Somewhere between a Beer and the Beach

In San Diego, there is a fun looking bar with a big sign with two arrows. One arrow points towards the opposite side of the street and reads “Beach”. The other arrow points back towards the bar and reads “Beer”. You gotta love the simplicity and directness of the American people. I will attempt to apply that philosophy to used and antiquarian bookstores.

Long before I became a rare bookseller, in every corner I visited, I hunted out the local independent bookstore. Inside, whether it be organized or a dumpster fire, I found a temporary place to wallow. My “beach”. Or maybe it was my “beer”. Whichever.

For many used bookstores, the power wall has been FICTION. And readers, it was always the most crowded area. If there were 20 people in the store, 15 were scouting in Fiction. So we climbed over one another, awkwardly turning our bodies just to be frustrated that the cool book just out of reach was another unread copy of “McTeague” (a great read, nonetheless).

Increasingly, however, general Fiction is being ghettoized; forced to exist in a dead end aisle only wide enough for two narrow shouldered lit majors to pass side by side on their way to extinction. GENRE Fiction, that place used in the past to lure the lonely virgins, is now creeping steadily forward and into the light.

The kooky footpath of some used bookstores and the possibility of a great find is the reason to visit brick and mortar. The funky layouts and the gravitational expectations are all part of the proof that the Golden Ratio is sometimes far too big to see all at once and the internet should just be part of the equation. At one bookstore, a very fine and fun one, I might add, I was assured that there was “order to it all”. And he was right. In about 125 square feet, there was a Fiction power wall, Genre in another section, Art History, Children’s and Cooking and Gardening, etc. Everything you would find in a much larger bookstore — only from floor to ceiling. Any false move, and there would have been a Buster Keaton moment had not my degree and body type be heading towards extinction.

After the book hunting, I was back at the “beach”, having had my “beer”. After all, I was in Southern California.

And, I am not a monster.

Stay beautiful!

The Revolving Metal Rack

There they are, lined up in a box and I instinctively begin the flipping motion with my hand. My brain keeps sending me endorphins…good…keep going…good…why not…you might find something. Paperbacks for sale at book fairs are the equivalent of the magazines for sale at the supermarket checkout line.

Nonetheless, I can’t help myself. Nor can many others, since there is usually a short, insufferable wait to plunder the little guys.

Whenever I find myself a new weird little addiction, I ask myself why I’m doing it. I’m get slightly paranoid that I’m in too deep. After all, I’m pretty puritanical (deep down inside), like most Americans. But, also, like most Americans, I consistently sniff out trouble to get into.

As an Antiquarian, I should be careful. I am a book collector’s drug dealer, after all. No fooling and no judgments, collecting is a drug. If you want something that isn’t essential to sustaining life, and it is costing you money, you are entering the very wide spectrum of a “drug”. With a small “d”. (Please, I went to college in the 80s, I know the dif.)

Let’s face facts. The Pulp and Genre paperbacks are a gateway drug. They are cheap and they are fun and they are printed in highly fueled, four color printing. You just don’t see that kind of book illustration anymore. The art is vivid; the pulp books from the 1930s are lurid and nightmarish, the genre books from the 1950s and 1960s are naughty and psychedelic. IF you can find them in any condition other than beat to hell, they may not make your future fortunes, but they will constantly delight you and your friends.

And…I can’t stress this enough…they don’t take up much space. With cheap apartments being shared by too many young folks and the walls of expensive housing being replaced by floor to ceiling windows, SPACE may be the last real luxury.

This accessible, experimental approach to publishing cheap books began in the 19th century, went full bloom just before the Second World War, rebranded itself in Midcentury, faced steady decline for decades but stubbornly retains a steady popularity in genre fiction and trade paperbacks.

Just so I don’t seem like too much of a human trilobite, I do appreciate whimsical 18th century hand-colored drawings of white people in drawing rooms. It’s just that I like silly, nasty illustrations of half-clothed, full-bodied folks getting down to bad business better. (Don’t get me started on Kung-Fu movies, as anyone can tell you.)

And now, when I am in some little bookstore, tucked far away from judgement, I find my hands reaching out for a second look at those dusty, sinful little paperbacks.

And dig those covers! Mid-century Sci-Fi robots fighting gooey interplanetary, tentacled creatures. Halter-wearing prison lesbians in a girl fight. Big LTDs and Ghetto Pimps and busty broads. Muscular, blonde Sheriffs facing down tall, dark outlaws in red scarves.

Who can resist? These are the books that will one day promote a Hipster, to a collector. So, reader, I buy ’em.

Stay beautiful!

What’s on my turntable: Amoroso by Joao Gilberto

Favorite song: “Besame Mucho”

The Gilded Soldier

In any excellent Antiquarian bookstore, fine sets line the walls like Gilded Soldiers. Those colorful, pretty, golden and silver jewelry bindings all handsome with their tinkly medals. They all but twirl their mustaches while riding horseback. Love it.

They are beautiful. Sometimes they are going to good homes. And there are times when they are just purchased for decor and I wonder their ultimate fate. (Perhaps as set design in some off-off Broadway production of a Chekhov play.) And there have been times when I cannot get them wrapped and out of my sight fast enough because they are pretty but dull or because they are plentiful but heavy. In both cases, I am happy to send them to Chekhov.

So, in Manhattan, and Jersey City and Newark and, I suppose, most cities across the world, there are new buildings being built with vast apartments and condos. Most of them will be missing a wall, maybe two. The walls have been replaced with glass.

I call it the Infinity Wall.

These million dollar homes in the sky have included in the price, the feeling of limitlessness. The view from the windows lead to infinity over the landscape as important gardens in the Renaissance led to the horizon through the trees.

And as a result, there are fewer walls on which to build a library. Art has replaced books as, for besides the price and collectibility, they usually come flat packed.

What to do? Move on and press on with books that are visual and delightful but do not take up much real estate. Someday, I have faith, the good, Gilded Soldier will return to the houses of those who are willing to give up a wall or perhaps even an entire room. I’m assuming that day will come when we, as a people, and those of a particular class (let’s be honest), will see the value in leisure time spent with a material book of variable relevance.

Just not MY home…because…well, I’ll admit…I’m addicted to negative space.

Stay beautiful.

On my turntable: Stateless by Lene Lovich

Favorite Song: “Lucky Number”

The Color of Honey

When describing one another, we Black American people have come up with some very descriptive terms. Houston to Chicago to San Antonio to San Francisco — there are as many ways to describe black skin as there is to describe snow. Personally, I like to think of black and brown skin as honey — syrups that are between a rich and dark to an amber and light.

Frankly, it’s morning and I think I’m just hungry as I write this post. It’s been years since I had pancake or waffles so sometimes I just dream about the toppings and apply it to everything.

Nonetheless, I do owe some of this ability to tell the difference between “slate blue” and “french grey” from the necessity of learning the distinctions of skin color from an early age.

A book, bound in a rich color, perhaps the endpapers swirling like a kaleidoscope — all this, is important. It is a CHOICE made by the publisher, sometimes by the author. A VALUE has been placed on the CHOICE of “smoked oak” or “spring green”. For mammals, we see an astounding range of colors, each with an identifier, a message, sometimes Proustian, sometimes primordial. Run, advance, lust, king, earth, virgin, honest.

When colors get more complex, we are drawn to the complexity that experience has given us. Aquamarine reminds me of the color of boats, which reminds me of my father and time on the sea, but not directly the sea itself. (You can imagine how much time I spend in the paint section of a hardware store. I also spent a lot of my summers painting Dad’s boats.)

In books, as in other man-made objects, the hand of the creator and the choice of color is often a marketing decision. The irony is that some marketing decisions can become art unto themselves, containing a subtlety of emotion and instinct expressed in color.

So, I will admit that when I’m scouting for books, I am drawn to the color of a book. There are times when the very ugliness of color entices me. Very brown books hide a lot of secrets! Very red books remind me of books on quilting and diaries. (Why would you want a red diary?) Pink books remind me of dumb girls and black books contain nudity. Now, I never said it had to make sense.

So, I’ll leave it there for now. More on color in another post. It’ll be worth it. For now, stay beautiful.

What’s on my turntable: Under Construction by Missy Elliot

Favorite Song: “Gossip Folks”

Quiet Books and Loud Music

Welcome to the Turntable!

Here, I will discuss the world of rare books and paper and music. What it’s like to be as rare and Brown as some of the books I sell. What it’s like being a gal wearing a cool and comfortable dress at a Book Fair while the dudes are sweating it out in suits.

It’s going to be ALL of that, sometimes more and sometimes much less.

Mostly, this space will be about what is jumping up and down in front of me at the moment. Being a mother, I live for the moment.

It will be a happy coexistence between guesswork and knowledge and my hope is that we will all have fun trying to kick up some dust.

There are lots of other blogs out there about rare book collecting so, it will be my honor if you spend some time with me. I will tell you my experiences so you will see the antiquarian world through my lens.

There will be times when I will stretch to reach and explain and times when I will frankly just wonder why old books have to be so heavy. The assumption is that you will be tuning in to enjoy the conversation so jump in from time to time. I’m excessively chatty — ask anyone.

At the end of each blog, I will also share what I have on my turntable that week.

This week:  The Clash by The Clash

Favorite song on the record: “Police and Thieves”

Stay beautiful.

Angel