People in my shop often ask, How do you get your books? And I say, “There's this little old lady who lives deep in the woods and I go to her house at midnight on the full moon and she gives me piles of books. The only catch is that she claims I will owe her something after I'm dead. But I'll be dead so who cares! Look at all the free books I'm getting!”
People tend not to believe this, so I'll recount a fairly typical Saturday that shows how I get my books. People call the shop when they are moving or have inherited books and if they have enough books and they sound like good books I’ll go to their house and purchase them. This Saturday I had four such calls lined up. My first was in Marblehead, at 9.00 a.m. I pulled up to the house, and one thing I've learned is that you can never tell from the outside of a house whether there are good books inside. This was a typical house, kind of large, with huge bushes growing in front and sort of hiding it from the street. The women who met me there said it was her ex-husband's house and he had recently died. We went up to a room above the garage and the books there were damaged, and the titles were not saleable. Then into the main house and those books were more of the same, until we went into a back room and that's where the dead ex-husband had kept larger books. I think he liked the look of them, and they did look good on the bookshelves, sort of imposing with their leather spines and folio size. Among them were books that were illustrated by Gustave Dore. Dore was a Frenchman who illustrated large format books, his most famous probably being his Inferno, with his gruesome depictions of Dante's journey through Hades. Well, Dante wasn’t there, but there were two others, one of which promptly fell apart when I picked it up, but the two-volume Don Quixote was in pretty good shape, so I bought that and also a monograph about the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White. The woman then said, “Oh wait,” and brought out an atlas of Essex County that she had put aside in another room. A successful trip. On to the next house, at 9:30.
This house was also in Marblehead and it was full of books. Unfortunately, the books were in tough condition and there weren't many titles that current readers would want. They did have the four-volume collection of George Orwell's essays and a set of Proust and a few other books, so I bought those. They also had the Limited Editions Club Shakespeare set of I think 37 volumes and three books that were inscribed by Maurice Sendak, but those they wanted a bid on and would let me know later if my bid was successful.
It took me so long to go through the whole house of books that I was running late for my next appointment which was with a professor at Gordon-Conwell to buy the books he kept in his office. I hate to be late to anything, but I couldn't get in contact with him, so I called the librarian at Gordon-Conwell and asked if he would let the professor know I would be late. The librarian said, “No can do, I can't leave me post. But I will if you give me a 15 percent discount next time, I'm in your shop.” I didn't realize he was joking so I said, “Listen Bub, 20 percent, but just tell him I'll be a little late.” Then I realized he was a jokester and things worked out. However, when I got to the professor's office the books were too specialized to be useful in a shop like mine, so I skedaddled to my next appointment in Hamilton. Win some, lose some.
I had some time before that appointment and I knew there was a yard sale going on in Wenham, so I stopped by on my way. Yard sales are hit or miss with books, but it's fun to look. At this sale the books were in boxes inside a pod storage thing in the driveway. The boxes were unopened which was a good sign, so I started digging. And then, in the last box, success, a history of Myopia. All the books were one dollar, so it was a good find. On to my next call.
The woman who had called to set up this appointment said she had a collection of over 500 books on cats. Anytime someone has a collection on a single subject that is that large there is bound to be good books. And I was right. The woman was a retired librarian and very much a book person, (who are the most interesting and fun people to talk to,) and her books were fascinating. I have a cat and I know cat literature was rich, but this was so much fun to see the great variety she had spent a lifetime collecting. I bought the whole kit-and-caboodle and headed back to my shop to wait for a guy who was going to bring in his collection of books on the pastor Jonathan Edwards. What a day!
Mark Stolle owns Manchester By The Book, a used bookstore in downtown Manchester and he offers biweekly recommendations for our readers on what to read right now.