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    Adventures of a rare book dealer (and former small bookshop owner).


Written on August 23, 2007

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Apologies for how quiet it’s been on the blog. After vacation, lots of work piled up at the shop. And once I that was under control, it was time to get to get ready for my trip to Minneapolis where I presented a paper at the annual conference of The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, Authorship, and Publishing (SHARP). The August came, the heart of tourist season here in Monterey. But now I’m back, hoping to get back up to speed with what’s been happening here in Steinbeck Country.

In order to justify the expense of my trip to Minneapolis, I planned a couple extra days to scout and buy books. And what a good decision that was. Minneapolis is a fantastic book-town. I could have easily spent another two days and still not hit all the shops. The city is clean and easy to get around in. I managed on foot and buses the entire time. Thought I’d give an overview of book-hunting experiences.


LIEN’S BOOKSHOP: The first shop I visited after a long but very pleasant walk from the Radison near the UM campus past Dinkytown (a Minneapolis neighborhood, whose name no one I asked was able to explain). In many ways, my favorite shop I visited. The shop is large, both in number of volumes (I’m guessing 75,000+) and in the square footage, which makes for easy browsing. The aisles are wide, the shelving handsome and, in general, not too high. A general shop, strongest in Western Americana, history, and literature. Selection leans heavily towards the vintage/out-of-print/antiquarian, so it a fun place to hunt. Prices are reasonable. Highlights of my finds here include a handful of book by and about Monterey-area artists Jo Mora and Ed Borein, a nice first of David McCullough’s Pulitzer-winning bio of John Adams, a handful of Steinbeck titles, and a beautiful edition of Rosenbach’s classic Books and Bidders bound in full leather (a steal @ $20). Most enjoyable, however, was chatting with shop owner Leland Lien, who I found a welcoming, open, and knowledgeable bookman. Several hundred dollars lighter I headed off on foot to:

CUMMINGS BOOKSHOP: You know you’re in for a unique experience at Dinkytown’s (a section of the city; seriously, what’s up with that name?) Cummings Book when before you even enter the shop a sign warns parents with young children that although the animals in the shop are generally tame, they may not react well to harassment by the very young. Animals? Indeed, proprietor Jim Cummings has no fewer that three dogs, one cat, and several birds in residence at the store (note: all were very well-behaved). Jim himself is chatty and warm. The stock is predominately comprise of newer titles (last twenty years or so) and is light on what might be called rare or collectible titles. That said, the selection is wide (with particularly strong sections of fiction and poetry), the prices cheap and I found much to take home: a nice selection of vintage John Muir titles, a first of Jeffrey Eugenides’ MIDDLESEX (another steal at $12), and a first thus (1945) of the illustrated edition of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat which contains beautifully-executed paintings of the Monterey areas featured in the novel (which I sold two days after putting in the shop). And don’t be fooled by the smallish front room, the store is MUCH bigger than it looks, with several back rooms and a basement full of books. Another fairly large check written, I walked just two doors down from Jim’s shop to:

THE BOOK HOUSE: Another Dinkytown shop, just two doors down from Cummings. A general shop with an ecclectic stock. There’s a little bit of everything here. Sadly, I was informed by proprietor, most of the more unusual/rare volumes were housed elsewhere for listing on the internet. This coupled with the fact that I was getting very tired (the shelves look that much taller, the eyes glaze over…) meant that I bought only a small stack here: a nice pair of early William S. Burroughs titles, a first from Sartre, a funny little title from the 20’s about the loose morals of the flappers, among a handful of other titles. The shop is crowded and sloppy in that endearing way a good shop can be. The shelves are high with additional books piled in front of most of them. The first floor and basement probably house near 100,000 books, maybe more. All of which means lots of stooping and reaching and climbing stepladders. Probably should have started, rather than ended the day there. There was much I’m sure I left unexplored.

In short, a great first day. All the shops I hit were happy to ship books (and did so promptly) and were generous with trade courtesies.


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One Comment

  1. Comment by Kent Petterson:

    As a Minneapolis resident not more than a mile or two from the day one shops I find your comments right on. And as a bookseller myself, although in the other twin city, St. Paul, your comments are appreciated. I look forward to your further comments about our ‘fantastic book town’. I have an open bookshop, Terrace Horticultural Books, specializing in books about plants and gardening. I also publish, as a service to our local booksellers, a Guide to Minnesota Booksellers that includes over 35 independent booksellers and binders. For future visitors to Minnesota, we would be happy to send off upon request and a SASE would be appreciated, a copy of the current guide. Send request to Terrace Horticultural Books, 503 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.
    Kent Petterson

    August 23, 2007 @ 9:21 pm