Ah, the underbelly of the antiquarian book business. We’ve been bookstore owners for exactly one week, and so far it’s been just about the most fun we’ve ever had. We’ve also had some good media coverage, including:
This front page story in the Eureka Times-Standard.
This story in Publishers Weekly.
This write-up in Shelf Awareness.
A nice shout-out from GalleyCat.
And, after the jump, I’ll reprint the piece I wrote the North Coast Journal, the alternative weekly where my garden column appears.
Last week, I called my brother in
LA and told him that my husband Scott and I were buying an antiquarian
bookstore. He considered our
occupations—magazine editor, author, and now bookstore owner—and said, “Wow. Books, magazines—you guys are really getting
into a growth industry up there.”
“Yes, we believe the printed page
is the wave of the future,” I said, “and we’re investing in it heavily.”
Yikes. As I write this, I have been the part-owner of Eureka Books for
less than 24 hours. It’s a grand,
glorious old place, crammed to the ceiling with odd and offbeat treasures like
Victorian marriage manuals, yellowed sheaves of sheet music, and even a Zane
Grey novel bound in flamboyant marbled papers for Liberace’s library. A few days ago, a book scout came through
looking for inventory to sell to dealers, and he pulled out what may be the
first novel about Alcoholics Anonymous. The term ‘alcoholism’ was so new, back in the 1940s when the novel was published,
that it had to be defined on the dust-jacket flap. The scout paid four bucks
for it and may sell it for twenty to a dealer who specializes in AA books. The dealer might sell it to a collector for
$120. Every book finds its home eventually. So it goes in the rare book trade.
I don’t know a damn thing about
rare books—I like my paperbacks cheap and tattered—but I know that I plan to
fight long and hard against the alleged demise of the book. Let the National
Endowment for the Arts make dire predictions about the decline in reading. Let Sony, Apple, and Amazon roll out one
handheld e-book device after another. I’m having none of it. I love
the smell of an old book, I love the heft of a hardcover, and I love getting to
know a person by browsing their bookshelves. Surely I’m not the only one.
Antiquarian bookstores all over the country are closing their doors, but by
God, I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway of this one and keep it open.
Scott, who founded a magazine about
rare books, is in charge of figuring out a strategy for making a nineteenth
century-style bookstore viable in the twenty-first century. He’s been a book dealer before and he’s in
touch with the movers and shakers in the antiquarian book world. Most of them are well past retirement age
and their kids aren’t interested in old books. They give him fatherly advice
and drop hints about where a few good private collections might be had for a
decent price. Several of them have told
him that he’s crazy for buying a bookstore in this digital age, but they say it
fondly, the way your dad might tell you that you’re crazy for restoring an old
Mustang or taking your rock band on the road. It’s crazy, but in a good way.
As for me, I hope to pull a shift in the store once
in a while so I can live out my romantic writer/bookstore-owner fantasies. Just yesterday, I was browsing the shelves
when I came across a whole section of books on a bit of obscure botanical
history that I’ve been interested in lately. I started to pull the books off the shelf to see if I could afford them,
and then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’ve already bought them. I totally
own all these books.”
That’s a dangerous thought. On second thought, maybe
I shouldn’t be allowed to work in the store. I never could stand to part with a good book.
(reprinted from the North Coast Journal, December 12, 2007 issue)