There's a lovely little trade periodical I've subscribed to now for about a year called Book Source Magazine. Published by a bookseller in Cazenovia, New York, with additional contributions from England and Australia, BSM is a periodical Charles Lamb could have appreciated. How quirky is it to publish a small print magazine about books these days? I love it! John Huckans also writes about gardening in his Notes and Comment section at the beginning of each issue. He’s going to try ranunculus this year, and I’m campaigning to sell him on hellebores.
But getting back to books, the May-June issue has an article by a bookseller in Melbourne, Australia, the proprietor of Alice's Bookshop in North Carlton, and this man, Anthony Marshall, has put so many of my own feelings into words that I'm half in love with him. For starters, he has pulled all his Internet listings offline and is "no longer an internet bookseller. It's over, finished, done with. And I am delighted." He cites the diminishing returns of income for time involved (my chief reason for pulling out of my own online listing service) and the tedium of processing online orders and inquiries, “cataloguing and tracking down and packing books...: the paper-work and the e-mail work, the answering of stupid or vexatious or footling questions from prospective customers." Yes, yes, yes! He goes on:
And who wants to come into a bookshop where the bookseller is hunched like a hobbit before a flickering monitor, absorbed in his freakish fantasy virtual world when he should be at his desk ready to welcome you, if not with open arms, at least with a smile or a nod of the head and perhaps a word of greeting?
Mr. Marshall describes what he calls in general a "slow bookshop" as one in which "books are stocked not primarily for their ranking in the best-seller list but for their intrinsic and lasting worth." He notes that the bookseller in a slow bookshop may sometimes be seen reading a book or writing a letter by hand, adding, "Not everyone has given up on pen and ink." Do I need to mention that he has no interest in e-books? Here is a bookseller on the other side of the world, in the other half of the seasonal year, who feels as I do about my professional life! While reading, I underlined so many sentences and paragraphs in the article that I finally had to sit down to write, in longhand, a letter to the magazine's publisher, because I too:
...know intuitively that there are legions of people still in the world ... who are committed to the slow search, who are not in a hurry, who relish browsing in real bookshops: people who do not want the quick fix always and the shortest path, or the lowest price, but are prepared to meander down by-ways and the side-tracks: to be seduced by the delights and dangers of serendipity. To wait and see.
A few years back, I happened to mention to a casual acquaintance that I longed for my own little Cajun accordion. “Look on Ebay,” the person suggested, a trifle impatient with what he saw as my thwarted desire. That wasn't it at all. I didn’t feel thwarted and wasn’t concerned with immediate gratification. “No, I want to enjoy wanting it for a while,” I tried to explain. Slow bookshop people understand the pleasures of wanting and searching, as well as the “delights of dangers of serendipity.” It isn't only about finding what they want but also about wanting what they find.
And don't you just love the way Anthony Marshall writes? "Hunched like a hobbit"! "The delights and dangers of serendipity"! Isn't this great stuff? And the attitudes he expresses, e.g., that "there is more to life than efficiency and other economic imperatives." Hear, hear!
I feel he is talking about me and Dog Ears Books, as well as about himself and Alice's Bookshop when he writes, "In my slow bookshop, I face my customers and engage with the world, with life." Aye, that we do, so prepare to slow down when you visit Dog Ears Books. It’s that kind of dangerous place!
Book Source Magazine is published bimonthly. The basic subscription rate is $20; library rate $24; Canada and Mexico $24; $40 overseas airmail. Subscription requests and other correspondence should be directed to Book Source Magazine, P.O. Box 567, Cazenovia, NY 13035. The publisher can also be contacted by telephone or e-mail, (315) 655-8499 or bsm at windstream dot com.