Tuesday, December 30, 2008

article in NY Times

I was read some articles from the New York Times online when I clicked onto this piece by David Streitfeld. It seems to dovetail with this blog a bit. I am not at all saying that people should only buy books online. I believe that a book scout or collector can only really do their job by physically handling their "prey", if you will.

But I also understand why someone sitting at home with a computer and internet access can click a few times and have a book in their mailbox a few days later. It depends on what the customer needs and wants. If he/she wants to go to a bookstore, they will. If they want a specific book at the cheapest possible price, then that's what they will do as well. The age of the general bookstore might be over. A bookstore needs to specialize. The internet has changed the rules, all the rules, of commerce in a bit less than a decade. It's the reality of the situation.

We ought not wring our hands in woe but figure out how to use technology to enhance not only our book buying endeavors but also the logic behind publishing (for those of us who are more than book collectors, but also PUBLISHERS)

There's a glut of stuff out there now. Anyone with a computer and the proper software and a printer can make their own book......the question then becomes, 'but should they?'

There are infinitely more books than time to read them all. Most people spend more time in front of their flat screen TVs or in front of their computers than reading a book anymore and yet each year there are more and more titles coming out. GLUT!

Who can read them all? Who can afford to buy them all? People can't. They buy what interests them. Each person has a niche of interests that booksellers can't possibly know so they shotgun blast us with a bit of everything when we don't necessarily want a bit of everything. If I primarily read poetry and postmodern fiction, for example, don't bother telling me about the new biography of a former President of the United States - because I DON'T CARE. I didn't decide to publish that thing, you (mr. publisher) did, so you have to figure out how to promote and sell it to a society overwhelmed with information and entertainment options. Maybe publishers should have cut back on the number of titles they released each year a long time ago, but as a publisher I understand the logic involved in more and more books being published every year. It's just that the bell curve of books in print and the bell curve of reduced attention span have collided somewhere along the Information Superhighway and no one is calling for the paramedics.

Monday, December 22, 2008

a little hurrah

Part of the reason I write this blog and share my "booking adventures" is to connect with others who are equally involved in the various and wide net called THE BOOK TRADE. If one were willing to put name on it. Part of the gasm here is the pursuit. The find. Another part is the sale, for those who are more book scout than collector. I am a bit of both. I find to sell, and I find to collect. When I found the first edition of Dawn Powell's Turn, Magic Wheel I was terribly excited to find the book but after researching it, decided to post it for sale since it was also fairly rare. It netted me $300.00 - I would say it was worth it.

Within the last few weeks I found these two books and decided to post them for sale as well and they both sold. Hurrah, but as with any explorer, telling of the find is as exciting as reaping the rewards of the sale. I found both in second hand stores, not "Good Will" stores but in good will stores (my generic name for non-used bookstores). Stores associated with non-profit, community based missions. Stores where the person who deals with books isn't terribly knowledgeable about the "what" that they are dealing with. Of course, there's a lot of crap being donated to these places as there are at used bookstores. But the hunt is what draws me to these places and that's where the action is (at least in Northern VA where I am currently living)

I went into the first in Alexandria, VA a few weeks ago while waiting for a bookstore to open and found a number of interesting books as well as the booklet by L I Brezhnev I earlier wrote about. I am not a fan of Rod McKuen, I want to make that perfectly clear, but as I was down on all fours looking at the bottom shelf of bookcases in the corner of the largest of the rooms in this store, I found a first edition of Listen to the Warm by McKuen......signed by the poet on the inside front of the book. I hesitated about a half second and then put in the middle of the stack of books that I was buying. I ended up paying 81 cents for the book. It sold for almost $30.00!

A few days later, I was in a different store in Fairfax and got only two hardbound first editions (hey I was keeping my kids busy and only had a buck with me) and one of those books was Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator by Robert Crassweller. It was in perfect condition. Quirky. Odd subject matter. Hadn't thought about these islands in any political way. Then I remembered Poppa Doc/Baby Doc...oh yeah, there have been dictators in paradise. This book sold for $15.00

a little pre-Christmas present I won't bother dropping in my 401k (falling, falling into the abyss of Wall Street like down a rabbit hole with Alice)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I deal in books, ink is in my veins

I deal in books.

Hundreds, no thousands – no, tens of thousands have past through my hands in this life so far. As a kid, I would ride down a staircase on our family Encyclopedias. In Junior High, for a year, I was a library assistant. I grew a library in my room at home, then as I moved from apartment to apartment across the country that library would grow and shrink, as though moving with the tides of being American, and living on the run.

Later still I tore hardbound books apart, pulping the contents and tossing the covers into a cardbound crusher while working at a recycling center. It felt like tearing the heads of live animals. In some ways, it was even worse.

I also am a writer, a publisher, a collage artist and book artist which generally means that I alter existing books or reconfigure text and make new books – I have been involved in the life cycle of books needing only to buy a share of stock in a forestry company to produces timber to be made into paper, and then to invest in at least one machine which pulps ruined books and material on the other end, leading to recycled paper and yet another life.

I have collected books, sold them online, found them in odd and ordinary locations and donated them to libraries. I have, so I am told, scribbled in them – cut them apart – underlined them, highlighted them and written marginalia in some. Both as a child and currently.

I smell them. One can detect the books that lingered in used bookstores or attics or were housed in rooms where people smoked.

There is nothing more exciting than finding not only a rare book but a book that had been owned by a famous person, with notes by that person in the book. Perhaps none of this is unique in and of itself; after all there are bookstore owners and scouts, and collectors and hobbyists, and dealers and printers, and artists and sculptors who use books in any manner of appearance and reason. But often these individuals are keenly interested in on aspect of books above others. Whereas, I am interested in all of it.

The dimensions of a book printed by a long forgotten company of a novel by an author who only had two books out, and none are in print any longer, and the cover was letter pressed and the cover artist is now famous for his magazine work – or as in the case of ( Frank Cugat who did original cover of Great Gatsby) did only that one cover.

And paper, of course one needs to know about paper. Thickness, how the pages have yellowed or browned or been splotched with coffee or used to calculate a math problem, or anything – no, everything. Everything one can imagine has been done with them; the book, the binding, the cover, the pages, the spine, the gutters, the margins; the works.

Bookstores seen as communist fronts, as bedlams of corruption, or promoters of revolutions. Writers as wizards of language or demons using ink. Leading throughout human history to the eventual and periodic burning of books, or humans, or both since ideas are powerful and books tend to contain mass quantities of ideas.

“The Mason Room was peaceful, as it always is at midnight. In a few
minutes I heard the books’ voices: a low, steady, unsuppressible hum.
I’d heard it many time before. I’ve always had a finely tuned ear for
a library’s accumulations of echo and desire. Libraries are anything
but hushed”.
The Archivist
Martha Cooley

Monday, December 15, 2008

a little booklet from the propaganda wars

I was out last weekend and "trowling" about for books, going to my various spots in search of the unusual, the rare - why else do people like me go booking? I found some older books and found this piece of pristine propaganda, a 1978 booklet filled with excerpts from L I Brezhnev, the supreme leader of the Soviet Union. I paid 50 cents for it.

It was published by Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, USSR. One of the "mouthpieces" of Soviet propaganda as our own Radio Free Europe was/is. The excerpts are on the subjects of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of disarmament. This was 1978, as talks were continuing on the Nuclear Disarmament Treaty that would be signed a few years later. The cover art suggests an homage to El Lissitzky. However by 1978 I don't believe that the Soviet Union was embracing the art of Russian Constructivism. Everything had to be "social realism", how boring was that? 1978.....punk music had erupted by then. No trace of that in this booklet. Carter was in the White House. Weird times (aren't they all?)

54 pages. Text in English, publication information in Russian.