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Monday, May 16, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane and Books in Person

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.


Gerry said...

Slow food, slow books, waiting and seeing. What are you trying to do, stop the madness? Oh.

P. J. Grath said...

For myself, definitely. Anyone else of like mind is welcome to join me.

I was wondering about the name of Mr. Marshall's bookstore. Did he buy the business from someone named Alice? Was he married to someone named Alice? Was it a play on the song "Alice's Restaurant," to give customers the idea that "You can get anything you want..."? Now a visitor to Northport from Melbourne (no kidding) tells me that the name has to do with ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Well, anyone heading Down Under, please pay a visit to Alice's Bookshop and say hello from me!

Dawn said...

I'm thinking you should go down there! Or maybe get him to come on up!

P. J. Grath said...

It would be great if we could visit back and forth, but “half a world away” is a long distance. Just makes me happy to know that someone in the other half is doing something akin to what I’m doing in my half. Makes me smile.

Kathy said...

Just reading this made me smile this morning and want to experience the day in a slower way. Perhaps "hunched like a hobbit" over a book. Right now reading "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese which was hard getting into, but now is holding my interest. Have you read it? Glad you have a soul-mate around the globe. Also thinking about simply holding on to "wanting" feelings and not acting on them immediately. Great post, Pamela!

P. J. Grath said...

Good morning, Kathy. As dawn broke today I was reading THE LONG-SHINING WATERS, by Danielle Sosin, a book I began on Monday and am about halfway through, a novel set on wild and fearful but beloved and beautiful Lake Superior. I haven’t yet read CUTTING FOR STONE but look forward to it. I read Verghese’s memoir, MY OWN COUNTRY, the year it came out, and the impression it made on my mind was so strong it is there yet. I recommend it highly. Also, I had a close friend in graduate school from Ethiopia, another thing impelling me toward CUTTING FOR STONE.

I’d better be clear about my feelings. (Ahem!) David is my soul-mate, and I believe Mr. Marshall has a soul-mate of his own. What I feel he and I are, even if we never meet, is “kindred spirits.” Do you know that phrase from the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books? A soul-mate is singular, but if one is very lucky one may have several kindred spirits in a lifetime.

This is a beautiful morning, and I am off to load up a utility trailer with straw bales for my new garden project of the season. Life is good! Wishing everyone else a lovely day, with time for slow, quiet moments amid what must be done--

dmarks said...

Hunched like Gollum might be more like it: large saucer-like eyes bathed in the glow of the CRT.

But Gollum is really a hobbit, so it's close enough!

P. J. Grath said...

More precise, no doubt, dmarks, but it loses the alliteration. Your reminder of the deadly glow, however, is enough to make me shut down the screen and pick up a book. Thanks!

Kathy said...

Ahhh, the finer distinctions between "soul mate" and "kindred spirit"...I would definitely call him a kindred spirit!