Frankly, if you’re not a book collector, you will find this post boring

Published August 4, 2017 by The Merida Review

There is nothing more exciting than a new empty bookshelf. You can just look at it and imagine all the great books you’re going to fill it with. Right?

Well, it’s raining bookshelves around here!

I have both my personal book collection which are mostly downstairs, and the books I sell, those live upstairs in one of the (former) bedrooms. (I hate to think if I ever move!). My personal books have been out of space for a while, I have piles on the floor. The books for sale I have shelved, in alphabetical order by author, cause I have to be able to find them asap if someone has a question or if one sells, and I was nearly out of space so I was on the lookout for cheap shelves. I’ve been buying the old metal shelves people keep in their garages or workshops, cause they go really cheap and – if you get the old ones – they’re really sturdy and can handle books.

I usually wait till I need one before I buy one, one usually turns up when needed, or maybe I’m just not paying attention and miss them when I’m not looking to buy them. Maybe they are always there! Whatever. I was helping my kids sort out stuff for an auction (a relative’s estate auction) and spotted some shelves in the garage and promised them they’d be coming home with me, but only if they could look tired and rusty and sell for cheap. I was only going to buy one, but ended up with 3. I had to rearrange the book room to fit them in and it’s looking quite impressive, or at least I think so. I showed my son and he seemed to think my motley collection of shelves looked rather pathetic, but he wasn’t imagining them with books on them. I’ve been on a buying streak lately, I think I’ve already got enough to fill one. They just need to be typed into the database, which is rather slow going.

Then I was walking dogs and someone had tossed an old wood shelf in the trash. Really. I mean oak. Gees. I hollered over and asked if it was ok if I took it and they said sure, so I hustled home and got the car. You can’t get cheaper than free! And then my son showed up with one of those pressboard Ameriwood shelves that someone had abandoned at the auction (you know, you buy a whole row of stuff to get one thing and just take the one thing and leave the rest for vultures….).

So, five. I have five empty bookshelves scattered around my house right now. Whatever shall I do? Heh, heh.

* * *

The other night I was at a library book sale at a small town library, and the only scanner people there was an older couple, quite old – I think they were new at it, cause they were discreetly carrying a few books at a time over to the corner where the Mr would scan them. I could’ve offered them some ideas as to technique (from observation, not personal experience), but that didn’t occur to me till later. I was really struck by the idea of this older couple getting into the book scanning business. It seemed all wrong. I wondered if they were taken in by one of the “You can make XXX dollars a week!” ads, and invested big bucks into a class and the scanner and the service that does pricing. I wonder what future they have. I mean, if nothing else, carrying books! The scanner people I’ve rubbed up against do huge amounts of traveling to go to various charity sales. They’re aggressive! And this was a polite quiet older couple. When I left, the Mrs was standing by the curb with a couple cloth shopping bags of books while the Mr went to fetch the car. My heart went out to them.

I will probably never see them again. I don’t know exactly how the scanner business works, it’s supposed to be way easier than what I do, and faster returns. I spent some time investigating it when I moved back to the states and decided to get back into bookselling. In the end, I realized that you couldn’t do both, deal in antiquarian and first edition books AND run your little scanner thing. They are two different mindsets. Plus it’s expensive to get started because you need the equipment and the subscription to the pricing program. I couldn’t picture me driving all over Ohio to go to library sales, really. I go to a few. My kind of bookselling takes a lot of knowledge, experience; you gradually get a feel for books. And I’m slowly building up for the future. The more books I get now, the better off I’ll be then. That couple didn’t have the time to wait. They’ll be lucky to have 10 more healthy years (call me cynical). Say five. That’s not much time to learn the ropes. I just don’t know.

But oh well. They’re total strangers. What can I do?

Meanwhile, I’ve been going up and sitting in the bookroom – it looks amazing with stuff rearranged and one new wall of shelves waiting to be filled. It cheers me up. I’m tired of being broke, but eventually I’ll be really glad I stuck it out. This starting a business thing can be a bit tedious sometimes. I have a really long list of things I’m going to buy whenever it is that I start taking more in than I’m spending. When I sit in there, it reminds me that I did it before, I can do it again, I just have to be patient. Books are out there waiting for me. This will work!

Then again, there are probably people looking at me and thinking how old I am and wondering why the heck I am trying to get a new business going and thinking I don’t have enough time left in me to reap the benefits.

Gosh, that’s a rather sobering thought. I guess I should take back everything I said about that older couple and just wish them the best.

You go, guys! I hope you find lots of books!!! I hope you make lots of money! I hope you show all those skeptics what’s what.

Yeah.

Heaps of books around here

Published July 24, 2017 by The Merida Review

I bought a bunch of books a couple weeks ago at two charity rummage sales (two! two charity sales in one weekend!). I don’t usually find much at this kind of sale, but I did that weekend. Children’s books at the one; since I am relearning the business, I am buying things I’m not familiar with, taking chances, so newer children’s books than I would normally buy, paperbacks, even. The other sale had a mass of old fiction, from the late 40s and early 50s – a period I’m not very familiar with, really. I don’t tend to like the writing from the 50s. Too terse, too clinical. Kind of rapid fire. I like older stuff, long lush rambling sentences, lazy deep unfolding characters. But I am in bookseller mode here, the I will buy anything I think I can sell for more than I buy it for mode and lots of people like that period. I think. Someone must.

It wasn’t only fiction, it was fiction in hardcover in pretty decent condition with fairly nice dust jackets. It wasn’t book club – well, some were – and there were lots of first editions.

Honestly it looked like someone else had bought the lot, pulled out the things they thought were worth something (I wonder what those were?) and donated these. Whoever it is, however, didn’t know how to tell first editions. I don’t, off the top of my head, I know a few publishers, but I generally try to carry a little first edition guide with me. I didn’t have it that day, however, so I bought a few and went back the next day with my guide. G P Putnam’s Sons, for instance, a first edition isn’t marked, but later ones are. So if it says nothing, it’s a first. Oops, I just let out a trade secret.

If you look on ABE, you’ll notice a dearth of first editions by authors published by Putnam. Because the new breed of book dealer doesn’t know, doesn’t care to invest in a guide, or because they are so busy scanning books with their scanners? Famous authors are different! But there are authors who have a small following, people who want to collect firsts by them because they believe in them. Someone might make a movie of one of their books. Or they might be republished with a big fanfare and then people will be scrambling for firsts. Or perhaps they just like them.

People like me, who are nickel and diming it, while I’m trying to get the business going, look for areas that fall between the cracks. Not popular enough for the established dealers to know about and nothing that the scanner dealers would take a chance on. You want to get in at the beginning, when it’s a rising trend just beginning to happen. Once other dealers know about it…

However, popular enough that it sells.

I think my fiction is going to be a real SLOW sell. But I got it cheap, so good investment, I think. Those 70 year old books aren’t getting any younger, you know, and the condition is pretty nice.

I am glad I’m almost done working with them, though. It soon became apparent that the former owner smoked. I didn’t notice the first couple of days – is my nose dead? – but after a few, I did, and now all I have to do is picture the books and I smell it.

Something else about the 50s! The incessant smoking!

One of my friends said Wouldn’t it be great if your books (meaning the books I write) would sell enough so you didn’t have to do anything else (to make a living)? and I’ve been thinking about that. I can’t even picture it. Me making enough money from writing books to live on? You’ve gotta be kidding. Right now I’m at the stage where I’m looking forward to the time when my used book business generates enough so I can just do that and write my own books. And not have to do all the crazy side jobs.

I really love bookselling. I love the thrill of the hunt, the high when you find a really good book (and yes, there was one gem in that collection). I don’t usually love putting on the dust jacket covers, but I do with these, because they are so old and so rare and the djs are in such nice shape. Once they get in their covers then they’re preserved, will stay that way. And I love the way they look on the shelves. I love old fiction. I wish they were older, of course, from a period where I really love the writing! But hey, church rummage sale, cheap, starting my life over again, I’ll take what I get.

All I need is for the stuff to start selling. Hey, people, anybody want to read some Peter Bourne? Pamela Hill? Mika Waltari? I’ve got em here! Nice copies, too. Just a little smelly. Which should go away, eventually.

Pizza dough, bubbling away. Guilt rising, but it won’t stop me.

Published May 30, 2017 by The Merida Review

I have pizza dough sitting on my counter with a faint tinge of guilt staining it. I am forever trying to lose weight. I look better when I’m thin. Face it. I guess there are also health benefits, or that’s what they say. But I’ve been trying to lose weight for so long that I have an automatic guilt-o-meter in my head that weighs every bit of food I put into my mouth. (It doesn’t stop me from eating it, mind. Just makes me feel guilty about it.)

I had dabbled in pizza making in the past, but it’s so much easier to pick up the phone and order, isn’t it? When I moved to Mexico, however, I had to learn how to make my own pizza in self defense. Pizza down there (in Merida, anyways) is pretty bad. No, not pretty bad. Really bad. Awful. Horrible. I spent 10 years trying to recreate pizzas from home, and got pretty good at it. I also figured out that it’s a really cheap food to feed friends when you invite them over, as long as you have the kind of friends who bring along the booze, so I could afford to entertain on a poet’s salary. We had many a pizza night. Fond memories.

When I moved back to Ohio, I really looked forward to hanging up my pizza apron, and exercising my dialing finger again, but something has happened. I haven’t had one delivery pizza that’s as good as what I make myself. I even ordered from my old favorite place (granted, I was gone for 10 years) and the flavor was there, but it was underdone. Limp, soggy crust. Damn. What’s happened to the world?

And then Serious Eats came along. Or rather, I stumbled over their recipe for a deep dish pizza, which had been out there in the world for a couple years, but I didn’t know it. Here’s a link, if you’re curious:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/foolproof-pan-pizza-recipe.html

I went out and bought a cast iron skillet at the flea market, just to try the recipe. I think it was because the photo looked so good. I am vegetarian, so instead of pepperoni, I like onion, black olive and banana peppers. And there’s only me. The pizza is best when it’s hot from the oven, the crust has a texture then that’s so good. So I (without any math skills whatsoever) guessed my way down to a one meal and a piece or two leftover recipe, basically it’s 3/4 of the dough recipe, and I cut that in half, and make 2 pizzas on 2 different days. It fits my little 8 inch skillet (it says 8 inch on the bottom of the pan, I didn’t measure it) and would probably feed two if I didn’t eat with such wild abandon.

But it still doesn’t fit into my diet. I gain weight every time I make it. (I am a compulsive weigher.)

Let me add in here that I live 2 blocks away from an ice cream place and I haven’t allowed myself to eat any ice cream from it in a year and a half. Is this any way to live? Gees.

Yesterday morning, however, I decided I deserved some pizza and I whipped out the bowl and the flour and yeast before I could talk myself out of it. And it’s right there. It’s doubled in size. Pizza for breakfast maybe? No, lunch would be better (the dough has to rise in the skillet for 2 hours, so duh).

You just don’t want to be around tomorrow morning to listen to me whine about gaining weight. What a crazy society we live in! Why couldn’t I have been born in an age where fat was appreciated, hey? I could do that one really well, I’m sure. I mean, if the admired physique was short and dumpy, I would have it made!

Yeah. I am eating pizza today. Just saying.

An ode to my dog Lucy

Published May 21, 2017 by The Merida Review

A few years ago (it’s a long story), I ended up adopting this decrepit looking elderly miniature poodle. The vet knew how to push my buttons, it was me adopting her, or her getting put to sleep. I didn’t realize then that most of her teeth were missing. I wondered why she wasn’t eating anything for a few days, and then I managed to look inside her mouth. Oops. Emergency canned cat food and a few google searches later (what do you feed a dog with no teeth?) and we managed to work out our system, dry dog food soaked till it’s mushy, it’s what she seems to prefer over everything else I’ve tried. Starving your dog for a few days is not among any hints I’ve ever seen for adopting a new pet, but she forgave me. Embarrassingly quickly.

She’s named Lucy (she had an underbite – before she had to get the rest of her teeth pulled – and she looked kind of evil, so one of my friends suggested Lucy for Lucifer). The name Lucy fits her, she is the shyest, scaredest little thing. She follows me around about one inch behind me (she gets stepped on a lot). When I sit, she wants up beside me on the chair. She sleeps almost all the time. This is not a frisbee catching, playful dog. We guess she’s maybe 13, but who knows. My cat is bigger than Lucy (and picks on her).

People write inspiring things about adopting an older dog, this is my first older dog (I mean that I got her when she was already old) and we have developed quite a relationship, but it’s not your normal dog/owner relationship. She is so needy. I am always looking out for her, rescuing her, making sure she’s ok (which is easiest to do when she’s up on the chair beside me, frankly). She is so dependent on me. She can barely see, I stand outside and watch her when I let her out, because she can get turned around and go off in the wrong direction and get lost. She can barely hear, so calling her doesn’t do much good. I run after her and when I’m close enough to pick her up, I do it gently, trying not to startle her too much. When I lose her, I am calling at the top of my lungs, because she’s so hard of hearing. I’m sure the neighbors think I am angry at her all the time.

When guests come over she gets confused by all the feet she crashes into, so I usually end up just holding her on my lap. I’m sure people think I’m a crazy dog person. But she runs around trying to find me, and I feel guilty. We’re alone a lot, but I do like to have people over and feed them and Lucy doesn’t know what to do with all those strange feet in the house.

And she never wants to stay home. If I am taking Xtobo, my other dog, for a walk, Lucy wants to go, too, even though she’s got to run along at top speed to keep up with us (and we’re not walking fast!), and it’s not like she really needs the exercise – she’ll get tired and have to be carried home.

Of all the dogs I never imagined myself owning, poodles have to be number one. And a miniature. Sheesh. Are you crazy? I know nothing about her former life, except that she was used to sitting on laps, and used to being fed bits of people food whenever people eat. So, spoiled. Loved. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her former owners, how she ended up out on the street, unwanted.

She is sleeping right beside me now. I’ve grown quite used to it.

Euclid Beach Amusement Park

Published May 14, 2017 by The Merida Review

 

This photo fell out of a book about Euclid Beach Amusement Park that I recently bought at a library sale. It’s of course not labelled, but I assume it’s at Euclid Beach Park, because why else would someone have put it in the book? Unlabelled photos always make me kind of sad. I am very curious (some might call it nosey) by nature and I want to know all about the lives of these people, and all I have is one little moment snatched from time. So I’m filling in little details from my imagination. Mom doesn’t look very happy, either about having her photo taken, or about being there. Who knows? Maybe she’s just had words with her husband, who is the one taking the photo. Or maybe she’s increasingly embarrassed by how she looks in photos and doesn’t want to see another one. Note the string indicating that the kid has a balloon tied to his or her arm. A boy wouldn’t wear a hat like that, would he? Let’s assume it’s a girl. Do you think it was the girl who grew up and laid the photo of herself and her mom in the book? The little girl’s shoes and socks are in Mom’s lap. One can only imagine all the sand that’s going to have to be brushed off that little dress (and Mom’s dress, too) when they leave the beach. Oh, but it’s worth it, to sit in the sand with a pail and a shovel. (A pail that has the word “Island” written on it.) Mom’s pocketbook is laying in the sand beside them. I wish Mom could’ve taken her shoes and socks off and be wiggling her toes in the sand as well, but maybe it wasn’t appropriate at that time. Someone, folded over the top part of the photo, so that it wouldn’t show the boats and all the people standing on the dock (or I assume it’s a dock). Perhaps they thought it cluttered up the picture. Perhaps they wanted the moment in time to be all about the mother and child, and not the crowd of people and boats behind. Perhaps they wanted a simple memory. But whose memory? Who are these people? I will, obviously, never know.

Has anyone seen Nero Wolfe lately?

Published May 8, 2017 by The Merida Review

Have the Nero Wolfe books really been out of print for 20 years? I’ve been trying to find out, and the last ones I see listed for sale anywhere were printed in the 90s. How can this be?

I pride myself on having a complete set, but somehow when I moved from Mexico to Ohio, a few of them went astray. Or are hiding here, in the total confusion of my makeshift bookshelves – getting some decent shelves are high on the list, and organizing my books! I’ve been reading through them all, in order – I do this occasionally – and am on the final 10, and I can’t find Trio for Blunt Instruments anywhere! I’ve crawled around on the floor, looking through all the piles and etc, I’ve balanced on the couch to check the uppermost regions, and can’t find it. Fer de Lance was gone, too, but I was able to borrow a copy.

My poor books are falling apart as I read them, covers snapping off (they’re just paperbacks and I don’t think the 10 year stay in hot, hot, humid Merida did them any favors), so I’ve been keeping an eye out for replacements at library sales, flea markets, etc, and there aren’t any! Thus the research into when the books were most recently published.

I find this quite alarming. How are new readers going to discover Nero and Archie and Fritz, etc, if there are no books out there? We are in agreement, right? New readers SHOULD be discovering these books, correct? I mean, yeah, the books aren’t perfect, they have a few flaws, but I think the assets outweigh the defects many times over. Right?

Meanwhile, I’m only one book away from Trio for Blunt Instruments, and can’t decide whether to suspend my Nero Wolfe-athon until I find one, or just skip over it. This is driving me absolutely crazy. I could spend $10 on ABE or Amazon buying one, I guess. (Also alarming is that there aren’t THAT many used copies available.

Perhaps we need to start a Save Nero Wolfe movement. Take this as a rallying cry. Bring him back! Publish those books again! So people can buy them and donate them to library sales or sell them at garage sales and I can rebuild my poor, falling apart, incomplete collection. I’m not getting any younger, you know.

Yes, the used book business is different, but it’s kinda fun because of it: or me vs the scanner people

Published February 5, 2017 by The Merida Review

When I moved back to the states, people kept asking me if I was going to get back into bookselling, I had had a used and rare bookshop before I moved away, and I kept adamantly saying NO, though I had no clue how I was going to support myself. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so dead set against it. Maybe I just wanted to look forward and not muck about in the past? Don’t know. At any rate, I found myself looking for books, buying books, telling myself I would be a collector and build up this fabulous collection, but when I found myself buying books I had absolutely no interest in, just because they were obviously worth way more than they were priced, the writing was kind of on the wall and I bowed to the inevitable and began searching for books seriously, with the intent of building up enough business to allow me to eat and sleep and feed my dogs so I could continue to write books that – well, they sell some.

I was something of an expert at the point when I moved away, but with a 10 year gap and a big recession in between my leaving off and starting again, I wasn’t sure what my old knowledge was worth, how much was different. So I bought rather hesitantly. And I don’t have a vast amount of money to invest, so I’m nickel and diming it, buying at the low end of the spectrum. I think the most I’ve paid for any single book so far is $15, and that was for a 1820s farrier’s guide at a country auction. Which will be a hard sell! but a delight to be the custodian of in the meantime. I love old books.

I have been officially in the book business for 10 months now, and am more confident – yes, the business has changed and a new generation of collectors have entered the field, and I don’t yet know everything, but I’m getting a feel for it.

When I left the business in 2007, we were starting to see people with scanners show up at charity book sales, but no one took them seriously.  And here, I think, is the biggest change in the business. I would say that nowdays, anyone who enters the used book business does it with a scanner in hand. They scan ISBN codes and their machines tell them what books to buy. The dealers set the parameters, and the machines tell them which books are worth X or above, and what the sell rate is. These dealers are only interested in books with ISBN codes, so only in books printed after 1966.

There are now hoards of book dealers with scanners at any sales with a lot of books. I went to a tiny library sale in a tiny town nearby last week, and there were 3 of them. The entire sale consisted of maybe 6 card tables worth of books, on the surface of the tables and also on the floors beneath. 2 card tables’ worth was the entire nonfiction section, which is where the scanner people were huddled. There was no room for anyone else to get in while they were there. They were shoulder to shoulder. What they do is go down the rows and hold their scanners up to each ISBN number and buy the books that get a positive response. So they don’t move till they’ve scanned every book. And then they just move a couple of inches. I looked between shoulders, reached over and plucked a few books over their heads and was pretty disgruntled with the whole experience. I’m in the starting phases of my book business and I’m pretty desperate for books at this point, but I don’t think library sales (now that the scanner people have invaded) are going to be very helpful to me. They never were, actually. Library sales tend to have newer books, and I’m interested in older books, but I would go anywhere that had books because you never know where you’ll find the next great book and I have found a few amazing things at library book sales over the years. But few and far between.

Estate auctions, on the other hand, where every book dealer worth his stuff would have been found in the past, are now pretty deserted. Auctioneers don’t even bother to advertise when they have books half the time. I asked a scanner guy about this when I was standing in line at the Fremont library sale last fall, and he said he’d tried auctions but he just didn’t find enough to make it worth his while. When I picked my jaw up off the floor and thought about it, I realized he is in a totally different business than I am. He’s making a living going around with his scanner and buying and selling books via ISBN numbers. I am building up a business to support myself based on authors and titles and content (and edition).

I come home with my piles of books and sit and look them up on the internet, to see how similar copies are priced, how common or scarce they might be. I carefully judge and describe the condition, I type my books by hand into a database one by one with a photo of each. Scanner people don’t do it that way.

I’m not judging what they do. I think they probably make more money and faster than I do. They don’t even have to house their own books, they can ship them off to Amazon, or other book brokers who will sell them for the scanner book dealer and send money when the books sell. I looked into this scanner stuff for awhile, thinking that maybe I could do it in addition to what I already do. Since I was already at book sales, maybe I could double my productivity. But I don’t think they’re compatible. We do things in a totally different way with a totally different mindset. And when I considered my future both ways, I’d rather be an old school used and rare dealer, it’s gentler and slower and would allow me time to write. I get to savor my books a little more, I think, which is important to me.

So as I soldier on, I am discovering odd little holes where the scanner people have left opportunities. Obviously books before 1966. But also with book club editions. They don’t have ISBN numbers, and old school book dealers won’t touch them (who wants a book club edition?) so there’s a (false) scarcity. Titless that weren’t reprinted (much) whose first editions are scarce and pricey, there’s a market for book clubs, because people who want to actually READ them want to buy them for $5 to $10. I am just starting to find this out, I am an old school book dealer who was trained not to touch a book club edition with a 10 foot pole, so this is an alien concept for me, and it’s only a select type of book that this theory is valid for. But it’s there and it’s explorable and it’s an avenue I can easily and cheaply pursue.

It’s having these little secrets that other book dealers don’t know that help you survive. I can’t think book club books are going to do much for me, really, but when you get into the book buying thing, you start finding fields that are starting to be collectible that other people haven’t caught on to yet, and you can go wild with it. (For a while. Other people will catch on.) Things like this make the used book business exciting. I don’t know if scanner people have that. I don’t know enough about what they do.

Listen to me. I remember myself a year or so ago, telling people that no way was I going to start selling books again. Ha. Silly me.

Anyways. Here I am. Book dealer. Old school vs the scanner people. Well, I don’t know if it’s versus as much as me discovering the opportunities they’ve opened up with their dependence on ISBN numbers. Oh man, I have learned to love ISBN numbers, or rather the lack of them. I mean, look how many books have been printed since ISBN numbers came along, and just look at how many there were printed before. The odds are in my favor.