Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Word on the Street columnist in Boston Globe wrote about Vacation Guide’s personal touches


Jan Gardner writes the Word on the Street column for BostonGlobe.com and in a January edition stated that A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores was “…a good one to keep in the glove compartment.” I really enjoyed seeing that comment because it goes right to the heart of how and why the guide book came to be. I wrote it with the notion that a book shop visitor would keep it with them as a handy guide, regardless of where they end up in New England. What better place than in the globe box? If it’s handy, you can thumb through it and find the independent full-service, or used and rare book shop nearby.

You can read Jan’s full commentary at BostonGlobe.com. She also points out that the writing in the guide book is “folksy.” When I read that, it occurred to me, again, that I intended it to be casual and conversational, rather than clinical and analytical. I read a lot of guide books and they tend to be informative, but somewhat dry to read. I deliberately tried to avoid that. I’m glad that Jan felt it was “folksy.” The folksy part comes from sharing bits of information that go beyond whether certain types of books are on hand.
If famous authors have a preference for a shop, (Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury) or the owner has rearranged the shop to accommodate music recitals, (Pleasant Street Books in Woodstock), I like to share that information. While admittedly, that’s “folksy,” it’s my feeling that it helps readers decide it’s the kind of place they should visit.

Coincidentally, the Crow Bookshop in Burlington VT was highlighted in the same column as my guide book. Later that month I received a note that the shop was stocking my guide book. That’s what a writer loves to hear. The book was on another shelf. It keeps us going. Thanks to Jan and Thanks to the Crow Bookshop.

Monday, March 18, 2013

About the Hampton Union article on Drake Farm Books

Drake Farm Books - No. Hampton NH
I enjoyed reading the article by Nick Reid, a reporter for the Hampton Union, commenting on the selection of Drake Farm Books by Yankee Magazine as one of the Best 5 Used Bookstores in New England. What I liked about the article was that he took the time to interview the folks at the bookstore, he looked into the guide book I wrote that included a commentary about Drake Farm Books, and he contacted me to get some direct comments.

That’s more effort on a small story than I see on much larger stories that may be more significant. As a former newspaper reporter, I understand the pressure placed on writers to get something into print and the tendency to short-cut the research to meet a deadline. But, in this case, Nick did the most you could do with the simple story. He probably started with a press release from Yankee Magazine, but he made the effort to find the points of interest that his readers would appreciate. I know I did.

The article led with the news about the selection of the book shop by Yankee Magazine as one of the 5 Best Used Bookstores, then went on to justify the selection based on the author comments and other published comments. He followed that with comments from the owners and a description of the bookstore’s history, its unique characteristics, and that at this point in its life, that the shop was for sale. That’s great news for some reader who wants to get into the high-stress world hand-selling used books! Is that you? Let me know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Not So Easy Choices for Best Used Bookstores

The editor of Yankee Magazine asked me to select my five favorite used bookstores for their Best 5 in New England feature. It seemed easy, as I have lots of favorite used bookstores, so surely I can pick the best five?

Yankee-Magazine-Best-5-Used-Book-Stores
Best 5 Used Bookstores
Oops! Imagine trying to pick your “best” grandchild? What seemed easy became a bit of a chore when I had to get down to selecting five used bookshops. Mel Allen, the editor of Yankee Magazine, gave me some grace to select an additional 10 runners-up, which helped a little. My selections appear in the January-February issue of Yankee Magazine, and the runners-up appear in the online version.

The shops I selected were:

- The Montague Bookmill – Montague MA

- Shire Book Shop – Franklin MA

- Pleasant Street Books – Woodstock VT

- Drake Farm Books – Northampton NH

- The Book Barn – Niantic CT

I feel very comfortable with these choices and the 10 honorable mentions too. They are certainly worthy candidates for someone looking for a great used book shop in New England. It’s just that there are many others equally worthy of being a Top 5 choice. In my book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores, I write about 31 used books shops that are among my favorites.


Yankee-Magazine-January-February-2013-Issue
January-February 2013 issue
Here are the 10 runners-up from Yankee Magazine:

- Big Chicken Barn – Ellsworth ME

- Carlson Turner Books – Portland ME

- Bar Harbor Book Shop – Hulls Cove ME

- Henniker Book Farm – Henniker NH

- Whitlock Farm Booksellers – Bethany CT

- The Traveler Book Cellar – Union CT

- Vintage Books – Hopkinton MA

- Book Bear – West Brookfield MA

- Myopic Books (Paper Nautilus Books) – Providence RI

- The Book Shed – Benson VT

You can visit my website, GuideToNewEnglandBookstores.com, to read the remainder of my favorite used bookstores. You can also link to Amazon to buy my Guide.







Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Latest Edition of Guide Book Has Arrived

A Vacationer's Guide Book to Rural New England Bookstores
Latest edition of Guide Book
The latest edition of my Guide Book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores, was published last week and is available now for purchase. The new edition is divided into three sections; Full-Service Independent Bookstores, Used-Rare Book Shops, and One-Day Bookstore-Tour itineraries. It’s a useful Guide for someone visiting New England on vacation with an eye toward finding a good bookstore nearby their destination.

Destination Bookstores
In my view, each of these bookshops is a destination itself and that’s why it’s in the Guide. The things I look for in a book shop go beyond just the books; they include things like how helpful and knowledgeable are the staff, and the depth and interest of the collection. Does the shop provide Author signings? Does it have other products and services such as a café, a book-club meeting room, and a children’s section?


The 39 bookstores highlighted in the Guide are my favorites, but I recognize that others will have a different collection of favorite shops. That’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes assembling the Guide so much fun for me. I have added and subtracted to the Guide over the years as things change. My concern has been that the change would be for the worse – but, it appears it has been for the better. In more than one case a Local, Independent shop has taken over the location of a previous Big Box store. Not that I’m gleeful about that (but, I am).


Another aspect of the Guide is that even folks who live in a nearby town to one of these shops can reconsider whether it’s a better idea to visit a Local, Independent or Used Book Shop, rather than a Big Box shop. Buy Local is more than a slogan to me. I think we benefit everyone when we help keep the local shopkeeper going. He or she is more inclined to be a good neighbor in my opinion; making choices about suppliers, and community participation that benefit the local economy.

GuideToNewEnglandBookstores.com
My website, GuideToNewEnglandBookstores.com, maintains a list of the shops from the Guide and is a good place to find any updates to information in the Guide. It’s also a place where visitors can offer me some suggestions on shops to visit in New England. It’s amazing that there is always something new out there. If you like the Guide, let me know. If you don’t; let me know that too, so I can make it better.


If you want a copy, you can visit your local full-service bookstore and they can order it for you from the bookstore wholesalers. Give them the ISBN number (978-61863-388-0) and they won’t have any problem finding it. You can also buy the Guide direct from the publisher and now you can log on to Amazon too. It’s an age when convenience and availability are important. I shop at local bookshops for the books I didn’t know I wanted. Sometimes, when I know exactly what I want, I use an online source. I try to use a Local Independent bookshop website to place the order, so that they benefit from the purchase. So, go ahead and call your favorite book shop and ask for A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores today. Thanks.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Books of November

I generally write about the bookstores where I buy my books. Today, I am writing about the books I read this month. There were five of them:

-          How America Saved the World by Eric Hammel (Tatnuck Bookseller)
-          The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley (Tatnuck Bookseller)
-          David Crockett by Michael Wallis (The Alamo Bookstore)
-          Unstuck in Time by Gregory D. Sumner (Books and Beans)
-          Salinger by Paul Alexander (Annie’s Book Stop)

These five books boil down to three biographies and two history books. That’s pretty much the way I roll on a month-in month-out basis. If I read five books, three or four of them are biography or autobiography. And even one of the history books was primarily focused on the decisions of Franklin Roosevelt and the key military leaders in the United States during the pre-war years. In essence, it was a biography. Here then is where I bought the books and what they were about.

Tatnuck Bookseller - Westborough

That said; How America Saved the World by Eric Hammel posed a contradictory interpretation of just how prepared the United States was prior to the start of the Second World War. Common thinking holds that the U.S. pulled together after the attack at Pearl Harbor and miraculously put two million soldiers and all the armaments they needed together in less than two years. The book argues that Roosevelt and his planners held a meeting as early as 1938 that launched the country into a true arsenal of democracy mode. The detailed and comprehensive writing was very convincing.

The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley provided a history of the secret organization that sorted the myths from the truth. It was interesting to read that at every major moment in history, where someone has accused the Freemasons of ulterior or suspect motives, there turned out to be just as many Freemasons on each side of the controversy. In the Revolutionary War, where masons such as Washington and Benjamin Franklin were leading the rebels, the British were being led by men who also were masons. Once you understand the real behavior of these and other leaders in history, the Freemasons are not so hard to understand.

Books and Beans - Southbridge

At the Books and Beans shop in Southbridge I found Unstuck in Time by Gregory D. Sumner, which is a clever “biography” of the fourteen novels written by Kurt Vonnegut. As the author unravels each novel, it becomes clearer how Vonnegut evolved as a writer and as an observer of the human condition. Vonnegut was focused on the American Dream, which also evolved over the years. The theme of being unstuck in time moves through each novel developing its own inertia with each novel building on the one that went before.

Annie’s Book Stop – W.Boylston

The elusive writer, J.D. Salinger is the subject of Paul Alexander’s book, Salinger. For those who have read The Catcher in the Rye, it is fascinating to learn about the recluse writer and the events in his life which may contribute to our understanding of where his story ideas came from. It is well known as a writer’s axiom that one should write about what one knows. So, a backwoodsman might write a tale about a bear hunting excursion and a dancer might write about a round the world cruise assignment for an entertainment troupe. That all makes sense. But, how does one write about a young boy named Holden Caulfield and create a literary triumph? The biography is fascinating and illuminating. But, not all questions are eventually answered.

The Alamo Bookstore – San Antonio

While on a reunion with friends I served with in the Air Force, we visited the Alamo in San Antonio and I found a great book, David Crockett by Michael Wallis. I didn’t find the book in a rural New England bookstore, but it was one of the books I read in November; so, I am reporting on it. David Crockett was a man who became a legend in his own time. His contemporaries made him a legend for the things he did throughout his life. Today, he is sometimes reduced to a man who fought and died at the Alamo. But, in essence, that was one of the least consequential actions of his life. The real story of Crockett is more fascinating than the TV series or the portrayals in Hollywood films.

 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Books & Beans in Southbridge is Perfect Combination


Books & Beans - Southbridge MA

When I sit down to read, I generally take a cup of coffee with me. When I sat down at Books & Beans recently in Southbridge, it was as if they read my mind. The wall was lined with books and the counter offered coffee and other essentials. The books ranged from novels to non-fiction, with some occasional text books thrown in. Mostly hard-cover books, but a nice selection of paperbacks too.

The shop shares space
 with a printer and a shipper

Books and Beans is one of many activities associated with The Center of Hope located at 100 Foster Street, Southbridge, MA. The bookshop and café are nearby at 100 Central Street. The bookshop is located in a printing and shipping store, which also provides employment opportunities for clients of The Center of Hope. The shop is a great example of multi-purpose merchandizing.

The first book I spotted was The New Deal by Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. The book examines aspects of what brought about the New Deal and how its impact affects us today. The next book that caught my eye was Unstuck in Time by Gregory Sumner, a journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels. This examination of 15 of Vonnegut’s novels is a scholarly look at his work by an obvious fan.

Both books were published in 2011 and had a combined cover price of $57.95. Even at the standard 20 percent off at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough, the cost of $46.36 for these two books would keep them off my reading list. But at $2 each at Books & Beans, it was definitely today’s bargain buy.

I am a firm believer in the value of browsing independent bookstores and places such as Books & Beans because I tend to find books I didn’t know I was looking for. Take Patriotic Treason by Evan Caron, the story of John Brown and the fight for equality. This book was published in 2006 and I was not familiar with it. But, for $2 at Books & Beans, I am saved.

The books are donated by supporters of The Center of Hope and the customers who buy them are in fact, making a donation, not really a purchase. The non-profit organization has been an important part of the community since the foundation was established in the 1950’s and continues its mission today.

Did I mention the coffee was less than $2? That’s a good day.







Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Book Shop Heard ‘round the World; or How I spent a Day near Concord-Lexington Buying Books

Barrow Book Store - Concord MA
The historic sites in Massachusetts are boundless. When we take a day trip to visit an historic site, such as the North Bridge in Concord, I try to scope out a reason to return on another day for a visit to several book shops. Recently, I made a circle trip to several bookstores, including some I had not been to before.
The trip started off with a thunk as I discovered that Annie’s Book Stop and Espresso Paulo in Framingham were completely abandoned. The whole plaza was mostly deserted so maybe they moved somewhere else. But, further down the road toward Framingham the Book Cellar was closed too. So, it was early in the day and I was zero for two. Not a good start. To console myself, I stopped at Trader Joe’s and bought a case of wine. (For three dollars a bottle, it’s hard to beat.)

Bearly Read Books
I left the buzziness of Route 9 via peaceful, tree-lined Edgell Road towards Route 20, where I got to Bearly Read Books in Sudbury about 10 minutes before they opened. After an hour I had seen three book shops and been inside none. Thankfully, they opened at their scheduled time of 10 AM.

The shop has been around for about 25 years, with the new owners operating it for the past five years. It’s an impressive antiquarian and rare book shop with about 40,000 books on hand, but it also has more generic used books, and some at very reasonable prices. They also have a great section of signed books.
I got The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub and Inadmissible Evidence by Philip Friedman. Even though the owners were away, the person minding the store was helpful and knowledgeable.

Willow Books
I left Bearly Read Books and proceeded toward Acton, about 20 minutes away, to Willow Books. I hadn’t been there before, but had meant to stop in. It’s a large building, which they share with an insurance company. The store was bright and cheerful. It reminded me of Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough. It has a café for coffee and a muffin, clean rest rooms, and a big kids section. There was a good display of local authors and near the front door was a big section filled with bargain books.

The used book section is strictly paperbacks, so it was not interesting to me. But, if that’s what you are looking for, you can get started on buying and selling books back to them for credits on future purchases. That’s great for the locals, not so much for vacationers to the region.
I picked up The Last Founding Father: James Monroe by Harlow Giles Unger. I had previously read his book about Lafayette. I also got The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong. Both books were $6.98 in the bargain rack. I picked up some other books as well. The day was getting better.

Second Hand Prose
Just a few minutes up the road I got to Second Hand Prose. The shop has been there for over 20 years. It’s got a nice selection of paperback and hard cover books. It offers an interesting buy-back program where you get one sixth of the cover price for books you turn in and eventually get your purchase price down to one fourth the cover price based on credits you’ve earned. Don’t worry; they will explain how it works. The hundreds of customers that have cards on file are testimony to the successful discount strategy.
I picked up Benjamin Franklin by Edmond Morgan and Rabbi Kushner’s book For Those Who Can’t Believe.

The Concord Book Shop
The last stop of the day was in Concord. To get there I had to go through the infamous Concord Traffic Rotary. The Concord Book Shop is one of my favorite bookstores. I include it in my book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores. The shop has all the latest books, a deep selection of history, politics, nature, and especially biographies, which is a strong interest of mine. I picked up Stephen Greenblatt’s, The Swerve, How The World Became Modern; a Pulitzer Prize winner. I also stepped outside and visited another of my favorite book shops: Barrow Book Store.

Barrow Book Store
This used and rare book shop, which is practically next door to The Concord Book Shop, specializes in Concord authors such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Emerson. I bought half a dozen books on this visit. Three were signed by the authors. There were a few that I left behind for the next visit. There are many reasons to return to this historic area of Massachusetts, including more bookstores.