A History of My Left Ear – Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band

April 22nd, 2012 by Lorne

 

Discussions of the post-WW2 evolution of modern jazz usually center on its progressive tendencies and the birth of Bop. Little mention gets made of the enormous post-war craze for “traditional” Dixieland jazz, which reached its high-water mark in the late Forties, when artists like Pete Fountain, Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother),  Al Hirt, and Eddie Condon (to name a few) began to make a name for themselves with perky banjo and piano-inflected “old timey” jazz. There’s a reason most of that music doesn’t get discussed today: it’s mostly forgettable. Many of the musicians had great talent (especially Pete Fountain, who by any measure was a virtuoso clarinetist in his prime), but when I hear their recordings today they strike me as vapid – music by old white guys, played for other old white guys. When put beside recordings from the period by artists who actually came out of the New Orleans street jazz tradition – artists like George Lewis, Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory – one instantly hears the lack of primitive expression and authenticity in these revivalist jazz bands. It’s ersatz, cleaned-up jazz, made for country-clubbers and good ole boys, only marginally more interesting than the schmaltzy dance-band stylings of Guy Lombardo or Lawrence Welk.

An exception, at least to my ear, is the now almost forgotten San Francisco trumpeter Bob Scobey, who from the late Forties to about 1960 led one of the scorchingest six-piece ensembles of the post-war era. Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band was the house orchestra of the legendary Oakland jazz club Victor & Roxies, and to have seen them in their prime must have been quite a thrill. Like other Dixieland revivalists, Scobey stuck pretty closely to trad jazz standards, but what set him apart was his absolute swinging virtuosity on his instrument – his breaks and solos were always far more inventive and energized than they needed to be to meet the relatively low bar set by most other Dixieland revivalists. He also surrounded himself with some wonderful Bay area musicians, including the big-blowing Jack Buck on trombone and the inimitable (if occasionally grating) Clancy Hayes on banjo and vocals.

Like most else I know about traditional music, I owe my familiarity with Scobey to my dad, Jake Bair, who died in 2009. Scobey made an influential tour of college campuses in 1956, when Jake was still an undergraduate at Rutgers, but I never thought to ask him if he saw the band play live or not. What I do know is that by the end of the Fifties Scobey’s band was the height of bohemian cool on American college campuses. His tunes were a staple of college-town jukeboxes, and he was even featured in a hip Marlboro cigarette ad that aired during the Dobie Gillis show. Jake once described for me a wonderful scene in a pool hall where one night Scobey’s three-trombone arrangement of “I Wish I Was In Peoria” came on the jukebox, infusing my father with such a rush of euphoria that he promptly ran three straight racks of nine-ball and went home with fifty dollars in his pocket (whether he managed to run all three racks within the roughly two-and-a-half-minute duration of the song, I can’t tell you – ever the fabulist, he might have been making the whole thing up – but the man really could shoot some pool). When I went into the Coast Guard after high school, the line “Why did I ever roam with these sailor boys / I should have stayed back home in Illinois” often crossed my mind, but I never got to be the pool shark my father was.

Among the hundreds of old jazz, blues, string-band and bluegrass LPs I grew up with on the farm in West Virginia, there was always that stack of scratchy Scobey 10-inches in the music room (yes, we were hippies, but we had a music room – and the rules for using the equipment were very strict!). It took me until high school to begin to appreciate traditional jazz, but once I did Scobey became one of my favorites, and despite my general distrust of such “throwback” music I’ve never lost my taste for his records. Mind you, there’s nothing intellectual or even particularly original about this music – it is, as advertised on the album label, “good time jazz,” made for barrel houses and beer picnics. But for all that, there’s a clarity, vivacity and sweetness in Scobey’s line that sets him apart and keeps these records sounding fresh fifty years later.

Bob Scobey died young, of stomach cancer, in 1963 – perhaps contributing to his obscurity now – but before he left us he and his band recorded several hundred sides, mostly on Lester Koenig’s ‘Good Time Jazz’ label. Most of this oeuvre has, thankfully, been re-issued digitally, meaning I can keep those old 10-inches on the rack where they belong. Here’s a little three-song sampler of Scobey’s talents, starting out with that version of “Peoria” I was talking about (check out the kray-zee trombone trio – Jack Buck, Bob Mielke, and Marshall Nichols – on the second chorus); followed by Scobey’s treatment of the old New Orleans standard “Closer Walk With Thee,” where he really shows off his phrasing and tone; and concluding with the one Scobey tune some of you are likely to have heard – his great version of “Ace in the Hole,” a great ensemble piece and certainly one of Clancy Hayes’s finest vocal performances.  Click HERE, enjoy, and explore!

 

Why The New York Book Fair Matters – To You, Me, and Everyone We Know

April 18th, 2012 by Lorne

FULL DISCLOSURE: Among various administrative and advisory roles I occupy in the book trade, I’m a member of the Public Relations committee of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America – a position I’ve filled with, at best, desultory results, but which you nonetheless may wish to bear in mind while reading the following comments.

I didn’t take any pictures at the New York Book Fair this year. I’m not much of a picture taker in the most relaxed of times, but at any given book event I can usually be counted on to snap a shot or two of my favorite booksellers in action; another few of my booth (mostly to remind me how I want – or don’t want – the booth to look next year); and another batch recording my after-hours activities, which generally involve intemperate helpings of food and drink at the sorts of restaurants which, though generally above my pay grade, seem suddenly (alas, illusorily) within reach after a day spent selling high-priced rarities. But in New York I never had the chance, or even the inclination, to take any of my customary photos, despite the fact that I’m toting a spanking-new iPhone with what’s reputed to be the best built-in digicam on any phone anywhere. (Well, okay, I did take one accidental snapshot of my left shoe while fumbling around looking for an old picture to show a customer…but that was it). No friends, no booth, no food – nothing. Why? you ask. Well, call me paradoxical, but the reason is simple and clear: the New York Book Fair is too important to be photographed.

Sure, okay, some of what distinguishes New York from any other book event can be captured on camera. It’s true, for example, that the New York Book Fair is an order of magnitude bigger than just about any other similar event in the United States – 210 dealers participated in this year’s show, while most other “large” fairs top out at around a hundred exhibitors. That’s a photographable fact. It’s also true that the New York Book Fair attracts more of the very best dealers in the world than any other book fair anywhere - legendary firms like Maggs and Quaritch of London, Reese and Heald of the U.S., Lynge of Copenhagen, Chamonal of Paris, to name just a few – along with a host of lesser lights like myself who, though we operate in the deep shadow of such august companions, work all year to put together a book fair inventory that won’t make us feel embarrassed to be in the same room with them. It’s even true that there are celebrities – real ones, I mean, aside from the big-shot booksellers. Steve Martin, Yoko Ono, Lucy Liu, Chelsea Clinton – all were spotted at this year’s fair (though none, I confess, were spotted by me: I wouldn’t be able to pick a movie star out of a police line-up if my life depended it). The presence of these giants (and dwarfs) of the rare book world is another easily documentable fact, and you’ll find that most of those who do take the time to document the event with pictures concentrate their efforts on portraits of these greater and lesser luminaries, a sort of biblio-papparazzic exercize which to my mind misses the point entirely.

Because what the cameras can’t capture is precisely what makes the New York Book Fair special. From the opening bell at 5:00 on Thursday to the dimming of the lights at 5:00 on Sunday, the Park Avenue Armory throbs. It vibrates in a way I would have thought no longer possible for an event that, after all, caters primarily to the antiquarian, the librarian, the scholar, the bibliophile – entities not widely regarded for their, er, vibrational energy, engaged in a trade that is supposed to be dead, the first great casualty of the digital revolution. You couldn’t prove it by me. The energy is, on the one hand, literally palpable, an audible, sensory thrum that bubbles up from the floor of the show, bouncing and bumbling among the venerable rafters of the Seventh Regiment Armory like a swarm of intellectual bees. It is, on the other hand, existential, intangible, neurological: an invisible haze of astonishment and joy generated by the presence of a thousand people having one of the best days of their lives. There are very few places in the world where the true bibliophile can count on seeing – on handling, even owning! – something she’s never seen before or, better yet, something she never dreamed existed. The New York Book Fair is such a place, is perhaps the place. But it’s not its size, not the stature of its dealers and customers, not even the substantial transfer of wealth that takes place within its walls that make it so. These are only the preconditions to its greatness. It’s the simultaneous snap of countless synapses registering surprise and excitement; the intersection of the right books with the right minds in the right setting at the right time: that’s what energizes this place, and makes it, for four days each year, the dense center of the rare book universe.

But wait – as the late-night pitchmen will not hesitate to tell you, there’s more, much more to it than that. In my headline I made a promise to explain why this event is important, not just to the rare book universe but to you, too, gentle reader, who for all I know may be a jet-ski salesman in Dubuque who’s never handled a book more out of the ordinary than a Tom Clancy novel (nothing against Dubuque, or jet-skis, or even Tom Clancy, you understand – I’m just reducing you to a stereotype to make a point. Don’t take it personally). Why should you, Floyd, give a tinker’s damn what goes on inside these Upper East Side walls one weekend a year? What possible bearing could this world – my world – have on yours?

Well, Floyd, consider this: somewhere in the middle of America there’s a flea market. Near the flea market lies a suburban subdivision, of the upper-middle-class variety. One May morning a bereaved widow, nameless, too depressed to make better arrangements, puts all her late husband’s books and office files on the curb. He had been an engineer. He had lots of books, lots of papers. She doesn’t want them around – they’re heavy, they take up space, and they remind her of him. Better they should go to the dump than sit around depressing her.

On his way to the flea market that morning, your namesake, Floyd (the other Floyd), who has been setting up a stall at the flea market every weekend for the past twenty years, spots an enormous pile of books and papers on the curb. Being (like all Floyds) a polite and upright fellow, he knocks on the door and asks if he may take these things to sell at the flea market. “Be my guest,” says our widow. “They’re of no further use to me.”

At the flea market, another fellow – oh, hell, let’s just call him Floyd – looks things over. The books don’t interest him very much, but those old engineering drawings – they’re interesting, even if he doesn’t know what they are. He buys two boxes-full for twenty bucks and leaves, smiling. He knows exactly what to do with them: he heads straight down to the local country auction house, where he puts them in the queue for next week’s sale. He figures to double his money, at least.

In fact, he does better: as it happens, a professional picker (I bet you’ve already guessed his name) shows up at the country auction and senses something unusual, maybe even important, about these drawings. Being an out-of-towner, he’s spotted immediately as a shark, and the local lads run him up a bit. He has to pay $200 for the two boxes, but he still leaves happy. Immediately he gets on the phone to a colleague, a guy he’s known for years who sells old books and paper. He describes the drawings and his buddy says to send them along and he’ll see if he can get a decent price for them.

The boxes arrive, and the dealer recognizes immediately that he’s onto something good: in addition to schematics and nicely-done renderings, there are notebooks full of equations, some patent documents, and even some photographs of what appears to be a finished, working prototype. They’re not really old, but given the subject – jet-skis – they are certainly old enough to possibly be foundational. In fact, that’s exactly how he describes them in his quote to another colleague, a specialist in books and manuscripts on science and engineering, who snaps the archive up at $1500. A steal!

Next stop: the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, where our specialist, after careful research and cataloguing, has devoted an entire glass display-case to the Archive Relating to an Early (1930s) Prototype for the Modern Jet-Ski, Previously Unpublished, Including Working Drawings, Renderings, and Photographs. The price is, by Floyd standards, astronomical – $30,000. But that doesn’t even raise the left eyebrow of the curator of a major New England research institution, who immediately sees the necessity of adding this archive to his collection. Notebooks, drawings, and photos of some 1930s swimsuit model on an antediluvian working jet-ski – what’s not to like? The deal is done, and, lo and behold, what was once a useless, depressing pile of paper on the sidewalk is now an important archive in a major research institution.

And this, Floyd, is where you come back into the picture. Are you ready?

One day a customer comes into your dealership complaining that every time he hits the wake from another jet-ski or a speedboat, water gets into his carburetor and his motor croaks. Serious bummer for a jet-ski enthusiast, especially on those big, ugly midwestern lakes where it’s really no fun to be stranded looking out over hundreds of yards of carp-infested waters between you and the cottonwood trees. Can’t someone do something about it? You hem and haw, say it’s really not your problem, and send the fellow on his way. But in the middle of the night you get to thinking. That carburetor thing really is a problem. You’ve been left stranded a few times yourself. Why hasn’t anyone addressed it? Someone must have thought of this somewhere along the line, mustn’t they?

You can’t sleep, so you get on the internet. You google “jet ski carburetors.” About a thousand hits come up. One of them refers you to a large New England university research library which has assembled the largest extant archive on the history of the jet-ski. “Really?,” you think. “Librarians give a shit about this kind of thing?” On a whim, you drop an e-mail to the curator of the collection and ask if it might be possible to see the Floyd Papers next time you’re in Boston. The curator (who is frankly relieved that someone has taken an interest, since he was beginning to get some friction from his boss over this whole jet-ski fixation) says “Sure, no problem, we’d love to have you. Just drop me an e-mail before your visit so I can retrieve the boxes for you.”

God only knows, Floyd, why a jet-ski salesman from Dubuque makes regular visits to Boston, but let’s not argue the fine points. For whatever reason, there you are, in a Special Collections reading room in one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the country, and spread out before you is a veritable treasure trove of documents that no one in the world is more qualified than you to interpret. And interpret them you do. Who would have dreamed that, in 1938, an unknown engineer would have solved the whole water-in-the-carburetor thing so elegantly, so adroitly, so…cheaply?

Fast-forward two years. You’re in a penthouse office suite, chairman and CEO of the Floyd-U-Retor Corporation. Your net worth is twenty million and climbing, and as you recline and gaze out your window overlooking Greater Dubuque, you wonder: to what do I owe this tremendous good fortune? Well, I’ll answer that question for you, Floyd: you owe it to the rare book trade, which from its very lowest to its uppermost ranks is engaged in the task of preservation. You owe it to the collectors – in this case, the prescient librarian who saw the utility in making the history of the jet-ski available to the public, even if that public consisted of only one person, you. And you owe it to the one place in America where the two come together to achieve an apotheosis of knowledge-sharing, imagination, and creative enterprise. And guess what? It’s not just jet-skis! (for yes, Floyd, there is a world beyond jet-skis). Imagine an enormous room full of such transactions, many with equally humble beginnings, involving medicine, art, printing, politics, ornithology, eschatology, scatology – the whole universe of knowledge compressed into a few million cubic feet filled to brimming with the murmurs and exclamations of a thousand enthusiasts.

Now: is the New York Book Fair the only place where things like this happen? No, not at all – just as there are thousands of booksellers, ranging from flea market hawkers to Park Avenue salonnieres, there are hundreds of book fairs around the world, some no more than swap meets, others bringing together the best dealers and collectors the world has to offer. But New York in April is the one place you can be sure, every year, that the very best books will have migrated into the hands of the very best minds in the business, to be seen and appreciated by the most sophisticated collectors and curators in the world – and from there, eventually, circuitously, sometimes incrementally, even imperceptibly, back to you. There’s nothing like it.

Enjoy your cigar, Floyd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wonderful Zhenya Dzhavgova!

February 22nd, 2012 by Ashley

Lorne and I both met Zhenya at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar where she quickly became a great friend to both of us.  We have kept in contact since the seminar; I have greatly enjoyed all of our fun and crazy conversations.  Since Lorne and I decided I would not be joining him for the San Francisco fair, Zhenya who lives right outside San Francisco kindly offered her assistance.  Zhenya wrote a fabulous blog  for us about her experience  working with Lorne at the Book Fair, check it out below!

“It all began less than a year ago. I met Lorne and the rest of the faculty members at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar which I attended on an ABAA scholarship. Lorne has always had a way of graciously answering rookie questions while restraining himself from rolling his eyes and heaving exasperated sighs. Thus, late last Fall, when I heard that his assistant (and my friend) Ashley Loga was not coming to the San Francisco Fair, I decided to risk it and offer my help in exchange for firsthand experience in the world of antiquarian book fairs while remaining on my home turf and avoiding most of the stress associated with arranging, lugging, packing, shipping, and tracking precious books across the country. I am still mystified a bit as to why he so readily agreed.

Friday setup started out smoothly. I was happily pulling books out of bubble wrap and arranging glass cases while Lorne and our side-by-side neighbor Jim Arsenault roamed the concourse in search of that one incredible find that would make the fair more than worth it for them. Faculty members from the seminar came to say “Hello” and dealers stopped by to introduce themselves. It was just the beginning of the first day and I had already started feeling like one of the inner circle. I knew I was going to be OK.

The fair opened its doors to a very large and enthusiastic crowd. It was an awesome rush to see the people surging and spreading through the booths. Lorne unfailingly introduced me with my name and specialty to every customer and colleague. I was not merely the assistant but an individual young new dealer. One of the best memories I will always keep was that great big smile on his face every time I engaged a buyer, made a deal, and sold one of his books on my own. I was given ample time to make the rounds. I saw quiet booths and meticulously arranged ones. Others were dignified and somber. Ours was a fun one – colorful, beautiful, and full of constant friendly banter and frequent raucous laughter.

And then there were the nightly after-fair shindigs in the City. The troublemakers group consisted of Lorne, Kevin Johnson, Jim Arsenault, Ian Brabner, my very close friend Kara McLaughlin – a young dealer from Florida who also worked at the fair, and I. Dinners were followed by bar rounds. The guys stoically endured the constant chatter, the “Oh, come on, you really don’t need to go to sleep right now,” and the loud and sometimes slightly obnoxious atmosphere.

Time flew by. The caravan of books and dealers moved on to Pasadena. I was very handsomely compensated for my work. Though, the truth was and will always be, as cliché and sickly sweet as that sounds, that the money will be spent and forgotten while the experience and the lessons I have learned will remain forever. Hats off to you Lorne – this is how it is done and I am looking forward to the next one!”

Check out Zhenya’s lovely selection of books for sale on ABE.com.  She specializes in Antiquarian Eastern European Literature and Slavic Languages Materials.

An Exciting Country Auction

December 2nd, 2011 by Ashley

Yesterday, Lorne took me to my first country auction. It was great! I have a feeling auctions are going to be one of my new favorite things to do. When I was young, I was frequently taken to antique malls and consignment shops by my mom; we would spend hours slowly sifting through the items and hunting for something unique. I remember my mom leaning over to me whispering tips and good bargaining techniques; “At antique malls the cheaper items are always in the back” “You must try to bargain. Never accept the stated price” (This one I’m stilling trying to get the hang of) and lastly “when shops mix new collectibles with antiques… don’t bother going in. Only go to true antique stores.” Whenever I am out shopping for new treasures today, I still follow her advice and when I’m shopping with friends, I lean over and share my mom’s advice to them. While shopping with mom, I was constantly learning new things such as the names for antique nautical bits and kitchen gadgets, soaking it all up like a sponge.

This is perhaps partly where my love of antiquarian books comes from; the hunt for a good book amongst a dozen bad and the desire to learn new tidbits of information.

Lorne and I arrived a half an hour before the auction to register. Already the place was full of people mingling about, scouting for items to bid on. Lorne and I made one final sweep of the selections, finalizing what items we were going to bid on and what our price limits were. As I walked around the room, I noticed one determined woman camped out with a cooler filled with food and a cushion for her chair; she was ready to stake out the whole day. I also happened to notice that I was the youngest one in the room by far…this seems to be happening to me a lot lately.

I chose to bid on a set of copper canisters, needing them for my new apartment; and a particularly enchanting item for my mother whose true nature will not be disclosed in this blog since she might read it. Lorne decided to bid on two pieces of artwork; a beautiful etching entitled “Le montage du Dragon sur le Beffroi de Gand” by De Bruycker and a wood print by Jean MacKay.

Headley, the auctioneer, had a melodious voice and rhythm. Lorne and I took pleasure in guessing how much an item would go for before it was bid on.

The lovely copper canisters I wanted sadly surpassed my top bid and went to someone else. But the gift for my mom was a success. The wood print was also won.

As it came time to bid on the most desirable item for us, the etching, Lorne instructed me to bid. As it started, I waited to bid until someone else had placed a bid on the item first as instructed by Lorne and then the bidding was off… 150…nod…160…nod…200… nod…250… nod. I was nodding my head so frequently I felt slightly silly. But all the while my pace was racing and I was nervous and excited all at once. At last, we won the item for a great price! We slightly suspected that we got the etching at such a price because no one wanted to outbid a “young and innocent” bidder such as I. Being the youngest one in the room does have many benefits. No one suspects that you may just be knowledgeable, leading them to be easily charmed and fooled. Antiquarian book dealers beware.

Here is an image of the etching we purchased.  It is a lovely piece of art by Jules De Bruycker entitled Le Montage du Dragon sur le Beffroi de Gand. It is definitely something I would like to own.


Jules de Bruycker (1870-1945) was one of the great Flemish etchers at the turn of the 20th century. Known for his architectural and socialist themes, De Bruycker drew inspiration from open air markets, theaters and grand buildings.

In 1913, De Bruycker’s home town of Ghent renovated the Ghent Belfry in preparation for the World’s Fair. Cast in the ominous shadow of the belfry, the workers in the foreground are straining to hoist a fierce bronze dragon to the top of the towering belfry. This foreboding and incredibly detailed scene captures Belgium and the rest of Europe on the cusp of WWI and De Bruycker’s subsequent flight to London.

And So It Begins

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

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?

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.”

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.

 

 

 

Announcing Two Streams Press, The Publishing Arm Of Lorne Bair Rare Books – And, Our First Publication!

October 24th, 2011 by Lorne

I’ve been contemplating a publishing enterprise here for a number of years — after all, what better way for a lapsed poet and one-time editor to compensate for his creative deficiencies than to start publishing books of his own? But despite the obvious attractiveness of the idea,  I was never able to quite work up the energy or enthusiasm to make it happen.  It finally took my great and talented friend Winslow McCagg, who’s been producing amazing paintings out here in the wilderness for the past twenty years, to point me in the right direction. When Winslow told me he’d been offered a one-man show at the presitigious Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, Virginia, my first question was: “who’s going to produce your exhibition catalog?” When Winslow allowed as how he hadn’t really given it much thought, the question turned into a statement: “I will produce your exhibition catalog.” And so Two Streams Press was born (don’t try to find the link – we haven’t finished the website yet).

 

 

The result, after months of photographing and editing more than fifty of Winslow McCagg’s paintings, securing essays from a number of eminent scholars and authors, another month of pre-press, layout, editing and proofreading, is Winslow McCagg: Recent Paintings, an ambitious, 52-page full-color catalog that includes text by Howard Means (most recently the author of Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011); Raul Zamudio (independent curator & art critic, author of more than 200 published critical works); and Martha Gehman (prolific stage & screen actress and a noted collector). We’re exceptionally (and justifiably, I think) proud of this first effort, which we hope will bring some much-deserved recognition to Winslow’s work, which Raúl Zamudio calls “…a unique and masterful aesthetic métier that culls disparate forms with deftness and verve.”

 

 

And for those of you who would like to see McCagg’s paintings in person, please accept this invitation to join us at the Burwell-Morgan Mill on October 28th from 5 o’clock to 8 for what promises to be a spectacular and well-attended opening reception. More than 50 of Winslow’s works will be exhibited for sale, in one of the best art spaces in Virginia.  And so will copies of the exhibition catalog which, in all selfishness, I encourage you to snap up in quantity. And a free copy of the book to anyone who can guess the origin of the name of our press!

 

POSTSCRIPT: another great and talented friend, the videographer and film editor George Patterson of The Downstream Project, has produced a short-short documentary on Winslow’s work. It’s a great preview of the upcoming show, and a nice way to spend five minutes (though you’re welcome to fast-forward past a certain talking head!). While you’re at it have a look at the Downstream Project’s website - they’re doing valuable work and if you have any interestt in the conservation of the Shenandoah River basin I strongly encourage you to support them.

 

Another one bites the dust…NYC or BUST.

October 14th, 2011 by Jordan

For the past two months I have been marinating, then percolating, then stewing over writing this blog entry. I knew this day was going to come (at least, I was hoping this day was going to come), but now that it has come, I’m at a loss for words.  I have what they call the block of the writer. It reminds me of that scene in Almost Famous (aka the second best movie of all time) where poor little Opie tries to write the article that will not only start his career but push this struggling pathetic rock band of which he writes into stardom. He pencils, “Russell’s fingers fly like airplanes of music” on a sheet of paper only to crumple it up and throw it on the floor of the bathroom to join the steadily growing pile of failed first lines.  Since July I’ve been thinking of that perfect first line. You know, the one that will capture my audience of 10 and force them to keep reading until the bitter end? It’s pointless, this is all I have to say:

I got into graduate school. In New York [CITY]. Starting in January. To pursue my MLS, of course.  Hey-zeus Christo!

I’ve known this exodus to New York was going to happen for some time now, but I have been reluctant to tell the world exactly what my plans were, mostly because I had no solidified plans. Though I kept telling myself, “don’t worry you’ll get into library school,” and even when my parents, family, friends, even my dog, reassured me of the same thing, I couldn’t be sure until I actually got in. Well! Check that one off the bucket list.  Now everything else will fall into place, like a job [hint, hint, readers. I'm actively seeking employment in the New York City area!], a place to live [check that off too, hello tiny closet space in the East Village!], and all of those other stresses that come about when one has to relocate to another city.  Add a “what the hell am I going to do with my HORSE?!,” and well, you’ve got my situation.

Now, to follow up from above, I don’t believe this blog post will launch my career.  Nor will it launch the already launched career of Lorne Bair Rare Books, proprietor of this blog.  However, the bildungsroman novel that could be written of the two years I’ve been here of my life and the life of the shop may quite possibly be a candidate for runner up on the New York Times Bestseller list. Fantastic things have happened, not only to the business, but also to me, since that fateful day in December of 2009 when I stepped into the terribly messy space [nah, it wasn't that bad...] that neither Lorne nor I would even consider calling a proper bookseller’s office now. So many fantastic things that I can’t put them into words, or even a bullet list. It would be much, much too long.

I’d love to end with some very heartfelt textbook paragraph about how much I have grown, how far the shop has come, and that my spirit will live on in the office for years to come.  But we all know that doesn’t need to be said.

Instead, I’ll end with this.  Dear occupiers of Wall Street: I’m moving to New York December 1. Though I will be unemployed and seeking work, I will never, ever join you.  If you get in my way, and put as much as one unwashed finger on my Bergdorf Goodman jacket, that I purchased with money I earned, I will cut it off. You’ve been warned.

With all the love in the world,

Jordan deButts

p.s. don’t worry, this isn’t my last post, even if it sounds like it is.