Archive for November, 2011

And So It Begins

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 by Lorne

With this post I conclude the first day of a new era at Lorne Bair Rare Books. Having said good-bye over the weekend to my treasured colleague of two years, Jordan de Butts, I now give welcome to Ashley Loga, a young person who in addition to having already demonstrated a great capacity for charm, wit, and good humor, appears to be truly possessed of a trait I find to be almost universal among great booksellers: the desire to know everything. She and I talked about that today, and about much else, too – about how one should talk to good customers (politely) versus bad customers (too politely) versus telemarketers (one obscenity or two?). We talked about D.T. Suzuki’s concept of “Beginner’s Mind,” and how it is best to approach every new task with no expectation of success or failure – but with our minds open to the possibilities of the task and to the delights inherent in discovering the path to its mastery. We talked about why some booksellers charge arbitrarily high prices for books they haven’t even bothered to describe, while others lavish hours on cataloguing a forty-dollar pamphlet. And we talked about why what we do is important, even though the rewards are modest and most people have no understanding of our work. Despite all this talk a remarkable amount of work got done. I’m sure I droned on a bit — it’s my nature. But if I bored her, Ashley was a good sport about it. Her last words, as she was packing to leave, were (if I heard her right) “I’m going to love this job.” I agree. She is going to love this job, and I have a feeling it’s going to love her back.

But all this talk put me in a ruminative mood. I spent most of the evening nursing a tumbler (well, okay, two tumblers) of bourbon, wondering a little about the wisdom of tempting a bright, ambitious twenty-something into the rare book business at a time when so many seasoned booksellers wonder whether the trade will even sustain us through our lifetimes. Wondering whether, confronted twenty years ago with what I know now about the book business, I would have taken the same headlong leap. And wondering, frankly, having just turned fifty — the point of no return, I think, in my mind if not most people’s — whether I could have done better for myself by sticking to the rules and doing what was expected of me: a PhD, a teaching career, the books I never wrote…

Yeah, well, you know. Maybe. Maybe not. There’s the tumbler half-empty answer: the jig is up, run away and don’t look back; you should’ve listened to your father – too late now, dumbass! – and how’d you get to be fifty, for chrissake? And there’s the tumbler half-full answer (which, come to think of it, sounds like a good idea…but just a half…): follow your dreams, and the rest will follow; the book trade might be in trouble, but without an infusion of young, talented and energetic booksellers it will surely fail; you love what you do and you would hate that other life–haven’t you learned anything in fifty years? And so goes the conversation, ad infinitum, with the two sides trading places every other day or so. I suspect it’s the same for many of my colleagues. We’re not so much contrarians as we are conflictarians, our better and worser instincts in constant war with one another while we look on, trying to figure which is which before choosing sides.

In the end, everyone I know who does this job well does it because they would be less happy doing anything else. Those for whom this isn’t true usually turn out to be no more than casual visitors to the shores of Bibliopoly – there are an infinite number of better, more predictable and more efficient ways to make a living than selling rare books, and those whose heart isn’t really in it soon find this out and move on. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the booksellers I know share a somewhat melancholic disposition, so that the notion of a “less happy” bookseller is a melancholy notion indeed, and it might perhaps be fair to say that the trade is the only thing keeping some folks from suicide. You may not take comfort in such a notion, but I do: I like booksellers, almost all of them, and anything that keeps them around awhile seems good to me.

If I have any regret about my choice of profession, it’s that I waited so long to begin: I didn’t start selling books in earnest until I was almost forty years old. In the interim I’ve become a pretty good bookman, albeit in a very small way, in an artificially-delimited universe of my own devising (I was unable, as it turns out, to know everything; so I settled for knowing anything.). But just think if I’d gotten started when I was twenty-two! I’d be among the grand old men of the book business by now – hard to imagine that I wouldn’t be at least a little bit better at it, with an eighteen-year head start. But alas: when I was twenty-two I would have had nothing but a contemptuous lip-curl for anyone who said he “collected” books. I suppose I’d heard of something called a “first edition,” but I would no sooner have been caught dead looking for one than I would attending a Hall & Oates concert. Oh, I was a wild young thing, all right. It was all about the text, dude. Never mind the paper. And yet…

And yet, here I am. Fifty years old, irredeemably a bookseller, and more happy than if I’d…if I’d what? Well, than if I’d just about anything, I suppose. I’ll put it this way – if I were to win the lottery tomorrow, the only thing that would change would be the quality of my inventory. I just can’t imagine doing anything else. Even in those moments of blankest regret, when all the bills come due at once and my stock looks like it could have been chosen at random by a blind, crack-addicted three-year-old; when the office hasn’t been cleaned in a month and the coffee jitters set in because I forgot to eat my breakfast which is still sitting cold on the kitchen counter six hours later; when the phone rings and it’s some flea-market guy asking to “pick my brain” about a “real old book” he found buried in cowshit in his granddaddy’s barn; even when I get home after a house buy and realize that every book I just overpaid for smells irretrievably of cat piss…even then, I can only imagine one way forward: more books. And then, more books after that and, for dessert, more books. More books. More books. More books.

All of which is to say: welcome to the book biz, Ashley Loga. You will love this job.

 

 

 

 

Introducing the latest acquisition at Lorne Bair Rare Books

Monday, November 21st, 2011 by Lorne

Introducing the newest member (and perhaps one of the youngest at 22) to the Antiquarian Book World…Me, Ashley Loga or as my better half likes to be called, Daphne.

I’m replacing the infamous Jordan as Lorne’s assistant.  Some of you may know me already from the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar but I’m sure most of you don’t.  I met Lorne at the seminar where he was one of the faculty members.   I have known I wanted a career in the book business since I was sixteen and have been slowly working my way towards this goal for the past few years or in the case of the past few weeks, skyrocketing towards it.

In August, I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar.  I went to the seminar thinking I would learn how to run a used bookstore and sell online.  You see up until the seminar I had only ever wanted to own a bookstore and café; the antiquarian book trade was a complete mystery to me.  Learning about the antiquarian book trade, tossed my world upside down.  Everything about it sounded amazing and exciting to me.  I like to imagine one of those comic strip moments with a little light bulb clicking on above my head.  My dreams of owning a used bookstore and café were quickly replaced by the antiquarian book trade.  After being wrapped up in a whirlwind of an auction for a dinner with the faculty of the seminar, an auction I wasn’t even planning on bidding in, Lorne offered me a job.  I jumped at the chance.

Move from Jackson, MS to Winchester, VA over 14 hours away… no problem.  Move for the 3rd time in less than 6 months…I got this.  So here I am in Winchester, VA.  For the past two weeks, the wonderful Jordan has been training me in all the many things she does and I know I have some big shoes to fill.   I still have much to learn but I’m definitely excited.  I know this is the right job for me.  And since it is close to Thanksgiving, it is pretty obvious to me that I have much to be thankful for, particularly Lorne for seeing something in me that would cause him to hire me after only knowing me for a few days.  So many thanks  to him and everyone else that has helped me.

Let’s shift this minivan into gear and head out ?

– Ashley (Daphne)

 

What Next?

Friday, November 18th, 2011 by Jordan

So, as always, I’m having trouble pulling words from the depths of my brain to write…my last blog post. Today is November 18, 2011. The day that will live in infamy as my final day at Lorne Bair Rare Books.  I can’t really sum up the last two years here in a paragraph or so that I find on par with my own standards, so I won’t even try.

In a week and a half I’ll be driving myself and my faithful Chihuahua companion up to the bowels of New York City to start my new life in librarianship.  And of course, I’m not going to leave here without unabashedly self-promoting my new blog. Please follow it at thedandyroll.com (sound familiar?).

Well, six readers, it’s time for me to say goodbye.  It’s been really really really real here.  But don’t worry. I’ll probably be back.

Forever yours,

Me (like, you know, Jordan!)

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Friday, November 18th, 2011 by Lorne

 

I can’t let today pass without noting that my assistant and best friend for the past two years, Jordan de Butts, will clock out for the final time this afternoon. She’s going on to great things.  Because they’re things she barely even knew existed when she came to work here, I will selfishly take a portion of the credit (and blame) for whatever comes next. Grad school – that’s a fait accompli. After that, who knows? Real careers in rare books are hard to come by and even harder to sustain these days. If anyone can do it, she can.

What I know for sure is that our loss is the rest of the world’s gain. We – I – will miss her far more than words, especially words on a public blog, can ever say. But I take comfort in knowing that she’ll be out there, somewhere, doing important things in her own wonderful way. And that no matter what she’s doing, the world will be a better place because of it.

Goodbye, Jordan de Butts. Visit when you can, and keep us in your life.