RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

01 September 2008

Bastards with Bookshops 2



THE WORST BOOKSHOP IN THE UNIVERSE
In the last posting I referred to a store in New Hampshire (now known to be 'The Antiquarian Bookstore') with a proprietor of a somewhat erratic disposition. I have since heard that the bloke is not a bad guy with a soft side to him when he is not belabouring your skull with an iron pipe. Moreover out of the goodness of his heart he takes the $5 browsing fee off your first purchase and that he actually has decent books. The motto of New Hampshire is 'Live Free or Die' and this man is simply following his bliss, dammit. Let him be. 

As for the shop known as "The Worst Bookshop in the Universe' this was identified in January 2001 when it was still extant on a book group called rec.collecting.books. Among other things that were said were:
"...books that have been there a long time are repriced upwards at the checkout, the owner (who apparently owns the whole block--no small money in today's San Jose) has paranoid notices everywhere and will even tell people who have their shirt tails worn loose (as is the fashion) to tuck them in less they conceal a book thither. The atmosphere is oppressive, the stock would disgrace a thrift shop.. Upon entry, I was greeted not by the pleasant scent 
of old paper, glue and cloth that I was expecting but instead 
encountered an aroma consisting of the apparent mixture of smoke, mold, 
and swamp-gas...

The man behind the counter looked at me with a blank hostile 
glance and continued to argue with someone on the phone. I quickly surveyed the cramped aisles and began poking around. I pulled 
the first interesting book I encountered and was disconcerted by the 
fact that the owner had used a red pencil to angrily gouge a price on 
the endpaper - way overpriced. When I looked at some book-club editions 
that had 1st-edition prices gouged in them I felt my anticipation slowly 
leaking away. I got the impression that the owner had no idea as to the 
worth of any particular book, and so priced them all outrageously so as 
to avoid accidentally selling one at a price below it's value (common book bastard ploy) terrible and inconsistent business hours... 
poor lighting, 
filthy floors/shelves ...
misanthropic proprietor... 
way-over-priced books...noxious stinky atmosphere... 
Horrible treatment of books ...
"Don't read the magazines unless you're going to buy" sign ...
Stagnant stock...Stygian...


Two things to note, the guy although he looked like the roady of a fifth rate Metal group was probably worth many millions- the dotcom boom had sent San Jose property prices ballistic. The worst guy to do a deal with is someone who doesn't need the money. As with other really bad shops personned by b'stards (there used to be one in the Tenderloin area of SF) they reprice stock that has been there a long time, often checking the net and ignoring low prices. Surely if a book has been there a long time the price is right or, in most cases, far too much? My own contribution to the debate was this:
"As I recall there was also a virulent phone argument going on as I came in. Old San Jose book scouts tell many a tale about this place, possibly over a pint in the nearby Gordon Birsch brewpub. I have come across many unpleasant overpriced dull shops but this takes the biscuit... in the movie version of 'The Worst Bookshop in the Universe' the part might be played by Michael Keaton reprising his Beetlejuice persona."


The shop went a few years back- probably mostly in dumpsters- but it has a half life on the net with the odd review still up as if it were still there. There is even a site where you can click on a phone and it rings the shop--I didn't try it and it would only get through if it was one of those new time machine phones. Was it not Eliot who said '...If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable.'?

to be pursued...

8 comments:

jgodsey said...

yeah, but he DOES perform a function, without him...someone else would have to take up the mantle of 'worst bookshop in the world'

Anonymous said...

Haven't come across many lately- the great thng about the 'net is that you don't have to talk to bookshop proprietors- but there were quite a few candidates in the UK. The most annoying were the obnoxious sellers with good stocks- them you have to put up with.

Anonymous said...

Hello I love your blog/webpage. absolutely full of information. Here is my pet bugbear.I go into a couple of used bookshops where i live somewhere in Arabia and I have found that the secondhand bookshops are the biggest vandalisers of books! they buy secondhand books at a pittance and sell them at almost the stated price on jacket, they are received in good condition (they will only purchase in good condition) and then they proceed to vandalise the book by writing in biro, in nice large letters the price and to finish the job put one or two, preferably two, bookshop stamps with their logo in any old place that comes to hand! This includes all nationalities. Now every young child in school is taught to respect books, do not write in them etc. Why do these grownups do this?
And if you buy more than two hardback books they look at you in suspicion and ask what you are going to do with them? By the way if I did come across a treasure such as a first edition Maurice Sendak book how would it fare (should I want to sell it) with the bookshop stamp and several ink prices written nice and large in red green or purple ink, just in case we cant see it! Many thanks once again for your lovely site Regards Linda

Tim Mayer said...

Awesome post, as usual. Mr. Black was based on a collection of real characters. Jessica Salamanson (sp?) has some pretty funny stories of Seattle, WA bookstores, but I've lost her web addy.
I made a mention of the "worst bookstore" article on my blog.
I'm still laughing.

Bookride said...

Tim, kind words indeed--I went to your honourable blog ProCreation and found a great shot of an abandoned children's library in East St. Louis, Ill - full of pathos and resonance. Thanks for that. Nigel

Bookride said...

Thanks Linda--bookshop stamping and Biro pricing are not helpful to the price of a book and are damnable. I once came across a bookseller who used biro--he said it was because the price was harder to change than pencil, the b'stard. Yr Sendak sounds good, even with the odd mark -esp if it's Wild Things--check bookfinder.com
Good to hear news from shops in Arabia--we are slightly different, we are suspicious of people who only buy one book! Nigel

Anonymous said...

wow...I used to drop in to this bookstore during lunch- a long time ago. I cannot recall the owner, but he had some great boxes of old magazines. I would spend lunch reading old popular mechanics and chopper mags. I was never charged to go and read even when I didnt buy.

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