Such a Cozy Summer…

June 13, 2016 at 6:26 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Cozy mysteries are where I go to find solace when I’m too tired for anything else… when my imagination is too exhausted to fly with dragons… my intellect burned out or otherwise occupied reading homeschool material to my daughter.  Cozies are for bubble baths, for “I’m so tired, I can’t sleep” nights (thanks, Sarah).  And right now, I’m hooked on a few new ones.

7457122.jpgManor House Mysteries

So far, I’ve read Grace Under Pressure and Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy.  The series stars Museum Curator (and mansion manager) Grace as she sleuths around a small town, helping the local police solve the murders that keep happening at her new job.  Naturally, there’s an unfortunate past relationship that didn’t go well, and a new budding one with the local landscaper to keep us involved in the character’s life as she manages to avoid looking like a serial killer – because in real life, how many people are tied to so many murders?  The touch of tourist seasons, southern drawls, and Civil War reenactments remind me of home.

Library Lighthouse Mysteries

ByBookorByCrook-1.jpgI’m now in my third installment (Reading Up a Storm) of the Library Lighthouse Mysteries by Eva Gates, which began with By Book or By Crook.  This series features a lighthouse that has been renovated into a library.  Book Nerds and Jane Austen references abound while the newest librarian and the library cat stumble across – yep, you guessed it – one murder after another.  Again, no one would dare think the Nancy Drew wanna-be is indeed a serial killer with no many murders suddenly happening right under her nose, and of course, she’s the heroine with a terrible romantic past and TWO attractive men vying for her attention. Brain candy indeed.  Each book in this series have occurred within weeks of the one previously and all during summer tourist months near the beach.  Southern drawls, check.  Meddling mothers, check. (Booked for Trouble) Food stuffs and baking references, check.  Also, weird guy who pretends to be British… this character confuses me, but I got used to him.

Next up, a Miranda James series that begins with a title called Bless Her Dead Little Heart. Seriously, how can I pass that up?


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Censorship vs. Guidance… oh and that other thing called Hoarding

June 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000938As I clean out my library, I find myself selecting what to discard mostly based on my daughter’s mind rather than my own.  I read Sarah Dunant once, it was interesting, I don’t recall it blowing me away.  Looking at the titles I have, I find myself wanting to keep hardbacks and the Sarah Dunant copies I have are clean, pretty, and one is a hardback.  If I purchased them, which I doubt, it was most likely out of a clearance pile somewhere.  At most I imagine I spent 50 cents or a dollar.

But that is not why I find myself stacking them in the donate to the library pile.  Instead, it is because I find myself thinking – “Is this necessary? Does she need this? Even if it wasn’t necessary, is it important?”  There are scenes in which I’d rather not my child’s brain be muddled with unless it belongs to something epic or beautiful.  Sexual content, murderous content, without a larger than life literary lesson or great impact on the worldview seems so wasteful.

IronweedI sit here with William Kennedy’s Ironweed.  It is a Pulitzer prize winner.  It is the copy I was handed in high school by a teacher who found I had read everything else on the required reading list and then some.  It’s brilliant, I don’t contest that.  But I remember being appalled and annoyed by it.  I remember thinking, “Reading this is not going to make me a better person in any way – AND I’m not particularly enjoying it either.”  The book hoarder in me kept it because it was something I read in high school for class.  I kept it because it was a Pulitzer prize winner.  I kept it under the assumption that maybe I missed something and it was important.

The mother in me finds myself putting it in the library donate pile.  If she wants to read it later, she can check it out at the library – but I only want to keep things in my house that I can either recommend or things that I, myself, haven’P1000937t read yet either.  If I’m going to push crass, horrible people in horrible circumstances onto my daughter, I’ll give her Steinbeck – not Kennedy.  If she needs to read about prostitution, I’d rather give her Moll Flanders and Les Miserables than Slammerskin.  Not to be a chronological snob, I’m just as quick to recommend Girl, Interrupted as a cautionary tale against promiscuity or The Glass Castle and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn concerning the woes and hardships of being low on the socio-economic bean pole.

Most of what is going in the bags are things I find myself with multiple copies of for some inexplicable reason.  James Herriot’s books seem to breed in my house, much like plastic bags from the grocery store do in your pantry.  I swear I only brought home one, but there are three copies of All Things Wise and Wonderful.  Even more perplexing is the fact that I have yet to read anything he wrote.

Anita ShreveThere are piles of Anita Shreve books.  I’ve also never read an Anita Shreve title.  I find the covers used to market her work exceptionally dull.  When I shelved fiction at the bookstore, I cringed whenever I opened a box to find them peering up at me.  Yet, I have copies of these books in my own home.  They never sell, they are in abundance at the library, I find myself walking home with freebies from various places often.  Again, thinking, ‘what if I become terminally ill and somehow run out of reading material.’

Book hoarder recovery 101:  If you aren’t going to read it healthy, don’t anticipate reading it when ill.  Also, someone will probably be willing to go to the library for you should the need arise.

This is hard for me.  Then, of course, I think – is Anita Shreve important or a past time? And if she’s a past time, that is fine, but do I need so many past times lurking in my space?  There comes a point when you are surrounded by so many options, you can no longer choose.  It is too overwhelming and you find yourself at a hole in the wall public library that has fewer options than your own house, just to narrow the selection field.  Maybe one day I’ll read Anita Shreve.  Maybe I’ll love her.  Maybe she’s amazing.  But for now, she’s going in the donate bag.

Yet, I have hardbacks of John Grisham I can’t bring myself to let go.  My twelve year old self still riveted by such drama.  I could argue that it is because many of them are first edition hardbacks, but then there are my paperback coffee house and tea house mysteries that stay on the ready for a good bubble bath or morning on the back porch.  Can’t let those go – yet.

How do you sort your keepers from your donates?

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To Live And Die By Books

April 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“She never wanted me to save her, only to love her as she was.”

– from The Archivist


The awful truth of it all is that madness isn’t beautiful.  But it can be made to sound like it is by literary giants who suffer from it or have had someone close suffer from it.  Anyone who has read the works of Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot could tell you this.  Martha Cooley makes this so utterly clear in The Archivist.  Reading Cooley’s work is like coming home.

“Her anger lay just under the surface, and it governed.  I was foolish to think I could urge or lead her anywhere.”

If you’ve known or been close to a manic depressive, you know how maddening this can be.  You know how frustrating the inability to react properly to anything that goes on in their head.  You know how quickly you, too, can be sucked into their reactions and find yourself angry as well.  You also know how wonderful is the defense mechanism of diving into a good book or hiding away with your journal and pen.

“People with special powers are frightening to love.  That’s why Eliot and Vivienne were doomed by the way – why their marriage was bound to fail.  They terrified each other.”

The literary mind finds safe places where it can… inside the pages of books.

“[…]While denial is useful, it has its price.  There’s no such thing as identity without history.”

So many quotes from Cooley moved me with their simplicity and truth.  They are words that I feel in my bones.  “Authentic moral resonance,” Robert Taylor of the Boston Globe called it.  Resonance is always felt in my bones, for all their conditioning I am oddly hyper aware of them.  They are undeniably tied to my passions – my loves – my needs – my life.

The ArchivistIn 1998, Steven Moore of the Washington Post Book World, wrote: “It is rare and gratifying to read a novel about people who take literature seriously, who practically live and die by books…”

It’s not so rare anymore with the likes of Diane Setterfield, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Kate Morton lurking about.  These days there is a whole sub-genre of fiction dedicated to it featuring titles like The Secret of Lost Things and The Little Book.  My own book is a feeble attempt to honor these authors with a dose of what suited the publishing company at the time.  The Bookshop Hotel is a bit of a romance – but one where the main character is quite in love with books and her small town more than in love with another human.

Poets, a marriage, diaries… Possession won awards and became insanely famous.  Somehow, however, Cooley’s book got buried once it ceased being a New York Times Bestseller – but it should never be forgotten.

I think I’m drawn to these kinds of books because I always find peoples’ relationships to books telling of what their relationships to people are.  Sampling someone’s library is like peering into their soul and seeing where their loyalties lie.  Or, if they have loyalties at all.

There’s a quote on page 47 that I find so familiar –

“She had become familiar to me physically as well as intellectually; I knew her dark brows and good coloring, […] the slope of her neck, the slight overbite of her upper teeth.  I was familiar with the details, yet she eluded me.  Something to do with her motives remained completely beyond my grasp.”

I find this true of many people I’ve encountered.  And many books too.  You hold them, weigh them in your hands.  You lovingly caress their spines.  You know their smell, you know what they are saying.  You know their stories, their backgrounds, their recurring themes.  But you couldn’t begin to comprehend why they are telling you and what motivated them to do so.  You’re not always certain what they want you to do with the information.  That part belongs tucked away in someone’s secret heart and one can only guess.

“I sat at my desk, staring at the note and struggling to make sense of it.  I remember feeling a peculiar detachment – as if I were someone else, trying to unravel a mystery that was captivating but in which I wasn’t personally implicated.”

The Archivist is a must have for any book lovers library, especially for those who live and die by the printed word.

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Valentine’s Book Love Art

February 14, 2013 at 9:32 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , , , , )

If you don’t already, you should really follow Bookshelf Porn on Facebook.  Click the image they shared today (Valentine’s 2013) to visit their page.

library kiss

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Bookish Aromas

May 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , )

A Post Devoted to Scentsy

As some of you may know, I am not just a book fiend, I am a Scentsy Consultant as well.  Something I love doing as I prep to read is clean the house, make my coffee, and, yes, put the appropriate scent in my Scentsy warmer.  Through some of my posts and reviews you’ll see mention of a perfect Scent pairing for particular books, smells to help set the mood.  For the record, I’d like to share some of my all time favorite mood setters here:

Weathered Leather

Always enhances the library mood, reminding your nose of all the leather bound books and leather covered winged back chairs your library should have, even if it doesn’t now.  The scent also has a backdrop of Oak, adding to every book lovers nose for the perfect library.  Its especially wonderful while reading a historical piece, or a good old fashioned classic, something that you’d easily find in a leather bound anyway.  You can find it under the Scentsy Man collection, but I would definitely not limit this to men.


Also found in the Scentsy Man collection, I didn’t like this scent much until it hit the warmer.  Cardamom, mahogany, and amber, it makes for the best of library scents, musky and sexy, and all that reminds me of books.  I got this scent for my husband’s man cave, but this week I am convinced that I must steal it because I’ve been doing all my reading in here since we started warming it.  Went perfectly while reading Cosette of Les Miserables.

Spring and Summer Collection available at

Just Breathe

Wonderfully fresh with euclyptus and lemony goodness, its great for summer and those breezy summer novels.  Kick back, lay back, enjoy the spa vacation life and a good book.  This is the kind of scent that early Saturday mornings, when my face is freshly washed, I can open the windows let the summer breeze in and let the scent intermingle with the freshly cut grass.


A little bit Spring and Summer, a little bit wood nymph.  Its got both mandarin and teakwood as part of its unique blend, and allows me to dive into the greatest of fairy tales.  Its become a personal favorite that I don’t just warm in the library, but all over the house.  It also makes a fantastic bedroom scent.

Honey Pear Cider and Comfort & Joy

These are both out of season Fall/Winter or Holiday scents.  I love them each, and would love if they would bring these back year round.  Honey Pear Cider would make a fabulous Cafe scent and always go wonderfully when I have Hazlenut Latte and Sticky Cinnamon Bun warming in other rooms of the house.  Comfort & Joy is described as spicy, familiar woods marry with surprising white florals, pure citrus, and just a nibble of gingerbread and I absolutely love it.  This is also a scent that smells incredibly clean and I stocked up at the end of the Fall/Winter season so that I would have it through the summer.

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Library Living

April 14, 2012 at 1:06 am (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , , , )

Beauty and the Beast, Disney

Every book lover has dreamed of one day living in a library.

Here is the story of a man who did.

(Prior to attending Baylor University, Benny was a Dallas Baptist University student with me.  He’s a fabulous guy, with some really unique life experiences.)

Library Living: Baylor alumnus ran low on cash, used study carrel for home

Oct. 2, 2009

By Olga Gladtskov Ball Reporter

Not many Baylor students can say that they have lived in the library for six months, spent a night in a Mexican jail or organized a campaign to bring Kinky Friedman onto the Baylor campus. Baylor alumnus Benny Barrett did all of it, and more, during his time at Baylor.

Barrett’s journey to Baylor began when Dr. Gary Cook, the president of Dallas Baptist University, encouraged Barrett to go on a campus visit to Baylor to consider transferring. While on his visit, Barrett ran into Dr. Robert Sloan, then chancellor of Baylor.

Jed Dean | Photo Editor
Benny Barrett, former Baylor student who had to choose between secretly living inside Moody Memorial library or leaving Baylor, rests his head against the very carrel he lived in for almost two semesters.

“I just walked up to him and ask him if he was Dr. Sloan because he looked like what I imagined he would look like,” Barrett said. Barrett told Sloan that he had just met an old friend of Sloan’s the week before. Sloan and Barrett discussed the friend, and Sloan invited Barrett to meet with him the next week. After the meeting, Barrett decided to attend Baylor.

Once at Baylor, Barrett ran into financial problems, causing him to research a new place to live: Moody Memorial Library. Barrett began his research in April 2006 and moved all of his belongings to his study carrel in May.

“I would show up to tests an hour late during summer session because the library opened at 9 and had to give some lame excuse about oversleeping,” Barrett said. For Barrett, the most difficult time in the library during the summer was during Fourth of July weekend, where he was not able to leave for days because the library closed for the holiday.

When the fall semester began, Barrett began to work at the library from 4 to 8 a.m. He would then sleep inside his carrel for a few hours before class.

“The libraries are important havens for study and respite, and my faculty, staff and I work hard to make them pleasant and safe student-friendly spaces,” said Pattie Orr, dean of university libraries. “I was not here at Baylor when Benny was in this difficult situation, but if I had been I would have wanted to reach out to him to see how we could help.”

Orr also said that Barrett was the only case of someone living in the library that she has heard.

“I lost weight,” Barrett said. “My eyes were always bloodshot. I would sometimes wear sunglass to class to hide it.”

Barrett hid his food, mostly consisting of Ramen noodles, behind his books. He also had a hot water heater and a sleeping bag hidden in his carrel. Barrett stopped sleeping at the library in December, when Dr. Scott Moore, associate professor in Great Texts, called him into his office.

“I explained my living arrangements to him and he got me placed in a dorm for the rest of the semester,” Barrett said. Prior to the meeting with the professor, Barrett had only told a few friends about his living conditions.

Moore said he was horrified when he found out that Barrett was living in the library. He then contacted others to help Barrett move into a dorm.

“I just got the ball rolling,” Moore said. “I called Frank Shushok (who supervised housing arrangements at the time) and said we’ve got to find this guy a dorm room. Frank called Jackie Diaz in financial aid and the folks in Campus Living and Learning, and they did all the work.”

“Friends invited me to live with them, but I didn’t want to be a leech,” Barrett said. Barrett was given a loan at the end of the semester to pay for the rest of his education.

“I found out about Benny’s secret lair in the library only from my colleague Scott Moore, who also told me that Benny was showering and changing clothes at the Student Life Center, Said Ralph Wood, university professor of theology and literature. “Moore made sure that Benny was able to get a scholarship that paid more than tuition alone.”

During his semester in the library, Barrett spent a night in a Mexican jail with his former roommate Osione Itegboje. Itegboje took Barrett to Mexico with him so that Itegboje, who is from Nigeria, could renew his visa. However, the pair was sent to jail when a guard discovered that Itegboje lacked a Mexican visa.

“It was a crazy experience,” Barrett said. “A whirlwind of a weekend.”

Itegboje and Barrett were released the next day and told that they could not enter Mexico for a year, under the threat of six months in a Mexican prison.

While on campus, Barrett fought another battle — governmental candidate, novelist and country singer Kinky Friedman had asked Barrett if he could arrange for him to speak on campus.  Barrett met Friedman at a Willie Nelson concert, and Friedman had expressed interest in speaking at Baylor. Barrett then founded Baylor Independents and began the process to get Friedman to Baylor.

“I have never been called to the principal’s office, Pat Neff, so many times,” Barrett said, “No one wanted him to speak on campus.” Barrett convinced administrators that if Friedman was not allowed to speak, Baylor would be showing favoritism toward Governor Rick Perry, who had already spoken at Chapel.

“They finally let him come on campus but wouldn’t let me have a reception for him so I had it at the Judge Baylor House, which isn’t associated with Baylor, but many people thought it was when they came,” Barrett said. The Noze brothers awarded Friedman with the honor of “Yellow Noze of Texas.”

Barrett, who graduated in 2008, still visits campus often, walking his teacup Chihuahua, Malcolm X, and spending time at his favorite place on campus: the library.

“Would that there were more Benny Barretts,” Wood said.

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Weekly Low Down on Kids Books 3/13/12

March 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This week’s kids books have been greatly divided for me.  Into two categories: the Librarian on the Roof, and NOT the Librarian on the Roof.

Librarian on the Roof is a non-fiction picture book about RoseAleta and the public library she revamped by sitting on its roof for a week during wind, rain, and everything in between.  As a home school mom, this genre of picture book is both my favorite and the hardest to find.  Most non-fiction kids books are factoid books, dinosaurs, bugs, ancient people, counting, abcs, numbers, shapes, and so on.  And those books are great! We have a ton of them.  But finding a picture book that tells a story and then discovering that the story is true is even better.

M.G. King has taken a fascinating tale of courage and determination set right here in modern day Texas and turned it into something amazing.  It also helps that she is one of the sweetest people you could ever meet.  She is kind, friendly, loves talking to people about her book and anything else, and my favorite part – looks right into your eyes while she’s speaking with you.  It’s no wonder that a story about a librarian trying to get the funds to encourage kids to get back to her library would move her.

Librarian on the Roof is hands down a must have for your child.  I was lucky enough to get a signed copy for Ayla at the Deerbrook Mall Barnes & Noble the other day, where King had set up shop for the afternoon.  (Yes, I know, I work for Half Price Books, but the NEW books have to come from somewhere to make it to a USED store.  I even have a membership card there.  Yes, I know, I’m a hopeless addict, please forgive me.  I will make amends with anyone my book addiction has harmed… when I’m older.)

If you’re a book lover, lover of libraries, lover of heartwarming stories, but have no children, you should still go buy the book.  The first time I read it all the way through, kiddo was actually napping and I just couldn’t wait to pop the book open.  I didn’t full on cry, but there were definitely happy tears welling up in the back of my eye balls when RoseAleta finally got to come down off the roof.  The line about being able to buy chairs just the right size for the kiddos actually choked me up for a moment.  Books and people who love books make me absurdly happy.

Buy Librarian on the Roof

2010 was a awhile back and this article I’m about to share is old, but if my post about this book has piqued your interest just a little bit, I think this will seal the deal:

Now, for the NOT the Librarian on the Roof books we read this week:

Shout! Shout It Out! – Denise Fleming

Probably great for boys, but Ayla just wasn’t interested in yelling with me.

Little Tad Grows Up – Giuliano Ferri

Loved! The art is amazing, and it goes through the lifecycle of a frog.  Pretty cool, and educational.

Hattie Hippo – Christine Loomis

This was easily Ayla’s pick of the week. Great for girls.  I’m not really into gender discrimination (my little girl’s nursery is baby blue, green, and orange), but Ayla loves twirling hippo ballerinas and could care less about the shouting toddlers and rodents, go figure.

Gobble, Gobble – Cathryn Falwell

Beautiful illustrations.  Its nice to read about turkeys that we aren’t planning to eat.

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Exposure is Everything

November 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My whole life I have been enthralled by the world of books.  As a child, I was an avid reader the school librarian could not keep appeased.  I lived in the worlds of Laura Ingalls, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and more.  Although I went to college to study business, as soon as I was out I sought a position in a bookstore; my dream was to run the literature section, and I did.  I worked there for some years, fully stocked up my home collection, became the inventory manager, but then had a baby and so left the company.

We have 17 overflowing bookshelves in our house and books stacked on every available end table in between.  I have been gathering up children’s titles throughout my pregnancy until now for my daughter, preparing for a lust of the written word comparable to mine.

People keep warning me that she may not want to read, she may not like it like I do.  They keep telling me I cannot force my child to enjoy my hobbies.

I am not forcing her.  I am making the written word available.  She sees books everywhere, she sees people enjoying books everywhere.  In addition to our own collection that we read from every day, we visit the public library for group readings and she sees people outside her family unit gathering to enjoy a book.

My daughter is one year old, and already she often chooses Eric Carle over a stuffed animal.  She brings me Rainbow Fish and expects me to read it aloud while she sorts her blocks.  It seems sometimes as though she is not actually listening, just sorting her belongings, until I stop reading and she looks up and points at the book.  My daughter sorts through her picture books and flips through the pages, she even has her own little cushioned rocking chair she climbs into to do it.  She rocks and pretends to read while I lounge and read in our library in our house.

My daughter loves books, and I am both amazed and proud.  I implore the world to make books available to their children from a young age.  Read aloud to them, they cannot help but be interested and thirsty for stories and knowledge.

Get Your Kid Started!

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Libraries, Librarians, Bookshops, and Booksellers…

November 24, 2009 at 4:00 am (JARS) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

from The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

“I was a librarian when I met him. That much is important. I had my library, which I loved and despised. All librarians, deep down, loathe their buildings. Something is always wrong – the counter is too high, the shelves too narrow, the delivery entrance too far from the offices. The hallway echoes. The light from the windows bleaches the books. In short, libraries are constructed by architects, not librarians. Do not trust an architect: he will always try to talk you into an atrium.

“Space is the chief problem. Books are a bad family – there are those you love, and those you are indifferent to; idiots and mad cousins who you would banish except others enjoy their company; wrongheaded but fascinating eccentric and dreamy geniuses; orphaned grandchildren; and endless brothers-in-law simply taking up space who you wish you could send straight to hell. Except you can’t, for the most part. You must house them and make them comfortable and worry about them when they go on trips and there is never enough room.

“My library was no exception.”

George Orwell‘s Bookshop Memories

When I worked in a second-hand bookshop — so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios — the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid’ (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors without any money — stories which, in many cases, I am sure they themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough — it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.

Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps — used stamps, I mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums. We also sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have foretold the Japanese earthquake. They were in sealed envelopes and I never opened one of them myself, but the people who bought them often came back and told us how ‘true’ their horoscopes had been. (Doubtless any horoscope seems ‘true’ if it tells you that you are highly attractive to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity.) We did a good deal of business in children’s books, chiefly ‘remainders’. Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petrenius Arbiter than Peter Pan, but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome compared with some of his later imitators. At Christmas time we spent a feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts. It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits’.

But our principal sideline was a lending library — the usual ‘twopenny no-deposit’ library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction. How the book thieves must love those libraries! It is the easiest crime in the world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and sell it at another shop for a shilling. Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen (we used to lose about a dozen a month) than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit.

Our shop stood exactly on the frontier between Hampstead and Camden Town, and we were frequented by all types from baronets to bus-conductors. Probably our library subscribers were a fair cross-section of London’s reading public. It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in our library the one who ‘went out’ the best was — Priestley? Hemingway? Walpole? Wodehouse? No, Ethel M. Dell, with Warwick Deeping a good second and Jeffrey Farnol, I should say, third. Dell’s novels, of course, are read solely by women, but by women of all kinds and ages and not, as one might expect, merely by wistful spinsters and the fat wives of tobacconists. It is not true that men don’t read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel — the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel — seems to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories is terrific. One of our subscribers to my knowledge read four or five detective stories every week for over a year, besides others which he got from another library. What chiefly surprised me was that he never read the same book twice. Apparently the whole of that frightful torrent of trash (the pages read every year would, I calculated, cover nearly three quarters of an acre) was stored for ever in his memory. He took no notice of titles or author’s names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a book whether be had ‘had it already’.

In a lending library you see people’s real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the ‘classical’ English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, ‘Oh, but that’s old!’ and shy away immediately. Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand. People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes and saw the ‘back parts’ of the Lord. Another thing that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another — the publishers get into a stew about this every two or three years — is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by saying ‘I don’t want short stories’, or ‘I do not desire little stories’, as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of characters with every story; they like to ‘get into’ a novel which demands no further thought after the first chapter. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless, far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are popular enough, vide D. H. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular as his novels.

Would I like to be a bookseller de métier? On the whole — in spite of my employer’s kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop — no.

Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for ‘rare’ books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. (Most booksellers don’t. You can get their measure by having a look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don’t see an ad. for Boswell’s Decline and Fall you are pretty sure to see one for The Mill on the Floss by T. S. Eliot.) Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long — I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books — and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die.

But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl’s Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.



Electra Dietz
Here Lies the Librarian
After years of service
Tried and True
Heaven Stamped her
-Richard Peck

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