Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 27: Owners' marks, underlining, and library marks

Each independently-owned used bookstore has different rules about what books to buy. We've posted our policy that we never accept former library books and are otherwise somewhat strict about not taking books with a lot of markings in them. Other stores have different policies. In general, the differences have to do with what kind of people want what kind of books, as well as what the bookstore's owner wants to select.

We have, in the past, been offered some really great books with some heavy underlining inside. We've heard from some of our customers that they would buy books with underlining, and sometimes, if we're really short on a book frequently used for classes, we'll buy underlined copies. We also make exceptions on the library rule for books that were owned by monastery libraries (they tend not to put too many stickers and stamps in) or for books over a hundred years old. On the whole, however, if we receive books containing a lot of underlining or with owners' stamps on the front cover or the edges of the book, we donate them to our ongoing Benefit Sale for Local Foods Connection or, if they are heavily damaged, we recycle them.

There are several reasons that this store has this policy. Let me enumerate a few. 1. We have a lot of books, and we buy a lot of books, so when we're buying, we have to think about what we have room to shelve. We're offered a lot of beautifully kept books, so we tend to prefer those. 2. Though some of our customers don't mind or even like prior owners' marks like underlining and inscriptions, many dislike such marks. 3. We price underlined books lower than we price clean ones, but lower still doesn't always make for customer satisfaction. As a matter of business, it's better policy to stock things that make our customers happier - and on which we can make some amount of profit.

With regard to library books, there are many more reasons not to carry them: for one thing, there are dozens of places to buy former library books in Iowa City, often for $3 or less. It wouldn't be cost-effective for us to try to 'compete in that market,' as the business types would say. For another, some have embedded security devices that cause inconvenient beeping noises in buildings with alarm systems, which also raises the problem of having to check each book for discard marks to be certain the library doesn't expect to get them back. And for a third, library books have often been subjected to a great deal more wear than single-owner books; we worry about whether the bindings are still good, whether a page might have gotten torn out, that sort of thing. It's more efficient to turn them all down than to go through each, page by page and signature by signature, to make sure that they are still in good enough condition for a new reader to enjoy.

There are some marks we don't mind as much. A prior owner's name, a date, a meaningful inscription in a very old (100+) book, a neatly affixed bookplate, all are acceptable. What we don't want are marks disfiguring the outside of the book or marks in the text itself. We are more lenient about margin marks and pencil marks than we are about heavily penciled or penned underlining, and we are more lenient about underlining than about highlighting. If you have questions about whether your books meet our guidelines, feel free to call, email, or stop in.


For those of you who order books online, here are the technical terms for what we do and don't accept:

- POI or Prior Owner's Inscription - this is usually just a name on the front free endpaper, also known as a 'flyleaf'. (There are two front endpapers - the fixed and the free - left and right sides of what is usually the same sheet of paper, half of which is glued inside the front cover and the other half of which protects the first printed page.) - These are fine.

- Bookplate tipped in / affixed / at the front endpaper. - (Tipped in and affixed are the most common terms for something stuck to a page in the book; we say 'laid in' if it's not attached.) If the bookplate's glue damaged the page, this might be a problem, but usually we don't mind bookplates.

- Mild staining / toning from pressed leaf/flower at pages x-y - As long as it's mild, we don't mind. (Toning is our term for when something acidic, either laid in or sometimes the book's paper itself, causes the pages to turn yellow or even brown.)

- Scattered pencil marks in the text - these are sometimes okay, depending on the book. Same goes for scattered pen marks in the margins.

- "Prior owner's stamp at edge of page block" or "black mark at edge of page block" are kind of suspicious. Sometimes what is being called a "prior owner's stamp" is actually a publisher's "not for sale" or "not for resale" stamp, which means that selling it isn't strictly legal. It might also be a library stamp, including a really big, ugly "DISCARD" stamp. "Black marks" or "publisher's remainder marks" can sometimes be a warning that the book was printed for one of those giant print runs on cheap paper, which means the pages might have toning, which happens quickly with cheap paper. We will sometimes accept books with remainder marks, as long as they are otherwise in excellent condition, but we never pay first edition or collectible prices for remainder marked books, nor should you when you are buying books.

We do not accept:

- "Ex lib. with usual / expected marks / stamps" - I've seen this description all over the internet. It seems to mean library book with any or all of: spine sticker, call numbers written on the outside or inside, library stamps on the first, last, and sometimes middle pages, card pockets, handling spots or stains inside or outside, or worse. My general rule of thumb is: if the seller doesn't take the time to explain to you what 'usual' or 'expected' marks are, the marks are probably really ugly or the seller might just be careless.

- "May have underlining / highlighting / marks in text" - see above.

- "Extensive underlining / highlighting / margin marks" - another description we'd never use, ourselves. What is extensive? Is it extensive enough to keep the book from being useful? Not very clear.

- "Heavy foxing" - Foxing is what we call the little brown freckle-like marks that sometimes appear at the top edges of undusted books or at the first few pages or illustration pages of old books. We don't mind a few specks, but if they even come close to obscuring the printed words or the illustrations, we won't take the book.

- "Bleed-through" or "red/green/blue/etc. stain at edges / on pages x to y" - This is almost always an indication that the book got wet enough for the cover to bleed ink into the pages, which means the cover and pages may be warped, moldy, stuck together, etc. A faint coffee spot may be all right on the outside edge of an academic book, but a coffee spot that stained the margins or text or made the page edges ripple is not.

As always, if you have questions, feel free to ask. We're happy to help you figure out which internet-listed book is right for you or how to describe the condition of your book.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Officer's Log No 23: Old Favorites and New Toys

I think I've concluded that global warming must be real, because despite the fact that it's maybe a little over 30 degrees outside in the final full week of November, there's not a speck of snow or ice on the ground. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm quite happy to have winter in Iowa, sans the side effects. That being said, though, there are a few great coffee shops in town that have their fireplaces roaring, and who doesn't love being able to curl up in a comfy chair next to a fire with a good book?

I have a whole stack of books for winter reading, but I'm curious to know what people are planning on attacking this wintry season for their literary or non fiction fixes? I've got a mixture of both, and lately I haven't been able to pin down what The Big Thing will be this year. I mean, Steig Larsson is still selling like hot cakes, and we have a few nice new hardcovers of this year releases like Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist and Justin Cronin's The Passage, but I'm curious to see what people are hoping to see their neighborhood used book store have on hand.

It is that time of year again, when holiday shoppers (yours truly included) experience that mixture of dread and eagerness: the dread of braving The Mall, and the eagerness of finding The Perfect Gift. Well, fear not, gentle shoppers, for we might be able to help you out.

The good news is right now we have a lot of older favorites in stock, such as all the Harry Potter Books, including volumes 3 through 7 in hardcover, as well as most of the Cirque du Freak series for those supernatural teen fiction fans out there. As always, we have a great collection of children's picture books with beautiful illustrations, and don't forget our new kids non-fiction section. There are some very nifty reprints of classic Nancy Drew books from the 1920s, as well as an assortment of other old favorites, like Hardy Boys and Boxcar Children. If you need some suggestions for young adult readers who need something new for the winter holidays, just let us know.

We've got several lovely Library of America editions of classic American fiction like Philip Roth and Mark Twain, as well as non-fiction classical political writing from Jefferson, Paine and a very cool edition of A.J. Liebling's World War II articles. Our history section continues to grow, and we have a strictly European History section now, as well as Historiography, or books on writing about history. If you're coming in search of education or parenting books and don't find them up front, don't panic, they're in the back room above psychology now.

We've got a whole bunch of new toys to go along with the books, including some whimsical card games and new puppets. For more information, check our website or stop by and we'll be happy to demonstrate how to best utilize the big turkey puppet for maximum amusement during your big holiday get togethers.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Book Award Winners 2010

The 2010 National Book Awards have been announced. The highlights include:

* Winner for Young People's Literature: Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird

Winner for Poetry: Terrance Hayes, Lighthead

* Winner for Nonfiction: Patti Smith, Just Kids

* Winner for Fiction: Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

Ghostwriting No. 26: Store Policy on Children

We have always enjoyed the company of young people, from curious-eyed newborns to those just starting to read "grownup" books and beyond. Unfortunately, however, the time has come to state a policy with respect to our youthful company.

Poorly behaved parents will be asked to leave.

DO NOT leave your under-12 children here while you go elsewhere.

DO NOT leave your children alone at the front of the store while you look elsewhere until you have made certain that they have selected an appropriate activity and can engage in it respectfully.

DO NOT permit your children to disrupt the browsing of other patrons.

DO NOT leave the bookstore before making sure that your children have picked up any toys or books they have pulled from the shelves. If you don't know where something goes, please return it to the front counter and suggest to your children that keeping track of where they got something so that they can put it away properly is mannerly and appreciated.

We strongly encourage parents who want to share the experience of visiting a bookstore with children and are happy to do all we can to make the experience fun and interesting. We cannot, however, tolerate situations in which children, particularly disruptive ones, are effectively left in our care without our consent. Please teach your child to enjoy our premises respectfully.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Officer's Log No 22: "Yes, But Is It Good?", or, Why Ali Has Mixed Feelings On Book Awards

So this past weekend, I watched quite an amusing little video clip from's "Outside the Box" Book Reviews, wherein the reviewer goes after the NBA. No, not the National Basketball Association, the National Book Awards, and proceeds to explain, in a very hyperbolic and amusing fashion, why he doesn't necessarily agree with the choices for finalists, and also makes the, in my opinion, accurate observation that regardless of what the finalists for book awards are, there are always bound to be people who complain that their favorite book was overlooked and why that simply isn't fair.

I recall a conversation I had once upon a time with friends who were all quite well read and liked reading authors who tended to get short listed for prestigious literary prizes. Being in a sarcastic mood, I asked if the books that won were actually any good. The discussion quickly shifted to what defines a truly good book from the rest of the herd, but the question still lingers in my mind today: does a prize attached to a book's name actually make it better, or more deserving than any other book released in that same year?

I'd like to point out that I long ago learned to be skeptical of whatever books were award winners, despite the fact that some books that win awards truly do deserve it. That said, I can't say that somebody who won the Nobel ever made me want to rush out and read their book. Perhaps I read it later, when I stumbled upon it, but the Nobel doesn't make that much of an impression on me. I probably need to work on this.

Since I went through and made a long list for the shop's reference on who won what in what year and why, I gained a newer appreciation for the absolutely levels of frustration that book critics and prize committees must face when deciding on and awarding marks (high, low, in between) to literature, science fiction, mystery, non fiction, what have you. It's got to be the most baffling and unappreciated job in the publishing world, because no matter what you do or say, you can't please everyone.

The Nobel Committee appears to choose literary figures based upon their contributions to writing, but judging from the fascinating article at Wikipedia, I'd recommend jumping straight to this bit, about the controversies in the history of the prize. Perhaps it's because I have an odd affinity for reading about gossip in the literary world (and who doesn't, truly?), but I found the who's-who of authors who never won the prize more compelling than those who have won it. It boggles the mind, comprehending the political nature of the Nobel Prize in Literature, especially when it is, in theory, supposed to be about the art of writing.

There are a few awards that I follow, the Hugo and Nebula, the Edgar Awards; otherwise, I decide on books to read based upon word of mouth or various articles I read. A prize means very little to me as a reader. However, I've discovered, in my almost ten years of working in bookstores, that people respond to half-dollar sized stickers on the front covers of books that announce what prize the book has won. The nature of the prize isn't as important as the fact that a book has won a prize of some kind, therefore elevating it to something other than Just Another Books.

Hundreds of books come out every year, but only a few get to be truly worthy of prizes, and the things that do get chosen for awards inevitably make some book reader, somewhere, miffed that their favorite book of the year wasn't chosen for this award or that. The books that seem to win awards, the last decade or so, for fiction, seem to be long, drawn out accounts of what I like to call Families In Distress, and Drama Drama Drama, With Some Angsty Humor On The Side. These are the kinds of books that sell very well in the past decade, and I think it shows that the publishing industry reflects the country's state of mind. Post-9/11 America is distraught, still, almost ten years later, nervous, scared, worried about every thing. People want to read about things the way that they wish they were, or perhaps they wish to read about lives that seem worse than theirs. That's probably why the misery memoir was so popular in the mid-2000s.

Admittedly, these aren't the kinds of things I usually read. Granted, when I was in college, I didn't really read for fun all that much, and if I did read for fun, it was a trashy urban fantasy novel or a copy of Rolling Stone, something I could stuff in my backpack next to my school notebooks and texts. If a book won a prize, that meant it was Serious Literature, and up until this year I have had a very hard time taking Serious Literature, well, Seriously.

The nonfiction I read nowadays might win notice as one of the Best Books of (Insert Year Here) from The Economist, The New York Times, or some other nationally known magazine or newspaper, and maybe, like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, the book might win the Pulitzer. The books that I did enjoy the most, for their writing style, story and characters, those weren't the kinds of books that prize committees looked at. Even when the Quill Award (2005 - 2007, discontinued in 2008) was awarded to Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind in 2007, while I was excited that more people knew it was a good novel, I'd read the book at the insistence of a friend, not because it was winning prizes or recognition from committees.

Literary prizes seem to reflect current temperaments, much like any artistic prize, from the Academy Awards for movies, to the Grammys for music. As such, it's no surprise that whatever is chosen for the current year is what reflects culture the best, but that doesn't mean that genuinely good books have to be pushed out of the way. There is truly great literature out there, strongly written stories that don't get notice or attention until book sellers start noticing them, and even then, no matter how hard you push, you can't convince a committee that the truly great novel is right below their noses.

It's a shame. They must have the most frustrating job. I suppose when you're forced to narrow a field of books down to five or six with true merit, you have to sacrifice really good stuff for the stuff that will sell, that will bring in money. It's trendy, it reflects the times. Hopefully it will change. In the mean time, I'll try to keep my eyes open for good books, but not necessarily stuff that wins prizes.

Three Local Authors Book Event

Today the Haunted Bookshop is pleased to announce a local author's book event. Come visit us this afternoon for three local children's book authors - Michell Edwards, Claudia McGehee, and Jacqueline Briggs Martin - and their news books. There will be readings, signings and cake. The cats and staff are very excited for this event so come help us show support to our local writing community.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 25: Store Policy on Mold and Mildew

For health and safety reasons, we must ask that you

NEVER bring moldy or mildewed books into the shop.

This policy is not flexible. Patrons who bring in anything containing mold or mildew will be asked to remove it immediately.

Some of our patrons have allergies. We can't allow mold or mildew to infect our inventory. And staff and cats deserve to have a clean environment free from spores that might make us feel ill or develop infections or breathing problems.

Dispose of moldy or mildewed books responsibly. Put them in the garbage.

First Officer's Log No 21: Random Act

This past week, a most unexpected thing occurred. A bit of a brief statement, but here it is: a few months back I had a long conversation with a customer about history and the interest I had in particular aspects. We had a great time talking, he bought several books, and I had a good feeling he would definitely return. On Wednesday, he did return, and he brought me a book.

It's one of the most unexpected things I've had happen. He showed up, told me that he had finished the book and wanted my opinion on it, and so gave it to me to read. Needless to say, I was quite surprised, in fact, I am still. It's such an out of the blue thing to happen, and on a topic that I'm genuinely interested in, so for him to do this was... well. I don't really know what to say to it, expect thank you.

To you customers who come in, visit us, shop with us, play with our cats, joke with us, talk with us, tell us stories, and have fun in our place of business, to you, I want to say 'thank you.' I feel, perhaps that I do not say it enough, but thank you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"It's funny but will it get them off their tractors in Peoria?" - Jon, as a television exec with reference to 'Moonlighting'

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fourth City of Literature: Dublin

The Haunted Bookshop would like to give a shout out to our newest UNESCO City of Literature: Dublin, Ireland!

Dublin joins us, here in Iowa City, along with Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as unique cities that have contributed to the growth and experience of literature and literary communities throughout the world. Congratulations!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"You are very insolent, cat!" - a customer to Logan, who was attempting to get her smoothie

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Some cover artist needs to be shot. First against the wall when the publication comes." -Nialle

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 24: 50% More Legitimate Endorsements!

Gold foil stickers. They're everywhere, and they'll say anything.

It's the time of year when I rifle through the fiction section, checking to make sure I am acquainted with each book (and to see what's missing), and this time around I'm noticing how many books have circular gold stickers announcing everything from the obviously useful information that the author won the Nobel or that the book won the Man Booker or Pulitzer to announcing awards I had to look up for lack of familiarity (I had no idea how many writing associations hand out awards in this country), or sharing last-minute, high-powered blurbs (often one-word superlatives by household-name authors), or promising - no, I wish I were kidding - extra material. Reading group guides, added introductions, author interviews, that sort of thing.

Does that actually work on book buyers? The 25% MORE FREE advertising program? I'm dubious. But anyway.

Awards: They are useful insofar as they bring recognition to authors and works of outstanding quality. Have you noticed how many people have lost faith in them, though? Well, maybe not lost, since I'm not sure when who had what faith, but especially since the Nobel committee laureated J. M. G. Le Clezio, I've heard rather the opposite of "Ooo, a Nobel winner, this must be good!" Pulitzer-winning novels, word around the counter informs me, are all very depressing (though the folks who tell me this usually allow that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay did not follow the pattern they claim). Man Booker prizes, my sources tell me, seem to go to very weird authors (and I don't disagree that Margaret Atwood is weird - I'm not sure she would either - but Peter Carey and Kiran Desai, weird? Unless being articulate and picking topics that don't appear to be grovelling for feature filmhood is weird).

On another point, though, one can suffer from award saturation. The dozens of widely recognized prizes aside, Writer's Digest (the publisher) awards gold foil stickers to the author of a winning self-published novel. This probably isn't quite the branding the Nobel Laureate sticker-bearers were hoping to tap.

Meanwhile, the blurbs. I don't think there's really a way to win at the game of recommending books, since people naturally disagree on what's good and why, but I do think there are a few clear ways to lose. One is to call a book "a glowing triumph of profoundly moving imagination," which uses five out of the seven most overused words in literary-fiction blurbiage (the other two are "exuberant" and "compelling"); one is to have a single adjective, excerpted from what was hopefully a full and intelligent discussion of the book's merit, slapped on a dust jacket with an exclamation point after it, as if to demonstrate the expedience with which the lonely adjective was cleaved from its context; and one is to compare a book to two other books that bear little, if any, resemblance to each other or the book at hand. For example - and I am not making this up, as much as I wish I were - calling The Raw Shark Texts a convergence of "Moby Dick and The Wizard of Oz" (Kirkus Reviews, what were you thinking?) just makes me wonder how many people are literate enough to know that Moby Dick was, not a shark, but a whale.

I'm all for visual cues to help market books. Don't get me wrong - I know how hard the publishing industry has worked to give customers ways to sort through the incredible numbers of titles for kinds they like - I do see that gold foil circles have their uses. But 1. Wolf. Do not cry it. and 2. "Excellent" - New York Times Book Review... really? Couldn't you at least have thrown in a noun so that I know whether it's "Excellent Noir" or "Excellent Recipes"?