Not so long ago, it was advantageous to attend an auction in order to do well at it.  Only then could you get the best price; could you watch the other bidders and decide whether you could compete with them or not; could you see an opportunity and jump in to grab a bargain.

Not so long ago, if you stayed at the auction to the very end – long after others in the room had spent their allotted funds or gotten what they wanted – you often found that there were so few left in the “competition” that you were able to win many prizes on a small budget.

Not so long ago, knowledge could mean the difference between success and failure.  Once, for example, as the only ones at an auction who could read German, we scored a fabulous book which no one else in the room could know was fabulous!

Not so long ago, happy chance could mean the difference between victory and defeat, between a bargain and paying top dollar.  At one auction, somehow, the other bidders didn’t make the connection that Henry George Wells was H.G. Wells, so I was able to walk off with a manuscript for half of what I’d expected to pay.

Not so long ago, attending an auction was like participating in an interactive-theatrical event, with the excitement and the anticipation and the unexpected all unfolding as part of a drama.

No longer.

At a big New York City auction yesterday, I felt that “not so long ago” was very long ago, indeed, and that everything I’d known about auctions was no longer true.

Now, everyone in the room knows everything:  if they hadn’t already “googled” it, they are busy on their “smart phones” getting the information then and there.

Now, you have huge numbers of invisible bidders from all over the world bidding against you, not just by phone, but also via the Internet! 

Now, you can’t see most of your competitors, so you don’t know whether they are knowledgeable bidders or just rich folk who are used to getting whatever they want at whatever the price; you don’t know whether they’re bidding from Paris or from around the corner; you don’t know whether they’re buying for resale or for themselves.

Now, there is no advantage – none! – to being in the auction room, as the internet bidders have become the preferred ones. 

Yesterday’s auction was held up several times – once for about 40 minutes! – in order to accommodate a slow or failing internet feed.  When the bidders in the room grumbled about this, we were admonished by the auctioneer that these were “serious” bidders and that the “house” just “couldn’t go on without them.” Someone shouted, “We’re serious bidders, too.”  But all that got for us were some pastries, as we continued to wait….

Over and over again, the internet bidders were given preference over the bidders in the room.  Whereas we in the room were pressured into making quick and sometimes hasty decisions –

“Fair Warning:  Going Once, Twice, Sold” –

the Internet bidders were told,

“Fair Warning:  Going Once ………….. Going Twice…………. Are you sure?…………….  Fair Warning:  Going Once………. Going Twice………” 

You get the picture.

The prices were incredibly, sometimes laughably high, and the “professionals” in the room kept shaking their heads in amazement.  (And aren’t we in a recession?  Aren’t we supposed to be getting these things for a song now?)

The internet bidders seemed to have limited knowledge and unlimited funds.  And the bidders in the room served the auction house well by bidding up items before dropping out and leaving the field to the internet ones; then we [with our pastries] got to listen silently as these invisible bidders bid against one another:   Fair Warning:  Going Once……….. Going Twice……….. Are you sure….?

Not surprisingly, the only items that sold for amounts below their estimates were the ones on which no one in the room bid against their internet competitors.  Loud complaints were expressed as the people in the room made their way out the door at the auction’s end.

I was hot and tired and disappointed, but I’d always chided myself for not attending these auctions, and now I’d learned an important lesson:  I don’t have to take a 3-hour trip into Manhattan; I don’t have to deal with the traffic and the noise and the heat of the city; I don’t have to worry about finding a cab or getting a good seat at the auction. 

Instead of being in the auction house and bidding up the prices for them, I can claim the internet bidder’s advantage and do it all from the comfort of my living room.  And I will. 

Fair Warning. 

Season's End: Photos of My Store

This year, the Berkshire Mountain Region of Western Massachusetts (along with its New York State and Connecticut neighbors) is bringing in the autumn by finally and at long last having a bout of wonderful summer weather.

All season long we suffered through rain rain rain; hurricanes (Irene) and even a tornado or two! Or three…. And it was COLD! Now, suddenly, the sky is blue, the sun is shining, the breeze is gentle and caressing. Now, the tourists are gone, but the birds have come back! And the bees. (And the mosquitoes and wasps, too!) Where were they hiding all summer?

But still, there’s no mistaking that fall is here. Not just because the tourists are gone, but because there’s the mess of leaves falling everywhere; and there’re the sight and sounds of crops being harvested; and there are the county fairs and sheep-shearing contests and the apple picking. And, of course, we have the beautiful, beautiful trees fairly bursting with bright and vibrant color. 
Land and stream behind Farshaw's, my store.

And this beauty is mine to enjoy; I see it out of every window; I see it wherever I go.

Behind Farshaw's
(I once knew someone who actually immigrated to the United States because he’d seen a Hitchcock film – THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY -- which featured a New England village much like ours, with the trees all decked out in breathtaking color.)

Yet this beautiful season which marks the end of tourists also marks the end of my summer selling season at Farshaw’s Too, the rare book and antique store I own. Columbus Day weekend, whether it comes early or late, is the season’s official end.

For me, that means a bit of vacation time with family and friends; it means shopping around for new inventory for my store; it means unpacking and carefully placing my new purchases for optimal viewing when I reopen for the winter holiday season.
Remember, everything's for sale!

So now that I’m “officially” closed, I want to tantalize you with photos of some fabulous new finds that you’ll want to purchase come December.  Hold off on your holiday shopping until I reopen on Friday, December 16th. It will be worth it!

Be warned: though I'm an enthusiastic photographer, I am not a good one. These photos are simply meant to give you an idea of some of the new things I have for sale. The descriptions here are very general; I expect to have a a more detailed catalog by December.

And remember: everything you see in these photographs is for sale. And I mean EVERYTHING!

These few photos are of two of the three rooms that make up my store.  In the back room you can see a huge 1881 framed map of Newark, New Jersey.  Huge and heavy!  

The photo below shows some of my favorite new finds.  The old North Egremont sign hanging from the shelves was a real coup; unfortunately, I live in South Egremont...! 

The sculptural looking creature at the side of the sofa is actually an African headdress.  It sits on top of a paint can on the floor of the store, but men actually walked for miles wearing that huge and swaying thing on their heads!  It has red eyes made of wool, and the bottom of it is ringed with shells.  It's quite wonderful.
And speaking of Africa:  The amazing statue in the photo below is a Congolese Nail Fetish, about 150 - 200 years old.  It's about 6 feet tall, and looks a bit pained. 

These fetishes can be dated so precisely because the ones that were used for ceremonial purposes over the centuries were small ones which could easily be carried from place to place.  But as with the Native Americans in the United States and the Aborigines in Australia, once the natives met the white man, they began doing their art for trade rather than for ceremony.  And the white man wanted BIG ones!  

He is quite grand, I think.  Even modern:  Picasso would certainly think so.

But more conventionally modern is the huge Curtis Jere sculpture in the photo below.  Signed and dated (1983), it hangs above my desk and is a happy presence.

As modern as it is, it makes me think of older and more innocent times.  And it makes me smile.

(Actually, 1983 was quite a while ago...and it feels like over a hundred years ago to me!  So much has happened since then.  Blogs, for instance, to name just one small thing.)

Curtis Jere Sculpture

Poster promoting sale of 'Modern Transportation,' 1890's Style
Huge 1853 Linen Mounted Map of Berkshire County w/original wooden poles
Prang Album of Collectible Chromolithography Samples.  Scarce.
Autographed Edition of the Works of John Burroughs
Signed 1st Edition Steinbeck w/Letter
1st Edition
Signed 1st Edition w/Scarce Dustjacket

Pen & Pen Holder with it's own Inkwell
Original Drawing by Kate Greenaway

Scarce 1933 Pencil Sketch from the Disney Studios.
 And here's the very best:

Wonderful Inscription from George Bernard Shaw to Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
I have lots of bags and and boxes of books like the one in this photo to sort, catalog, and shelve before reopening day, but before I do that and before I end this post, I want to mention that Pamela Grath of Books in Northport, last week's guest blogger, told me that visits to her blog spiked dramatically after her guest post on this blog.  Of course, we have all of you to thank for that.

So:  Thank you!   And enjoy the new season.


In this day of eBooks and iBooks and digital publishing; in this day when electronic displays are so sophisticated that one can actually turn pages on the screen and highlight passages and leave yellow sticky notes on the electronic page; in this day when one can carry an entire library of books in a convenient electronic case weighing no more than a pound or two; one is left to wonder about the future of books as physical, printed objects.

I sell books.  Not eBooks, but real books with pages made of paper.  Books rare and old.   My books smell of paper and ink.  The pages are browned by age, and sometimes smudged with use. 

Some are inscribed to a friend, with an explanation of why the book was chosen and given; some are inscribed by the author to an admirer, or colleague.  Some are signed by an owner in childish lettering or in adult script.  Some have the signatures of notable figures.  (These “association” copies are among my favorites.)  Each of these adds to the pleasure of the book, to the understanding of it.  And you are linked to the people who’d owned it before you.

Some are “extra illustrated,” with original sketches or paintings by an artist; or with pertinent extras bound into the book.

I once had an “extra illustrated” copy of Morley’s LIFE OF GLADSTONE which was a 3 volume set that had been stretched into 10 volumes as a result of the inclusion of so many pertinent extras:  engraved portraits of Gladstone and members of his political English circle, hand-written letters from John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Disraeli and many others.  In the hands of its owner, this modest book had become a treasure-trove of information, a document and history of the period.

Some of my books have traveled to me from across continents and generations.  How did a lovely illustrated book on palmistry (with beautiful endpapers made from old velum scrolls) make its way from 16th century Italy to 21st century Massachusetts?  How many people touched it, carried it, cared for it?  How did they protect it as it crossed oceans and time?

For me, there is a kind of magic to this; there’s tremendous intimacy shared with those who came before you; and there are innumerable tactile pleasures as well – all of which imbue the words with meanings that cannot be conveyed in words alone. 

You must hold a real book in your hand, smell the pages, examine the type face, the spacing between letters; must note the shape and size of the book, the weight of it.  Only then can you experience the book’s full import.  And its magic.

A book as an object is a piece of history.

If you care to learn it, you can know a book’s age and place of publication just by recognizing the font used; or by how much spacing (leading) there is between lines of text; or by the amount of linen or acid in the paper; or whether the page edges were individually “cut” for reading as one went along, or machine cut as is common for newer books; or by the garish and graphic covers of pulp paperbacks from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s; or by seeing whether the engravings are copper or steel; or by noting the use of the letter “f” for the letter “s” and the like.  You can gage the tastes of the period through the bindings most common to it.

You can spot a smuggled copy of the banned James Joyce book, ULYSSES, even though it has no title on it – or has a fake title, all the better for smuggling! – because the book’s shape is that of an almost perfect square.

I have friends who have a set of Homer that belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Imagine!

Rusty Mott, a bookseller in Sheffield Massachusetts, once had Melville’s copy of William Davenant’s WORKS, London: 1673.  He catalogued it [in part] as follows:
“Signed by Melville on the flyleaf:  ‘Herman Melville / London, December, 1849 / New Year’s Day, at sea).’

With pencil notations by Melville…comprising check marks, x’s, sidelines, question marks, underlining, plus comments…all illustrating passages Melville felt important, such as whales, religion, monarchs and subjects, nature, knowledge, punishment of sin, etc.  In one place he has written ‘Cogent;’ in another, ‘This is admirable,’ and in a third, he compliments Davenant....

The existence of this example of Melville’s reading has been known for some time but has been ‘lost’ since 1952.”

What a remarkable book!  There’s so much to learn about both authors as a result of Melville’s notations.  How wonderful it was to have held that book in my hands:  Melville’s own book!  And now, some other lucky person can hold and study it.  And care for it.

I once had the prayer book belonging to Carlota, wife of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.  Placed on the throne by Napoleon III, Maximilian was eventually captured and executed by Mexican Republican forces.  At the time, Carlota was in Europe trying to get support for her husband.  After learning of his death, she had an emotional collapse and lived in seclusion for the rest of her life. 

What were those light round spots and ripples on some of the pages of her prayer book?  Were they tears?  And which passages of the book brought about those tears?  Of course, I’ll never know the answers to any of those questions, but I’m free to imagine and relate to the scene in a way that is not possible without having the book – the object and not just the words – in my hands. As I held the book, Carlota and I were linked across space and time.  This is magic.

Shakespeare folios also feel quite magical.  All but a few of them are in libraries, but many years ago, we managed to buy a 2nd and 4th folio for a client; and we had them at home for a while.  Bound in  well-cared-for contemporary (of the period) leather, they sat on a table in our living room.  Whenever our 4 children were near the table, they became hushed, almost tip-toeing as they walked by:  they were so beautiful, so old, so...expensive!

Adam, the youngest, was only 4 at the time.  He and his older siblings would sometimes stand and look at the folios from a respectful distance.  Adam would put his hands behind his back and lean forward so far that he was in danger of falling. 

One day he asked, “Can we touch them?”  This broke the “spell,” and the big girls were quick to say, “Of course we can; they’re books; they’re meant to be touched and read!  They’ve been touched and read for centuries!”  And then they touched them.  Carefully.  Very carefully.

First they caressed the bindings, stroking the leather.  Then the two “big” girls – Sarah,12 and Johanna,14 – opened the books and slowly turned the pages, allowing Abigail and Adam, the two little ones, to see and carefully touch the pages.  The paper was rippled, and the pages crackled when turned.

Except for that crackle, there was silence, almost a holy silence….  They treated the books with reverence and awe.  Even at their young ages, they knew that they were in the presence of something important and wondrous. They felt the magic, and remember it still....

 Of course, new books are not quite the same, but you can be a book's “first” owner, the first to hold, read and study it.  You can learn from its binding and paper and weight and lettering and smell.  You can hold a new book in trust for its future owners.  You can become part of its history.

Give your eReader a rest, grab a real, printed book:  and feel the magic.

More on Books as Objects

I’m delighted by the reception of my last Blog post, “Some Thoughts about Books as Objects.”  And surprised. 

Bookstores are closing wherever we look, yet there are book sites galore online; book clubs are flourishing, and people apparently still have strong opinions about books and how to treat them.

This post got the attention of many online book sites (two of which I am now enjoying regularly and will tell you about).  The one called Shelf Awareness has two newsletters, one for readers and one for people in the book trade.  On November 2nd, they had an excerpt of my post in their “Quotation of the Day” section.  Not surprisingly, the excerpt they used was of the very few things I said which referred to new books as objects.

Another enjoyable site but one which is not exclusively about new books, Beattie’s Book Blog, the “unofficial homepage of the New Zealand book community” (which I enjoy because many of the books they discuss are not available in the USA) also excerpted my post, but here, the interest seemed to be more about the difference in “feel” between a real book and an eBook.

And my guest blogger, Pamela Grath, referred to my post in her blog, Books in Northport, adding to the conversation there, as follows:
“My friend Helen at the books, books, books blog wrote recently about books as objects, her point being that there is more to a book than text. I’m sure Helen would not disagree that for those of us who love books, many various aspects—physical, literary, aesthetic and incidental—go into the object we love, and I bring this up because Helen originally wrote of old books, and then she and I and other readers subsequently made the segue, in the comments section following her post, into a discussion of new books as objects and what various people still find valuable in bound, printed volumes."
Later, she made a post of her own called “More on Books as Objects – and One Important Book on the Subject” that I think you will enjoy reading.

On the whole, the people who wrote to me were very positive about the future of books as “objects” in addition to their importance in providing information and pleasure. 

You can read the comments at the end of my post to see some animated and thoughtful opinions about the value of “real” books.  One of the people who commented is someone who publishes books “in all forms – electronic and paper,” but nevertheless, says that she always publishes “limited handbound copies of all [our] books, because books are magical….”

But not everyone agrees.  One person wrote to protest that the printing of books causes the killing of trees, while eBooks help save them.  That’s an interesting point – and would have been posted, had not the sentiment been expressed in some very unsavory language! – and is, perhaps, a topic that can start an entirely new discussion among readers.

The care and treatment of books is another aspect that stimulated a great deal of conversation. Opinions ranged from the extreme of thinking that books should remain pristine and not be marked in any way, to the other extreme of thinking that every inch of a book should be annotated. 

I’m a proponent of the latter: I believe that annotating a book – making it “yours” – is a gift both to yourself and to the book.  I believe that it enriches the reading experience even for those who come to read the book after you.  I know that notations in used books have called my attention to aspects of that book which I might otherwise not have noticed; have given me new insights, shown me other possible interpretations. 

Of course, collectible books of great monetary value are a different matter entirely.  With these, annotating-readers like me have a “hands-off” policy when it comes to annotating or even signing or pasting in a bookplate.  Here, you want marks only by people who have some collectible “value” of their own:  the author, an “important” previous owner, a Melville or other credible person whose opinion illuminates the work in new ways, and the like.   

Imagine if there were such a thing as Shakespeare’s annotated copy of Chaucer – or of Petrarch, from whom Shakespeare took many of his tales.  I would definitely not put my mark on a book like that!

So the questions:

Printed books versus Electronic books;
Writing in books or leaving the pages pristine;

What do you think?


What Makes a Good Personal Library?

It’s quite difficult to answer the question of what makes a good personal library. 

For some, it’s a collection of books on one subject of special interest to the owner:  Golf, Dance, Art, Science, Fiction.

For others, it’s one made up of rare books, coveted books, valuable books.

For still others it’s fine and beautiful bindings, regardless of the subject.

For me, it’s anything I’ve enjoyed reading and hope to dip back into again.

And other than books, what else makes a personal library?  Furniture, bookends, artwork, beautiful or interesting objects that are meaningful to the library’s owner.

My personal libraries – and I have two – are primarily made up of some of the duplicates from my bookstore, and of books that I love – important or not; and it encompasses a wide range of subjects. 

I have separate copies of some of the same books in my two libraries, as I can’t bear to be apart from them when I’m in my other home.  I don’t necessarily need to re-read all of these books, but just passing by and seeing them on my bookshelves gives me pleasure; and sometimes, a flash back to a memory from my past.

One such is a book from my childhood which disappeared but which I recently managed to find in a dusty old bookshop.  It cost pennies when I was a child, but it cost me a great deal to purchase it today.  And in re-reading it now, I can see why my mother chose to buy it for me when I was a young girl.

BEHOLD, YOUR QUEEN is the [quite embroidered] story of the Biblical Queen Esther. It's a “fairy tale” romance that little girls can love, and which makes Cinderella pale by comparison.  But Esther is not just depicted here as the penniless, beautiful maiden carried away by the handsome prince; she’s depicted as something of an “action figure," a powerful person in her own right, and one who never lets fear stand in her way as she almost single-handedly saves her people. 

(Perhaps Esther is the precursor to STAR WARS’ Princess Leah?  Or the inspiration for her?  If so, then creator George Lucas certainly knew this story well!)

Another pleasure of mine is enjoying so-called “quality” paperbacks.  (I presume they mean good quality…?)   They are larger than the paperbacks you find at the drugstore, (often equivalent in size to the hard cover) and are made of better paper - strongly glued and sometimes even sewn - and with clear, attractive type.  I have lots of these.  Even when I own the hardcover, I sometimes have one of these paperbacks along side it.  Why?  I don’t know why;  I just like them! 

Mine are very eclectic libraries, indeed!

But as I keep saying, books alone don’t make the library.  It’s also the artwork and the bookcases, and the rugs, and the furniture, and the like. 

I’ve moved a lot, and I’ve carried my books with me from place to place, from state to state, from house to house.  Depending on the other features of my library, the same books have a different feeling of importance or playfulness or both.

Here are some photos of a few of the libraries I’ve had through the years, including ones from the previous carnation of my store.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that many of the books, furniture and objects are the same, but the “feel” is totally different from library to library:  “serious,” relaxed, ornate, modern.

I design libraries for people, and I love to play with the settings.  Buying the necessary, the wanted books is easy; making the space one in which the owner would be happy to spend time – one which represents the “who” that the owner is or would like to be – is more challenging.   And more fun. 

Here is a link to an article in the FINANCIAL TIMES that shows the libraries belonging to several authors:  not just the books, but the book cases and other appurtenances in their libraries.  Without reading a word written by any of these authors, you might decide which of them writes books you might want to read, and which of them does not.  You might be wrong, but it’s not a bad place to begin, as a personal library can reveal one's soul.  

What kind of library do you have? 
What kind of library do you want?

Public Libraries

There seems to be so much interest in terms of books as “objects” that one can practically have a blog devoted to that subject alone!  I have received heaps of email on the subject.  (Strictly speaking, email doesn’t really come in “heaps” – but it really felt like it!)  It’s quite an interesting subject, to be sure, and I will revisit it from time to time.

My blog post, What Makes a Good Personal Library, prompted a wide range of opinions, from “how fabulous to have a personal library,” to “how pretentious,” to “save trees by reading eBooks,” and everything you can imagine in between.

But there’s something about walking into a room full of books – whether it’s a library or a bookstore or a friend’s living room – that feels wonderful:  the scent; the muffled silence (as many sounds are absorbed into the walls of books); the colors and patterns created by the book-filled shelves; the enticing anticipation created by all those beckoning spines….

While some libraries fill you with a sense of ease and comfort when you walk into them, others fill you with wonder – and awe. 

Public libraries are a luxury that all of us can enjoy.  In New England, every tiny village was built around its own library.  One might think that this creates an unnecessary redundancy, but local libraries can give you a very homey, welcoming feeling; it’s a place where you see familiar faces and know exactly where to look for the books you want.  It can be so welcoming a place that you are drawn to visit it more often than you might a larger and less intimate one.

But there are other libraries that offer a completely different experience.  When you step inside one of those, you often find that you need to pause for a moment, look around, survey the scene, and drink in the room’s  “landscape” before you venture further inside.

I recently stumbled upon a website which featured “The 35 Most Amazing Libraries in the World,” and the libraries are – amazing!  Each of the 35 libraries is photographed and described so as to explain why they were chosen.  It’s an informative list, and although I’ll be posting some photos here, I urge you to visit the site and look at them all.

I have been fortunate enough to have been in some of these libraries – Trinity College Library in Dublin, the Bodleian in Oxford, the British Museum Reading Room in London, the Vatican Library, the New York Public Library, Yale’s Beinecke Library, the Boston Public Library, the Morgan Library in New York, the Peabody Library in Baltimore, Phillips Exeter Academy Library in New Hampshire, the Library of Congress – and I can say that every time, my experiences exceeded my expectations. 

No matter how august the setting, how precious the books, how steeped with history the building, you can always find a friendly-faced librarian who is eager to show you around, to share the library’s treasures with you.  (And what treasures there are!)  Book lovers seem to love book lovers, wherever they appear. 

In a few of these libraries, I was given special, behind-the-scenes tours, and while that was, indeed, exciting, it’s the reading rooms – the rooms everyone has access to! – that gave me the most pleasure.  You can view and even touch unimaginable treasures in these repositories of civilization and history; you can do research; you can even read!  (I have to admit, though, that just looking and wandering around is what I most enjoy.)

When in such libraries, I feel much as my children did when they looked at our [temporarily owned] copies of the 2nd and 4th Shakespeare Folios; I feel the magic, the wonder, the awe.  I tread softly and touch slowly, carefully.  And I feel lucky.

Here are photos of some of the libraries featured on that website which I found particularly interesting.

The Stockholm Public Library was built in 1928, and I’m surprised at how modern it looks.  I love the way the visitor is surrounded by books, and that the books on the balconies are also open to view and are accessed by an open staircase.  Such balconies remind me of one of my “dream” libraries:  the one belonging to Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY!
Stockholm Public Library

Jose Vaconcelos Library

How’s the Jose Vaconcelos Library in Mexico City for modern?  While this  architecture can be considered impressive, I prefer the books to take center stage rather than the architecture.  Here the books don't beckon to me adequately, but perhaps it feels different when you're actually inside the building.

 The Library of Alexandria, Egypt, is another modern space.  If you’re wondering where the books are, at the moment there are only 500,000 books in a space that is meant to hold over 8,000,000!  
Library of Alexandria

It is hoped that this library will recreate the library that was known as the “greatest library in antiquity” before it was destroyed.

Phillips Exeter Library

Famed architect Louis Kahn designed the modern Phillips Exeter Academy Library.  The building won many architectural awards, and it was even used as a  commemorative postage stamp!  While this photograph emphasizes the architecture and looks rather cold, this is one of the libraries I visited, so I can tell you that it doesn’t feel that way when you’re inside.  There are many intimate spaces in which  small groups can gather, the collection is notable, and the books are very accessible.  

When I worked as a reference librarian and book purchaser for the  Howard County Library in Maryland, we got all of our inter-library loans from the George Peabody Library in Baltimore.  Howard County is midway between Baltimore and Washington D.C., and Columbia, a modern, “planned” city – the first of its kind in the U.S. – was built there.  With all the competitive people working in that cosmopolitan government and business corridor, it's easy to forget that Maryland is a Southern state and fought for the Confederacy during 
The Peabody Library
the Civil War; but when you step into the Peabody, you're quickly reminded:  those ornate iron railings on the balconies almost shout "New Orleans and the South!  It's a wonderful library.

The Trinity College Library Long Room has become something of a tourist attraction.  Those roped-off bays are a bit off-putting, but if you really want to do research, you can arrange an appointment and work there.  I love libraries that have such open “bays.”

The Long Room at Trinity College Library
The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library is also a museum, and the book shelves are gated so that you can’t really get at them but can only look at them as a kind of permanent exhibit. But the rooms are magnificent and the exhibits are always worth seeing.  Here, too, you can ask for permission to actually use the books.

The Chateau de Chantilly Library: what can I possibly say other than "WOW!"

Abbey Library of Saint Gall

I’ve never been to the Abbey Library of Saint Gall, but one 
of my favorite books is the exquisite 3 volume monograph of 
THE PLAN OF ST GALL published by the University of 
California Press in1979.  The original plan was drawn on vellum between the years 820 and 830 CE - and survived!  Astonishing that the public is welcome to use this library!

The New York Public Library

Sometimes I feel as though I spent a third of my life at the New York Public Library.  I lived and went to school in New York, and this was my library of choice.  It was a great and inspiring place to study - and a wonderful place to meet people, too!

The Boston Public Library was the first public library in the U.S. and is my current library of choice.  You can see from this photo what I mean when I say that some libraries are hushed, dreamy, and magical….
Boston Public Library
Beinecke Library
In addition to being beautiful and having an amazing collection of rare books and manuscripts, Yale’s Beinecke Library is also extremely high-tech. That central air-tight column of glass which houses and preserves the most rare of the books is a modern marvel; it’s even been featured in novels and film as the place where the good-guy gets locked into and must find his way out before he stops breathing – or where the bad guy finally stops breathing!

Reading Room at the British Museum
The relatively new Reading Room at the British Museum does not have the charm of its predecessor, but it has an impressive collection of books; and I love that such a wonderful museum has a library as its centerpiece.


For me, Oxford University’s Bodleian Library is the very definition of what a library should be.  One of the oldest libraries in Europe, it has everything:  impressive history, important works, and great beauty – inside and out.  It consists of several buildings, with the Radcliffe Camera Science Library the most beautiful among them.  I love this building so much that I actually bought a paper construction kit of it and made myself a small replica that now sits on my desk.  I love to look at it.
Radcliffe Camera of the Bodleian Library

The Library of Congress really does have everything:  it is the largest library in the world, “as measured by shelf space and number of volumes.”  And just think:  it belongs to us!  
Library of Congress

Wouldn’t it be great to travel to all the great public libraries in the world?  And in each of those libraries, you’d probably find a fellow book-lover eager to show you around….

But in the meantime: visit, support and enjoy your local libraries! 


The Year of My Blog in Review

You can hardly pick-up a newspaper or magazine; can hardly turn on the radio or TV, without getting a rundown of the year in review.  Here's mine:  The 2011 Year of the "Books Books Books" Blog in Review – and a few additions to begin the year 2012. 

There are only 15 posts on my blog.  I began it in August with the post, “What I’m Planning, more or less” which told a bit about me and my reading history, and what I planned for my Blog. 

What it didn’t say was that I began the blog in a fit of pique over a book I’d been reading called TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR.  It’s a “project” book, and project books annoy me—whether it’s a recipe-a-day or a book-a-day, such projects seem artificial to me, not a natural part of one’s day, of one’s life.

This book’s project was to read a book a day for a year.  And the project had strict rules:  no re-reading books that had been read before; no author could be read more than once; only books “with a width of one inch” (!) would be chosen; mystery books were for Sundays; books must be finished by midnight; and every book read must be written about.

Nina Sankovitch’s book was well reviewed in the New York Times, and it is that which prompted me to read it.   I’d hoped it would provide me with a list of books worth reading; and that I would glean new insights into books and writing.

But much of this book illustrates the author's struggle to justify her project, to give it a plausible purpose; but unfortunately, she does not succeed.  

Sankovitch’s sister died after a short and devastating illness.  As a result, Sanksovitch was 
“caught in a bramble patch of sorrow and fear.  My reading…was pulling me out of the shadows and into the light."
 She tells us that
“Now that [my sister] had died [and my family was devastated], I was doing what I could to recover…for everyone in my family.  I was reading.”
"In reading books, I was finding my sister again.”
And--perhaps most unbelievably!--she identifies her reading project and herself with 
“an impoverished Cuban man," a character in one of the books she’s reading, because they both have “hope for the future.  He has faith in Castro’s revolution; I have faith in the power of books.”
What?  (Or as my children would say, “Puh-lease!”)

Which leads to another problem with this book:  Sankovitch tries to shoehorn every one of the books she reads into a lesson that will ease the pain of her sister’s death.  Sometimes this works, but more often, it doesn’t.

So many books read much too quickly!  Ultimately, we learn little about them other than a bit of the  plot, and how the characters and the lessons they learn feel similar to Sankovitch's own experience;

So many books read so quickly that we, the readers, get little beyond a series of platitudes repeated over and over again in different words, no matter what she happens to be reading, as in:
“We cannot control events around us, but we are responsible for our reactions to those events.”
“The meaning of my life is ultimately defined by how I respond to the joys and the sorrows…”
“[The character] comes to understand then that his own sanity depends upon his accepting what he cannot change.”
OK: we get it!

And although Sankovitch states that “the purpose of great literature is to reveal what is hidden and to illuminate what is in darkness,”(?) when she does spend some time describing and analyzing her one-day–to-read-it books, she uses words and phrases that tell us nothing: 
“This book is perfect, a genuine communication from the heart.”
“[We are] connected to the rest of humanity...by the size of our hearts."
“The world shifts, and lives change.
“I would find...the always within never.”
Here, once again I must ask—“What?”

I know how difficult it is to write, so I hate to say it, but I think that the New York Times was wrong:  this is not a good book.  Sankovitch is probably a good reader and a good writer, but I think that here—perhaps because she turned reading into a “project” and read the books too quickly, chose some of them too poorly—she couldn’t do the books (or herself) justice.

So my blog was to be an antidote to this approach:  I would read books over and over again, I would write about books and film and theater; and as a slow reader, I wouldn’t predict how frequently I would post.

And that’s how it began:  Analyses of WAR AND PEACE, books of food writing; a review of Jude Law as HAMLET; a reflection on the difference between Live in HD and Live at the Met, etc.

And then, the Blog took on a life of its own.  I'd posted my musings about book auctions and books as objects, and these generated a huge—and surprising—interest from readers in many parts of the world.  So, the discussion continued:  of private libraries and public libraries; a bit about literary analysis which used the films of Woody Allen for its examples; thoughts about the rising fear that books—and bookstores—would soon be a thing of the past…  And here we are.

As these thoughts continued to reverberate, readers sent me suggestions for posts, and even sent me things to post.  Here are some of them:

Danny wrote,  “Here's a magnificent blog I thought you'd enjoy:  <NeglectedBooks.com>
I do enjoy it.  And it’s the perfect companion to the book I’ve been reading and which I highly recommend:  SECOND READING. NOTABLE AND NEGLECTED BOOKS REVISITED, by Jonathan Yardley.

The posts on Personal Libraries prompted Johanna to alert me to an astonishing and rather depressing article in the New York Times called “Selling a Book by Its Cover” which talks about “book solutions” and expresses surprise that there are people who want “more than pretty bindings: [they] wanted the option of being able to read [their] books.”  (Imagine that!)

The article tells of “books wrapped in silver paper to match the silver hardware in the room….

You think that’s bad?  It gets worse:  
“For the spa in Phillipe Stark’s Icon Brickell, the icy glass condo tower in Miami, 1,500 books [were wrapped] in blank white paper, without titles, to provide a ‘textural accent’ to the space.”  They bought “mass-market hardcovers that flood the used book outlets — titles by John Grisham and Danielle Steel, or biographies of Michael Jackson— because they are cheap, clean and a nice, generous size.”
And worse:  
“A TV news program wanted linen-wrapped books chopped in half to fit the shallow, faux-shelves of a political interview program.”
Moreover, the writer of this NY Times article thinks "book lovers" should be grateful that physical books are being “kept alive” by the “library artist” who is more “than a mere book dealer.”  (“Mere book dealer?”  That would be me…)

A not-to-be-missed slide show is included in this article, and the last 2 items in it are “books” that have been used as a medium for the creation of “art.” 

Which brings me to Andre, who wrote to me about this very subject:  “I thought these very beautiful and mysterious sculptures [made from books] which have been turning up anonymously in honor of libraries and books around the world was worth a look....”

I took a look, and here are photos of some of those sculptures:

Staying on theme by having a Tyrannosaurus Rex bursting from Doyle's LOST WORLDS

I don’t know what to make of this or quite how I feel about it.  Some of these are, indeed, beautiful:  but are they “art” or are they the destruction of books by other means?  Do they “honor” libraries or make a mockery of them?

I'm curious to know what you think about this.

So that was my Blog in 2011: behind us now. 

Now it's the year 2012, during which you have 365 (make that 363) days to: 


Make art using any medium you like. 

Write to me as much as you want; I will always reply. 

            And most importantly:

Visit your local booksellers:  we are not and never have been “mere!”
- - - - - - - - - - -

Apologies to those of you who receive blog posts via email for receiving an unfinished post.  I simply pressed the wrong button -- publish instead of preview -- and off it went.  (Could this have been the result of too much celebrating?)

The internet is an unforgiving medium; but I hope that you will be forgiving...

Thank you, and have a very Happy New Year.

This post is unlike any of the others I’ve done, but with only 18 posts in all, I suppose that I haven’t yet established a pattern....   

I’ve written about books as objects; about auctions; about theater and opera and film; about public and private libraries; about aspects of literary analysis and different ways of telling stories; and I’ve written about my store.  I’ve even had “guest posts” and plan more of them. 

Besides, this is my blog, so I can post anything I want!  

Today is Valentine’s Day and the airwaves are filled with the films and the music of love; and everywhere, flowers are being brought and sent. 

“Classical” music stations seem to be spending much of the day playing romantic waltzes and tangos; and primarily classical music that has been used as themes in romantic films.  Actually, this post is a perfect follow-up to my last one about telling stories without [necessarily] using words.  Here, music is the main story-teller, and it inspires the action. 

So as a Valentine from me to you – and through the wonders of the Internet – here is a “bouquet” of music and video to make this a romantic day, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. 


Ravel's "Bolero" in the movie, TEN starring Dudley Moore and Julie Andrews:

     THE SEVEN-YEAR ITCH starring Marilyn Monroe: 

  SOMEWHERE IN TIME starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour:  

    from an old Rudolph Valentino film:

     from Robert Duvall’s film, ASSASINATION TANGO: 

     from the film SHALL WE DANCE starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere: 

              and several breathtaking clips from TANGO ARGENTINA:


         from THE ARTHUR MURRAY DANCE PARTY, a television  show from the 1950’s:
the New York City Ballet performing THE MERRY WIDOW, choreographed by George Balanchine and featuring Peter Martins:
           Disney's spin on Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty Waltz:"

And one of my favorite pieces, a “bouquet” of sorts: Natalie Dessay and Delphine Haidan singing the “Flower Duet” from the opera LAKME:

And finally, The Kiss: 
The Kiss
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Here We Go Again!

It can seem as though there's a conspiracy in media outlets -- both written and spoken-- to report the coming "death of printed books.  The death is attributed to "villains" such as Amazon; so why is the tone of these reports usually comic at best, and gleeful at worst?

One reason is that the written media (like TIME, for example) enjoys “live streaming” in addition to the text that's in the printed edition, as new and more pointed ads are possible every few minutes rather than only once a week. 

I’ve tried reading those "feeds," and I don’t really understand how they serve me.  I go to TIME for a thoughtful presentation of the news of the week:  if I want on-the-spot news; if I want film snips like “The Funniest TV Clips of the Week;” if I want to instantly know “The Number-One Way to Get a Flight Attendant Angry” or that “Chess Championships Lose Sex Appeal with New No-Cleavage Rule” – all from TIME’S latest “feed” – I can go to Google or Yahoo or YouTube, or even to PEOPLE magazine and the numerous “gossip” sites on the net. 

And sometimes, I do:  but that’s not what I want from a [supposedly] sober round-up of the week’s news.

So:  not only do we have the Amazons against us, but printed material doesn’t get adequate support even where we most expect it.

I’ve already posted a funny (funny?) NEW YORKER cover depicting book stores without books; here are two more funny (funny?) covers:
Package from Amazon
Even Angels read eBooks
Then there’s their “joke” of books being obsolete, an “artifact” one recognizes no longer:

"Holy cow! What kind of crazy people used to live here anyway?"
The Internet is rife with jokes concerning life without printed books:
“We’ll need to buy real doorstops.
We’ll have to find another way to press and dry flowers.
Our bathrooms will no longer be cluttered.”
You get the picture.

And even when printed books are appreciated, it can be for reasons that make book lovers and sellers uncomfortable.  Here, an ad for a Prius tells us that although we have e-readers, we “need books for decoration.”

Would you buy a car to help you find books for home decor?
As noted in an earlier post, books are also being used not for their original function, but as a new “medium” for visual artists. Here are some more examples from artist Brian Dettmer:

And a video of artist Su Blackwell's work:

Exquisite works, but why use books for these?  Why not just use paper and make bases of wood or leather?  And isn't this somewhat disrespectful?  (Or don't you think so?)

Libraries and librarians offer little help.  With the growth of ebooks and the advent of new laws requiring wider aisles for patrons in wheelchairs, many libraries have had to rethink their “mission” – as repositories of great books? or as lending institutions meant to serve popular preferences? – and decide what to discard in order to create the required space.

The Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield MA is one of the oldest libraries in the United States; it's a lending library that was also a repository for fine and rare books.  When faced with the need for more space, they decided that their primary function was that of a lending library; to that end, they decided to send to auction all books that were not “borrowed” during the last 50 years.  And that’s what they did.

Except for their extraordinary Melville and Berkshire collections which aren't part of the lending library, we – in our “Bibliofind Book Auction 'hat'” – auctioned off thousands of their books; 14 of them earned world record prices.

The main branch of the venerable New York Public Library had an even more arbitrary way of choosing what books they would discard.  In their wisdom, they decided to get rid of any book in which the page “broke” when its corner was folded!

Never taking into consideration the quality of the paper typical of the period; or the book’s value; or the importance of it as an artifact and historical document – the information was on microfilm, after all -- among the things the library threw into the trash were thousands of early American pamphlets, including coveted ones from the time of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Payne, Benjamin Franklin, and the like:  all went into the trash.

Fortunately, a diligent bookseller was tipped off, and he rescued them before they could be carted to the dump.  Every year at Christmas, he sends a greeting card on the cover of which is a photo of one of these pamphlets along with the date it was discarded and its approximate value. (Often, in the thousands.)  Inside, a single line reads, “Your tax-payer dollars at work.”

And new libraries?  More and more, they have row upon row of videos; row upon row of popular paperbacks like those of Danielle Steel; and they give classes in meditation and yoga, and crafts.  I don’t have anything against a places like these, but what makes them “libraries” and not community centers? 

Where libraries treat videos and mass paperback fiction as equal to – or more important! – than other books, they do no service to the future of printed books.

Now, the latest blow:  Congress has accused Apple and some publishers for “price fixing” by charging between $9.99 and $12.99 for ebooks.  As a result, it's expected that ebooks will go down to $5.99 each.  What will that do to the market for printed books?

Full disclosure here:  I read ebooks.  I travel a lot and I can carry far more ebooks on the plane than I can printed books.  And I can always keep already-read favorites with me.

But the experience is totally different. 

My bookseller friend and guest-poster, Pamela Grath, had a recent post on her blog, Books in Northport, which I urge you to read.  There she tells of an opinion that ebooks are a “purer” form of reading in that one is not “distracted” by the object that is a printed book.  The writer she’s questioning also claims that “we’ll get used to it” just as people got used to going from reading hand calligraphed parchment scrolls to reading printed books. 

This is not quite true, as the experience of reading scrolls is very different from that of reading books: and it's the experience that makes the difference. 

I like to go back and forth when I read a book; I like to keep a finger on an earlier page so that I can jump back and forth easily; I like to curl the page and read both sides of it seamlessly.  I like to hold the page between my fingers, the book in my hands.  

Hasn’t it been said that “the medium is the message?”  Well, it’s certainly a part of it.

There’s nothing “pure” about the ebook experience of hyper-links and pop-out definitions, and the changing of fonts and of the brightness of the background; there’s nothing “pure” about glass-encased photos of beautiful hand-colored illustrations or photogravures. On the walls of Bill Gates’ home hang huge screens on which there are ever-changing full-size photos of many important paintings.  Is this pure?  More to the point:  are these art?

As I noted in an earlier post, one learns a lot about history and taste and materials when something’s read in its original form.  Scrolls, for instance.

The Torah consists of the five books of Moses.  You can read these five in a printed book – the Bible – or you can read it in a scroll, as originally written.  In synagogues throughout the world, heavy Torah scrolls are lifted, unrolled to the pertinent passage, and read.   
Torah Scroll 

Torah Scroll
You can hear the crackle of vellum or parchment; you can see cracks in the ink from years of rolling and unrolling; you can physically appreciate that this is one story, one continuous history; you can feel a sense of awe as you are reminded that this is how the words have been read for centuries. 

It’s a different experience from reading it in a printed book.  Reading it as an ebook would be yet another and quite different experience.  But better?  Purer?  I think not….

Perhaps it’s just a matter of preference which of these experiences feels best to you, feels “purer.”  But I think it’s more than that; and I think that the “more” is what will keep printed books alive.  

In THE BOOKS IN MY LIFE, Henry Miller wrote,
“When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched.  But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.” 
There’s a gratification that one gets from a printed book that cannot be duplicated, and the sharing that books make possible is part of that gratification, part of that experience.

Last week, NPR had a story about little libraries – sometimes only the size of a birdhouse! – which are popping up all over cities and towns; many even on front lawns. 
Put a little library on a short post like a mailbox, put it in your front yard and fill it up with books. Then people can help themselves for free.
A Little Library in the Suburbs

A Little Library in NYC

Take a book; leave a book.  And people love it.

"My kids will run over there.  I've run into friends of friends who I don't know well dropping off a book at the free library and finding, oh, this is just the right age and reading level for my daughter and taking it home.  I mean, there are all of these nice, little serendipitous connections that happen with your neighbors."
"One of the things that always just amazes me is how many people hug [us] when we actually put [books] in.  We constantly get emails that say 'I've met more people than I have in 20 years.'  People are always happy.  My favorite thing to do is sit on my porch and read a book and watch people open the library."
A NYC Little Library
The “Little Library” movement hopes to build more libraries than Andrew Carnegie built, and to have them throughout the world.  (We have one at our town dump!) No yoga classes in these...!

What other “object” engenders such devotion, affection?  What other “object” can bring so many diverse people together?  What other “object” inspires so many memories: memories that we share with others, even strangers?

Here is something that was given to Farshaw’s Books by a grateful customer; he – and we – are linked to its author through time and through common passion:

To which I say: "Amen."
Keep Calm And Carry On

Enjoy this 2-minute film; it communicates a love of books; and tells us in a pleasing way that books are forever: that there is nothing more “pure” than a “real” book.

It’s been over a month since my last post to this blog and I’ve many excuses; but mostly, I’ve been very, very busy—even a bit frantic! 

My busy-ness has been all good:  the wedding of an old friend of mine, newly reunited with a love she had 26 years ago; guests to take to places all around this breathtakingly beautiful state of Arizona; and best of all:  babies!

Another beautiful sunset over the mountain at the back of my house.

A few weeks ago, I had my first grand-baby—a beautiful girl named Hannah—and am expecting my second any day now.  It’s a lovely, joyous thing to have a new baby in the family; it’s fun and exciting to plan baby showers and go to doctors’ appointments and “birthing” classes!  It’s fun to help decorate a baby room and to find beautiful stuffed animals and baby clothes wherever you go.
Guest-decorated bibs and onesies.


Ready to play.

Hannah & Nana - and I made the blanket!

And it's quite wonderful to hold a baby in my arms again. 

But all this requires that I be in the car and on the road much of the time:  wedding almost 3 hours away in Tucson; baby Hannah 1 hour away in Phoenix; expectant mother 6 hours away in Los Angeles….  It’s exhausting!  And when I’m home, I’m often frenzied as I try to catch-up with those many things left undone.

Then I remind myself to take to heart those words of wisdom from World War II:  “Keep Calm and Carry On.” 

For those not familiar with the phrase, these words were on a poster printed by the British government during the war.  It summed up with extraordinary simplicity what citizens needed to do during this time of upheaval and fear:  they needed to take care of the business at hand and go on with their lives….

The Original Poster

But the story of the poster does not end with the war; and the newer part of the story begins with a bookseller.  (Of course!)

Barter Books is one of the largest bookstores in England—and I’ll bet it’s one of the most beautiful, too!  It was built into a beautiful old Victorian railroad station; and it manages to be both large and cozy at the same time.


And it was here that an original of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was found in a box of old books.  As they tell the story on their website,

“After being forgotten for more than half a century, a rare original of the now famous WWII poster was rediscovered in a box of old books bought at auction….

When the bookshop owners had the poster framed and put up in the shop, customer interest was so great that in 2001 the couple started producing facsimile copies for sale - copies which were soon copied and recopied to make of the Keep Calm poster one of the first truly iconic images of the 21st century.”
Isn’t that grand?

Here is a 3-minute video that tells the history of the creation of the original poster, with footage from the period; it also shows some fabulous scenes in the old railroad station and tantalizing bits of the store’s interior:

Barter Books has a gift shop and an on-line store from which, among other things, you can buy a facsimile of the poster—or even mugs and tee shirts and mouse pads and more—all with the iconic red and white sign on them.  Who can resist?

Beautiful as this shop is, there are many wonderful ways to display books. (See my posts on public, private, and “little” libraries.)  And as my blog has somewhat morphed into one that is concerned with the state of “real” books in this electronically focused world, readers have been sending me articles and photos and videos on the subject.  As I do want to write about other things, I plan to have a postscript from time to time with more news on the “real-books-are-wonderful-and-can’t-be-replaced” front.

Here is one such; can we call this an “exercise” library?  Whatever you call it, it can't be replaced by eBooks!

Exercise Wheel?  Little Library?  Perhaps both.

And wherever you read and wherever you exercise; and whenever you feel the stresses and strains of modern life, or the joy and excitement of new arrivals and happy celebrations:  remember not to be “frantic” and instead, think of the mantra:


Believe me, it works!