The umpteenth Joyce Carol Oates
August 24, 2022 6:18 PM   Subscribe

What working at a used bookstore taught me about literary rejection. I find a book by my undergrad professor. It’s inscribed with a lovely personal note to someone named Katherine. I guess she didn’t want it anymore. I tell myself maybe she died, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

The world moves too fast, and reading is a slow pastime. All our “to read” stacks tower over us. How do we abolish the insistent march of time and forgetting? I imagine myself moving through the slow-motion memory of Alexandria’s burning, weighed down with an armload of old books you just have to read.
posted by craniac (46 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Snow Country is good.

Most books don't sell that many copies and many of those copies aren't read. The books that make it to a used bookstore are the lucky ones.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:32 PM on August 24, 2022 [15 favorites]

Snow Country IS good!
posted by charismatic megafauna at 7:09 PM on August 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Earlier today, I was reading Teresa Nielsen Hayden's 2004 blog post about rejection letters. Makes for an interesting juxtaposition with this article.

Not sure which is harsher: getting rejected by the publisher. Or getting your book released. Only to have it end up forgotten and unloved in a used bookstore basement. Vanishing from the universe without a trace.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:55 PM on August 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Kinda close to home. My dad’s best friend was a phenomenal writer who never sold much, but made a fair living as a English professor at a small college in the Bay Area. His books never even sold enough to show up in used book stores much, but he was a fan of rejection letters. He framed his first one, and kept them all. He usually found them hilarious.

When he died last year, I tracked down all of his books that are still in print (four) and two of them are still on my to-be-read shelf, which is actually 2 shelves, if you count the ones turned sideways, and the ones on top of the DVD’s. While shopping, I saw an on-line review of one of his books, written by an ex-student: “Don was my English professor! He was great!”

I love used bookstores, and for several years in the 80’s, my band practiced in the basement of one- there was at least 1000 square feet piled to the ceiling dedicated to boxes of Harlequin romances and westerns. Books upon books upon mass-produced pulp books. Save the trees.

I don’t know what I’m saying here- just trying to convey the sense of ennui this article brings about when I think of literary things and used book stores. It’s a very deep blue feeling at times.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:19 PM on August 24, 2022 [15 favorites]

The pull quote speaks to me (as does the point about towering "to-read"). I happened to pick up an obscure and now out-of-print book which had, written in the front cover, a note from the author's son to the person he had obviously sent the book to as a gift.

Needless to say, I was mildly baffled as to how the book ended up in my possession. It was literally an impulse buy via used books on Amazon. I concluded, like the writer of this article, that the owner has passed (the inscription is decades old). To me, having such a personal connection of the tome to the author is wonderful and makes the book a special part of my connection. However, I can absolutely see how someone, going through their deceased loved one's things, might not see a point in keeping a book on Mesoamerican dental modification.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:25 PM on August 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

I have two books I acquired used with inscriptions on the flyleaf or title page.

One is by a close friend. A family member borrowed the copy personalized to me. I picked up the second-hand copy and saw an inscription by my friend to someone else. The book is academic and my friend didn't sign many copies. It bums me out one of the few folks to get a signed copy dropped it off at a chain thrift store.

The other is a niche popular music book with a freaking Valentine's Day message written to "my forever sunshine" from someone named Michelle. I desperately hope Michelle has found themself a better ray of light.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Let me offer another perspective.

My father wrote a memoir about his experiences in World War II back in the 40s. It was published by a small press, and sold a few copies.

I have one, of course; it's one of the only ways to remember my father. I never got to know him, he died when I was three. I read it every so often.

But there are copies of his books around. I just did a search; a handful on Amazon, a few on AbeBooks, one place that apparently has a new copy. And there's even one review on Goodreads.

Over a half a century after his death, people are reading what my father wrote. Not many people, just one or two every few years, people who are doing research or are curious about the era or who like the illustrations.

My father is still known. His words still reach people. You can still find out what he thought, how he felt during the times he wrote about, you can still see the view from his eyes. He made a small mark on the world, and that mark can be read more than a half century later.

In the next few months or years, someone will wander into the deeply haunted basement of a used book store, and they'll find my father's words there, waiting to be read. And once they finish the book, they'll know him as well as his own son.

There are ghosts in all those haunted basements who are worth knowing. And there's no shame in being one of those ghosts.
posted by MrVisible at 9:54 PM on August 24, 2022 [163 favorites]

MrVisible, that’s such a beautiful perspective. Thank you.
posted by mochapickle at 10:03 PM on August 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

Ooh! My book inscription story. This was when I was a university student.

I was having lunch with a lovely older couple. They were quite active in their retirement: her main activity was writing letters to politicians about things like asylum seeker detention and other human rights issues (She was an absolute badass. At her funeral they joked that her file at ASIO must have been pretty big.) He was part of a charity acquiring second hand goods from other charities and getting them to people who needed them- furniture, homewares, books, whatever.

"You're studying Spanish, aren't you? Here you are!" A Spanish English Dictionary. Second hand, name of the former owner in the front cover.

Second semester, I'm sitting in class and I realise that the handwriting of my tutor (TA?) I've seen before. So I ask her- was your maiden name [English Surname]"? (Current last name was a common Latin American one.) She was a bit baffled and said yes. I showed her the dictionary and she was a bit taken aback - "where did you get this?" She was a bit uncomfortable and didn't continue the conversation much longer. Possibly because of the landline number listed in the front.

Romantic me imagined that she went to Chile after learning Spanish and fell in love, but I never dared to ask her!
posted by freethefeet at 10:25 PM on August 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

I bought my first grown up first book from Dawn Trader in 79. Michigan Mutders Had a great selection of Blood Axe Books.
I find rich veins of Fumiko Enchi’s Masks

In my day it was The Waiting Years for which is wonderful but sad seen in stacks mostly unread.

"How do we abolish the insistent march of time and forgetting?"
I realize that's rhetorical but for me I just stopped reading novels for a while.

There are ghosts in all those haunted basements who are worth knowing.
That is nice, succinct, a nash of brevity, a beaker of hope. My uncle wrote a WW2 memior and yes, it's digitized, his name is public record.

On publishing or script sales, Stan Whitmore qoated in a letter, Joan Didion.
"L.A. is the city of slow no"
I've tried to look for it other then this letter and I wonder if she said it at a party.

An ephemeral mist.
posted by clavdivs at 10:27 PM on August 24, 2022 [8 favorites]

Another friend of mine was in the habit of acquiring his own book from used bookstores because it was out of print, and people would ask him if he had any copies. He mentioned that the inscribed ones were always interesting to re-read!
posted by freethefeet at 10:32 PM on August 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Two decades ago we had a yard/moving sale -- getting rid of 15 years of accumulated stuff in preparation for a cross-country move from a 3-story house to a 2-bdrm apartment. It was part of an annual neighborhood-wide garage sale that attracted tons of people from all over.

We ended the day with about $1,000 in sales, thanks mostly to cookies & lemonade and well-tended power tools. I had lugged about 5 boxes of books out of the house, and that evening drove about 4 1/2 boxes of them to the local library's donation cart. I'm talking mostly contemporary lit paperbacks, Richard Ford, McInerney, Tama Jamowitz (it was the 90s so you know which book I mean). Some more obscure, like Kicking Tomorrow by Daniel Richler, Mordecai's son. No textbooks or tech books, just the makings of a broad, interesting library.

If someone like me had happened by our yard, they would have gone nuts at the low prices, asked me to put the books aside and they'd bike home and get their car and be right back.

Recently, having moved to larger quarters, I discovered Henderson's books in Bellingham WA, and have been gradually rebuying the favorites from that sad-book yard sale. If you're in the area, it's the best used book store north of Powell's, including anything in Vancouver. Probably because they're very picky about what they buy, and they charge more than most other stores.
posted by morspin at 10:47 PM on August 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

I spent a good deal of time in the Dawn Treader once upon a time. The original Borders was still the one and only, and kind of legendary, but I didn't have enough money as a student to shop for new books.

Many years ago, my partner and I finally got around to combining our book collections and weeding out the many, many, many duplicates, which we donated to the local public library for their Friends of the Library bookstore in the basement. A few months later, word got back to me that women were wondering, "Why is Well I Never getting rid of all her lesbian books?" It had been my habit since I was a teenager to write my name, and where and when I bought the book, inside the front cover. I traveled all over and visited gay, lesbian, and/or women's bookstores everywhere there were any. After that beginning as a book-weeder, I stopped writing my name in my books.

Now I own very few books, really. A few hundred, down from enough to fill the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the long wall of a living room 24 feet long. It's been a long process of years, letting things go as I realized I was never going to read them; or never going to read them again; or that they were cheap enough editions that the paper yellowed and got brittle in just a few years (I recently pulled a copy of The Essential Walt Whitman, edited by Galway Kinnell, off my shelf to read, and was disappointed at how poorly it had aged in the 6-8 years since I bought it). I'm not especially attached, anymore, to books as objects, though I still read voraciously.

A good rough estimate is that I've been reading roughly a book a day for 52 years (since I was four). Though in my youth, and at various times in my life, it's more than that. Lately, for instance, I haven't been very interested in any solitary leisure activity except reading. By which I mean I haven't watched any TV or movies to speak of in several months.

I have re-acquired a few books, but only a few, from all my purging. I regret getting rid of my first copy of Leaves of Grass, a cheap mass-market paperback I bought during my first year of high school after reading a bit of Whitman in my American Lit class. I marked the poems I liked with paperclips, because I was craven, and I've acquired additional, better, editions over the years. The book was in terrible shape, with the binding coming unglued, the pages badly yellowed, and rusty marks from my paper clips, but it's an artifact I would sometimes like to lay my hand on, although I remember it so thoroughly in my head that that seems just about as good.
posted by Well I never at 12:36 AM on August 25, 2022 [13 favorites]

The author of the piece spiriting away a friend's inscribed book before the friend might see it in the bookstore is the opposite of the impulse behind the poem, "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered."
posted by Well I never at 12:39 AM on August 25, 2022 [9 favorites]

A few times I've felt a twinge of sadness on acquiring - cheaply - a second-hand poetry anthology with a heartfelt handwritten dedication from the editor or translator.

I have a few books with inscriptions written by by late wife: the prospective buyer who finds one in a second-hand shop will know I'm dead or incapacitated.

The advice in the article "To best enjoy yourself, I recommend you treat a used bookstore like a flea market or Target. The place tells you what you want." very much accords with my experience.
posted by misteraitch at 1:22 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

> "Not sure which is harsher: getting rejected by the publisher. Or getting your book released. Only to have it end up forgotten and unloved in a used bookstore basement. Vanishing from the universe without a trace."

Speaking as an author whose debut novel was released just as a worldwide pandemic closed all the bookstores everywhere with predictable effects on sales:

Never having been published in the first place would have been much, much worse.
posted by kyrademon at 3:05 AM on August 25, 2022 [15 favorites]

I’ve never yet published a book, despite years of writing and trying. I hope that one day I, too, will be a remaindered ghost, haunting a bookstore basement.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:24 AM on August 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

It now seems oddly prescient that I was thinking of 84 Charing Cross Road the other day.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

There is the famous, possibly apocryphal, tale of George Bernard Shaw finding a copy of one of his works in a used bookshop and noting with some dismay it is signed: "To ___, with esteem, G.B. Shaw." He buys the book and subsequently returns it to the original owner with an additional inscription: "With renewed esteem, G.B. Shaw."

Also, I note that John Green legendarily went to a lot of trouble to sign every single copy of his 2021 book The Anthropocene Reviewed — some 250,000 copies — making unsigned copies vanishingly rare and thus more valuable to collectors.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:51 AM on August 25, 2022 [13 favorites]

I regret getting rid of my first copy of Leaves of Grass, a cheap mass-market paperback I bought during my first year of high school after reading a bit of Whitman in my American Lit class. I marked the poems I liked with paperclips, because I was craven, and I've acquired additional, better, editions over the years.

I know this feeling well of having a sentimental attachment to a particular copy of a book (although I still have my tattered old paperback of Leaves of Grass with a note in the front from a dear friend I lent it to for a time in about 1990).

When I was 24, I was working in a farm in the middle of Israel. (Just like in the Big Country song, I was growing flowers in the desert.) The day I turned 25, I took off into Tel Aviv for the only birthday to date where I have seen no friends or family, and I thought to buy myself a birthday gift. To that point, on the farm, I had had exactly one novel to read, a copy of Jurassic Park*, and I’d already read it maybe six times.

I reckoned I’d need something a little heftier to hold my attention in the evenings, so I wound up with a single-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. Books in English were kind of a specialized luxury product, so I paid the equivalent of $37 for a single used paperback. After that splurge, I hung onto it, carried it across three more continents, and it reposes downstairs on my shelf to this day, thirty years on.

Oddly, that same trip saw me, on my first transatlantic flight, reading Daniel Richler’s Kicking Tomorrow on the plane over, and I left it with a friend in London. I haven’t thought about the book in decades until it was mentioned upthread, so if anyone here picks up an underrated 1991 novel by a Canadian arts writer in a used bookstore in the UK: you’re welcome.

*This was the early nineties, in the gap between the book being published and the inevitable movie being released. The chaos theorist character played by Jeff Goldblum is Dr. Ian Malcolm, which had also been the name of my family doctor when I was a child. It was distracting but pleasing to read the novel and picture kindly old Dr. Malcolm with his perpetual white lab coat and salt-and-pepper moustache, evading velociraptors.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:14 AM on August 25, 2022 [7 favorites]

Two decades ago we had a yard/moving sale

I live in a little row of townhouses; earlier this summer we coordinated and all had a yard sale on the same Saturday. As I was setting up my table, I looked at my next-door neighbour’s table as she was deploying and stocking it. In the middle of the glassware and such she was selling maybe thirty books. In the midst were two books I had lent to her when maybe a week into the pandemic she had mentioned she was bored being cooped up all day.

Two years on, she had totally forgotten these were my books. I mentioned this to her and she was mortified and terribly apologetic and of course returned them at once.

At the end of the day, she asked, “So, did you get a decent price for the books?” No, I wasn’t reclaiming them to sell them; I lent them to you to read because I thought you’d enjoy them. Sheesh.

The same sale, by the way, I unloaded dozens of my own books (paperbacks $1, hardcovers, $2). I had a separate small table with a few lavish coffee table books and oversized graphic novel collections which I was selling for five dollars each. Towards the end of the morning, the kid from two doors down, who is maybe eleven, made his third or fourth trip by to look at the graphic novels. After much reflection, he chose four of them and handed me eight dollars. This had not been the posted cost, but of course I said nothing and accepted this: he’s a nice kid.

By the end of the sale, I still had a dozen or fifteen graphic novels unsold. The kid’s dad had come by to haul off a bookshelf I was selling and I asked him if his son was interested in the other graphic novels. “Oh, he loves those!” I sent him back with an armful for his budding comic book fan son, happy to have found a new home for these.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:51 AM on August 25, 2022 [12 favorites]

1. note to self, read Snow Country
2. My great-grandfather wrote a couple(?) novels in the 30's. They did not "sell" - at least I'm pretty sure they never saw a second printing. Out of curiosity every couple years I look for copies online and each time I'm astonished to learn that the damn things are selling for 50-odd bucks a pop. Which I find perverse and strange. They're perfectly good novels (he was an editor at a newspaper and understood his work) but they are not - well, you've never heard of them. Yet here they have a second life entirely free of the content of the narrative. There's no sense to be had here - that's capitalism.
3. I think it was Henry Miller who had a long passage about there being too many books in the world and people should just stop writing them. I used to think of it every time I was in a used book store (at the time usually the Strand, back when it smelled funky and very few books were more than 5 bucks.) Still I do love a used bookstore above all else. Among the stand-outs is one in Copenhagen, you go down a couple steps - the guys running it are a little older than me and still grooving to LedZeppelin: the ceiling is just above your head, the books from floor to and the smell is deep library. There was another one in Durham, N.C., a million years ago, and half of it was in sheds that were only barely inside. Then recently in the Hill Country, outside of Austin, TX we stopped by an antiques store and deep in the back was a small library, mostly the literature of 70's middle brow America. Something almost charming about that, familiar but also stuffy and maybe a stack of NYRB down there? I knelt down and one copy down saw that the rest of the pile was Playboys. A-ha, right.
4. When you stop believing books will save you (I've seen this expressed in places and can, rationally, see my way to this conclusion) and just before that point, a used book-store is not some forgotten lea-shore. It is the locks which lead to the ocean.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:08 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

At least once a week someone asks for Beloved, Dune, or The Secret History. They’re impressed when I say I know we don’t have those.

When the ask came by phone, policy was to put the caller on hold for a few minutes to make them think we were finding out what we already knew.

I’m baffled to see folks leave empty-handed.

In my younger days, I could not, could not pass a bookstore. I've hit a point where the goal is deaccession. I faithfully go to library book sales and used shops (I also buy new. Pay the writers!), if serendipity doesn't turn up a title unavailable from libraries, I'll give it a pass.

I lent them to you to read because I thought you’d enjoy them. Sheesh.

I can sympathize. For that reason, I never lend books. If I place a book in your hands, it's a gift.
posted by BWA at 6:09 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

I like books precisely because it is possible to publish something that is very good but only for a small number of people. Movies and music are expensive, even polished youtube videos are expensive - and platform/technology changes can still render them inaccessible fairly quickly. Even in the brief golden age of streaming TV, shows still had to be for a sort of large demographic and aimed at the median point in that group.

You can publish a book that has a very small but passionate audience and that's, to my mind, a success. You can publish a book that is life- or career-altering for a tiny scattering of people and that too is a success. As long as your book gets onto paper, your book can influence people at random down the years.

Also, a book can be difficult on purpose, and with some exceptions you have to be really rich or really successful to make a film or tv show that is difficult on purpose, and even then it generally isn't that difficult. Music is a bit different here, of course.

Mass culture now, today, is smarter than it was when I was growing up - I often encounter mass market movies, books and music that are popular and successful and that completely mop the floor with the popular and successful stuff of the 1990s and early 2000s. At the same time, it's still mass culture and it has to aim for a large audience of median consumers. I'm in the funny position as a grumpy Old of realizing that on the one hand there's an enormous amount of politically and socially appealing stuff out there that is perfectly good and on the other that I don't really like most of it very much.

Hence books! No need to be a grumpy Old because there will always, always be small press, small run weird little chamber books that I like - me and fifty other people, but that's good, that's fine, because those books are basically couture books just for us.
posted by Frowner at 6:12 AM on August 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

Take a look at the bestselling books of 1910 to 1919... I recognize three, maybe four out of a hundred. I don't recognize any of the #1 bestsellers.

Go back four hundred years and there are a handful of storytellers in the world who are remembered by name. Go back a thousand or two thousand years and there are a handful of stories that are remembered, with the authors' names not surviving in many cases. Off the top of my head I can think of Murasaki Shikibu and Petronius, and that's about it.

What are my goals when I write a book? If I want to be remembered and admired for my brilliance, that's a fool's game; no matter how brilliant I am, I will eventually be forgotten, just like everyone else. It's not a question of if but when.

If I want to write a book because there's a story in my head that means something to me, then writing the story, living in that world for a little while, is its own reward. If someone else happens to read it and it speaks to them, strikes some powerful chord in them, then that's a very nice bonus.
posted by cubeb at 6:14 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Somewhere out there - possibly in a used bookstore around Toronto, possibly gathering dust on a shelf in a house, possibly pulped/landfilled - are my old paperbacks of The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds. I lent them to my late friend Michael, a very free soul and voracious reader of everything. I learned later from another friend that anything lent to Michael was lent to the universe, which was a nice way of saying I'd never see them again.

I bought new copies and moved on, mostly.
posted by scruss at 6:38 AM on August 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

Snow Country is wonderful and very cinematic—the way Kawabata writes is quite visual. Once you read the scene with the woman's reflection in the train window, it never leaves you! I really liked his collection called Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Each story is only a page or two, which I thought would be a great format for our increasingly abbreviated culture.

I'm curious about the dichotomy of writers who try to sell their book to a publisher through an agent (nearly impossible!), as opposed to the people who just self publish (quite do-able). Even if the self-published book only sells ten copies, that's ten people who've read it, as opposed to none. It's not like you make buckets of money either way. And either way, to be successful, you have to promote yourself, which psychopaths seem to excel at, but writers suck at.
posted by jabah at 6:49 AM on August 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I can sympathize. For that reason, I never lend books. If I place a book in your hands, it's a gift.

This is generally my own view as well. I would say 95% of the time that I lend a book to someone I do so with the expectation the book is leaving my hands forever and if it happens to come back, that is a bonus (and always something I am reasonably sure I will never reread). On the rare occasions I do want something back, I will ask the recipient to please take care of it as it is — to give a recent example — my only copy of a long out-of-print work by an old teacher of mine, now passed away.

In the case of my neighbour: she is very thoughtful and scrupulously honest, but as she often jokes, reluctant to spend any money she does not have to. Pre-pandemic she was often at the library but maybe two or three weeks into lockdown she had mentioned she was bored sitting at home every day, and I knew there was no way she would spring for Netflix or the like, or even use our password if I gave it to her. I considered what I know of her tastes (we’ve been neighbours for nearly fifteen years) and said I had a couple of books she might enjoy. The next day I dropped off two books (a Mary Roach and a Tim Moore, fwiw) and she accepted them gratefully.

As I say, she is honest and meticulous, although she is nearing eighty and admits her memory is not what it once was. When I spotted the covers of the books on her table and reflected that these were likely mine, I briefly weighed up the three possible scenarios:

1) I inquire politely, “By chance, are those my copies?” She is a bit flustered, but returns them and we joke briefly about it and move on.

2) I say nothing and she sells them, then realizes weeks or months later that she has mistakenly done so. She would be mortified and insist — despite any refusal on my part — on replacing them, which would cost her far more than she gained by selling my copies; until she did, she would feel perpetually indebted to me. She is retired and living on a fixed income, and I did not want this scenario.

3) She never realizes, they sell or stay with her, and I am down a couple of enjoyable reads that I might reread at some point.

I quickly assessed the three: the third was fine, but the potential downsides of #2 outweighed the “hey waitaminnit” joking outcome of #1. I went with #1.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:15 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Go back four hundred years and there are a handful of storytellers in the world who are remembered by name. Go back a thousand or two thousand years and there are a handful of stories that are remembered, with the authors' names not surviving in many cases. Off the top of my head I can think of Murasaki Shikibu and Petronius, and that's about it.

and even then we don't actually know murasaki shikibu's name.
posted by emmling at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

During grad school we acquired many books, and continued to do so for the next ten years or so, filling wall to wall bookshelves both at home and at the office. But then we moved, and ahead of that move we gave away a large portion of those books -- anything that was easily found at a library or could be bought cheaply online went to a new home, and we kept just the rare, weird, or hard to find stuff, plus a small set of books with personal meaning (like a well-used children's book from your childhood). Then, in each succeeding move, we pared those down even further. We are down to about 1.25 bookcases now, and I'm ambivalent if it stays about that or maybe in a year we do another culling.

My great-grandfather wrote a couple(?) novels in the 30's. They did not "sell" - at least I'm pretty sure they never saw a second printing. Out of curiosity every couple years I look for copies online and each time I'm astonished to learn that the damn things are selling for 50-odd bucks a pop.

Before I was born, my parents co-wrote a couple of books. I don't know how many were printed, but it couldn't have been more than a few thousands, and at this point they have been out of print for at least four decades. That comment inspired me to look on Amazon, where one of the books is available, listed only under my father's name (despite my mother having equal credit on the cover), and available for just under $50. And, there is only one review, of five stars from someone who loves the book. It pleases me that a few of their books are still out there in the world, being read or passed from one person to another.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

My mother had a stamp made that said, "To borrow is human, to return is devine." She would stamp her books with it and write her name under it.

I have no idea if it worked. I have no idea if it was unique. It was a cute take on the original quote.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2022

My husband is always buying duplicates of his most favorite books when he can acquire them cheaply, so that he can give them to people and not worry about books being returned. We have a strict rule that he can only have 2 of any particular book at a time, however.
posted by BrashTech at 9:10 AM on August 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

There was another one in Durham, N.C., a million years ago, and half of it was in sheds that were only barely inside. -- posted by From Bklyn

From Bklyn, you wouldn't be referring to Books Do Furnish A Room, would you? Because it's still in business, in the same ramshackle building on Markham Ave, tucked away at the back of the same small gravel parking lot. They made some improvements over the years, but the character of the place is miraculously and heartwarmingly unchanged. I haven't gone in there to browse in much too long... I think I may have to stop by soon.
posted by fikri at 9:22 AM on August 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

The world is absurd, and trying to make sense of it will destroy its beauty.

For a while a decade ago, I collected first and limited edition hardcover SFF novels and anthologies inscribed and/or personalized by author and artist. Gaiman, Martin, Stephenson, King, Scalzi… Then life showed up, and I stopped due to finances. I still have them and kinda want to sell them, or rather don’t care much about keeping them.

But during the pandemic, I became an outer-circle member of the autofiction/transgressive literature niche. (Not going to link my poetry or essays here… yet.) I now have a few pointedly literary paperback books inscribed by friends and lovers who are precious to me. (Not all of them wrote these books; some of them were gifts.) My closest literary friend and inner-circle member had her debut novel published while she was incarcerated, which is an essay and MeFi-post-worthy story in itself. When she was released, I stopped by her place to see how she was doing and to meet her in person for the first time. Of course, I brought my copy of her novel, Ruthless Little Things.
[name] ❤️
this took ten years
to get out into the
world. you know you
can do anything, right?
the world is absurd
& trying to make sense of
it will destroy its
beauty. feel special, this
was the
first copy of my
book I ever
held! ❤️
xo, eris
Later that night, I bought another copy so I could hold onto the inscribed one and read/lend/mar the other one. That works with books, but not with people. Elizabeth Victoria Aldrich passed away suddenly after a long illness, so they say, in July, while writing her second novel. She is sadly mourned, happily remembered, and greatly missed. I do not expect to see her novel in a used bookstore ever; it is as polarizing as the Velvet Underground in its heyday and as inspiring to a select few.

If you have ever wanted to write a novel but have been putting it off, regardless of merit or marketplace, please consider just sitting down, starting to write your novel, and continuing until it is finished. MeMail me for info about a consistently supportive, talented and entertaining Zoom-based reading event that happens every Friday. You won’t regret it.

You know you can do anything, right?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:30 PM on August 25, 2022 [17 favorites]

Author talks with thier extension 34 Editor about the economics of Clearinghouse as their novel is in The $̶1̶.0̶0̶ $1.25 store. Author goes to store and signs all copies only to be told they are defacing store property.
"but I wrote this, it's mine"
"we bought this, it's ours"
After a brief negotiation, author agrees to buy all 23 copies plus tax and leave them in the store. later, when the store is closed, manager moves the books to the $1.50 rack, taking advantage of new policies concerning optics and sales.

I miss that you could stand in the middle of State St. and be 25 seconds running distance from Dawn trader, Boarders #1, Shaman Drum Books and one other.
posted by clavdivs at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I updated a thing on my blog. Dug into the book shelf and found a very lovely inscription from Don in my copy of his first book.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2022

This hits close to home for me, because I used to work at that Dawn Treader in the 1980s and early 90s.

Back in the 1980s it was a basement store, underneath a record store/label. It was notorious for consisting of endless warrens of narrow, book-choked aisles. No elevator access.
Once the fire marshal came by. Basically took one look, shook his head, and left.
Then there was the time construction two doors down cracked the building, leading rain water to drip through all floors down to us and our books. We covered so much with plastic. Far too many buckets.

Eventually the owner wrangled a street level spot, across Liberty, under the Nectarine Ballroom (a dance club with a less printable nickname), and we moved the whole shop. If you know Ann Arbor, this was a risky move, as traffic was especially stupid there. But we made it, me, the rest of the staff, hauling stacks of boxes on hand trucks between honking cars. And we kept the shop open throughout, so people could buy in either location.

For the first few months it was glorious. *Huge* aisles. A ramp allowing people with mobility issues to shop the collection for the first time, and I lost count of how many happy folks in wheelchairs bought stacks of books. Seeing daylight was amazing, as was having fun making window displays.

Gradually the owner converted this aboveground shop to its subterranean roots. He filled the aisles with stacks of books. He rented a basement space (mentioned in TFA) to store extra copies of titles, especially my superbly organized science fiction section (and we never ran out of _Dune_, harrumph). There were tons of remaindered books, too, in that endless basement. One friend murmured about the owner: "You can take the man out of the basement, but not the basement out of the man."

I never met Carl Lavigne, since I left in the mid-1990s. The store he describes sounds far sadder than the one I spent years working in. Maybe it is now.
posted by doctornemo at 6:27 PM on August 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

I miss that you could stand in the middle of State St. and be 25 seconds running distance from Dawn trader, Boarders #1, Shaman Drum Books and one other.

The one other might have been David's Books, clavdivs, upstairs with the mural below. Or perhaps State Street Books.

I miss that, too.
posted by doctornemo at 6:28 PM on August 25, 2022

yup, David's. OMG and the book fair. Like leave your money at home.
posted by clavdivs at 7:43 PM on August 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was looking for a particular book on my shelf (Eat The Document by Dana Spiotta) and saw a near-new copy of Snow Country right next to it. I usually know how I got a book, but not that one. Did one of y'all sneak into our house and plant it?
posted by morspin at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2022

Frowner, I always admire and appreciate your comments. I am a very good and much appreciated writer with a small but devoted audience, and every now and then I get a pang about it—-about feeling that my work is good enough that more people should like it, that the smallness of my audience makes me a failure somehow. But mostly I am aware that my writing has made a real difference in the lives of a number of people, not least me.

My oldest is 27 and also a writer, though in a very different genre. They have recently written some short stories that are very, very good, and I've recently done some new work I'm proud of as well, and sometime in the next couple of months we're giving a joint reading (via Zoom). This makes me giddy. My other children, whether adopted or biological, have been with me since birth or a few days after, but this one didn't find their way to us until they were a young adult, and their creativity is such a joy to me.

Other friends, I'm enjoying the Ann Arbor remembrances. doctornemo, I probably bought books from you in that basement Dawn Treader.

Also yay! for the Nectarine Ballroom reminder.

infinitewindow, thank you for telling us about your friend. I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by Well I never at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

BrashTech - "My husband is always buying duplicates of his most favorite books when he can acquire them cheaply, so that he can give them to people and not worry about books being returned. We have a strict rule that he can only have 2 of any particular book at a time, however."

Whoa, for a second, I thought perhaps my wife had finally decided to join Metafilter! This is me.
posted by schyler523 at 9:04 AM on August 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

That's a fine connection, Well I never.

And yes, the Peach F***.
posted by doctornemo at 9:34 AM on August 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best thread, ever.

Like Brashtech's husband, I automatically buy garage sale copies of Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo to give away to old UK friends - yes, yes he's a sentimental duck but when we moved to the US from the UK in 1993, I read him sitting on the shore of Lake George at dusk and started to understand America...

There is a PhD begging to be written about the relationship between fiction and non-fiction best sellers in any given year. Michael Korda (the prolific writer nephew of the brilliant film director Alexander "The Third Man" Korda) wrote a lovely little study, Making the List, the cultural history of the American best seller 1900-1999. The fiction/non-fiction lists are a snapshot of the real fantasies and fears of the book-buying public - it's amazingly to pick a year based on political upheavals (Vietnam, WW1 conscription, prohibition) and see the change in taste.

I refuse to read Joyce Carol Oates. She once said she did not need to be edited. That was it for me. (Okay, I am an editor.)

I also have an unread copy of Snow Country. Time to get on with it, I guess!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:39 AM on August 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

When I worked at a university several years ago, it was announced that Terry Pratchett was due to give a talk. College students are a strong cohort in the Pratchett fan-base, but I managed to secure two tickets to the event which I gave to my daughter the librarian, then a teenager and a serious Pratchett groupie. In her most let's take this seriously vein, she baked cookies and packed them up in a personalised Discworld box before going to the gig with one of her pals. There was to be a reception afterwards, but daughter was anxious lest they exclude her as being a) too young b) not a student. Her anxiety turned to panic as, at the end of his talk, everyone stood and the guest was processed down the aisle to the door at the back of the auditorium. Accordingly she stood up, teetered on the chairs behind a row of aisle-blockers and plunged to the tiles as he passed crying "Terry, I baked you cookies!" He was both disconcerted and gracious and said "That deserves a kiss", at which he placed a chaste buss on the daughter's cheek.

She was allowed into the reception afterwards and even succeeded in getting her copy of "Good Omens" signed by The Great Man. It was indeed a teenager's night to remember. Within a few months, Neil Gaiman was in town at a book-signing and she got the co-author to counter-sign the title page. That book is a reading copy and is quietly disintegrating through use; so I don't think it will turn up in a used book store.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:21 AM on August 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

I love used bookstores and appreciated reading that.

Coincidentally, while visiting Portland I picked up a used copy of "Snow Country" for $3.95 at Powell's back in May, and am currently reading it. The novel is quite good(!); the protagonist, not so much. I'm glad Yasunari Kawabata is not a pedophile. Have any of you read his short story "House of the sleeping beauties"?

I've also bought a number of used copies of "Ceremony" to give to friends.
posted by nikoniko at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2022

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