Friday, October 8, 2010

Birth of a bibliophile.

A young gentleman came into the shop this afternoon; I'd guess he was about 14 or 15 or thereabouts. He was with his Mom. They were both “first-timers,” and were just poking about to see what they could see. After offering to show them where things were (“No thanks.”), I pointed out the coffee, invited them to help themselves and left them alone to poke.

A couple of minutes later he came up to the counter and asked about one of the books in our front display case. That’s the case that we keep locked since it contains some of our older and more expensive books.

We walked over to take a better look and when he pointed it out to me I saw what had drawn his attention.

It wasn’t prominently displayed, and it was one of the older volumes; and just a bit beat-up, actually. It wasn’t in tatters, but it did show its age. It was lying on its side and so it was a little difficult to tell what it was. Elocutions was stamped in gilt on the spine.

I opened the case and handed it to him. He opened it and his eyes got very wide when he saw it had been published in 1774. There were hand-written notes from previous owners on the inside front cover, and the pages were browned and foxed with age. The ink was starting to fade to sepia.

“Mom! You’ve got to see this!”

She came over and marveled with him, turning the pages gingerly. I just stood and watched. At this point they didn’t need any extra commentary from me.

“Can I get it?”

“Well, I don’t know. How much is it?”

It wasn’t cheap. This isn’t the case where I keep the $3 paperbacks, after all.

When I showed them the price written on a post-it note inside the front cover, she groaned. But he really wanted it, and she really wanted him to have it. And we have the Fall Sale coming next week anyway. So I cut them a pretty good deal and quoted a price that was about what I had originally paid for it. That sealed the transaction.

Later, after everything had been bagged and they were heading for the door, I asked him if he knew how to care for it.

He asked how, and that was a good sign.

“Well, for starters, you don’t carry it around like your Mom is carrying it now.” I indicated the plastic bag she was holding by the handles. He immediately took it from her and brought it to me.

“The first thing you do is make sure it stays laying on its side,” I said. “Gravity is the enemy and if you have it standing up on a bookshelf, gravity will tug at the pages and will start to pull them from the binding.”

“Next, keep it out of the sun. And, when you are done with it, keep it safe. Ideally, wrap it in acid-free paper. But at the very least, find a sturdy box when it can be kept safe from everyday wear and tear.”

I told him that the goal was not to restore it. “You’re not good enough at it; I’m not good enough at it.” His goal was to try to preserve it just as it is.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “In 150 years or so, there’s going to be a guy just like you who will want this book. Your job is to take care of it for him.”

He just looked at me and nodded. He got it.

Now, I can’t know for sure of course, but I have a suspicion that today I witnessed the birth of a bibliophile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brian Keene is not the spookiest guy I know, but he does rank right up there in the general categories of creepy and, not parenthetically, talented. A two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, he is an up-and-comer in the field of horror fiction.

A novelist of some repute, he has published about a dozen titles, many short stories, and now he’s writing comics, too, for the likes of DC and Marvel. Several of his novels have been made into movies.

I am proud to say that Brian also frequents (haunts?) our shop. He will, on occasion, attend one of our events. Sometimes he has a troupe of other writers and friends with him. But more than once I’ve looked up to see him just poking around the stacks.

(And I keep trying to sell him on this idea of a story set in a used book shop with the kindly old—and wise—book seller being the hero who saves the day and possibly the world. He just gives me a smile and moves on. But I digress…)

Since Brian is a local guy, we have been lucky enough to host him for readings and signings. He was the Guest of Honor for our first HORRIBLE SATURDAY in 2008. That was a coup because he’s rather busy these days, squeezing in appearances at various and far-flung conventions when he can be pried away from his writer’s studio.

He was, in fact, the inspiration for our annual, day-long HORRIBLE SATURDAY event. It was during one of his visits that we were chatting and the idea popped up. He’s been a supporter ever since.

So when his latest book, A Gathering of Crows, was published last month, I decided that I had to have it so it would be ready and at-hand for an autograph the next time he stopped in. After closing up last night I stopped on the way home to pick up a copy from one of the chain stores (yes, a “real” retail book store and, yes, I paid the full retail price; but no, I didn’t join their frequent buyer’s club).

Later in the evening sitting at the kitchen table I opened the book and started the process. I began by reading the Acknowledgments, and thought it was pretty neat. Though my connection with Brian, I know a lot of the people he mentions there. In fact, we’ve hosted a number of them in the shop for readings, during HORRIBLE SATURDAYs and otherwise. Pretty neat, I thought.

And then I got down to the end of the list and there, right in front of the publishers and everyone, he lists “Jim Lewin of The York Emporium.”

That goes somewhat beyond the label of “neat.” So I herewith take back that crack about him being creepy.

I was surprised. I am truly flattered. I may have to go buy another copy so I can send it to my Mom.

If you should bump into Mr. Keene before I do, please tell him how I feel. (And, if you wouldn’t mind, would you put in a plug for the story line about the kindly old book seller (did I mention wise?) who uses his great mental agility and physical prowess to save the world and stuff. I can see a continuing saga here.)

In the meantime: buy the book.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Just ink and paper

“I don’t know if you remember my father or not, but he used to just love coming in here.”

I was helping to unload the car. Four good-sized boxes of books. There were already so many boxes at the front of the shop this afternoon that I had a hard time finding space for four more. It has been that kind of week.

So I made non-committal noises about remembering who the gentleman was.

“He’d been pretty sick, so he hasn’t been in for at least a year,” he said.

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” I said. I finally found a clear space over by the coke machine and set the box down. There were more out in the car and I was ready for the next trip.

“He did love to come here.”

I straightened up and gave him a questioning look. There was more to come, I knew.

“He died last December, just two days after Christmas.”

“Oh. I’m really sorry.”

We stood looking at each other for a moment.

“It was his heart,” he said. “He had a heart attack last summer. Probably a stroke, too. And he started slipping after that. He really went downhill quickly after Thanksgiving. We didn’t think he’d make it to Christmas.” He shrugged; smiled. “But he did.”

I just nodded.

“This is the start of his library. There’s more. I’ll be boxing it up and bringing it in.”

“OK. We’ll try to find a good home for it.” I smiled.

“I know you will. So did he.”

“What do you mean?”

“I asked him, a couple of weeks before he died, what he wanted me to do with his library. He told me to take the books back to the Emporium. He got most of them here to begin with, and he said that you would know what to do…that you’d take good care of his books.”

“I will.” I said it in a whisper. It was almost a vow.

He nodded. “I know.” It was almost a prayer.

Sometimes I am not at all sure that what we are selling here is just ink and paper.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It was just a couple of weeks ago that a lady walked into the shop with some autographs to sell. Usually I steer clear of those. They are hard to authenticate, and I have been burned before. Even when they are authenticated, they are hard to sell. York doesn’t seem to be a real hotbed of autograph hounds.

But this grouping was a little different. She had collected these herself, she said, during a trip to Hollywood some years ago. And included in the lot was Walter Lantz, complete with a sketch of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody Woodpecker is not now nearly as popular as he once was. But during his day, he was a pretty big deal. Not as big as Mickey Mouse, of course (but then, who was?), but during the 40s, 50s and even into the 60s, he was a “star” in the cartoon world. He had his own TV show, and a number of his shorts played regularly in the movie theatres.

Walter Lantz (1899 – 1994) got into the business early, with his first job when he was just 16. During the years of the Great Depression, he worked at Universal Studios first in the production department, then as a producer. He became an independent producer in 1940. That was the year Woody Woodpecker was developed.

The story goes that while on his honeymoon, Lantz and his bride Grace were continually disturbed by a woodpecker outside the window. It may have been kismet, because Lantz was searching for a new character at the time. Grace eventually became the voice of Woody.

I am a big believer in synergy. So I bought the autograph collection because there was synergy here.

We were in the process of planning our annual SCI-FI SATURDAY event (scheduled to take place this coming weekend). One element of the event will be the screening of Destination Moon. This is a classic, though seldom seen, science fiction movie.

The movie is notable on several accounts. It took over two years to produce (a long time back then), primarily because the technical problems were enormous. Simulating weightlessness, for example, in an age before computer animation was a real challenge. As was a realistic depiction of stars against the backdrop (they had to rig special lights—car headlights as it turned out—that would be bright enough without turning to odd colors when filmed in Technicolor). The detail went down to picking the right location on the moon for landing, so the earth would hang in the proper spot in the sky. (Destination Moon won the Academy Award for “Best Special Effects” in 1950.)

This was all done with technical and mathematical precision, and it was hailed at the time for its attention to scientific detail. One of the reasons for this was that the technical advisor, and the screenwriter, was a real noodge about such things.

His name was Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein inspired cast and crew and imparted his determination for precision to them, and to the production. Destination Moon was Heinlein’s only screenplay.

Heinlein, of course, was one of the BIG THREE of science fiction writers in the middle years of the 20th Century (the other two being Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke). I happen to have a connection with Heinlein through the work I’ve done on The Virginia Project, which I’ve blogged about before.

There were parts of this whole space flight business that were wholly alien to the audiences of the time. This was a solid 10 years before the Mercury and Gemini missions and 20 years before Apollo actually went to the moon. The concepts of weightlessness, air locks and all the rest, along with their resulting problems, hadn’t come into public awareness. Some education was required so audiences could grasp the levels of difficulty.

The same thing was required when Jurassic Park was produced. Some of the concepts of genetic manipulation and gene-splicing needed to be explained so audiences would know how dinosaurs could possibly be roaming around an island park off the coast of Central America.

In that movie, they spliced a bit of animation into the narrative. It was a technique they copied from Destination Moon.

A special guest star was hired for Destination Moon. They used Woody Woodpecker. It is a bit of animation stuck in the middle of a serious movie.

So when the Walter Lantz autograph, complete with a sketch of Mr. Woodpecker, walked in the door…yeah, I bought it.

But the synergy didn’t end there.

Last week I received a call from Windhaven Press, the good folks who brought me into The Virginia Project to begin with. Seems there’s one more piece they want me to do for them.

This week I am to receive Heinlein’s original manuscript for his only screenplay. They have now decided to include it in the project. So this week I am to undertake the conversion of the original script of Destination Moon from analog (i.e., typewritten sheets of paper) to digital files.

Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, wrote another series of books about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The series is based on the detective’s conviction of “the fundamental interconnectedness of things.”

Walter Lantz-Woody Woodpecker-Destination Moon-Robert A. Heinlein-The Virginia Project-SCI-FI SATURDAY-the fundamental interconnectedness of things.

I may be in science fiction heaven.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Lady in White

The Lady in White made an appearance in here on Sunday. It was her first in several months, at least the first of which I am aware.

I’ve blogged in the past about our alleged ghosts. Most of those posts have focused on one single entity and our attempts to communicate with him. His name, we have been led to believe, is Elmer. Those who know him tell me that he is comfortable in here and is actually rather friendly (as far as ghosts go). He has made himself known to visitors of the shop (although never to me), on several occasions going so far as to lead folks directly to a specific book that was sought.


I will admit to being frankly, and openly, skeptical about Elmer. Even if I were able to get my arms around and fully embrace the concept of a ghost--or some spectral entity that continues to possess individual consciousness--I very much doubt that such an entity would bother to show people around The York Emporium.

Yes, this is a fun place with lots of neat stuff to look at. But surely he/she/it would have better things to do than be a tour guide to our shop. In all the universe; in all of creation, there must be places that are even neater and more fun than The York Emporium. As much as it pains me to say this, I know it to be true.

And if I know that, Elmer must certainly know it.

So to say that I am skeptical about Elmer, well…that puts a positive spin on “skeptical.” I’m not buying it.

The Lady in White, however, may be something different.

Sunday afternoon a young lady, aged 9 or 10, came up to me and asked if we had any books about ghosts.

“Yes we do,” I replied. “Let’s go take a look.”

As we walked back to the juvenile section she told me that she wanted something about real ghosts, and not ghost stories.

“My Daddy doesn’t believe in ghosts,” she said. “But I do. I’ve seen them.”

“Oh? Have you really?” I said.

“Yes. I just saw one in here,” she told me.

“You did?”

“Yes. She was looking at a book over there,” she pointed. “She was just putting the book back on the shelf when she saw me. Then she went away.”

“What did she look like?”

“She was wearing a long white dress, with long sleeves. And she had a big white floppy hat.”

There is no way that this little girl could know that her description exactly matched every other description I’ve received of the Lady in White. Those descriptions came from people who did know each other, but who have each seen the Lady in White. Over the past year, there have been 3 or 4 individual and distinct sightings.

On each occasion she is in the same general area of the shop, but she isn’t always in the same spot or near the same book shelf. Sometimes she is looking at a book, other times she is walking down the aisles.

And on each occasion, the Lady in White has “gone away” just as soon as she becomes aware that she has been seen. She has been described as shy and skittish.

There are a number of implications here, all of them just a bit disquieting. The first is that she is aware of her surroundings (she examines books on a shelf, or walks down an aisle). Presumably she can read English (otherwise why would she look at a book?). This, in turn, means she can interact with these physical surroundings when she chooses (she appears to read book titles, she moves books on a shelf). And she is aware of people (she turns her head to look at them), and she is self-aware (she “goes away” when she becomes aware that she is seen). She makes choices. She changes her behavior depending upon circumstances. There is a "now" and a "here" for her. And she knows it. This would seem to imply individual consciousness.

I can laugh and joke about Elmer and his penchant as a tour guide. But I cannot dismiss the Lady in White quite so easily.

And that is the most disquieting thing of all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A 'Record Riot'

I know a guy who has a million records. That’s not hyperbole. In fact, when I say he has a million records, it is probably an understatement.

He lives in a 3-story house in the suburbs, and he barely has room for his kitchen table, TV and bed. Everywhere else, there’s records. You will see some on turntables (which are on the kitchen table and on the TV), but most are in boxes, stacked three or four high. And the boxes are everywhere, from the outer walls to the middle of the room. You walk from the kitchen, through the living room to the stairs and through the upstairs rooms following paths through the boxes.

Don’t even think about going into the basement.

And those are just the records he needs for everyday use. For the others, he has an off-site warehouse (again three stories, but with an elevator) and two additional storage facilities.

I know another guy who collects vintage recordings. Edison cylinders. Old Victrola platters (they only had recordings on one side). Early 78s of vaudeville routines and minstrel tunes. On the rare occasions when we’ve managed to get something in the shop that he doesn’t already have but needs to add to his collection, I am not allowed to tell his wife (1) how many pieces he’s bought (this time) or (2) how much he has paid. On at least one occasion, we’ve had to hold onto one of his purchases until he knew she wasn’t going to be around for a day, so he could bring it into the house without a lot of excess conversation.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that he is hiding his acquisitions. But he is a wise man and he has learned that, in the interests of domestic tranquility, there are times when it is best not to flaunt his, er, independence in this regard.

These two gentlemen are well known, liked and even respected in their individual spheres of acquaintance. If you were to pass either on the street, you wouldn’t give either a second glance if you were unaware of their passion for their collections.

They aren’t alone.

Last September we re-set the store and were able to devote a room to music. We have cassettes and CDs, and even a few 8-tracks. We have books, of course. And we have some sheet music on the wall, and even a few posters and autographs (Bing Crosby, for example). But what we have more than anything else is vinyl.

Rock-and-Roll, Jazz, Classical, Spoken Word, Country, Comedy. And from the day we put that together, I have been amazed at how much we sell.

At first I thought that only the Rock-and-Roll would sell, so that’s where we put our focus. We had a few Classical albums stuck off in a corner, but then they started to sell (autographs, too…Pavarotti lasted less than a week). So we expanded our selection and sales expanded likewise.

Then we got a large selection of Jazz albums from an estate and those started to sell before I could even put them away. The same thing happened with Country.

On at least two Sundays last fall, the sales out of the record room exceeded the sales of the rest of the shop, combined. That, to me, was amazing. We have almost 19,000 sq. ft. of books and stuff, and only about 300 sq. ft. of records. Yet, there are times when more people are in the record room than there are in the rest of the shop.

So yes, I noticed. There is something going on here.

And that’s why, when another avid collector approached me in January with the idea of a vinyl swap meet, I agreed.

Publicly, we’re calling it a ‘Record Riot’. Privately, I am calling it an experiment. I am really very curious to see who is going to show up. Supposedly there are dealers coming from Baltimore, Lancaster and Harrisburg, in addition to York. I’m not charging anybody to set up or to get in. In fact, I will be spending money on coffee and goodies to be given away. (And it is likely that I may wind up holding onto purchases for a week or two, until wives will be out of town.)

It will be a worthwhile investment. I want to know what it is about vinyl that fosters this passion. This is old technology, several generations old. Cassette tapes and 8-tracks have come and gone. Audio CDs are almost a thing of the past at this point. Yet vinyl lives.

Purists will tell you the sound is better, and this may be true if you’re using a high-end system (most collectors don’t). Is it the “pops” and “crackling”? The whole routine of taking the disc out of the jacket, dusting it off, placing it on the turntable, hoping there are no scratches, and then sitting back for 20 minutes or so before you have to do it again? The graphics and liner notes on an album? Some connection with a lost and, perhaps, more innocent time in one’s life?

I hope to find out next Wednesday evening.

Besides, my P,LSB* mentioned that she may be going out of town for a weekend here in the next month or so.

*Poor, Long-Suffering Bride™