I May Need an Intervention…

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We had some errands to run on Clement Street this noon, so my husband casually suggested that we stop in at Green Apple Books. For a quick browse, I thought — why not? But no, it was actually because he wanted to see if our book was still on the shelf there…

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It was. This was the first time I’d seen it on a bookstore shelf — one usually buys technical books online these days — so it was a treat. I admired it briefly, took a quick photo, and then turned for the stairs. Bookstores are a wee bit dangerous, for me. But just a quick browse; what could it hurt? I hoped to escape Green Apple unscathed, but nooooooo….

Jules Feiffer’s latest, the noir-tinged graphic novel Kill My Mother, has just come out. Green Apple had it. Into the shopping bag. I picked up several more enticing volumes, then put them down again, because the Feiffer was a bit extravagant. Just one, just one, I’ll be fine!

Then I saw The Book of Monelle by French symbolist Marcel Schwob, whom I’d recently been reading about at Weird Fiction Review — they’ve put translations of two of his stories online (here, and here). My fingers twitched. Into the shopping bag. Quick, close my eyes, to the register, pay — go!

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The Ghost of a Bookstore Past


This fell out of one of my books a couple of days ago, as I was unboxing and reshelving them. I think it might have been Sébastien Japrisot’s A Very Long Engagement. The bookmark is from the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, which, alas, is no more.

Floating below the Golden Gate, you could see a blonde wig and a crimson scarf. The perfect place for a tragic ending.

That would make a great opening for a story. I wonder where it’s from.

And by the way: A Very Long Engagement is a very good book.

The Door to Mr. Shay’s Bookshop

Last evening in Franklin. I have to get up early tomorrow to catch my plane, and I should be packing now. I’m procrastinating.

Killed half an hour listening to Darkly Lit Podcast’s Christmas Eve ghost story (only a month and four days too late, I know, I know…). It was, to me, a vaguely unsatisfying story, and also vaguely familiar. It turns out that I had the story, in a 1922 collection I found on Project Gutenberg called Masterpieces of Mystery, Volume 1 (Ghost Stories), edited by a Joseph Lewis French. Reading it instead of listening to it did not make it any more satisfying.

But I still didn’t want to pack. So I googled the author, and found nothing (as the Darkly Lit post had already warned that I wouldn’t). Then I googled Joseph Lewis French. Why not? I found this:

Photo: Greenwich Village Bookshop Door Website, Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin

This is the door to Frank Shay’s office, in his bookshop, which was located on 4 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village from 1920 until 1925.

Frank Shay, a friend of Christopher Morley, was in the center of the Greenwich Village literary and artistic scene of that period. Everyone came to his shop, and somehow, the custom began of signing his office door. Eventually, the door collected 242 signatures of Greenwich Village locals and “visiting dignitaries”.

Shay sold the shop in 1924, and the new owner shut it down the following year. She saved the door, though, and eventually sold it to the University of Texas, Austin, in 1960. At the time, only 25 of the signatures had been identified. Twenty-five more signatures were identified by a UT Austin doctoral student in 1972. Then nothing.

In 2010, the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin began compiling a web exhibit to recreate the life and times of The Greenwich Village Bookshop, its denizens, and their work. In the course of their research, they identified 191 more signatures.

Joseph Lewis French signed the door, which is how I found it. Scanning quickly through the list of signatures, I spotted Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and Susan Glaspell (whom I know mainly for her short story, “A Jury of Her Peers”). Many other names that I recognize, several that I don’t.

The exhibit has a page on each of the identified signers, along with an artifact: pages from the draft of Main Street, a letter from Upton Sinclair to a woman who wanted to translate one of his plays to Spanish. It’s fascinating browsing. And a whole list of new things I want to find, and read….

It was, in large part, the web that enabled the exhibit curators to flesh out the story of the door’s signers. The irony of that isn’t lost on them:

The rich resources of the web are, of course, a bittersweet development for those of us who have long loved browsing, talking, and learning from each other in bookstores. While resources on the internet have fostered this project, they have also led directly to the closure of thousands of bookstores over the last decade. We hope that telling the story of this shop and its community will encourage audiences to be mindful of the history of bookstores, bookselling, book buying, and the power of place, as we experience this moment of enormous change.

Definitely worth checking out.

It’s small, but it has a nice personality

Kris Merino, over at Intelligent Life, just posted an article that mentions how some writers are claiming that indie bookstores are overrated. I agree with the general point such people make — reading is just as prevalent as ever, if not more so, and Amazon is a big factor in that. But I also react to people who pooh-pooh indie bookstores the same way I react to people who say that public libraries are obsolete (“we can get everything we need online, now”).

Bullshit. Here’s my opinion why.

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In Praise (and Memory) of Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty  (srn-dp-t)
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
3. An instance of making such a discovery.

[From the characters in the Persian fairy tale 
 The Three Princes of Serendip, who made such discoveries, 
from Persian Sarandp, Sri Lanka, from Arabic sarandb.]

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I’m planning a folklore-related blog post (out soon), and, as always, I started with my own bookshelves for the research.

They failed me. Or so I thought.

I went to the web, of course, and I found bits and pieces of what I needed — but not enough. This became inspiration for another blog post that will come after the folklore one.

But then, purely by accident, I found a book that I had forgotten that I owned, that had a bit more of what I wanted. I love my bookshelves.

And this experience reminded me of a wonderful place in Berkeley: Serendipity Books. Continue reading