Category Archives: Meditations and Maunderings

Personal stories and opinions about books and the antiquarian book trade.

Inspiration and Motivation

I like reading personal and business motivational books. They help me to keep some focus and balance in my life. Within each book I read or CD I listen to, I always find at least one inspirational part that fills me with energy and ideas. To stay afloat in the business world today, and particularly in the bookselling world, you have to constantly be on the lookout for possible trends and new ideas that will help you stay competitive and sometimes even profitable. All of the following books are a little dated but I still recommend them as worthwhile reads.

My idea for this article was inspired by story #100 from a book of collected stories called The 100 Simple Secrets Of Successful People, by David Niven, Ph.D. The book consists of two-page stories demonstrating “the traits, beliefs and practices of successful people”. Each article is backed up by some sort of relevant research study. The short stories make it especially good bathroom reading, which is how I found the time to read this particular book. The following is the excerpt from story #100 that got my attention:

Only You Can Say If This Is a World You Can Succeed In:

What is the main difference between people who have confidence they will succeed and people who don’t? Is it that they live in essentially different worlds – the confident in an easier place where everyone supports their efforts at success and the less confident in a harsher world where it is harder to succeed? No.

The difference is not the world itself. The difference is how they view the world.

The confident construct a reality out of the world around them, a reality in which success is possible because they pay special attention to those who have succeeded and have carefully studied the path to success. Those who lack confidence, meanwhile, pay more attention to those who have failed and the obstacles that exist to thwart their efforts.

It is much like two people walking next to each other on a busy city street, one looking up and the other looking down. The reality of the city is the same, but the view is very different.

Some writers tell you not to put all your eggs in one basket, advising diversification over specialization. Barbara Winter’s Making A Living Without A Job does a good job of addressing the concept of diversification using “Multiple Profit Centers”.

These profit centers start as small experimental operations. Some stay small while others can really take off and grow like crazy, and still others just sort of wither away and die. The good thing is that (hopefully) only one piece of your income goes sour without bankrupting you. The down side is that you get to juggle many different things at the same time. Winter does a good job of explaining her method for self-employment.

Robert G. Allen is another of my favorite authors. He is interesting because he advocates in his earlier book Creating Wealth how to get rich in real estate by “putting all your eggs in one basket, then watching and nurturing that basket very carefully”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in a later book, Multiple Streams Of Income, he gives some great advice and good examples of how to produce a good living with diverse sources of income. The first half of the book is basically a rewrite of his “get rich in real estate” principles but the second half deals with network marketing, “infopreneuring”, licensing of intellectual property and using the internet. Hint: The second half is the interesting half!

Both of these writers bring home the fact that in today’s world you have to be alert to new trends and ideas, and be willing to try new things. To stay the same will lead to failure. Barbara Winter and Robert G. Allen have a great attitude toward entrepreneurship and self-employment.

My mom sums up this entrepreneurial attitude with her own earthy native-Vermonter saying: “If you throw enough crap against the wall, some of it is bound to stick”.

Keep picking it up and throwing it, my friend. You never know what, where and how much of it will stick!

Tidbit for Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Pricing some books this morning and fell prey to the occupational hazard of browsing instead of pricing. A riddle from “Folklore On The American Land” ($5.00 at the store):

‘What is the difference between a deer fleeing from its pursuers and a decrepit witch? One is a hunted stag, the other a stunted hag.’

I love books. Every day is like Christmas – you never know what you are going to find!

A Day at the Auction

Needing a change of pace, I decided to go to an auction last Saturday. The ad featured children’s books, old magazines and old paper with some of local interest. So I was hooked.

Normally I do not go to auctions to buy books or ephemera. For the most part, the materials sell for what I think are astronomical prices. I call them retail-plus items.

Sometimes I get lucky and attend an auction where there is a small crowd because of multiple auctions going on in the area. If I’m really lucky there are so many books that many of them are sold in box lots. At one auction several years ago I waited all day until the crowd started to leave and the auctioneer started selling by the table! Luckily, it was close by, because I ended up with two truckloads of stuff – about half of it books.

There are some pitfalls to buying in bulk. Sometimes there is a lot of “chaff” to be sifted through to find some good stuff. I minimize this by getting there early enough to go through the stuff at least twice before the auction starts. But the auctioneer always seems to bring out stuff I had never seen. Just one of the magical things that happen at an auction.

Back to Saturday’s auction. It seems that over in New York state the auctioneers don’t waste a lot of money on signs. I drove right by this one. Look for something that looks like a huge tag sale or small flea market. I spotted the sign right after that. But that was okay. Saturday turned out to be a really nice day to tour around.

I looked around a little then got my bidding number. Books were in short supply here. But there was a huge amount of furniture, mostly Cushman. If I were looking to stock up my new apartment or first home, I would go to auctions. Bureaus and chests of drawers made out of solid wood went for between $100-200. Sets of chairs for around the same.

Go to these auctions with specific wants in mind, unless you want to buy a lot of stuff you don’t need. I don’t worry about style, either. I have never been able to fathom the attitude of some people who will turn their nose up at some beautiful wood furniture in favor of going to the furniture store and paying double or triple for some piece of crap made out of particle board and vinyl “oak veneer”. Just to have a certain theme or style. Let your jealous friends laugh at your quaint old stuff while you can smile at all the money you saved. You will also have a unique decorating style that’s all your own.

There was a beautiful Cushman dining room table I lusted after. Sometimes big stuff can be had really inexpensively, but not today. I suppose the $300 price was cheap enough, but not for me this time. Since there was little in the way of books, I should have left right then, and tag-saled my way home. But I didn’t. That darned big table, dont’cha know.

So I settled in a chair in the shade at the back of the crowd. I like the back because you can see all the other bidders you will bid against. If an item comes up and you want a final look at it, run up and look at it again before bidding. Don’t be shy – it’s your money!

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One amusing sideshow I happened to catch was when a batch of bagged coins came up for bid. A couple next to me had been buying most of them. After a while the man got up and went behind the auctioneer to look at some other stuff, leaving his wife to do the bidding. Another bag of coins came up while he was back there, and she started to bid. The price got higher and higher. Then I noticed arms waving way out behind the auctioneer. It was the wandering husband. He was frantically making a “cut-off” motion with his hand across his throat for her to stop bidding! She did, and the coins went to someone else. They both looked relieved, although probably for different reasons.

Small items are usually brought right to you after purchase, but larger items are put off to the side. If you do buy large items like furniture, KEEP AN EYE ON IT! I learned this at another auction where I was high bidder, then didn’t keep a close watch on the losing bidder as he went over and looked at the piece I had bought. When I went to load it up, there was a large, deep scratch across the front. WATCH YOUR STUFF!

Well, that table finally came up, and like I said before, went for $300. To someone else. That was it for me, so I went to the cashier and turned in my number and left. When I did, I also made sure I had a copy of the sales receipt stating “no sales” on it, so no one could use my number after I left and charge it up to me. Too paranoid, you think? Not doing that could have been like losing a debit card with the passcode written on the back.

The trip back home was spent stopping at tag sales and dodging dinosaurs.

Two plastic lawn chairs, three books, six videos, a plasma light, and a set of free rain gutters later, I finally made it home. Not including gas, I spent a grand total of $17, including coffee.

Pretty cheap and fun entertainment for a Saturday.

How To Deface Your Books (and make them worthless).

This article is part advice and part confession. I believe that at one time or another I have managed to perform at least several acts of desecration upon a book. Thankfully, they have not involved the use of human waste products. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that I have destroyed a book in a way that few others will have done.  More on that later.

Right at the top of my list of how to deface and devaluate a book is highlighting, underlining and annotation. Especially if done using a highlighter or pen. I used to do this as a student but found myself highlighting/underlining half the book. I eventually figured out that this was actually detrimental to my learning. You tend to ignore the parts that aren’t highlighted, which may actually turn out to be an important section you forgot to mark. Or, if you actually do the unthinkable and try to re-read the text again, you will miss new information because your eyes will be drawn to the highlighting instead of to something new. I feel that highlighting, underlining and annotation are signs of intellectual laziness. Don’t do it – don’t give in to lazy.

For myself, I eventually found that I learned better by writing notes in my own way in a separate notebook or on a separate sheet of paper stored in a loose-leaf binder. This technique requires you to actually think about the material and condense it into something that can be reviewed in much less time than it takes to re-read all of that highlighted text. This also works well in a lecture setting, and forces you to actually listen to and not just hear the lecture.

I put the title/author at the top of the page and when I find something interesting that I want to remember, I write the page number at the left, or use some other kind of outline scheme. Play around until you find the layout that works for you. Copy the section of interest, or even better, condense it into your own words. You will be amazed at how much more material you can retain in your brain. Plus, you get to have a nice clean book that you can read again, or you can pass it on to others for their enjoyment. Or, in the case of textbooks, sell them for cash. I always laughed at the kids who would buy a pre-highlighted textbook. How did they know whether the former owner aced the class? Maybe some dummy highlighted all the wrong stuff? It’s much safer and easier in the long run to just do your own work.

Another thing I used to do to my books was put my name in them or even worse, write it on the edge of the pages. I was more inclined to do this with textbooks than in my other books. I would like to say I stopped this practice long before I became a bookseller, but it would not be true.  In my earlier days as a bookseller, about ten years ago, I had an open shop for about three years. I had some old hardcover westerns that were ex-library and in pretty rough shape, so I decided that they should never be allowed to grace my shelves again. So, I marked really low prices in pen inside the covers, so no one could bring them in to sell to me again.  Not knowing that some of them, even in the rough condition they were in, still had some value. I believe I sold them by the box. Ten years later, I still come across some of those books that I had sold so cheap. Sometimes I buy them back. And mentally kick myself or cringe every time I see a book that I defaced like this.

Now, all my pricing gets written using a light touch on the pencil. I also use a softer lead; one with an ‘S’ after the number. I avoid the hard leads with an ‘H’ after the number; you will engrave the price permanently into the paper trying to make it legible.

Another way to mistreat a book is to fold down the corner of a page as a bookmark. Again, this is another bad habit I used to indulge in. Does wisdom really come with age?

Yet another mistreatment. When reading your paperback, fold it back so that the covers meet. that way you can read it and keep one hand free. On of my customers, God rest his soul, used to get mad at me when I would not take his destroyed books in trade. The books would be in nearly new condition when they went out the door, but looked like they had been through the washer and dryer – totally trashed.

Last but no least, that other story.

When I was in college I struggled my way through differential calculus and managed to slide by with a D-, not good enough to get credit for the course. Paid all that money just to fail the course. I kept that stupid textbook for years, even after I later re-took the course at another school and passed. I eventually gave the book away but came across it several years later at the local library book sale (it had my name written on the edge of the pages). I found that I still harbored resentment toward that book. So I bought it. I then took it out to a local gravel pit and shot big holes in it with a .357 Magnum. I felt good. And maybe just a tiny little bit guilty.

Taking Out The Trash

I recycle my un-saleable books at our local recycling center, still affectionately known to locals as The Dump. One time I was there throwing out boxes of old, ratty, mass market paperbacks, heaving them into the paper recycling bin. An older lady waited until I had finished my chore, then proceeded to climb right into the bin and start to heave most of them back out. I asked her what she thought she was doing. She said she was getting them for one of the local non-profits who had a free book-exchange shelf. I know darn well that I ended up rejecting those books all over again from hopeful sellers. At one point I even started tearing them up to discourage the dump-picking. Looking back, I don’t know who was crazier, her for picking books out of a dumpster, or me for being so anal about keeping those books from coming back to my store.

Another time I got a call from a guy who swore he had a van full of nothing but ‘primo’ books in great condition – very valuable. He said he needed money to pay his bills.

After an hour’s drive, this guy wheeled into the parking lot in a van so loaded the bumper scraped the road when he made the turn. He had over forty cartons of books, which he proceeded to unload onto the front porch. It took me over four hours to sort through the stuff, hoping in vain to find something decent, but most of the boxes were full of damp, mildewed books, mouse crap, mold and dirt. I bought about thirty books and that only because I felt sorry for him. He was trying to sell stuff out of those boxes to my customers for several hours before I made him load up and leave. Another lesson learned.

As an aside to this story, I have found through much experience that people who bring books in using big old trash bags are usually bringing just that – trash. I have found that the time and labor involved in going through the bags is usually not worth it. However, neatly packed and stacked books in shopping books are usually much better. But the best thing I love to see coming into my store are nice clean books in clean, neatly packed boxes.