The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina, not far from the world famous Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, has an expert stocking its shelves. Bill Maher, a retried history professor, gets people coming back to the shop for one reason: He knows his stuff.
Antiquarian book collectors sometimes forget that there is another class of book collector. These collectors do not collect books for their beauty or rarity but rather attempt to assemble a collection that represents mankind's current state of understanding of a particular topic. Sometimes misidentified as readers, these collectors do not find their treasures in the dusty and dim shops of the antiquarian collector. Their books often come off the "new releases" table at their local lively and hip bookstore.
Although declining in numbers, many bibliophiles say indie bookstores offer the best way to buy new books because indie stores have the best staff. Being able to be recommended books and talk about books with a knowledgeable person makes indie customers feel that their shopping experience is unique and fun.
Maher, 69, is recently retired from a 25-year career teaching history and political science at Montgomery Community College. He now divides his time between his home in Charlotte, North Carolina and The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. Maher makes recommendations to the owner as to what history books to buy, and he chooses some books to be featured in his "Bill's Picks" section.
Maher is able to refresh his section often because he reads an average of three to five books a week. "I've always liked to read," says Maher. "I don't golf. The only sports I like are baseball and boxing. The great thing about those two sports is you can read and listen at the same time."
Maher chooses books for his section the same way he tried to choose books for the courses he taught. He picks books that "reach out and grab you by the throat." He believes that there are two ways to write history, from the top down or the bottom up. The majority of the books in his section are of the second variety. They are about the almost forgotten gems of history, the small stories of personal heroism and folly that give color to the grander "top" events.
A collector of modern books on the War on Terror, Maher finds that part of the fun of his job is guiding both collectors and readers in their purchases. He does not "push" books onto his customers if he feels the works are not first-class. "I want to be able to put in my customers hands books that I am totally sure arrive at the truth as close as possible," he says.
Maher acknowledges that the independent bookselling trade is hurting. He says that the large retiree population of military, diplomats, and businessmen around his store is a big secret to its success. "Southern Pines is the perfect place for an independent bookstore," says Maher.
When asked about how website and warehouse booksellers compete with his business, Maher says, "Warehouse stores are good for warehousing. The ideas sit on shelves, but the majority of the employees have no idea what the books are."
Maher talks about his store with tremendous enthusiasm. "There isn't an employee in here who doesn't know their sections. They talk about them with customers and among themselves. In here, ideas aren't just stored on a shelf. They float around in the air, like tennis balls bouncing off the walls."
The Country Bookshop is the kind of store where one goes in looking for a book and leaves with five. This is, of course, the plight of the bibliomane, but not every book sells itself. It is up to people like Maher to gently guide the collector and casual reader in making a good purchase. "When you walk into our front door," says Maher, "you're going to have an experience."
Three years have passed since Maher began working in the bookshop. "They treat me very nicely to come down three times a week. They pay me well, and I get a cut rate price on books," Maher says. He seems to have no intention of stopping any time soon.
*All accompanying images are of books recommended by Bill Maher
Where else might the bookies--I mean, bookish--go? I put that question to the proprietors of Saratoga-based Smith&Press, an independent publisher that produces translations and facsimile editions of early printed books (for a Q&A with Smith&Press founder, Selim Nahas, go here). They replied: "When we arrived in Saratoga we discovered the town was home to some unique book businesses. The Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a rare gem of a bookstore that offers a vast array of out-of-print books where anything can be found. Northshire Bookstore offers a wonderful selection of contemporary works without being a chain store and is known for attracting well-known and respected authors for book signings (Anne Rice recently appeared, Hillary Clinton is scheduled in two weeks, for example). The public library has a special collections room for Saratoga history and given the distinct character and history of Saratoga, we felt that bringing our business here would add to the book culture of Saratoga Springs."
A recent visit to the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore confirms their opinion. It's a delightful rabbit warren of first editions and vintage paperbacks, where a tidy Modern Library reprint of Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels can be had for $5 (I hope it's as good as his Haunted Bookshop). New York state history, dance/music, and poetry are specialties.
Smith&Press is currently working on its online research and reference tool, TLC and preparing new works, which include translations of Galileo, Cardano, Philippo Finella, Fortunio Liceti, and Leonardo DaVinci's Volo Codice (Flight of Birds), as well as a translation of the complete works of Copernicus (De Revolutionibus). All of these works are being made available in TLC and some select works will be offered in a print-on-demand format. They have also produced adjoining printed facsimiles of the Volo Codice and Leonardo's Leicester Codice.
In addition to the places named above, a literary tourist might also visit the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College. And, if you have transportation, Old Saratoga Books, a used and rare bookshop strong in early American and Revolutionary War material, is about fifteen minutes out of town.
Image: "Downtown Saratoga Springs" by UpstateNYer - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Secondly, at the same sale, a collection of 347 letters and postcards, most signed by "Sam" Beckett, reached £146,500 ($246,765). Beckett--our summer issue's cover guy--found a place on our million-dollar list too, with his "Murphy" manuscript, which sold at Sotheby's last year for $1.4 million. These mostly unpublished letters, covering nearly 400 pages with 215 autograph envelopes, were written between 1947 and 1985 to Beckett's friends, Henri and Josette Hayden. Yesterday's top bid is considerably less than that paid when the packet of letters last changed hands in 2006.
Image: The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye. Courtesy of Sotheby's.
According to Hake's, only three other finished watercolors are known, and only one of those in private hands, which sold at auction in March 2009 for $74,000. After having a heart attack in his late thirties, Sendak ensured his legacy by making arrangements to donate all of his future original art to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. So very few pieces of Sendak's art appear on the market.
The bidding is open--starting at $25,000--and will close on July 17.
Image: Maurice Sendak (American, 1928-2012), original watercolor art created for 1982 TV adaptation of Prokofiev's opera 'The Love For Three Oranges,' 26in x 31in (framed). Provenance: Ted Hake collection. Image courtesy of Hake's.
How did the booksellers devise such a unique format for a rare book catalogue? Waylaid for eight hours during a recent trip to London, McKittrick and Andrew Gaub batted around ideas for their next list. Gaub suggested a focus on portraits, and "selfies" quickly came to mind. With the help of their assistant, Kiley Samz, and their printer, Scott Vile of Ascensius Press, who designed the final piece, they produced three catalogues with six "selfies" each and released them over a four-week period.
"As we were taking our catalogue descriptions and turning them into 'texts,' these were primarily intended as promotional pieces...a different way to think about our old books and what's in them. The response was very positive. And we even sold a few," Gaub said.
Above: Carlo Luigi Riccardi, in an etched frontispiece from his 1783 Descrizione Del Luogo Di Grugliasco.
Right: Denis Fournier, in a full-page engraved portrait from his  L' Anatomie Pacifique Nouvelle Et Curieuse.
Images: Courtesy of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books.
The typescript "manuscript" of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, seen in Harriet the Spy Turns Fifty (on view through Nov. 30). Held in the museum's central gallery, the Carle organized this exhibit of Fitzhugh's pen and ink illustrations, and it premiered at NYC's Forbes Galleries earlier this year.
The pigeon-caterpillar drawn in watercolor and crayon by Mo Willems, seen in The Art of Eric Carle & Friends: What's Your Favorite Animal? (on view through Aug. 31). This exhibit is the result of book project, published by Henry Holt & Co., in which Carle partnered with 14 leading illustrators to celebrate his museum's tenth anniversary in 2012.
The "dummy" books of Simms Taback, seen in Simms Taback: Art by Design (on view through Oct. 26). Celebrating the newly acquired Taback archive, the Carle just opened this exhibit, which surveys Taback's eight major books. In several instances, he crafted little example books, which really show the artist's process. (The 6-year-old budding artist really liked those.)The thing about the Carle Museum is: whether you are 6, 9, or, ahem, much older, something--maybe everything--will appeal to you.