Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Read John Dunning and change your life!!!

The other week I re-read Booked to Die, the first book in John Dunning's Cliff Janeway series. It's the first time I've read it in many years. I wasn't sure if it would hold up to my memory of it. It turns out it does hold up -- and how!

It turns out that Booked to Die is to blame for me becoming a bricks-and-mortar bookseller. I'm serious! John Dunning, if you're reading this -- it's all your fault. Before I read Booked to Die, I didn't know about things like edition points. I just knew I loved books. I knew they held an allure for me, but I didn't realize that I could do something with that, with my instinct for picking interesting books out of thrift store bins and yard sale piles. I didn't know that some books held an even more manic attraction for collectors. Not to that extent, anyhow.

Before I get distracted by that, let me tell you about this book, in case you haven't read it. As soon as I finished re-reading it, I handed a copy to Deb Murray, who is helping me run my shop now. I said, "Here's your homework." But why do you want to read it too? You're not a bookseller -- or are you?

Booked to Die is a great book to read to tip yourself head-first into the crazy world of book collecting, or more properly, bibliomania. Not only that, but also it's a great mystery, raw and human as the best noir fiction is. Cliff Janeway, the police detective turned bookstore owner, is a challenging character, and a pretty funny guy in his moments of wit. The book is dangerous. I was surprised in re-reading it -- I had forgotten major events in it, maybe even blocked them out. The rawness is not dwelt on. It's there, it happened. This is life -- Cliff Janeway's life, and now you're in it too.

As Janeway unravels the case he's working, which he continues after he walks away from the police force, you The Reader learn. You learn about the famous editions. You learn about the funny humans who get sucked into the bookselling world, never to emerge. Probably nowadays a vast majority of these guys are never seen by their bookbuying public, as the customers have gravitated towards the world of online buying, but back when this book was published in 1992, eBay didn't even exist. You knew your bookseller, one way or another.

In Booked to Die you also learn about the different kinds of book collectors and how the books they want get into their hands, often via a circuitous route, sometimes dishonorably. You learn how sometimes even when you're poor in money, you can be rich in other ways. You learn that sometimes even when you're rich and king of your own Wall Street castle, you can be more wretched and wanting than the damnedest alley bum. There are all sorts of qualities of life. Most of us get by on a mix of them. Some of us can't manage to find happiness even when mainlining it in its purest version.

But we all make our own choices.

The process of my own choices took a while. First I worked locally as a bookscout, spending a good part of the mid-1990s hauling loot to Nancy Grayson at Cunningham Books and Pat Murphy at Yes Books. Each delivery to them was hand-picked to suit their shop as I learned their preferences and quirks. Eventually I found items that I thought I could sell better on my own, as the world of eBay opened up a global market. I made a successful dent in my college bills by dint of my knack for describing books as only a bibliophile can do, and by building a reputation for thorough assessment of a book's condition and for careful packing when I sent them on their way.

Then I walked away. I didn't want to become a bookhoarder, and one of the sad elements of being an eBay seller is that your living space gets taken over by your merchandise, especially the odd pieces that never sell. I went into denial about my bookloving self, but that was probably for the best. I was busy, I had other things going on, like art school (Maine College of Art, where I learned to make books myself), working for wages, and life in general. And somewhere deep inside, I needed to be sure.

Years passed. Then in 2007 I went to the World Fantasy Convention to meet with fellow members of the online All Hallows community, book-lovers all. Three days later I realized I was spending more time in the Dealers' Room than in panel discussions. I met Jean Gonzalez, selling under the name of Somewhere In Time Books and Bob Eldridge, of Eldritch Books, both of whom I now count as friends. I talked to a lot of booksellers. I looked at books. A lot of books. I unerringly (and annoyingly) picked out books that were ungodly rare and hard to find, books I couldn't imagine being able to afford buying when I peeked at their prices, finally.

The wall had crumbled. I had to admit I knew books, I loved books, and I had a natural talent and inclination for the field.

By the end of that year I landed a job at the local library, where I had been working as a substitute and shelver for a couple of years already. Two years later, after drastically shifting gears a couple of times because of economic concerns, I wound up laid off from the local University staff (the fate of most new hires in this day and age) and facing the prospect of no stability whatsoever. My husband helped remind me that I was at a stopping point, and that if I really wanted to find out if I could run my own bookshop, now was the time. I had nothing to lose. I missed the library, but had always wondered what I could do if I was allowed to craft my own bookspace.

In November of 2009, the Green Hand Bookshop opened, built from scratch. It's hard to believe it was the shop's 5-year anniversary last weekend.

And it's all John Dunning's fault.

Thanks for that, Mr. Dunning. I hope my happy customers will all join me in raising a toast to you for what you helped me to do!

Now -- go read one of his books, you guys!!!