Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Historic Woodstock Vermont is perfect for a rare book One-Day Bookstore Tour

It’s only a couple hours north from my home to reach the town of Woodstock VT, which is a preferred destination for many reasons. The town is beautiful in any season, the main street is lined with charming shops and galleries, the dining and drinking options are numerous, and I can find a library and three book shops within walking distance of each other. Now, that’s a great reason to visit any town.

The Norman Williams Public Library had a book sale this past weekend ranging from 50 cents to a few dollars each on a great collection of hard cover and soft cover books. My wife selected a novel and I found two non-fiction hard covers that totaled $8. The library was happy and we were delighted.

A few steps down the street was the Yankee Bookshop, notable for its bright yellow awning. They claim to be the oldest continuously operated independent bookshop in town, having first opened in 1935. The shop is small but well organized. The book selection was wide ranging and I was able to find some titles that I had to have. I also appreciated the rack of local newspapers at the front of the store. It’s amazing to me that more book shops don’t bother with offering the local periodicals.

A few more steps up the street brought us to Shiretown Books. The shop has begun to inter mingle new and used books on the same shelf. This is a great idea. I prefer to make my selections in the history, biography and political commentary section from used titles because a book about an historical event two hundred years ago, that was written by someone 10 years ago, is still fresh to me. Obviously, if you want to read an analysis of last year’s election, it’s necessary to buy at new book prices. I found two volumes at $4.95 each. So, for fewer than ten dollars I had a biography of Thurgood Marshall and Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. Another good day as a result of used book pricing.

The final stop for the day was at Pleasant Street Books. It was a short ride/walk up the road and was the main reason we came on today’s visit. The antiquarian and rare book shop operated by Sonny Saul has thousands of books, many of which are first editions. The shop resides in a restored barn behind his house, along the river. It’s quintessential in its charm, inside and out. The inside has undergone a significant change over the past year. Sonny cleared out a lot of books on the ground level to make room for a piano and seating that can accommodate recitals. Although no formal schedule exists, I think we will be hearing (excuse the weak pun) more about it soon.

The rare books mingle with the merely used books. I like both types. For those looking for Shakespeare Folios, he has some. For those looking for Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, the cost was only $8. For the Shakespeare, a bit more. I bought the Umberto Eco volume.

The upstairs section is more crowded than downstairs. The books are stacked from floor to ceiling, but Sonny has provided numerous low stools for visitors to hunch down comfortably to scan the treasures on the bottom shelves. I think I bought seven books, but I could easily have bought many more. Each aisle had something to peak my reading interest. Other aisles had volumes that peaked my collecting instinct. Sometimes my instincts get the best of me. This day I settled for the seven, which included one signed copy, a few first editions and a few readers. Excellent.

Generally, a One-Day-Bookstore-Tour takes in a few nearby towns, but this time I never left the boundaries of Woodstock VT. In between the visits we took lunch at the Woodstock Inn and some libations at Bentley’s downtown. Both were fun, but the drinks are cheaper at Bentley’s, believe me. Can’t wait to come back to Woodstock.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

One-Day-Bookstore-Tour Yields Great Book Bargains in Portsmouth NH Area

I just got back from a great One-Day-Bookstore-Tour in and around Portsmouth NH, where the RiverRun Bookstore reopened at its new location. On Saturday, the place was buzzing. I was disappointed to learn that the SecondRun shop, which has been closed for a year won’t be reopening any time soon. But, according to the one of the owners, there may be a Used Book store in its future – but, probably out of town where the rents are lower.

The new shop is delightful. It’s not very large, but well organized and thankfully, it’s peppered with a lot of Used Books. Unlike a lot of shops, the new and used books are inter-mixed on the same shelves by category. So, when I’m looking at biographies, I can find a new release parked right next to a used copy of Amelia Earhart by Doris Rich for $10. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. I also found The River of Doubt, a great biography about Theodore Roosevelt’s adventure on the Amazon River for the same price. They also have bargain books in boxes at the front of the store from $2 to $5.

Downtown Portsmouth is a great walking town, but you don’t have to walk far to find shops, restaurants, bar and grills, galleries, and a lot more. I visited the former location of the SecondRun used book shop, which now anchored an artist’s gallery. Then, after a quick bite at The Page Restaurant, I was on my way seven miles up the road to Drake Farm in North Hampton.

The Drake Farm Book Shop is a remarkable local landmark. The barn was built around 1830 and from its antique railroad station wood stove (this weekend’s only source of heat) to its two floors overstuffed with 45,000 books, you know you are visiting someplace special. The owner, Bob, greets everyone who enters and encouraged browsers to button up their overcoat as the barn is unheated due to the $300 per week oil charge. So, bring your gloves and when you can’t stand it anymore, come back to the store front and warm yourself at the wood stove.

The $300 oil charge is understandable once you get inside the enormous barn. Room after room draws you further along into the enormous space. Books are stacked on shelves so tightly that you have to pull out several books at a time to release the one you want to inspect. The rooms and sections of rooms are well labeled so you can find the military or natural science or fiction sections easily. But, this is clearly a place that requires more than one visit. The vastness of the collections is hard to describe.

Among the several books that I bought was Marshall, Hero for Our Times by Leonard Mosley. The collection of WW II and other military genre books was impressive. For the most part, each book is wrapped in plastic with a written description of edition and pricing. The books are handled less this way and better preserved for the ultimate buyer. Each of the several books I purchased was a First Edition and each was treated by the bookseller with care and reverence. The pricing was fair and if you group your buys, you can earn some further discounts for purchases over $50 and $100, etc. So a good deal becomes a great deal.

Moving on down the road, you will find the Book Outlet just a mile away. This is another landmark, in its own way, as it’s been a fixture at the North Hampton Village Shopping Center at the Intersection of Rte. 1 and Rte. 111, for over a decade. The shop features paperback and hardcover used books and accepts book trade-ins toward purchases. It’s clean, neat and well lit. When you spot the $1.99 and $2.99 orange tags on books in the History or Biography section, or the $0.99 box at the front of the store, it’s hard to believe your luck. I’m always tempted to fill my arms with books. I found four volumes today that set me back a total of about $10. The four books were an autobiography, Me, by Katherine Hepburn, a book by Henry Kissinger, The Fitzgeralds and Kennedy’s saga by Doris Kearns Goodwin and the biography of Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tanenhaus.

Normally I can stop at four or five book shops in a day, but the extra browsing in downtown Portsmouth and the extended visit to Drake Farm limited me to three shops. Not that I’m complaining, the visits were all worthwhile. I also devoted a little bit of time to a Valentine gift for my wife. It’s important for future touring expeditions to maintain a happy home.