There is an old story about a Cecil Court bookseller. His son turned up one day and reported that he had failed his A levels and would not be going to university. The father said 'Ah well you'll just have to go into the book trade...' Until recently most booksellers were uneducated men, except at the highest end of the trade and possibly the fringes. Now there is no need for an education especially with the interweb--there you will find all you need to know to sell a book and, more usefully, the price you can get. With experience, guile and indefatigable industry the dealer will fairly soon learn the books that make money and crucially those that don't. John Dunning's bookdealer Janeway hero was a policeman and bruiser and there are several ex-coppers in the trade, not to mention ex-army and ex-gravedigger (not that any of these jobs necessarily exclude being educated.)
These wise dealers tend to stick with the bleeding obvious --Fleming, Rowling, Rackham, Narnia, Mockingbird, Steinbeck and Hem, mountaineering, polar exploration, atlases, sets of Jane, Dickens, fore-edge paintings, colour plates, Sam Beckett & Jimmy Joyce, Churchill etc., It doesn't matter that they know nothing of Dadaism, Oulipo, the School of Night or the Harlem Renaissance--this information will appear at a keystroke. Education, in some ways, will hold the dealer back and he or she can waste valuable time browsing obscure tomes out of whimsy or a misguided thirst for knowledge. An American friend and dealer recently met up with his old Harvard pals (now mostly stinking rich) at a reunion and told them he had become a bookdealer. Their reaction was one of pity, one even remarked 'what went wrong with your life?!'
The dealer instinct is more important than knowledge of books. If you can trade rugs or mirrors or soya beans you can probably trade books. You buy a book for a dollar and sell it for $2 (or preferably $5). You need a laptop, a pencil and a rubber (eraser--preferably pink) and you're away. The writer Javier Marias encountered a dealer in Buenos Aires -
'... a type... whom I though had disappeared from the face of the earth, except, perhaps, from England, where everything seems to persist in its original or Dickensian state. I mean the type of book dealer who knows absolutely nothing about what he stocks and sells, and therefore doesn't usually mark his books with prices, but decides how much to charge on the spot after hearing the prospective buyer's query, and particularly the tone in which it is made. Such a dealer is guided less by the binding, the print run, the date of edition or the author than the interest betrayed in the customer's way of looking at and handling a particular volume...
For these men, we buyers must, I suppose, be an open book; our reaction tells them much more about the tome in our hands than the tome could have told them when it was resting on its shelf a minute before. They know nothing about their wares but they do know how to drill into the human psyche; they've learned to interpret the slight trembling of fingers that go to the spine of a book, the momentary blinking of someone who can't believe his eyes are seeing the title they've sought for years; they know how to perceive the speed with which you seize this long-wanted but unfindable book, as if - and although you're alone in the bookshop - you were afraid the swifter glove of another hunter might appear precisely at that moment and snatch it from you. In the presence of one of these disciples of Sherlock Holmes, you feel as closely observed as an inmate in a prison yard who knows the guard is scrutinizing his every movement and gesture. In the presence of such a book dealer you must rediscover, in self-defense and in defense of your wallet, the art of dissimulation: you must control your emotion, your impatience, your agitation and your joy, making, instead, a show of disinterest in or even disdain for the thing you most covet; you must count to ten before taking down from the shelf the volume your eyes have fastened on in disbelief and greed...'
The smart way around such a dealer is, of course, to make a pile of irrelevant books around your desired treasure, thus drawing attention away from it. If the bastard then looks up every book you are, however, stuffed...
The maxim that if one can sell rugs one can also sell books can be usefully reversed when dealing with the uneducated seller; "if one can buy rugs one can also buy books".
The trick when dealing with any rug merchant - who strangely, are often also of the uneducated type (though of course, still master psychologists) - is to pick a pile of dross to confuse them, said pile naturally containing the real object of desire, and to proceed to disparage all but the very worst piece.
Then, after much haggling, agree to take the worst piece (at an acceptably cheap price of course) but grudgingly and complainingly allow a couple of other trash pieces thrown in to sweeten the deal - one of these being the jewel.
I have tested this in non-rug environments and it does tend to work...
Funny man! In your list of 'bleeding obvious' you could add golf, fishing, Wisden's, New Nats, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Occult, Crowley and Bloomsbury... keep it up. WHDS
How about the Twitter bookseller. He sits in an empty bookshop all day with laptop at finger tips, blogging and twittering through sheer boredom until a customer, a real person, finally walks into his shop. He will then do one of two things: either he will talk this person's ears off because he desperately needs the companionship, or he will ignore the customer and become really annoyed every time a book is dropped or moved thus requiring the bookseller to get up out of his chair to tidy up. Sound familiar?...
PS. I'm so impressed I'll put a link on my blog if you put one on yours!...
'The smart way around such a dealer is, of course, to make a pile of irrelevant books around your desired treasure, thus drawing attention away from it.'
The toy dealer in Toy Story gets away with taht deception when he snaffles Woody but I do think it's a jumble sale tactic (where it's not really needed never mind not that ethical) rather than one that would work with a beady-eyed dealer - where all is fair.
I remember a crime novel in which our hero is a glass collector and finds a lovely Venetian glass sitting on a shelf surrounded by modern stuff - he takes several to the dealer mumbling about a party but the dealer's base 'instincts' are aroused and it all goes horribly wrong!
I'm glad to see you excluded the highstreet from your comment that bookselling is an uneducated profession. While at university and then for two years after I worked in two different branches of our largest highstreet bookchain. In both branches but for a couple of exceptions every member of staff was educated to degree level or above, several were working part time while completing their PHDs and there were two published authors in the first branch and three in the second. Such intelligent and dedicated colleagues I've never since had the pleasure of working with and to this day it amazes me that so many highly educated people are willing to work in an increasingly tough retail environment and be paid a pittance all because they are passionate about books. Nothing beats that conversation with a member of staff when you're at the till and they compliment you on your choice of reading or when you pluck up the courage to ask them for a recommendation and they introduce you to a brilliant new author. The Amazon giant grows increasingly powerful and will continue to cut into the highstreet by slashing prices to the hilt but it will never succeed in replicating the personal service, attention, knowledge and passion of a good bookseller - long may they continue to survive.
Truer than you know, since these Phillistines now staff the large corporations that have taken over the book trade. But let us not forget the other kind of bookseller they have displaced. Consider these lines by Canada's greatest poet about Steve McIntyre, a Pender Street bookseller:
He said I was ignorant
and didn't mince words about it
my deficiency was GREAT BOOKS
--so I read Proust Woolf Cervantes...
one night just before sleep
words were suddenly shining in the dark
like sunlight under the bedsheets
All because of Steve McIntyre
a dead man who hears nothing..." (Al Purdy, "For Steve McIntyre")
This was the other type of bookseller, people who were motivated by a passionate, cranky devotion to the intrinsic worth of books. They lined Pender Street in those days and still do to some extent, performing an educational function that was more effective than the nearby university. There is are still about three such booksellers holding out on Pender, including the incomparable Don Stewart, carrying on into the Kindle age undeterred. Let us honour them!
"it amazes me that so many highly educated people are willing to work in an increasingly tough retail environment and be paid a pittance all because they are passionate about books."
Many years since I worked in a new-book shop, but we used to get books at cost price which made up for the low pay. Does that still apply? One person ruined it by regularly spending three times his wages on books- it turned out he was running a mail order business as a sideline. I keep looking for his name on business pages and crime pages in the papers.
Note to 'Anonymous': If you want to disparage Philistines then the first thing is to learn how to spell the word. Until you are educated enough to do that you are hardly likely to be taken seriously.
I believe I once read that David, the famous Cambridge bookseller could not read. I don't know if its true but it could be that being illiterate stops one being distracted from the object (i.e. getting the best price).
I personally knew a wholesale map dealer who reprinted Moule's by the thousand when maps were all the rage. He would hand over a pile of mixed genuine maps and copies and used to get quite miffed whn I had sorted them into real and fake. It would take him some time to shuffle them again before he visited the next antique shop!
'You need a laptop, a pencil and a rubber (eraser--preferably pink) and you're away.' Here - http://tinyurl.com/mpkqzv - is someone who obviously couldn't be bothered to invest in an eraser, pink or otherwise. Have a look at the flyleaf - that's some markup. I'd feel slightly reassured if he didn't seem to think that Men Without Women is a novel...
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