Thursday, April 27, 2006

When the old bookman dies...

I have been thinking alot about the old bookman, you know the guy. Little shop stacked floor to ceiling with a lifetimes collection of words words words. I have been wondering what happens when the old bookman dies. We have met many of these guys in the past couple years. The sad thing is that even though they have clients and friends and other dealer buddies, they all share the same fatalistic question. What will happen to the books?

One particular instance stands out. While driving a thuck of shakespeariana through New York last summer, we came accross a little sign on the side of the road...Books. It was the size of a yard sale sign, something the average joe would mistake for a campaign sign and never even glance. My eyes have been trained by decades of rummage sailing and the smallest addition to the american lawn will elicit at least a quick glance. I had to question myself immediatly, because a sign saying 'books' on a lonely country road, is like seeing a mirage, especially when you already have 10,000 books in the back of the U-haul you are driving.

We found the next large driveway, and turned around. as we approached, i wondered where the books could be? it was a samll white house offset from the road. farmland and hills around it. Maybe it was a day long rummage sale and the sign was an illusion. No, the sign got nearer and it did actually did say the magic word. We turned into the driveway. As we wove our way around the small house i could catch a glimps through the picture window a table with stacks, many stacks of books. At the back of the house was a small garage. The window displayed a small sign that said 'open'. Just our luck.

It was starting to feeel a little david Lynch like as we exited the vehicle and approached the little building. We knocked. No answer. We waited and knocked again. Nothing. I tried the doorknob and it gave. Opening the door a crack, i spied a wonderland of delicious tomes stacked a clutter and shelved with stacks piled in front of the shelves halfway up. We repeated our call, but there was nothing. i started to look around and was amazed at the selection. oon the counter were a number of pre 1800 small books and under them some lovely volumes, ornate and obviously very expensive. We looked at each other and shrugged. After 3 or 4 minutes of wonderous browsing, we heard a shallow, soft and very kind voice say "hello there, are you here for books?"

He was a small little man, well into his eighties and moving with some difficulty and weilding a lovely can, hand carved.

We eneded up talking with him for near an hour, and he was like the old wise man you meet on the road. MAster wisdom there. We talked books and more books. He had made the transition to the internet and had an impressive 4 thousand listed on abe. That left 15,000 more , which were in the garage. He told us that he had bought out a book store in Florida in 1969, There were 40 thousand books and half were still in storage in a container somewhere. Never got around to unpacking those.

the point of the story is that he also told us his wife didn't really like books, in fact, she assured him that when he finally died, she would throw them all away.

Our hearts sank.

We have heard a variation of this story from many old guys. Some gals too. I think about these folks often, as we build shelves and i think 30 years in the future. Who will take over?

i have yet to meet my generation of bookseller. i see their pale shadows at library sales, franticly punching ISBN numbers into their cell phones, looking for the quick buck, the easy money.

I wonder if we are really that dying of a breed. the last apprentice kind of thing. ...


Blogger bookgato said...

I am the daughter of one of those old bookmen and sure wish he was still around to share his knowledge.

3:34 PM  

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