Sunday, July 6, 2014

summer 2014 appointments: 15 snapshots



“Philosophers are still buying books,” I was happy to learn at Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario.

“The world needs a solid biography of Marcel Duchamp- people have been asking for this,” reports Tracey at Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton, Ontario.

In addition to a very fine collection of old and new books, one can purchase at D&E Lake  in downtown Toronto: carved wooden canes, kilt pins, nested Russian Bill Clinton dolls, Soviet Army belt buckles, and some lovely framed art.

To rev up interest in Mark Winston’s Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive (Harvard October), I’ve been mentioning Myra Goldberg’s Bee Season among the many titles showing that, as one buyer said, “there’s a bee thing happening.”  Alas, the same buyer pointed out that the Goldberg book is actually about spelling bees.   Oops.

I pitch Henri Lefebvre’s The Missing Pieces, one of my favorite titles on the fall MIT/semiotext(e) list, with extra, rep fave enthusiasm.  Turns out to be one of the most polarizing books on the list.  It’s a compendium of what has been lost or never existed, a kind of “list literature.”  Example:  “Murder, the Hope of Women, a twenty-five minute opera composed in 1919 by Paul Hindemuth; The novel Theodor by Robert Walser; The letters of Milena Jesenska to Franz Kafka; The contents of a telephone conversation between Stalin and Pasternak after the arrest of Osip Mandelstam; The final seven meters of Kerouac’s On the Road (eaten by a dog.)”  And so on and so on.  Buyers who love this idea really love it, and imagine all sorts of display and even performance potential.  Other buyers, not so much.  In one of the Twin Cities, excitement.  In the other, “Are you kidding?  B.O.R.I.N.G.”

Speaking of Pasternak, I was meeting with Iowa City book ace Matt Lage at Iowa Book when a customer overheard him refer to Pasternak.  (He’s full of smart literary references, delivered in the nicest way.)  She approached us, and in a thick but charming Slavic accent, told us that she adores Pasternak, that her grandfather went to jail in the Soviet Union for reading him and later committed suicide, and that “you can’t understand life if you don’t understand Pasternak!”  This was a refreshing vindication of Iowa students, who until then had mainly shuffled up to the desk to grudgingly inquire about textbooks only to leave without buying them (from the bookseller who helped them anyway.)

Reactions to Michael MacDonald’s Overreach: Delusions of Regime Change in Iraq (Harvard October) have quickly gone from an “old news” shrug to “very timely” thanks to Cheney and company’s recent helpful reminders.

“Why is MIT not doing books on 3-D printing?!?”

“Greil Marcus, say no more!”

After perusing digital images and page layouts from the book, Kris Kleindienst at Left Bank Books in St Louis says of Paul Strand: Photography & Film for theTwentieth Century (Yale November) “This is the way art books are supposed to look!”  This makes my day.

How social media is supposed to work: the buyer at Common Good Books in St Paul is excited to see the long-awaited English translation of Alexander Kluge’s History & Obstinacy on the MIT/Zone list (October) and notes that he’d just seen a tweet from a San Francisco bookseller who is also anxiously waiting to read it, which adds to the appeal.

In describing Jeremy Bernstein’s Nuclear Iran (Harvard October), I refer to the “small, cute trim size” in my mark-up notes.  A buyer raises an eyebrow and finds this an amusing phrase about such a grim subject.  Maybe I should take it out.

The logo of the new Murty Classical Library of India series from Harvard brings a smile to the face of every bookseller who sees it.

I’m used to meeting booksellers in cramped offices or behind public information desks where I sometimes get to answer customer inquiries during appointments.  (I helped a woman find a book on the birds of Iowa and felt ludicrously giddy over this.)  But Kim Stephenson, McGill University Bookstore buyer, saw me in the Hospitality Suite of the Montreal Book Fair, which happened to coincide with my visit.  We were surrounded by fancy snacks, a well-stocked bar, comfy chairs and a stunning penthouse view.  I could get used to this. 

In reference to book prices, Prairie Lights’ Paul Ingram notes that “$40 will get you a very nice dinner in Iowa City!”




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