Friday, August 22, 2008

On Making Notes in Books

A scout and friend recently brought in a nice hardcover of a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor. If you don't know him, Fermor is Britain's greatest living travel writer. At 18 he walked the length of Europe. During WWII, he helped organize the Resistance in Greece, a country he loves and where he still lives. The book we got across the Used Books Desk was "Mani: Travels in the South Peloponnese." Of course we bought it. Patrick Leigh Fermor in hardcovers!

Having put the rather delicate dust-jacket into a mylar cover, and priced the book, only then did I think to "thumb" the pages. (Flipping through the book quickly to check for damage or markings is "thumbing.") Disaster! I'd seen that the previous owner had a long dedication, in ink, on the title page. Not good, but oh well. Then I saw the underlining... and the notes... and the notes in Greek! Obviously the last reader read only the first chapter or two, as that was where all these deep pencil markings were. Such is often the case. And true, all this scribbling was in pencil, but it was a broad, thick line, as if made by a very determined second grader with a very big pencil.

Lots of people annotate their books. Some make the lightest little checks in pencil. Then there are those, usually students, who highlight almost every paragraph in turn, thus entirely defeating the point of "highlighting" a passage to remember and rendering whole pages neon pink or yellow. (Unless it's a textbook you can sell back to your school, know that if you do this, you might as well throw the book away when you're done wrecking it with ink and magic markers.) Then there are the scholars for whom any blank page, including the inside of the covers and the endpapers, are just so much convenient space to records such deep thoughts as "flower image pg. 139" or "pick up groceries/laundry/mom's prescription." Finally, there are the people who make "dog ears" by folding down the corner of the page. People who dog ear tend, it seems, to read in increments of no more than ten pages at a time, thus a four hundred page novel, when dogeared, swells like a corpse left out in the sun. Not attractive. Not something we can sell.

So, the Fermor is no longer a valuable book, but it's still one I haven't read. Maybe I'll buy it at cost and spend a few hours erasing the evidence. And maybe not.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Shaken and Stirred

On August 22, we'll be celebrating the birthday of dear, dear Dorothy Parker with a group reading. We made this little promo video:

Also, here's a little something I wrote a few years ago that was published on the McSweeney's website:


"Did you just order another drink? How many is that?"

"Sure, I like hanging out with your friends. I just sometimes feel like they're making fun of me."

"I don't get it. Was that supposed to be funny?"

"I can't believe you used that word in front of my mother."

"Let's go somewhere else for lunch today. We're in New York. There have to be thousands of restaurants we haven't tried yet."

"Boy, that Benchley's a real stuffed shirt. Don't you think, Dot?"

"Well, I like the play [or book]. I'm entitled to my opinion, aren't I?"

"It just seems like writing for a new magazine with such a small target market is pretty risky."

"Oh, what's wrong, Pooh bear? Who's my little Pooh?"

The Bodies in the Bookstore

At the Used Books Desk, we like buying paperback mysteries the same way that mystery readers enjoy reading them: in "runs" -- one author's multiple titles, and the more, the more merrily murderous. We have a regular customer, a delightful lady, who is also a regular seller. As she works her way through her bookshelves, she brings us five, six, or even a dozen titles at a time by some of the greatest mystery writers of the last century. Yesterday, for example, she brought us ten titles by Dame Ngaio Marsh. That should be a familiar name to regular mystery readers, but if you don't know her, you should.

Dame Ngaio (pronounced variously, but most safely as "Ni - O", her name means "flowering tree" in Maori,) was a New Zealand writer whose 32 mysteries are considered as classic as Christie. Known for her absorbing plots and her resourceful detective Roderick Alleyn, Marsh's interests other than detective fiction: art, theater, and what used to be called "Society," inform many of her best novels.

Our usual high standards regarding the condition of paperback books -- unlined spines, clean pages, no dog ears, etc. -- are followed with particular attention when it comes to our purchase of detective fiction. It doesn't matter how old the books are, so long as they look "new." As a result, we are able to offer many classic detective stories, mysteries and thrillers, at prices which, sadly, have come to be only a memory for the readers of genre fiction. When was the last time you bought a new novel for two or three dollars?

So if you're looking to start a "run" of your own through some classic mysteries, or you're looking to make some space on you shelves, but were unsure if we'd want good, clean copies of your old favorites, drop by. We know where the bodies are buried.

tell all your friends!