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Posts Tagged ‘used books’

My daughter gave me The Diary of A Bookseller by Shawn Bythell for my birthday. I’d first heard about it in some sort of media report about Wigtown, Scotland and it’s annual book festival. It’s a yearlong diary Bythell kept to share his life as owner of a large used bookstore in a small rural town.

I’ve worked in an indie bookstore and I felt fairly well aware of the threat Amazon has been to booksellers but I was thinking from the perspective of stores that primarily sell new books. I didn’t fully grasp the way Amazon has undermined the value of used books and made it harder and less profitable to run a used bookshop.

I used to fantasize about having a used bookstore and even had a book (which I think I bought at Powell’s) about how to do start and run one, right down to how to build the shelves. I let the book go a few years ago when we were having a big clear out (to make way for more books) and realized then that the business had likely changed so much I’d be better off learning from someone in the trade today.  The Diary of a Bookseller drove that point home for sure.

Some of what Bythell described is recognizable to anyone who has worked retail or in a library — the regulars who are both very familiar and complete strangers, the rude or demanding or opinionated people who feel entitled to provide commentary on the way things are run, the stock, the prices, the staff, etc. Other challenges I hadn’t considered, like the wear and tear on the body of lugging boxes of books, the difficulty of heating a very old building, and the fearful difficulty of clearing a clogged gutter in a downpour to stop it flooding the shop.

I admire Bythell’s desire to be independent, to quietly fight on against giants like Amazon and Waterstones, and to find hope in kind customers and in the beauty of living where one wants, doing something one values. It’s also really interesting to read the quotes from George Orwell’s Bookshop Memories at the start of each chapter and realize that as different as the world was in the first half of the 20th century when Orwell worked in a bookshop, many things he wrote about are still true today.

This was an interesting and enjoyable read, and I hope to make it to Wigtown and The Bookshop one day! I also hope the Random Book Club re-opens for membership. In less than a year I’ll be done with my second foray into grad school and free to read whatever I want, so that would be a good gift to myself!

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My family knows I have a sixth sense that spots used book stores and sniffs out library sales. My inner reading deals beacon honed in on a brief notice about the Five Colleges Book Sale in The Concord Monitor’s “Livewell” insert several weeks ago. The sale, which has run since 1961 and raises money for scholarships, features 35,000-40,000 used books! To paraphrase Kevin Henkes’ picture book, Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, all I could say was “Wow!”

Which is why I was up at 6:30 am last Saturday. I removed all non-essentials from my purse in order to save my arm and shoulder strength for bags of books, ate a good breakfast, packed a granola bar, and drove about an hour to Lebanon, NH. Then I waited in line, chatting with my fellow book nuts, for another hour. It’s easy to chat with fellow members of the book tribe — the young woman in front of me was thrilled that I recognized the Finnish characters on her handmade tote bag: Moomins.  We were all in a state of giddy anticipation, and by the time the doors opened at 9 am, the line wrapped back around the school. And oh, was it worth the wait!

The Five Colleges Book Sale is by far the best sale I have ever attended, anywhere. The folks who run the sale have thought of everything. There’s an ample supply of boxes in case your tote bags prove to be too heavy, and plenty of space to take boxes to sort. They even offer a box storage area so that if you have so many books you can’t easily push them around, you can leave your boxes while you continue to browse.

Roving volunteers constantly straighten the tables of books, restock from clearly marked tables where people can return any books they’ve had second thoughts about, and even offer express checkout for those people with only a few books. All of these efforts reduce the impact of dealers on the individual shopper, and I found the whole atmosphere pleasant and the volunteers knowledgeable and helpful. Even the dealers — who were there in large numbers, because this is the largest sale in New England, were polite to individual buyers, and I saw no cut-throat grabbing of prized titles, which happened at all the sales I attended in a large metropolis in the Northwest where the Computer Scientist once worked for a large software company.

Ahead of the sale, the website tantalized with a list of this year’s sale highlights. In fact, this list pushed me over the top — I was wavering, considering staying home with my family on Saturday to enjoy our strange taste of summer weather (we had record setting heat). But when I saw this list, I could not resist.  And we’re all glad I went.

I bought 36 books, and spent $50.50, for an average of $1.40 per book. I concentrated on nonfiction, but I have to admit there were whole tables I never looked at — cookbooks, architecture, and psychology come to mind. With so much to look at, I had to be ruthless in considering a book’s appeal to the rest of the bookconscious household, so I put back anything I wavered over. I also tried hard to resist books I know I can get at the library.

I found books of poems and essays, a number of science and nature books that I knew would appeal to the Teenager and Pre-teen, as well as a book on mystics, another on sacred time, one on cultural memory and another on geography. Also, a book of Gerald Durrell’s essays and a collection of early work by Jane Austen. No doubt some of these will turn up in future bookconscious posts.

When I got back and unpacked my bags of treasure, the whole family gathered on the screened porch to see what I’d found. None of them think I’m crazy for spending a lovely Saturday lugging bags of books around a gym, bless them. And I’ve noticed them “grazing” on new books I’ve left on end tables to catch someone’s interest. The teenager even thanked me for finding him a new book on the universe, and the Computer Scientist grilled supper so I could focus on blogging. What a great day in paradise!

Quick aside: I carried my books around in two tote bags, one of which was a felted bag my friend Tricia made. You can check out her hand knit items and handspun wool at her etsy shop.

The final event in my April in paradise was Book Club Evening at Gibson’s. Wine, delicious appetizers from Concord Cooperative Market, fantastic desserts from Bread and Chocolate, and three publishing reps (Ron Koltnow and Lesley Vasilio of Random House and Ann Wachur, with Penguin) who each talked up about a dozen titles newly out in paperback. They even gave out book party favors (including advance reading copies) and raffled off tote bags. I sat between my next door neighbor and a fellow Songweaver. There’s good company in paradise.

I didn’t win any raffle items, but I can report that the food was delicious, and I noted a number of books for my “to read” list. Koltnow, Vasilio, and Wachur each talked about books they love, and as we visited around the store, lots of people were chatting up their favorite reads as well. I managed to limit myself to one purchase, Olive Kitteridge, which Gibson’s book club is discussing in June.

I was tempted to buy a memoir that sounds very interesting, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle, but I resisted, in part because I’ve got 36 new-to-me books from the sale. I will probably give in to temptation and go back and get it, eventually! Unless some other member of the bookconscious household is reading this and would like to know what to give his or her mother for Mothers’ Day . . . tell Dad Gibson’s gives 30% off to anyone parked in the garage — just show your ticket!

There are only two more days left in April, and I still haven’t written about the books I’ve read this month. Stay tuned for the next bookconscious post, which I’ll try to publish next week, for a peek at what we’ve been reading around here, in between fabulous literary events. And if you’re free next April, I recommend your spend your spring break here in paradise.

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