with prices similar to the Irish and British series.

The last of the seven nations to begin its History of the Book series is New Zealand/Aotearoa. While an earlier work called A Book in the Hand: Essays on the History of the Book in New Zealand was published in 2001, it seems to be a smattering of essays more literary rather than a more concerted overview of the history. I learned of the upcoming volume from a brief entry in Beattie's Book Blog by a New Zealand Publisher and bookseller. Further investigate uncovered a blurb from the Humanities Research Network in NZ/A that is a call for scholars to work on a single volume that covers both Maori and English books and publishing, divvied into 4 time periods from 1830-2010. There is no suggestion as to the publication date, but I think if we see it before 2012 I will be surprised, as they are just getting started. I do wish the team there success and happy researching.

Such works as these listed above are important landmarks in any field. As such, they take a great deal of effort and time to finish. I have firm hopes that all of the projects will be completed, because many hands are at work in each group. My only fear is that the essays won't dovetail well enough, and that gaps may appear in the different histories. I have not seen that so far in the volumes I personally own, but in other areas such as medieval history the collections of essays sometimes seem a hodgepodge of scholarly essays loosely connected by the broad title of the work.

So, as I said. clear shelf space. These books will be thick, well made, and full of new research. You may not want all of the series, but don't wait too long to get the volumes you do want. I imagine the works are geared toward academic institutions and the print runs will not be large.

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