Bright Young Things: Brooke Palmieri

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brooke Palmieri, a young American working in London for Sokol Books.

brooke.jpgNP: What is your role at Sokol Books?

BP: The ends of the job are to catalogue our stock in pre-1640 English and Continental books, but the means are paved with e-mails, InDesign, VAT returns, auction catalogues, etc. etc. I do whatever is necessary to keep day to day business running. It's great to learn how to run a business, and the added bonus is, I'm serving my time in Admin in order to play with the old books later on in the day.????

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

BP: I was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, and I had this idea that dealing with original materials would give me a better sense of why Literature is sometimes written with a capital "L". So before the start of the year I went to the Rare Book Library and asked for a job. John Pollack gave me one, and I've been gratefully losing sleep at night and waking up in the morning for this stuff ever since. From day one, John told me that the cardinal rule was that if you saw a book that interested you, you should stop what you were doing and spend time with it. You don't often find that kind of generosity with 400 year old books at age 19, and it's an experience I value more as time goes on. So now I'm a little closer to unlocking the mystery behind that capital "L" for Literature, and when I go back home to Philly now, visiting the library is as essential as visiting my parents.

NP: ??Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you've handled?

BP: I try to keep a blog about the things that interest me most:  But I'm very impressionable and so it's usually the book I'm cataloguing at the moment. There is a copy of one of Jean Bodin's (many) works on witchcraft: Le Feau des Demons et Sorciers on my desk at the moment. It's the latest of several books on witchcraft and magic we've acquired, including Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft, a book that argues with Bodin. The 16th century has always been a draw for me because the disciplinary boundaries are very supple.  Bodin draws together everything from folk songs to medical recipes, psychological studies, astronomy and theology to make his point about the evils of magic, and in this case, with serious legal consequences he a hand in determining. It's just goes to prove that in the 16th Century, you've got to be a Jack-of-all-trades, an ambition of mine which I think resonates with anyone in the book trade. Plus if all else fails I can make some money moonlighting as a palm reader.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BP: I don't think I am rigorous or wealthy enough to call it collecting so much as "giving stuff a home".  In addition to the clutter of books on books and poetry, the latest things under my roof are: 1) in-house newsletters by a Bristol stationary company, E. S. A. Robinson, about type and design and marketing paper bags (printing paper bags with logos is apparently "their idea" and it made them a fortune), and 2) After reading a book Television Horror Movie Hosts I have been on the lookout for any ephemera related to the regional American phenomenon that often found news anchors and weatherman pretending to be vampires on TV at night, especially John Zacherle. Finally, I have been trying with minor success to keep up with the Occupy movement. It's the most exciting and important thing to happen to politics, and aside from the vitality of its message and the dialogue it's created, much of the forcefulness comes from striking design. When content and form are unified in such bold ways as that, it's important to start paying attention as well as to start archiving.

NP: ????What do you love / hate about the book trade?

BP: Love: the sprawling community of experts in very diverse & strange fields. Hate: that the community is so sprawling, I only see some of my top 100 favorite people in the world once a year!!????

NP: As an American living in London, what do you notice about the difference between bookselling in Britain and bookselling in America?

BP: The book trade here has a very rich dynastic history. Maggs, Quaritch, Sotheran, Pickering & Chatto all originate in the 18th and 19th centuries, and all have killer reference libraries and the benefit of accumulated wisdom, which gives quite a magnetism to the city when combined with the British Library and the major auction houses. In America the trade really smacks of Manifest Destiny: I have met many booksellers striking their own path from very diverse backgrounds. We all have a story of how we stumbled upon the book trade, and it's usually stumbling that does it, but the influence of London makes for very distinct common ground (& work experience) between booksellers here, as opposed to in the States.
NP: Any expatriate American bookseller stories to share? 

BP: Rule Number One: Your Visa is Precious. Thanksgiving Day 2010: I'm all grown up & on the Eurostar to Paris to pick up a book we'd acquired. Having done an MA at Oxford the year before, I was traveling on the (now defunct) Tier 1 Post-Study Visa. It was otherwise a great day wandering around Pere Lachaise, the Gustav Moreau museum, Christmas shopping, and picking up the book. What could feel like more of an arrival into the glamorous world of antique bookdealing than this? Imagine my shock-horror later, when I was detained & interviewed for 4 hours at the Gare du Nord. In official terms I was 'refused re-entry into the UK', a serious catch-all term for many kinds of transgressions, some criminal, although in my case it was a bureaucratic mix-up.
Did I mention the book was a second edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? So I was stuck in Paris with a hundred thousand dollar book in my bag. Two things kept me from total meltdown that night: collating the book (I will never forget: *4 a-y8 z10 A-E8 F4) and trying to figure out the plot of a French-dubbed episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with special guest star Johnny Cash. It was very dramatic. By the end of the weekend my partner had rescued me (actually maybe that's what kept me from meltdown) and was headed back to London to deliver the book to Sokol. I was headed back to Philly to sort though piles of paper to send to the Border Agency. It took three months and lots of legal advice to fix things. Who would have thought the pursuit of one of the beauties of early Italian printing would have taught me so much about immigration law?

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

BP: Yes, but the gestation period for my ambition in that area has years to go, so there's no knowing when or where it'll happen. I have a lot of ideas, one is pairing artists' books and fine press with older books. Mother books and daughter books. I am frequently struck by contemporary works that make me think: cite your sources! So that's what I'll do: I'll take issues in intellectual history and render them visual.  I'll be very heavy-handed and persnickity in the way I curate, using the order of the books to add new context and value to each of the individual titles across many time periods. Marc Jacobs does it with handbags and fashion books, I'll do it with new books and old books. That'll be Brooke's Books. Or whatever I'll call it. Community is important, so there will also be very many worthwhile parties, as often as possible.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

BP: The quality and quantity of other young booksellers you've interviewed on this blog answers this question much better than I.