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.