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October 3, 2013

A Bad Bookman

Summer 2007

Sometimes, people give you no option about how you judge them.

When I sell my superfluous books it often involves a day trip to New Hampshire. There is a second-hand bookstore on Route 1 that has a wonderful selection and willingly swaps or buys from me. As an added benefit, the owner has an impressive collection of jazz recordings and it is a delight to listen to while browsing.

A few years ago, I had a couple of boxes of books in the back of the car. They were just random reading materials, some trade paperbacks, a few hardcovers, nothing extravagant. But time was short. My wife and I decided to take them to a different store in a nearby town.

I had been avoiding this more convenient bookstore for a very simple reason. It was too damn tempting. The last time I had been there I had seen a nearly complete collection of the works of E. Phillips Oppenheim, and another of Sax Rohmer. The bookseller had huge masses of wonderful old hardcovers and I wanted them all. These are the kind of books that I find very difficult to dislodge from my shelves and the best defense is self-denial, but I had been diligent about my book purchases recently, so off we went.

I find that the polite thing to do is to leave the books in the car and ask if they are buying books. Some stores have designated hours, others get overstocked and won't buy for a few weeks. So we left the books in the car.

When we entered the shop, I was bothered. Previously this owner had classical music playing quietly, but now the place was filled with a pablum of soft rock and featureless "new age".

My wife went to browse through the art and children's books while I checked with the owner. He was a new guy in his mid 30s or early 40s, very fit and proud of it since he was wearing his upscale jogging outfit at work. I asked if he was buying any books and the floodgates opened. He informed me that he ONLY bought trade paperbacks, that he ONLY bought them if they were in perfect condition, that he ONLY bought them in small quantities, etc. Then with a sniff, he also informed me that he didn't buy anything that smelled musty, and punctuating with another sniff he informed me that he never bought books from people who smoked. At that time I smoked a pipe.

"I can't sell books that stink," he said, waving his hands vaguely as if to waft the evil odors away from his nose. "People won't buy them. So I doubt that I would buy anything from you."

I wasn't going to argue with him. It was, after all, his bookshop. Other bookshops were happy to take my books. I couldn't help tweaking him a bit though.

"When I worked at a rare book library," I told him, "there was an ongoing research project that suggested that tobacco smoke actually worked as a preservative."

At that he realized that I might, perhaps, have some exceptional books and he started to backtrack. "Well bring them in he said, "Maybe there's something that I'd be interested in."

"No," I said, "I'll just see if you have any books worth preserving," and wandered back to the shelves where I found that the goodies I'd lusted for were gone.

"Where are all the hardcovers?" I asked.

He proceeded to tell me, seemingly oblivious to my pain, that people didn't buy hardcovers anymore, that they smelled funny, that he didn't like having to research their prices, that he didn't want to get cheated out of their true value just because he didn't have time to price them properly, that they smelled funny, that they looked weird ... and on and on.

"So you sold them off?" I asked a little sadly for having missed the opportunity to bid on the little darlings.

"No." he said, obviously proud of his perspicacity and business acumen. "It cost me thousands, but I had them all sorted out and removed."

"Removed?"

"Stacked in boxes and put into three dumpsters."

My face froze. It must have frozen with an ambiguous expression, since he went on happily to tell me that he had donated the contents of the dumpsters to the Boy Scouts. I relaxed briefly. Then he told me that they had made about fifty dollars after they pulped the ugly smelly th ...

I turned and left. I went out to the car and lit a cigarette (just for the benefit of the books in the back seat). A few seconds later my wife exited the shop, and came and sat down with me.

"That's the last time we go to that place," she said. "What an ass." I couldn't help but agree.