Pressing botanical specimens in books is a tradition apparently alive and well in Humboldt.
Drum roll please…here is our list of the top 10 bestselling new books here at Eureka Books (Thanksgiving-Dec. 15). As expected, the new local books dominate the list:
1. Place Names of Humboldt County, California: A Compendium 1542-2009 by Dennis and Gloria Turner [review]
2. The Sea Captain's Odyssey: A Biography of H. H. Buhne, 1822-1894 by Marvin Turner [more]
4. Field Notes (science-y columns from the North Coast Journal) by Barry Evans [samples]
5. Locally Delicious: Recipes and Resources for Eating on the North Coast, second edition by Ann Anderson and the other Heirloom Tomatoes [more]
6. Squirrel Meets Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
7. Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart
8. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
9. The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest by Jack Nisbet [reviews]
10. Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
If you happen in to the Eureka branch of the library, you can see a display of some of the 1,000 books the members of NORBAG (the North Redwoods Book Arts Guild) have made to benefit the Humboldt Literacy Project.
On Friday night, September 3, from 6:30 to 8:30, we're hosting a party/reception for NORGAG and Humboldt Literacy Project, where the 1000 books will be unveiled and put up for sale, at $1 each. The text of each book is made from a single sheet of paper, cleverly folded, and then attached to decorative covers.
If you'd like to join us for the reception, please RSVP by calling the store (707-444-9593) or hitting the email link on our home page. Admission is free, but we hope you'll buy some books and support literacy here on the North Coast.
This set of J. Fenimore Cooper's Works (10 volumes, published 1891), illustrated with wood engravings is getting cheaper every day. It started out at $145 at the beginning of the month. The price is currently just $30! and it drops $5 per day until someone buys it or we give it away free on the day before Thanksgiving. This set retails for $100-150, so it's a steal already. If you want it, hurry down!
Time: Is it true you own a bookstore?
Letham: Yeah. I'm part proprietor of a small used-book store in Maine. I don't
really own the building. I guess I sort of own the books until someone
comes along and buys them. I'm like the junior partner in a very funky
clubhouse of a used-book store. It's something that makes me very happy.
It seems like a defiantly optimistic thing to do these days, when all anyone can talk about is the decline of the printed form.
It seems like it should be that kind of gesture, but it never crossed
my mind that it was an expression of defiance. If it's taken as that,
that's great. I did it for the pleasure. It didn't have to do anything
with my career or the Internet or the publishing world. It was just to
be handling the books. I worked in used-book stores for 15 years on and
off. That was the only work I ever had before becoming a full-time
writer. I have a lot of osmotic book knowledge just from handling books
I didn't ever read. Turning them over in my hands, trying to figure out
where they came from and why they exist and whether they should be
priced at $4 or $6.
How do you figure out how to price a used book?
I'm supposed to say something like, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you." It can't be explained. You just have to know.
According to the Interweb intelligence, the store is Red Gap, in Blue Hill, Maine. It's alleged to have great espresso. The name comes from the 1935 film, Ruggles of Red Gap. Another part-owner is reported to be novelist Marjorie Kernan. [Unverified rumor-mongering sources: Puggy's Hill and The Stranger.]
Red Gap is the store's name, based on the 1935 film, Ruggles of Red
Gap, beloved by Jonathan and the other owners. The espresso machine
makes the best coffee in town, hands down.
I'm in Los Angeles today, getting ready to head out for my second day at BEA (Book Expo America), the annual convention that brings together publishers, bookstore owners, and everyone else interested in the new-book trade. It fills the LA convention center. The coolest thing for me was seeing Fine Books among the two-dozen or so sample titles that our distributor brought to the fair. Perhaps most interesting to collectors was the dramatic reduction in the number of Advance Reading Copies in evidence, compared to past years. In past years, it was not uncommon to see dozens of people staggering under the weight of the free ARCs they picked up. I only saw one yesterday. I've written about publishers' concerns about the collector's market for advance copies here.
I stopped by Amazon's large Kindle booth, and there was a bit of excitement, but not nearly as much as I expected. And they only seemed to have six sample machines, which made it hard for gawkers to get a look at it. I've tried one before – it was pretty good, but hard to hold without accidentally turning the page.
Larry McMurtry will receive the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award this week. In an interview posted online, he talks mostly about being a bookseller. "I just don’t think about my work at all. I think about being a bookseller. I don’t think about being a writer," he said.
Yesterday I posted Chuck Rozanski's seven questions to be asked before getting into the comics business. Here are a few of his choice observations, which apply equally to the used book business:
"I remember reading a Small Business Administration (SBA) pamphlet 30 years ago which laid out the hard facts that 70% of new businesses started in America fail within three years, and that 85% fail within five years….For the specialized area of comics retailing, those percentages were actually a bit optimistic. Very few of the stores that were opened from 1988-1999 are still in business, and I'll bet that 75% of those that are still open could be purchased for net asset value, with no consideration given for the enterprise as an ongoing business."
"What most comics retailers never figure out (until it's too late…) is that they are losing money every day that they are open for business. They accumulate lots of inventory, and come to believe that owning lots of stuff is the same thing as making a profit. Well, that's only true if you have a cost-effective mechanism for turning your stuff into cash. If you don't own such a mechanism, you're not generating a profit, you're simply adding to your storage cost burden. Eventually that burden, combined with a lack of cash flow, will kill your business."
"Comics retailers are notorious for seldom liquidating slow product, and as a result, what you see in a store is not what their customers are seeking, but rather what they got stuck with."
And finally, in a much later column, Mr. Rozanski asks a question that I think all book collectors should ask. It's one that I've been giving a lot of thought to of late as I have been working with one of our regular contributors, Richard Goodman, on a story about what the book world can learn from the art world. A lot of people are concerned about an apparent waning of interest in books. The same is true about comics. I am reminded of the last lines of that famous Dylan Thomas poem: "Do not go gentle into that good night. / Rage, rage against the dying of the light." What Mr. Rozanski asks here is worth asking of everyone who loves books.
"To get to the nub of my question for today, I would ask you to consider what you are personally doing to try to save the comics world. I realize that there is not a single one of us who can have any measure of a significant impact solving this kind of dilemma alone, but I do fervently believe that great numbers of people working toward a common goal can create an astonishing level of positive change. To be a bit more specific, I would ask what kind of outreach you have done of late to try to bring new readers into comics? All of us have favorite stories that particularly resonate with us as an individual. Have you tried passing that book and/or comic on to a friend? How about giving comics to kids?…How about speaking about comics before groups of young people? I've been to numerous elementary, middle, and high schools during my career, speaking to young people about the merits of graphic storytelling, and passing out free samples. These are just a few of the ways that all of us can help encourage new readers."
Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics is one of the most interesting retailers of collectables. I have basically zero interest in comics, but I subscribe to his email list and read every one. He basically breaks every rule in the book, and doing so has made him the leading comics dealer in the world (he started out living in his car along with his inventory). Instead of keeping his emails short and to the point, he tells stories about his latest buying trips, what's going on at home, his adventures collecting Native American pottery, and whatever else happens to be on his mind. He also runs crazy promotions, like giving $10 gift certificates to everyone on his email list. The gift certificate had no minimum. Order $10 in comics and they were completely free except for the shipping, charged at the actual cost (no markup). In December, Mile High customers redeemed $50,000 in gift certificates.
Mr. Rozanski wrote a column for a comics publication, and then posted them on his store's website. It's very good reading, and although it is about selling comics, a lot of what he writes applies to books as well. His columns are particularly honest about being in business, too. He describes the downside of rapid success and how the sudden growth of his business to $10,000 per week in 1980 nearly bankrupted him—the cost of hiring lots of new employees, renting warehouse space, investing in desks and equipment, and acquiring enough new inventory to keep the sales going ate up all the cash and then some.
One series of columns addressed the desire of collectors to enter the business of selling comics. Mr. Rozanski offers seven questions every potential dealer should ask. Change comics to books, and the list works for bookselling, too.
About the motivations for entering the business, he writes, "If your answer is that you want to sell comics for a living because you have have a passion for comics, I'm unimpressed. Alcoholics have a passion for liquor, but that's certainly not a good reason for them to be operating a liquor store. In fact, I've seen a large number of comics stores fail because the owners were so wrapped up in their love of comics, that they forgot that they were running a business."
Here are the seven key questions. They aren't the usual ones people ask when starting a business, which is why they are so illuminating:
1) Do I have the ability to self-motivate myself?
2) Am I willing to forego all other activities in my life to be a comics dealer?
3) Can I make it my foremost goal to serve other comics fans?
4) Do I have the ability to ignore my own personal tastes?
5) Do I have the desire and intellectual curiosity to endlessly educate myself about new areas of collecting?
6) Do I have the mental toughness that will enable me to persevere, even when the odds seem hopelessly stacked against me?
7) Do I communicate well with others?
Read the first part of Mr. Rozanski's advice here. Don't forget to hit the "Next" link at the bottom of the page for the continuation of his comments.