OF BOOKSTORES AND BOOKSTORE CULTURE
This weekend, I went up to Jacksonville, Florida, with some friends (Pete Peterson and Scott Stratton--fully incorporated into Ambergris as some of you may recognize) to visit the used bookstores. Jacksonville is pretty amazing when it comes to bookstores. If you just counted Chambline's Bookmine (for my money, the best used bookstore I've ever visited) and Tappin's Bookmine, it'd be worth the trip, but when you throw in the other four or five excellent used bookstores--and the proximity of St. Augustine, with another four or five excellent bookstores--it's something of a book lover's paradise.
The books I picked up this time, in the jumbled order in which I discovered them, included:
Barrow's Boys by Fergus Fleming (hc 1st ed; history of British exploration through those sent out to map the unknown in the late 1800s; many never came back)
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire by Lawrence James (hc 1st ed; history)
Nature Writing edited by Robert Finch and John Elder (hc; nature writing samples from the 1800s to the present)
A Taste for Travel by John Julius Norwich (hc 1st ed; travel writing samples with notes and additional text from Norwich; I now lack only one Norwich book for my collection--his book on sex in the ancient world, which is probably required reading before I start the novel after the one I'm currently working on)
Vermillion Sea by John Janovy Jr. (hc; nature writing about the coast of California)
Stars of the Unborn by Franz Werfel (mmpb; a novel from early in the 20th century by a resident of Prague, published in the Ballantine adult fantasy line, with an admiring quote on the cover by Henry Miller!)
Modern Classics of Fantasy edited by Gardner Dozois (hc 1st ed; this St. Martin's collection has several long stories that my eyes have somehow managed to be innocent of to this point...)
Little Big by John Crowley (hc; the trade paperback has been difficult for me to read--this version is slightly more readable in terms of the typeface)
The Great Wheel by Ian R. McLeod (hc 1st ed; this novel by the author of the Light Ages looks, in some ways, even better than Light Ages)
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago (tp; Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist; I've been meaning to check him out for some time)
All the Lines by Jose Saramago (tp; this book was recommended to me by the owner (?) of Anastasia Books in St. Augustine, a very knowledgeable person who had had Marquez as an instructor at the University of Massachusetts while an undergraduate...but she also claimed to have taken the Scientologist test on a lark...)
The Sooterkin by Tom Gilling (tp; a changeling fantasy published in the mainstream that looks interesting)
One Step Behind by Henning Mankell (tp; a friend recommended Mankell to me as exemplar of excellent modern European mystery/detective novels)
Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (tp)
The White Lionness by Henning Mankell (tp)
Daemonology by John Crowley (tp; again, the tp's of his work are okay re the typeface, but not really that reader-friendly; he really needs Everyman Library-type hardcover editions with better leading, better selection of font, and a more soothing number of words per line; this is not throw-away fiction, and the reader must really concentrate to get the full value out of that; eyestrain is not conducive to concentration)
Cathedral of the World by Myron Aims (tp; a meditation and dialogue on the sea; could be New Age crap; might be excellent; time will tell...)
Platypus by Ann Moyal (hc 1st ed; sumptuously illustrated and satisfying eccentric; in fact, it's entirely possible that the platypus will, as Mike Moorcock puts it, become my next "totem animal")
Travelers and Travel Liars, 1660-1800 by Percy G. Adams (tp; another of the rather miraculous finds made years by the Dover Books people)
Bad Trips edited by Keith Fraser (tp; I'm a sucker for tales of trips gone wrong)
The Inland Sea by Donald Richie (mmpb; looks like an interesting account of Japanese culture)
Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue by Paul Bowles (tp; about Morocco and North African culture; looks fascinating)
Great French Short Novels edited by F.W. Dupel (hc; I haven't read a single novel in this omnibus; very much looking forward to it)
Great Russian Short Novels edited by Philip Rahv (hc; more familiar territory, but still a few I haven't read; I also can really identify with the term "short novels" ;) )
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (hc, Easton Press edition; I've wanted a thick, virtually indestructible version of this for quite some time; now, if only the horrible illustrations inside would self-destruct...)
Light Metres illustrated by Edward Gorey (hc limited, signed copy #50 of 300 copies; I just couldn't resist this one, pricey but worth it.
Time Buried by Howard Wandrei (hc; Fegoman & Bremer; Lovecraft contemporary; most of the stories look cheesey, but the edition itself is gorgeous with cover art that somehow evokes Arthur Rackham)
The Eerie Mr. Murphy by Howard Wandrei (hc; volume 2 of his fantasy stories)
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer by Chaucer (oversized hc facsimile of the William Morris original, just too beautiful to pass up; I got this at the Tappin Bookmine, and they also had a single page from the Morris original, selling for $1,200; the page was unbelievably gorgeous; the facsimile book is stunning, too)
Venice Art & Architecture (oversized hc two-vol. set in slipcase; this completes my acquisition of books about Venice, which began with John Julius Norwich's history of the city; my main focus is on the influence of Constantinople on Venice)
On Friday, Pete and I headed over to St. Augustine first, met by Scott in Jacksonville later that night. In St. Augustine, Jackelyn at the Anastasia Bookstore recommended Saramago to me and gently teased me for asking for travel essays: "you mean, so you don't have to go there yourself?" The graybeards at Wolf's Head and Avenue Books kept their own counsel, distinguished grayhaired women answering our questions. In all three places, one felt oneself in the presence of repositories of great knowledge and of the kind of eccentricity that really deserves further exploration. A journey to another place, even one as close as Jacksonville is to Tallahassee, leaves you with a tantalizing glimpse of what it might be like to live in a town with more than one good used bookstore.
In Jacksonville the next day, after a pleasant night of drinking, talking, and smoking a very nice cigar, Chamblin's Bookmine awaited us early in the morning. Chamblin's is a massive bookstore--truly a book mine in every sense of the word. Aisles and aisles and aisles bristling with books, hundreds of boxes partially blocking your way, and completely filled with customers on a Saturday morning. People come from as far away as North Carolina to visit Chamblin's, and it's easy to see why, even just in terms of what they bought from me. I brought in three big boxes of books, and they took almost everything. This sounds like a lack of taste on their part. What it really is is a completist approach to establishing a bookstore inventory. Anyone who likes any kind of book can come to Chamblin's and find a wide selection of that type--again, no matter what type it is. Their SF/Fantasy paperback selection is amazing. Their travel book selection is amazing. Their history section is amazing. Their mysteries, their cookbooks, their biographies--each section is huge, and you will find at least one rare thing you wanted or one thing you didn't know existed that is perfect for you. When you then throw in their rare and collectible books...it's truly an experience. The staff is also always courteous and knowledgeable.
Tappin's Bookmine is also impressive, although more selective. A much smaller store, it nonetheless contained as many treasures as Chamblin's, including the Chaucer/Morris facsimile I bought and one of the Wandrei's. There, the proprietor also brought out a $12,000 first American edition of The Hobbit with color plates by Tolkien. It had originally be bought when the novel first came out as a present for a daughter. The daughter, now grown up (by many years!), had decided to sell it.
But perhaps the most amazing find at Tappin's were books that the owner was still pricing--old hardcover pulp SF novels in the Lensmen series, Jack Williamson, etc. Most of them were signed and some were numbered. Some had very long inscriptions. A wino had brought them in--he'd found them in a dumpster and indicated there were more. As they now admit, they made the mistake of paying the man for all of the books he'd brought in rather than half then, half upon getting more info about where he'd found them--he promptly disappeared and no one ever located the dumpster where some uninformed person had tossed all of these invaluable books.
Then it was on to Jerry's, a bookstore that now looks like the kind of place Kurtz from Heart of Darkness would run if he ran a bookstore. Pete, Scott, and I could have sworn the unopened boxes of books right smack in the middle of the carpet were the same boxes from a year earlier. Only, another 12 to 20 boxes had joined them. You couldn't even reach over them to get to the bookcases with the limited edition and first edition SF and Fantasy. It appeared that the whole store had, in a sense, "gone native." Jerry was his old feisty self, however, ready to engage in any discussion involving SF and Fantasy.
And, interestingly enough, a book Pete found--The Castle of the Otter--shed perhaps a little light on the Gene Wolfe Odyssey workshop fiasco. The book is nonfiction Wolfe wrote about his Shadow of the Torturer series, the title taken from a misprint Locus magazine made when reporting the New Sun books Wolfe was working on (i.e., "Castle of the Otter" instead of "Citadel of the Autarch"). In the book, Wolfe interviews himself, and has this to say about workshops:
A: In 1975, I taught a week at the Clarion Writer's Conference at Michigan State.
Q: Was it fun?
A: Not really, although I met three people who have become more or less permanent friends. On the whole, the students were mainly interested in smoking dope and meeting celebrities. I don't smoke and I'm not a celebrity.
Q: Weren't you ever asked to come back?
A: Yes, but only after six years, when there was a new faculty advisor.
Q: Did you go?
Q: Are you ever going to try teaching again?
A: Perhaps, if I find somebody who wants to learn. Writers tend to think that everybody wants to learn to write. The truth is, very few do, and that most of those who do succeed. Most people don't take the time and trouble...
Q: Teaching doesn't seem to have been very much fun for you.
As it was, so it shall be, apparently...
There is not much else left to tell. Pete, Scott, and I all came back loaded down with books, with leads about other books, with glimpses of books we could not afford to buy, or could not rationalize the decision to buy, and the glimmer of the next bookstore trip already a pleasant if distant thought in the back of our minds.