Category Archives: Opinion Posts

The Bookshop and The Beach: My Vacation to Maine

Harding Books on Route 1 in Wells, Maine

My family and I went on our annual summer vacation this year to Kennebunk Beach in Maine. This has been our favored destination for the past few years and I thought I would say a few words about my favorite bookshop in Maine and my recent finds there. Harding’s Rare and Used Books is located one town adjacent to Kennebunk, in Wells, Maine on Route 1.  The staff is kind, friendly and very knowledgeable.  I was told by the employees that they buy books every day and their owner, a very nice gentleman named Douglas, also buys books from auctions and dealers.

One realizes this is a serious bookshop when, upon opening the front door, one encounters two gigantic piles of their newest acquisitions.  It took me a while to sift through these piles, but my patience was greatly rewarded by finding a first edition of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. I also dug out a copy of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and William H. Gass’s Reading Rilke from these piles.

 

The rest of the store is like a maze with rooms of various shapes and sizes piled with books from floor to ceiling.  Harding’s has a wide variety of first editions as well as signed books and they also have  the largest selection of books about New England that I have ever encountered.  I found a first edition copy of Within the Harbor by Sara Ware Bassett, a New England author whose books are set in two Cape Cod villages that she created.  This is an interesting little find that makes visiting this store so much fun.

A view of part of the hard copy fiction books at Harding’s

 

I spent most of my time in the Latin and Ancient Greek, Poetry and Classic Fiction sections.  Among the classic fiction books, I found two titles to add to my ever growing collection of New York Review of Books classics and I also found five Virago Modern Classics to add to my shelves.

My haul from Harding’s

The Latin and Ancient Greek section had a nice selection of Loebs as well as ancient authors in translation.  My favorite find was a dual language edition of Oedipus by Sophocles with an introduction by Thornton Wilder.  The illustrations in this edition are also quite interesting.

I also found in the Ancient Civilization section a copy of Michael Grant’s book on Nero which is in mint condition; not only is it an excellent introduction to this enigmatic and misunderstood emperor (and my favorite), but it also contains some gorgeous color plates to go along with the text.

Among the poetry books I found a hard copy edition of the Collected Poems of W.H. Auden that was only $5.00.  I have to say that all of the books at Harding’s are very reasonably priced, including the first editions and signed books.

But I didn’t spend all of my time in the bookshop.  I also enjoyed the beach very much, worked on my tan and did a little swimming even though the water was quite chilly.  My daughter did some surfing (I only watched and took some pictures.)  My beach reads were Henry Green’s Party Going and Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva—more thoughts on those to come.

Surfing at Kennebunk Beach

Finally, we had some truly fabulous meals in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.  One of our favorites is David’s KPT in Dock Square whose selection of raw oysters is spectacular and decadent.  It is no surprise that the seafood dishes, in particular, are wonderful no matter the restaurant.  I will spare everyone pictures of my food as well as a picture of myself wearing one of those goofy lobster bibs.  The picture below is a view we had during Sunday Brunch.

Where have you spent your holidays this summer?  Have you found any interesting books or bookshops?

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, History, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Opinion Posts, Poetry, Travel Writing

My Visit to the Rare Book Room at The Strand

The Rare Book Room at The Strand.

On my recent trip to New York City there was an article in the New York Times about The Strand celebrating its 90th year in business.  Not only does this bookstore have 18 miles of books located on four floors, but they also have rows and rows of sale books on the sidewalk on 12th st. just outside the store, and a kiosk fully stacked with fabulous books outside of Central Park.  The article in the Times mentioned The Strand’s most expensive book—a first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated by Henri Matisse, signed by both authors.  The Limited Editions Club published 1500 copies in 1935; only 250 copies are signed by both Joyce and Matisse which are rare and very expensive.  The manager at The Strand said that the price tag on their copy is $45,000.    Matisse signed all 1500 copies and the ones with only his signature sell for a lot less—between $3500 and $5000, depending on the condition of the book.

The rare book room is housed on the third floor of The Strand and all of their customers are welcome to visit any time during business hours.  The staff was kind and willing to show me their most expensive and famous book for sale.  The manager extracted the book from a safe where their most precious books are kept and happily allowed me to look at the copy of Ulysses and let me take these photos.

Not all of their books are as rare or expensive as this copy of Ulysses. The rare book room has something for everyone’s budget. There are lots of signed and first edition books by modern authors openly available on their shelves to look at and to browse. I saw a first edition of Derek Walcott’s poetry inscribed by the author, for instance, that was being sold for $40. Some of their more expensive books, the ones that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars are under glass cases—for instance a first edition German copy of Kafka’s The Castle with a price tag of $2500. But the staff is friendly and helpful and willing to let customers hold and flip through any of their books.

The Strand, all four floors of it, is one of my favorite places to visit in the world and I can’t wait to go back.  I am thinking another trip in the fall is in order.  First, I have to recover from carrying almost 40 books on the train back home and find a place for my purchases.  In my next post I will share some of my NYC book haul.

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NYC Reading Suggestions from Literary Twitter

Literary Twitter has come through for me once again.  I sent a Tweet asking if anyone would like to recommend some reading for my upcoming trip to New York City.  The response has been overwhelming and I thought I would share the suggestions I have gotten so far.  I have chosen to list them alphabetically by author.  If anyone has additional titles to add then please leave them in the comments:

The New York Trilogy by Paul Aster

The Cities (poems) by Paul Blackburn

Open City by Teju Cole

The Flea of Sodom by Edward Dahlberg

Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

New York Revisited by Henry James

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer

Passing by Nella Larsen

Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney

The Rosy Crucifixion Series by Henry Miller

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon by Joseph Mitchell

After Claude by Iris Owens

Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Low Life by Luc Sante

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

A Tree Growns in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories by Delmore Schwartz

Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead

 

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Sifting Through the Ruins of an Abandoned Library

I teach Latin and Ancient Greek at The Woodstock Academy, an independent day and boarding school in northeastern Connecticut.  At a time when schools are shrinking and slashing budgets, we have had the good fortune to purchase an additional campus.  A private school in town closed and we bought the entire school, lock, stock and barrel in order to expand our facilities and programs.  Among the many things left behind by the former occupants of the school was their entire library.  They had originally intended to pack it up and ship it to Maine where they own another boarding school.  But at the last minute they abandoned it.  When our administration sent a message that we were not keeping the library, that any and all books from the library were free to anyone for the taking I couldn’t resist.

I walked away with a trunk full of books—the trunk of my car could not have fit another book.  They are packed into four boxes and are currently sitting in the garage where I can sort them and figure out how they should be shelved and arrange for more space.

You will have to forgive the mess in the background since the books are all in the garage and that is where I took these photos.  I found lots of classics books.  I took away two large boxes of Ancient Greek and Ancient Rome titles.  Some of them are duplicates, like the three volumes of Greek Tragedies translated by Richard Lattimore.  But I couldn’t very well just leave them there:

 

 

A wonderful surprise among the ruins were these four volumes of Civilizations of The Ancient Near East.  Something I would love to have owned but would not necessarily have invested the money in:

 

I also collected a very lovely stack of poetry books. The essays about the poems of William Carolos Williams especially intrigued me. And it is nice to finally have a large volume of Robert Frost poems sitting on my shelves.  Gibran’s The Prophet was a nice find since I had not owned a copy of that previously.

And finally I rescued several stacks of literary classics that are duplicates of books I already own but couldn’t leave behind.  I now have three different translations of Kafka’s The Castle, for instance.  But I think most bibliophiles would agree that one can never have too much Kafka.

And some Thoreau, and Hardy and Dante and Chaucer and….

As I was driving over to what is now our South Campus, I was excited at the prospect of sifting through books and I thought it would be akin to browsing through a used bookstore.  But the experience was much more sad and melancholy than I had expected.  The books were strewn on the floors and counters of the former library.  The large room will now serve as the new band and music room, so all of the shelves and fixtures were removed and the books were lying everywhere, haphazardly abandoned.  There were even books sitting on carts that were recently returned by students and under normal circumstances would have been reshelved.  It made me think that each collection of books, whether public or private, serves a specific purpose or a specific community.  And it is unfortunate when a collection is broken up and no longer serves that need.  I, personally, would like to have kept the collection together, to be able to brag about a school with two libraries.  But, we really needed the space for music, so I did the next best thing and rescued a least a few of the books.

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A Bibliophile’s Conundrum: How do you organize your books?

There have been complaints recently by my family members (i.e. my husband) about the piles of books that have taken over various parts of the house.  The kitchen table has two stack of books that are getting so high they are threatening to topple over and crush one of the cats.  The book piles are also in the way of the cats’ favorite window from which they view the yard; notice the picture of Henry attempting to navigate around the books in order to watch a chipmunk that has made a nest under his favorite window.

Current stack of books on the kitchen table

 

Henry attempting to navigate around the current stack of books on the kitchen table

Then there are the various piles on the coffee table, the top of which table can barely be seen because of the amount of books. (As I look at this photo I realize it’s probably not a great idea to have so many candles among my books.)

But it is not that I am lazy or unwilling to move my books.  My issue is one of organization and trying to make decisions about which books go where and oftentimes these important decisions paralyze me.  I like to keep the pile of books that I really want to read immediately (which has grown impossibly large) as close to me as possible, thus all of the Vergil books currently hanging out on my coffee table.  I also like to categorize books by my favorite publishers: thus I have a handsome collection of Seagull Books and New York Review of Books.  But then I also like to collect books by author and by topic.  And finally, my Classics books are organized by subject—Greek tragedy, for instance, and within each of those categories books are further organized by author—Aeschylus, Euripides, etc.

Some of my Seagull Books Collection

 

Some of my NYRB collection

The conundrum I have comes when a book falls into more than one shelving category; for instance, I have collected many Ann Carson books, but one of them is a NYRB publication, so where do I put that book?  It seems that it ought to go in the Carson section, but then my NYRB collection seems lonely and incomplete without it.  And what should I do with the Bachmann/Celan Correspondence book that I recently reviewed?  I want to put it with the other Seagull titles, but then again I have a growing section of Bachmann books and a small section of Celan poetry.  Oh, and I also have a shelf of books all about letters and correspondence (the Letters of Virginia Woolf, Love Letters of Great Men, Nabakov’s Letters to Vera, etc.)

Books from my Classics collection

Nothing aggravates me more than when I can’t find a book because I forgot where I shelved it.  I have been looking for my copy of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening for weeks.  Did I put it with the philosophy books?  It isn’t with the other Nancy titles.  I bought a translation of Propertius’s poetry that has the exact same cover as the Nancy book.  Should I have a section of books that have the same covers?  It’s really exhausting.  My husband has generously offered to build me another bookshelf or two; although this also further enables my habit of book hoarding.

How do my fellow bibliophiles organize books?  I would love to see some photos!

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Filed under Anne Carson, New York Review of Books, Opinion Posts, Seagull Books