Bright Young Things: Lizz Young

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Lizz Young of lizzyoungbookseller in West Dover, Vermont:

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How did you get started in rare books?

I have always been in love with cookbooks. When I was an assistant editor at Gourmet Magazine my desk was in the middle of their library. Part of my job was to answer questions that the loyal subscribers would ask, either by phone or by letter (before computers). I was in heaven. Imagine a job where they pay you to be surrounded by cookbooks. So, as luck would have it, when my father Roy Young, who has been an Antiquarian Bookseller for over 30 years, suggested I join him, there was little hesitation on my end. 

When did you open lizzyoungbookseller? Also, tell us a bit about why you format the name the way you do?

I officially started lizzyoungbookseller in January 2012. After working with my father for over a year, I realized that I could specialize in the world I know best while still continuing to work with RoYoung and the beautiful books he surrounds himself with. As for the name, lizzyoungbookseller, I have to admit it’s a bit of an inside joke. As I mentioned, my father has been in the business for over 30 years which means that when I was in High School he was always looking for people to work (haul boxes) for him.  Many of my male friends ended up working for him at one time or another, and always referred to him as RO-young. After that, my good friend Peter Callahan started calling me lizzyoung, and it stuck. 

What do you love about the book trade?

I would have to say the thing I love most about the book business is the fact that I learn something new every single day. Whether I’m researching a Cuban manuscript from the 1800’s or a psychedelic inspired cookbook from the 1960’s, I always find something fascinating about the history of the piece or the people who were involved in the production of the item. Another wonderful thing about the trade is the people. Last summer I attended CABS (Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar). This seminar is taught by some of the best and brightest booksellers in this country. Besides gaining an amazing amount of knowledge, I met some fantastic people that I hopefully will be in touch with for a very long time. 

What do you love about rare culinary books in particular?

Culinary books give you a window into the cultural narrative of the specific time and place in which the book was composed. For instance, I have learned a lot about prohibition by studying the tracts and broadsides that the temperance movement published. Another example would be an English manuscript from the late 1600’s I purchased at auction. After cataloging this manuscript I realized more than half the “recipes” were more what we would now refer to as “remedies.” It was a remarkable insight into the way in which people at the time nurtured one another with what they had at hand. I have always been captivated by the human condition. Culinary books show us how much we have changed but also how much we have stayed the same. 

Any vintage/rare/old recipe to share with us from one of your books?

From: THE COMPLETE COOK, Plain and Practical Directions for Cooking and Housekeeping; with upwards of Seven Hundred Receipts, By James M. Sanderson. Philadelphia, Lea and Blanchard, 1843.

Walnut Catsup
Take three half sieves of walnut shells, put them into a tub, mix them up well with common salt, about a pound and a half. Let them stand six days, frequently beating and washing them; by this time the shells become soft and pulpy; then by banking them up on one side of the tub, raising the tub on the same side, the liquor will run clear off to the other; then take that liquor out. The mashing and banking my be repeated as long any liquor runs. The quantity with be about three quarts. Simmer it in an iron pot as long as any scum rises; then add two ounces of allspice, two ounces of ginger, bruised, one ounce of long pepper, one ounce of clove, with the above articles; let it boil slowly for half an hour; when bottled, take care that an equal quantity of spice goes into each bottle; let the bottles be quite filled up, cork them tight, and seal them over. Put them into a cool and dry place, for one year before they are used. 

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you have handled?

As much as I would like to say my favorite book is some old and crusty manuscript, I have to admit I loved (and have sold it twice) Son of the Martini Cookbook, by Jane Trahey & Daren Pierce. This comical book, illustrated by Edward Gorey, is broken up into categories according to how many martinis one has had. The recipes are ridiculous and the illustrations are more than entertaining.

What do you collect personally?

I have been collecting cookbooks for over 30 years, it is a bit of an obsession. I’m a bit of a Jello nut too. I love the idea of jello and jello molds. At Thanksgiving I always make a jello mold; everyone make a face at first, but guess what, it is the first thing to go? My favorite food writers are Laurie Colwin and M.F.K. Fisher. Fisher was the grand dame of food writing; a real trail blazer. The way she wrote about the experience of eating is unrivaled. Colwin wrote novels and short stories but she had an incredible knack for food writing that made you feel as if you were sitting in the kitchen with her while she cooked. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I love to tell the story of the porter who helped us move into our booth at the Boston Book Fair last year. In a very heavy Boston accent, this large, jolly man says to me, “You know, you got a lot of nice books here but what do you think of the Kindle?” I replied, “I love the kindle, gets people to read, maybe makes them appreciate books more...and in my opinion it increases the odds that these books will be all the more valuable in the future.” That said, I think there are a lot of different things going on in the rare book trade as we speak. Personally, I have an optimistic impression of the state of business. I have attended CABS and The Rare Book school at the University of Virginia in the past couple of years and have found incredible enthusiasm emanating from everyone I encounter. Of course this is like preaching to the choir, but it does give me hope that there is a whole new generation of people out there that treasure the world of rare books. I attended an art book fair at the MOMA in Queens, NY last fall and it was crawling with a younger audience that were highly energetic about books. I tend to believe the Internet and the access of information has given reading and writing a whole new audience that has an appetite for knowledge. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogs?

lizzyoungbookseller will be showing at the Vermont Book Fair, Sunday August 11th, in Brattleboro at the Living Memorial Park Skating Rink. I will also be sharing a booth with RoYoung Bookseller at the Baltimore Summer Antique Show, August 22-25 at the Baltimore Convention Center. As for a catalog, I have been thinking about putting together a manuscript catalog, but thinking and doing are two very different things!

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