Friday 3 April 2009

The Sarazens head without New-gate: It's raining so I may as well begin

Well, sweeties, you asked for it: a feature about being a book-seller and book-store owner. Before I start, maybe you'd like an explanation of this new feature's title? I think that's fair. I'm happy to be starting this new feature but as I always imagined I would, I'll be keeping my actual bookstore completely separate from this blog. I like to think of my shop as non-partisan (how otherwise can I reconcile myself to selling V.C. Andrews novels? *shudder*) and as y'all know, one thing is not is non-partisan.

I needed a flash pseudonym, but I wanted one that was clearly associated with book-selling, and so I went back to the Renaissance where booksellers were probably much cooler although less clean than I am. Where you could purchase individual books in 16th- and early 17th-century England (well, London anyway) was printed on their frontispieces (I don't know what happens after that - there be dragons). (Goodness, I don't know much do I?)

And so, the title of this feature comes from the location of where you could have purchased Thomas Kyd's fantastically lurid play The Spanish Tragedy (1615 printing) - at The Sarazens head without New-gate. I found a few other frontispieces with cool name options that I considered - especially Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, sold at The spred Eagle in Paules Church-yeard, ouer against the great North doore; and Webster's The White Devil sold at Thomas Archer's shop in Popes head Pallace, neere the Royall Exchange. In the end, however, I decided on The Spanish Tragedy for two reasons: 1) It figured prominently in my dissertation, and 2) It's got a cool engraving on the cover, which will henceforth be the mascot for this feature (although much smaller):

Speaking of tragedy...
I hadn't planned on blogging today, but what better time to present the inaugural post of The Sarazens head than a Friday that's been so rainy that literally only 3 people have even come into the store? How about a Friday during which I had to cancel an online order because the mouth-breathing previous owners of the store listed the ordered book as in "like new" condition when it's actually full of highlighting and inked in annotations?

So, it's not a great day here, but those happen and it's just part of the deal. Wednesday and Thursday of this week, in contrast, were stellar - yesterday especially was stellar because it was warm and sunny out and everyone was feeling happy and hopeful. Indeed, no weenies at all came into the store yesterday, and there are weenies. Regular weenies. Like the guy who comes in twice a week and who blows his nose and drops his snotty tissue on the floor and never buys anything. Or the super well dressed lady who comes in every few weeks and besides knocking books off shelves and not picking them up, tends to sneer at me when I greet her. The romance of the bookstore wears off pretty quickly - it's still retail, after all!

But there are great people too with whom I have fabulous conversations about books. Sometimes there are even cute boys who buy lots of great books. Are these cute reading boys English majors? If they are, I was born at the wrong time. When I was a student, all the boys studying English at my uni were freaks and weirdos; indeed, there were only two cuties ever, and I married one of them.

Like a squirrel collecting nuts in advance of a very long nuclear winter
When we first took over the store, I couldn't stop stock-piling books that I wanted to read. I felt drunk with the thought that I was living in my own personal library that just happened to contain approximately 30,000 books. I greedily piled those books up...and then did what I always do with stock-piled books I own: I ignored them.

I soon realized that this was not sound business practice and so I slowly began putting them back except for books of which we have multiple copies. My rule now is, if I want to read a book from the store I have to begin reading it as soon as I pick it up. So far, I've read I think 4 books from stock, including The Rachel Papers and The Waves, which you've heard about already.

But I also recently finished two other bookstore books: Nicola Barker's Heading Inland and Cecilia Whitford's Japanese Prints. Heading Inland was quite good - good enough that I was so involved that I didn't realize until I was about halfway through that it was a short story collection and not a novel. The story "Wesley" was by far my favourite; I think it's pretty classic Barker (a good thing).

This book was also everything I hoped Barbara Gowdy's stuff would become after the great promise shown in Mister Sandman and We So Seldom Look on Love. Alas, no. Gowdy, instead of maturing in her portrayal of freaks and weirdos, wrote a Hallmark greeting card about alcoholism called The Romantic and I had to break up with her and deny to my friends that we'd ever even dated.

Cecilia Whitford's Japanese Prints is not normally the sort of book I'd pick up (thank you, bookstore) because it's an art book. It taught me a little about the history of wood block print-making and allowed me to look at lots of pretty pictures.

Discovering it was also a sort of perfect bookstore moment: I was helping a customer look for a particular book in the art section when he saw something else and exclaimed "Oh, that looks interesting!" at the same moment I spotted Japanese Prints and said something similar. We stood next to each other looking at our respective finds in the kind of companionable silence you can only really find in a used bookshop. Or so I imagine. Gawd knows, I don't stand in companionable silence next to others when I'm looking to buy new knickers.

Alright, back to work for bookstore worker bee.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Somehow you have combined three of my favorite things into one post: crazy bookstore stories, Japanese prints, and "The Spanish Tragedy."

Do you still like Kyd, post-dissertation? I know sometimes, well, sometimes the dissertation changes things. First-rate title page, by the way.

"When I was young I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry:
Which though it profit the professor naught,
Yet it is passing pleasing to the world."

Bookphilia said...

I *do* still like Kyd post-dissertation. In fact, none of my primary texts has been ruined for me. :)

In terms of lingering after effects, what I have noticed is that I just can't read anything new that features letters prominently. I've tried to read a few different epistolary novels since finishing and in all cases, I've begun to feel physically ill before finishing even the first page.

I think that while I'm really looking forward to reading Richardson's Clarissa, it's going to be quite some time before I'm able to do so without being repelled. At least there are tonnes of other great books to read in the meantime!

Yuri... said...

Great post DreamQueen :) I love the woodcut you selected and had never known that the purveyor of the pages was listed in such a manner.

Your tissue dropping "friend" makes my skin crawl, and is certainly not part of my idealized notion of owning a used bookstore. However, I still think your post captures some of the romance in those stacks, and I don't mean the few tattered Harlequins that surely lurk somewhere among the 30,000 tomes!

Stacy said...

Should I send you a haz mat suit for things like picking up used tissues? That is nasty. I thought there was some agreed upon rule in society to dispose of one's own snot rags...I know I taught this one to my children early. I loved this bird's eye view into your bookstore. It was fun. I think I would have the same problem...I would make TBR stacks until there was nothing left on the shelves:) Hope you have a weenie-free day.

Bellezza said...

That Japanese print book sounds wonderful! I had to smile at your lovely ending about companionable silence only to be found in a bookstore. Buying knickers? I try never to be caught! ;)