Bookselling in the COVID-19 Era, Week #36, Book Story #202
This goddamn woman is going to keep me awake all night!
“Sleep no more!”
Monday night…er, Tuesday wee hours…I waken.
The usual reason.
Plague. Upheaval. Mass insanity. Cultural suicide.
I reach for the elderly woman next to me in bed. I put my hand on her spine, lift her and prop her open on the heavy woolen blanket. I raise my knees.
I am in Manhattan in the 1940s. There’s a world war hanging over everything. The War was a kind of Plague. So many were gone, distant, dying, maimed. Millions and millions of young healthy American men. Mostly men. In Europe and Asia, millions of all kinds of people killed or dying of hunger, disease… The hooves of the Four Horsemen sounded like thunder for years.
I’m reading Elizabeth Daly’s The Book of the Dead. First edition. Near perfect dust jacket. 1944.
“I’ll just read a few pages. Then roll over and back to dreamland.”
I haven’t been dreaming lately. Early in the Plague, I dreamed often. Often the dreams stayed with me upon waking—long enough to record them on paper.
“Dream no more!”
In wartime New York City, there is some privation. Most young men are elsewhere. But life still goes on.
Kind of like life in this current Plague. “Life”…but different.
Her words comfort me.
I’d like to be there just now.
I read and read. I don’t want to put it down.
I decided to save the last few chapters.
I rolled over and curled up. I tried to relax each muscle I could think of. This shoulder. That arm. The left flank. Too many. Nothing works.
I turned the light back on. I looked at the book as if it were the last piece of cake. I only have a couple Daly’s left unread after this. Unreread for decades. I found a 1986 Orioles baseball ticket near the back of this one. I must have left it in as a bookmark. It is a tangible piece to my past.
What was I like in 1986? No kids. A small bookshop with growing pains.
I…I don’t remember. Much…
Would the young bookseller in 1986 like the old bookseller he is now? Would he have done many things differently?
I could remind him. Remember, you said:
“All the books in the world.”
Worlds…two vastly different worlds.
Each unrecognizable to the other.
But this book links us. This exact book was in his young hands and is now in these older hands.
Back to The Book of the Dead.
I read a little more. Then a little more.
I lay Elizabeth on the other side of the bed. I push in the button on the heavy brass swing neck lamp on the nightstand. Curl up. This time I’m gone.
The last I looked, it was about 2 a.m.
I am jolted awake by the chiming of Cathedral Bells.
My phone’s ring tone. My hand scrambles about the bed until it recognizes its shape. I pick it up. It lights up.
I recognize the number calling me. The alarm company. There’s a problem at the warehouse or one of the stores. I have to answer or they will call the next person on the list and wake them up.
“I’m calling from…burglar alarm…the motion detector in the front area…”
“Has the door been breached?”
“It’s probably a poster hanging from the ceiling or something moving in the draft when the furnace kicked on. Cancel it until we can get it fixed.”
“Your pass code?”
I am awake. 2:55 a.m.
I reach for the book. There’s just a little bit of paper left between my bookmark and the rear board.
Just 2 chapters left.
The penultimate would be the SOLUTION to the crime! The final chapter a denouement where everything is woven together.
One last chapter. The last bit of a delicious cake. The $100 Cake my mom would make on special occasions. Then this Daly will be all gone.
The cake will be all gone. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
I only have two more hardback first editions on the floor next to the bed.
Only 2 more Daly Cakes left to me in the world.
I open the book.
I savor each paragraph. Each morsel.
“Really!? I NEVER saw that coming. Makes perfect sense now.”
I had read it 34 years ago. Now long forgotten.
Then I close The Book of the Dead.
Satisfied. At peace. The world put back together.
Someone should start an Elizabeth Daly fan club.
A map would be very handy. I recognize many of the locations she describes.
Left on Madison, up to 47th. Right over to Park. Left two blocks up to the Waldorf on the right.
I’ve walked those streets many times.
Where is Gamadge’s townhouse? The Upper East Side, I think. The 70s? It’s been in his family since the mid-1800s.
I’d like to make a pilgrimage someday.
If…it is still there and not some glass tower.
If…I get back to Manhattan…
So familiar. So much the same. But before I was born.
I am numb to tiredness now. I don’t know what it is.
Days. Nights. Weekdays. Weekends.
I get to work feeling as the same as I do at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. The same I feel at 4:30 every day—quitting time.
It’s all the same.
Clif is still out. I’ll have to assume his duties. We have some new warehouse help. A reliable worker left for another state a couple weeks ago. He has come and gone three times now. Will he return for a fourth Wonder round?
New warehouse help means that nothing is automatic. Each task must be assigned. Some tasks need have training. Tasks need to be checked up on for accuracy.
I’ll do the Gaithersburg swap. I want to check to see if I can determine what woke me. Twice.
I enter in the front room. A door I’ve passed through for over 40 years now. The door has never needed repair or maintenance to my knowledge. It is a kind of foyer to the rest of the store which is room after room. Doorway after doorway. Never a residence, yet it feels like a house converted into a bookshop. There is a definite floor plan. Although they all are just random rooms. Former offices of…people long gone.
Two motion detector devices hang in corners. They shoot beams or something across the room. When activated—when we are closed—they witness the space and wait. They wait for something to break their monotony. If something moves through their field of vision, they waken and send an alarm to…Georgia. Georgia calls me. Georgia the state.
I look around. There is no COVID protocol warning sign hanging where it could flap and trigger the motion detector.
The new sneeze guard addendums I installed last week when we expanded the usable sales counter area? Maybe. I step over and tape the plastic sheets to one another. Then I head back to the rooms of books.
I’m struck. I own all this stuff. Well, not the premises. I have a landlord here.
The place looks great. In early 2019, it was an embarrassment. A s*** show.
Some conscientious staff and a good manager—Vanessa—turned the place around. I pitched in. Every book in the place was looked at, moved or culled. Every category was moved, expanded or decreased.
I head back to the far left side. During COVID’s closure, the landlord tore down walls, and we expanded the shop into the new space. Terra incognita. I notice some of the areas are still dimly lit.
I punch out an email to the landlord on my iPhone reminding him. We’ve been trying to get the electrician in for a few months now.
Goethe’s last words were: “More light.”
Far in the distance, I see one of the creepy dolls Vanessa has set around the place.
I approach and look up at it. She is dressed in dark lace and satin. Perhaps the garb of a 19th century doña.
“What is she holding?”
I find a stool to get up closer. She is reclining upon an eight-foot high bookcase.
The Haunted Bookshop.
For months, some of the staff thought the place had a ghost. They named it Charlie.
At night, no one wanted to work in the back corners of the shop.
I thought it silly and superstitious.
No one has mentioned it recently. Perhaps Charlie maintains social distancing during the Plague.
I was tasked to cull some vintage (pre 1940) books for Books by the Foot. I search among shelves in the sprawling literature section, looking for duplicates.
“There’s some good books here. I did this.”
With plenty of help.
I feel I’m being watched and look up and around.
I step up to inspect this doll.
I need to reread this Christopher Morley. And its companion piece Parnassus on Wheels. Bookish bookshop books. I read them very early in my bookselling career. I’m sure they will hold up. I think I know where my first editions are.
Sadly, Morley’s general oeuvre has not held up. A literary luminary of the early and mid-20th century now dimmed. Forgotten by most. Except perhaps to booksellers who run into his books—often signed—and wonder what to do with them.
It is Friday.
Clif who has been out all week will be in late this morning.
I only have to be Clif part of the day. I’ve been Clif Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week. I’ve driven vans or the truck every day this week.
Ernest texted early that someone demolished his car.
I’ll have to be Ernest all day today.
Near closing yesterday, someone broke the giant door at Dock 2. They pushed the button and let it close on a pallet. It is a major project to repair.
There is a red sheet covering the Open/Close button.
“DO NOT CLOSE DOOR UNLESS DOCK IS CLEAR.”
The red sheet of paper needs to be lifted to access the Open/Close buttons.
There is bright yellow paint on the metal dock plate indicating the area where there can be no obstructions when the door closes.
This has happened 4 or 5 times since we moved in 2014.
I thought we had cured any possibility of it happening again. The person that did it is not a newbie.
So I left yesterday in a major funk.
It’s not just the door… Everything is great with the business. The house is in good shape. I culled another 10 boxes of Folio Society from my shelves.
These will be in the Collector’s Corner’s Special Collections section. Each will have my bookplate.
Soon all the books on the floor at home will be up.
The dogs are fine.
I’m ok. My right knee is hurting again sometimes, but not the excruciation I had in the summer.
A year ago. 2019. I was heading to Boston for the ABAA Fair. I had just returned from London. In mid-December, I was off to Rome.
I was going to shows. Bars. Restaurants.
The Wonder Book Cinema Series at the Weinberg was off and running.
The country was doing great. Every demographic was doing better. Many better than EVER.
Maybe things were too good for our own good?
Last weekend was a blur of carts. Carts. CARTS.
It ended up looking like this in Books by the Foot.
You’ve heard of log jams. We have cart jams.
Not all of those are my handiwork, but many are.
Those are a lot of books. And that’s just one branch of the sprawling warehouse.
We opened up the break room. It is getting too cold for some folks to eat lunch outside or in their cars. With social distancing, we calculated 8 place settings.
So weird…bizarre…even after all these months.
Friday, I’d asked Annika to cart up a small collection of antiquarian books dropped off by a retired bookseller.
“Pick out some you think should be researched and put them on a cart for you. Put the rest on a cart for me.”
I was too busy to get to that cart. It looked “problematic.” But one book spoke to me as I passed by it. I passed by that cart a couple dozen times last weekend. Maybe more.
I suppose it stood out because it had been rebound. The rebind was average. Adequate.
Virginia. I’ve seen so many books about Virginia in the last 60 days. Two Virginia rare book colleagues have brought me tons of books. Nice books. In the COVID era, many colleagues are jettisoning stale old stock. Nice old books. Books I like personally. Tough books to market. But books I still find homes for one way or another. Can I move Virginia books Virginia specialists can’t?
I’ve written before the public doesn’t seem to care about local history much anymore. Lack of intellectual curiosity?
I don’t know.
A lack of the sense of place? What got us here from there?
I don’t know.
But I slipped the book off the cart. Perhaps my Book Muse guided my hand. Will she ever return corporally? Well, she never showed her “corpse.”
But she did speak to me sometimes. Often.
At least I heard voices. One voice.
When I opened the book and saw the title page, it was like having cool damp rag placed on my fevered brow.
Thomas Jefferson. America’s genius. Out of favor by some…historical revisionists.
Is this what the French Terror was like?
Thomas Jefferson… Alive when he published this book. He was working on the Louisiana Purchase. Are kids taught about that?
The relief was brief, and I returned to the trenches.
Book after book. Cart after cart.
2019…there was also…but that’s gone now. I wonder why.
Magic. Bad magic.
Some things are incurable.
This year… “It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.”
2019. “That was the best of times.”
Clif will unexpectedly be out most of this week.
That reset any plans I had I had to get ahead.
An email was forwarded to me from our general mailbox.
This is it in its entirety. Uncorrected.
pay attention you dummies!
today you threw out of your store 2 people for wearing face shields!!
as it happens, YOU violated their rights, as those face shields are legal in all 60 states as a face covering as required under COVID 19 rules, and are sold on Amazon and many other sites. They are recommended especially for people with vision or resperatory issues.
ypu domothsve the legal right to decide what is acceptable or not.
IF you do this again, our firm will ne very happy to file a legal suit against your operation for the mental stress you caused these people by your failure to know the proper rules/ laws, pertaining to the use of FACE COVERINGS! This is being teprted to the county and state as pf this date. Litigatipn may follow.
THE LAW REQUIRES FACE COVERINGS OVER THE NOSE AND MOUTH AREAS ONLY, AND RECOMMENDS EYE COVERINGS! It does not specify any individual style or typeof shield or mask. So,if you wish to get in olved in a lawsuit, I guarantee that this you will lose rather fast, as its alreadybeenthrough the legal system and the litigants won several times, the stores involved lost every time!
COVID Madness. In some ways, I sympathize. So many people are looking for something to lash out at.
But we are being legally threatened because someone was asked by one of the kids at a sales counter in one of the stores who asked two people wearing plastic face shields to put on masks?!
(I understand the people in question did simply go out to their car and get cloth masks—if I’m being told about the correct incident.)
Who knows? Hundreds of people come through our 3 stores on weekends.
The rules, the goal posts are constantly changing. Some of our employees are high school kids. Some of our assistant managers not much older.
Do you want a bookstore in your town or not?
We searched for the current masking guidelines. Looking closely, our accuser was correct.
Here’s the link. Today—11/20—it is dated 11/17/20. Should we search it for changes?
At the very bottom of about 75 lines of single spaced text concerning masking in businesses, it states:
Face shields are acceptable face coverings. However, MDH strongly recommends, but does not require, also wearing a cloth face covering, if using a face shield.
I am such a dummy.
Reacting to that threat took a good part of the day. We printed out the current guidelines and sent them to all three stores. Every employee is to read and sign it.
We posted copies of the guidelines on the front door and at the counter. We highlighted the pertinent passages.
I left the Gaithersburg store wondering if the store was haunted. If so, what can we do about it?
What if ghosts are endangered?
Do ghosts have rights?
Can they sue me?
Back at the warehouse, I numbly looked for things I should be doing.
The phone said there would be a hard freeze this week. The sad line of sunflowers would surely be killed. They were already fading. Still they were blooming where they could.
I should cut them down.
I stacked the 25 or so big stalks into the bed of my pickup. I’ll take them home and toss them onto the big brush pile near the deck. I add to it constantly. It is a shelter to small birds and wildlife. There’s not much cover in the forest. The deer eat nearly everything that rises from the earth. The birds will have the added bonus that many of these stalks have flower heads laden with seeds. Sunflower seeds.
I brought home what will likely be the last of the tomatoes and peppers.
I made another feast of open-faced tomato sandwiches on the grill.
I have so many frozen now. It’s something to do. If we get locked in by the government again, I’ll have plenty of food to melt and remind of the COVID gardens.
If I ever open the Book and Brew Pub I was considering in 2019, I will put COVID Sandwiches on the menu. I hope that won’t be considered in poor taste.
I awoke with the dawn.
The sunrise has moved south into the trees. But it still peeks through sometimes.
Today it is still visible from my pillow behind the now bare trees.
The colors only last a few minutes before the sun is up, and the orb becomes whitish gold…or at least today that is its mature shade.
I slept well for a change. I awoke near 1 am. Started a new Daly. The next to last I have at hand that I haven’t read. (Read since the 80s, it turns out. There’s an Orioles ticket set in the back of this one too! It is a bookmark. Sept 21, 1986. Vs the Brewers. 34 Low E4 3.)
I awoke and checked my phone. Instagram: BBTF 12393, WB 6468, Me 755. The temperature 64 in, 32 out. It is much colder in the valley. I’m glad I solicited help to bring in the BIG jade plant at the warehouse. I got it from Bonnie Vee’s estate. Pot and plant must weigh about 75 pounds. I also cut the pepper plants down and brought the stalks inside. There were too many to pick. I did pick the jalapenos and Italian hots and cayennes from the smaller bushes. I filled my pockets. The warehouse gardens are officially ended until the crocus bloom begins in 3 and half months or so. Oh, there’s still a little cleaning up to do. The now dead tomato stalks will need to be pulled up and hauled away. The 5 new beds I started during the Plague will need to have their dead plants pulled up or weed whipped.
I’ll put a few bags of topsoil on top of each of those beds as well. They are between breaks in the yew hedge along the south-facing wall of the building. Their base is mostly old 3-inch landscaping river stone and dirt and detritus that have covered the stones. I suppose I will plant flower bulbs in those “new” gardens soon as well.
The next to last Daly lies next to me. I started it last night…er, this morning.
It is the penultimate of my first editions, I think. But there may be more. Here or in Pennsylvania.
What will I do when they are all read? I don’t have the motivation to go online and search other booksellers’ stock.
I checked our stock on my laptop while still in bed. We had thirty or so online. Mostly paperbacks. I compared it to the list I keep on 3 x 5 cards of what I’ve read. We had 5 I didn’t have at home. “I” had 5 I didn’t have at home.
When I got in, I “ordered” them for myself. (This is a blatant, although true, testimonial.)
They might last through 2020.
This place is useful after all.
I’m glad I rediscovered Elizabeth. She has seen me through much of the second half of 2020.
Are you in a book buying mood?
Next week is Thanksgiving.
It is the most American of holidays.
There must be something wrong with it.
I’m sure some wise 20 something who has read widely from texts like Lies My Teachers Taught Me will lecture us about it.
Perhaps with a bullhorn.
I wrote a Thanksgiving story two years ago. Here’s a link in case you want to step back in time to when Thanksgiving was normal…
Below is likely more than you want to know about Elizabeth Daly. But then, there is so little known about her—that I can find.
I like to think of her as Henry Gamadge’s alter ego. An elderly maiden (self-described) who vicariously lives her later years as an erudite 30-something rare book expert and amateur gentleman detective:
Elizabeth Daly wrote a series of sixteen novels about the investigations of Henry Gamadge, a wealthy New York gentleman who is interested in the mysteries associated with old books and manuscripts. His wealth allowed Gamadge the leisure to pursue his interests in literature and crime. Gamadge seems to be more the English gentleman than a New Yorker.from SLDirectory.com School Librarian
Ms. Daly was born on October 15, 1878 in New York City. She was the daughter of Joseph Francis Daly who was a justice on the Supreme Court of New York County, and she was the niece of Augustin Daly who was a playwright and producer. Ms. Daly attended Miss Baldwin’s School in Bryn Mawr, PA. She received a bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1901, and a master of arts degree from Columbia University in 1902. She was a tutor in French and English at Bryn Mawr College until 1906. During this period, she produced amateur plays Ms. Daly, like Henry Gamadge, seems to have had the leisure time to produce amateur theatricals, to read, and to write.
Ms. Daly had a lifelong interest in puzzles and was very fond of detective fiction and especially of Wilkie Collins. She began writing at age 16, and published prose and light verse in magazines. In the 1930’s, she attempted to write detective fiction, but was not successful until 1940, when she was sixty two, that Unexpected Night was published. She wrote 15 more Gamadge novels and a non-series novel The Street Has Changed. In 1960, Ms. Daly received an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for the body of her work. It is also said that she was Agatha Christie’s favorite American mystery writer.
Ms. Daly died in St. Francis Hospital on Long Island on September 2, 1967.
Her books are currently being reissued by Felony and Mayhem Press, and are available in Kindle editions from Amazon.
More information may be found at the Golden Age of Detection web site.
Unexpected Night, 1940
Deadly Nightshade, 1940
Murders in Volume two, 1941
The House Without the Door, 1942
Evidence of Things Seen, 1943
Nothing Can Rescue Me, 1943
Arrow Pointing Nowhere, 1944, (Also know as Murder Listens In)
The Book of the Dead, 1944
Any Shape or Form, 1945
Somewhere in the House, 1946
The Wrong Way Down, 1946, (Also known as Shroud for a Lady)
Night Walk, 1947
The Book of the Lion, 1948
And Dangerous to Know, 1949
Death and Letters, 1950The Book of the Crime, 1951