One Last Amazing Find

Today was my second to last day working at the bookstore. It’s a little bittersweet, thinking about leaving. While there are definitely real and good reasons for me to take my new job, it’s sad to leave a community of people I so truly and honestly enjoy. One of my coworkers said to me, upon being hired, that you had to be weird to work there, and my own variety of weird fits in pretty well with all the other weird that’s hanging around.

Anyway – with today being President’s day, the store was an absolute madhouse starting around the time people decided they didn’t want to be sleeping in any longer. Combined with the usual Monday craziness, it was pretty nuts (which is particularly bad at the buy counter – everyone who has a garage sale or cleans house over the weekend seems to show up on Monday to sell us their books). Everyone takes their turn, though, so I took my round at the buy counter with only a little bit of grumbling about how many buys were lined up.

And then a middle aged, rather raggedy gentleman came in with a box and wanted to know if we made offers on books. I told him we did, and he handed me the box. At this point, mentally, I’m grimacing, because a) the store is a madhouse and I don’t want to have to take a lot of time with one guy and his one book and b) mostly people that come in thinking their books are hot shit really just have books that they love for personal, not collectible, reasons.

But I put all that aside and opened it, carefully unwrapped the bubble wrap and the tissue paper, and came across one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve been bookselling (which is admittedly only about 20 months, but still).

He had a first edition (but not first printing) of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It was not in very good shape, but I was impressed. So I opened it… and that’s when my brain exploded.

Not only was it inscribed to someone with whom he’d spent a boat voyage in Spain (!), he’d taken the time to go through the entire book and write in the appropriate curse words that the editor/publisher had “bleeped” out of the printing. Then at the end of the book, he wrote “This book completed by the author, <date> E. H.”

First off, seeing words like “cocksucker,” “bastard,” and “fucking” hand-written into one of Hemingway’s books by Hemingway himself was a trip. But beyond that, I can just see him on this voyage to Spain, making friends with someone and then offering them a copy of his newest book that he carefully “re-completed”.

After collecting myself, I called in another bookseller, who’s particularly good with old/rare stuff. He also had to collect his brain, because DUDE. Unfortunately the gentleman was not interested in actually selling his book, but rather was looking for an appraisal (which we don’t do, and especially don’t do for free), so the book was carefully re-wrapped and he left with it, with instructions to find an actual antique book dealer to get it legitimately appraised. If I’d had my brain with me, I would have taken pictures, but a little internet memorial will have to suffice.

Since I’ve worked at the store, there have been three truly amazing things that I’ve gotten to see/hold/look at. The first was a book printed in the late 17th century. The second, a copy of one of Dr. Seuss’ college books that he signed “Theo Seuss Geisel”. This Hemingway book is the third.

That it came through the store on my buy shift during my last week here is really quite fortuitous. There are definitely things I’m going to miss about bookselling – and the treasure hunt is one of them. (I won’t miss the madhouse of customers. That stresses me out to no end.)

I really am glad I got to be there for this, though. Makes for a really memorable end to what has been a really good job.


What do you use for a Bookmark?

I ran across a really interesting book/website yesterday when a customer asked for it (we didn’t have a copy, sadly).

Forgotten Bookmarks is a collection of things found or used as pagemarkers in old and used books. The author is a bookseller, and I can definitely relate to the sheer curiosity of things found in old books. Sometimes it’s a little bit like looking into someone’s life (especially if the bookmark is a card, letter, or plane ticket stub). While I haven’t seen the actual book yet, I’ve wasted a good bit of time poking through the website and looking at all the ephemera that Michael Popek has collected.

It’s kind of voyeuristic, in a way that Post Secret used to be, in that you’re looking at these little tidbits of people’s lives.

I know I’ve seen things at the buy counter that have made me wonder where the person was from and what they were like – both in the collection of books they bring and in the odds and ends that get left behind when people clean house. The most poignant was someone’s collection of refrigerator magnets, a whole life in pictures and souvenir magnets all tossed in a plastic grocery sack. (Those didn’t get thrown out, thankfully) The books with inscriptions, especially meaningful ones, I usually try to point out to the seller – often they don’t care, if their items are just from someone’s storage unit or from a distant relative, but sometimes they choose to keep them.

This is probably the hardest part about buying books from the public. I’m essentially putting a value on someone’s memories, and I have to help them see that those memories don’t really go along with the books. Two copies of a novel, one which sat on a shelf and one that was carefully read by someone’s favorite aunt are still just two copies of a novel to the store.

On the other hand, things like forgotten bookmarks can be really interesting ties to the past – receipts from college bookstores in the 50’s, a notecard with a list of books on it. These things aren’t really personal memories, but they’re interesting tidbits none the less.

As such, I can’t decide if I should order Forgotten Bookmarks… or just wait for it to come into the store, used, and see if there’s anything fun left inside it.

What Do I Read Next?

One of the most frequent questions I get as a bookseller is a variation on “What should I read next?”

(It’s not the top question. That’s “Do you have a book?” followed by “Where’s the bathroom?”)

It’s actually a fun part of bookselling, helping someone who knows they love a certain book or kind of book find something new and exciting to read.

Except there are a lot of books/genres I don’t know anything about.

Unfortunately I can’t log into something like Shelfari from work (not allowed to log into anything from any work computer). I can go to Google and hope the power of the internet (and/or Amazon’s suggested other books) will bail me out, but there are a few really fantastic websites that can help more quickly. And quick is important – nobody wants to stand around while I putter on the internet trying to figure out what kind of book they want.

These are my go-to websites (depending on the query):

  • What Should I Read Next? – Yes, this actually exists as a website. Enter a title or author and get a list of suggestions of other authors and titles that you might check out. This is my major lookup, especially if someone has read EVERTHING by a certain author or authors.
  • Fantastic Fiction – a great listing of author biographies, lists of titles by each author, and author suggestions. While it’s no guarantee that your favorite author will suggest books that you’ll like, it’s a neat reference and they tend to stay within genres.
  • Wikipedia – If all you need is a list of a series in order, Wiki is likely your quickest lookup. Many series aren’t written book 1 through book 10, and often Wikipedia will have a list both in chronological publishing order and in “plot” order.
  • GoodReads – books by title, author, ISBN, and genre and often with reviews. While the majority of social options aren’t available on GoodReads without signing in to an account, you can read the reviews there without it, and they list new releases by genre.

So the next time you finish a really great book and want to read something similarly awesome, these resources may be able to bail you out – especially if you’re online shopping (or on your phone at the bookstore).

Or, you know, ask a bookseller. That’s what we’re for! (But we do appreciate if you have more than just “I saw a book over there, it had a blue cover, do you still have it?”)