Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Curiosity & fascination

Here's a little article in which I consider some of the little sub-sections of the shop, and how they came to be.

People often ask me how I pick the books that I put out onto the shelves at the Green Hand. One of the major tenets in the assembly of my bookshop's stock is whether or not a book evokes curiosity. It seems a reasonable hope that if a book looks interesting to me, it will look interesting to someone else as well.

Of course this selection method has its hazards for those of us who are nuts about books. The other thing that people ask me is how I avoid the temptation to bring everything home with me. Working at the library for a while helped. It gave me a greater appreciation for the resources of interlibrary loan, which allows me to read books I might never otherwise see -- but not everything is in library lending collections, and I'm one of those people who likes to own books that they love. In answer to that craving to stash book treasure at home, I had to come up with a back-up plan to outsmart myself. To whit, my epically long "to read" list is formed in a large part by titles that have come into the shop. I find it a little easier to convince myself to put the books out on the shelf for sale to your guys if I can at least write down the author and title so I can find another copy of the book later. This way I prevent a massive book logjam forming at home, which is an uphill struggle, I can tell you!

While I do sell a lot of fiction, the non-fiction categories in the Green Hand are many and varied. The big ones, like history and biography and art, are obviously present -- but what pockets in the shop are stocked and cultivated purely out of a joy in their existence? There are some funny little sections that are tucked in between the more general ones. Sometimes they linger, mostly intact and slowly growing, until an annual visit from one person or another occurs, and half of the books get wiped out in one fell swoop.

Magic and illusionism, circuses and sideshows, for instance, is a section particularly prone to this behavior pattern. Part of the problem is the lack of people willing to relinquish their stage magic and midway related books. Really, why would you want to? This is a regular state of affairs for a used bookshop -- we depend on people being willing to give up their good books. The odds are against us, but we're willing to keep trying!
Within the true crime section the smaller historical criminology and forensic sections keep a certain amount of space for themselves, where these books wait for the day when they will find their own regular patrons. The Pinkerton Detective Agency history, Scotland Yard, and early criminologists are favorite topics for this area.

Books on calligraphy and their companion volumes on illuminated manuscripts (a personal passion) wait in an array of sizes below the illustration section (another personal favorite). There is something about the dedicated combination and labyrinthine arrangement of image, text, and borders on those pages that draws me in. Someday a person as obsessed as I am with illuminated manuscripts will stumble across this shelf, and it will make a delight of their afternoon.

From The Story Bag, a
collection of Korean folk tales
Other favorite sections ebb and flow every week or month as folks discover them for the first time or return for their regular inspection of the shelves. My folklore and mythology section threatens to overwhelm the bookshelf it shares with books about psychics, dreams, dowsing, and out-of-body experiences, even though it is one of the liveliest for browsing and buying. I stuff it with as much as I can, moving beyond the basics by Bullfinch, Joseph Campbell, Andersen and Grimm to turn-of-the-century Asian folklore, early American folklore, and dictionaries of symbols.

Dinosaurs and other paleontological matters take up part of a shelf in the natural history/biology section, near books about evolution and Darwin, waiting for their fans to find them, while kids' dinosaur books sell in a slow but steady flow. I'm still waiting to stumble across a mother lode of paleontology books so the section can achieve the breadth and strength I would like it to.

Some sections come and go like the seasons. My beekeeping section sometimes doesn't even exist, but it always pops up again eventually. Likewise my books on clocks and watch repair, or knot tying, or those about the nitty-gritty of raising chickens.

In other words, the shop's collection is like an organism. It adapts and changes, every growing, occasionally sloughing off extra or worn books via the $1 bin, adding new shelves where they're needed, and within its greater body creating sub-sections of itself as books collect and different subjects gain cohesion within the larger general subjects. I hope that is the sign of a healthy bookshop -- changing, growing, adapting, and responding to the needs of its customers on a daily basis! A bookshop in fine fettle should always be fun to explore, and give its regular visitors pleasant surprises when they think they've seen everything it has to offer. Come see!

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