Sunday, April 27, 2014

Montana Bouquiniste

This post was never published, and that was a mistake.  And since I'm now planning to leave Montana, I thought I'd better post it while I was still here.  The Book Farm may come back once I get settled in Nebraska ... it was a lot of fun.  So, cast your minds back to December 2011 ----

The snow is piling up this beautifully today, which means the tea kettle has been gurgling away and I've been reading.  Time for a little break, and also a small realization.  I was going to share something with you, dear readers, at the end of the summer, but forgot, and now it's been months---  You know how it is.

I sold books here and there online several years ago, it's been a hard habit to break.  I've heard book selling gets into your blood, and I think it's true.

As a book lover in a far flung place without any bookstores, I get out to the garage sales, farm auctions, thrift stores, etc. when I can because that's where the books are.  Pickins ain't great, but every so often I find something surprising.  That's why we all do it-- Anything can be Anywhere.

I'd often find good books cheap -- not collectible stuff, or even books I want to add to my shelves, but books that deserved a better home than the burn barrel.  (We still burn garbage in Montana).  Like the stack of decent hardback Cormac McCarthy for a dime each.  I already have what I want of his, but these are books that need a home, and without a used bookshop in the area, there was nowhere to buy from, or take them.  Not really.

This summer I also bought a book by Alan Armstrong called Off in Zora, about packing up a VW bus and setting up with his dog (Jefe) and his buddy Tom on the side of the road and sell books all over New England, but further afield too.  Not just any books make it into the rolling bookshop.  Books he believed in.  Books they could talk about.  Books worth passing on.

This appealed to me deeply.  I also admit, I was jealous of all the good bookish talk along the way.  Being pretty new still in my remote Montana community I've not met a lot of bookish people, or have many good book-centric conversations.  That's how Armstrong sold books -- through conversation.
"I've learned from Tom that people need to be sold books.  It's a mistake to think that folks know what they want.  Most readers are willing to have their susceptibility tried and even stretched a little.  So we swell and puff like Falstaff to share enthusiasms and mind each other's business, or what's the passion for?  Real booksellers at work glow like musicians when they're making music."
And it works.  While reading Zora, I found myself with book in one hand and my phone in the other, buying obscure, unheard of books online from Armstrong's descriptions.  Just wonderful.  It also occurred to me, that if this method of selling books worked on me as a reader, perhaps I could make it work in person.

The problem is that I'm gainfully employed, and unable to sit at the side of a road somewhere, set up and wait for traffic.  Where I live, that could mean 5 cars all day.

So, The Book Farm was born. In northern Montana, we have a pretty short gardening season, and an even shorter term for our local farmer's market.  It doesn't open until mid- to late August and closes down at the first freeze, which is usually early October.  So, maybe 8 Friday mornings, from 7:30 AM until noon where farm wives and widows come to town with pickups and SUVs full of produce, jams, and bread.  I thought, this is where I could sell some books.

So, I slapped together a few wooden flats from scrap I had laying around from a few yard projects, and voila!  I put a couple shelves up in the garden shed to house my stock and hit the garage sales hard.  I only had a couple weeks, and had enough boxes to offer maybe 150 books.  As any veteran bookseller will tell you, the trouble isn't selling books, it's finding books to sell.

But, fortune favored the bold -- I started out with a little over 100 books that first Friday-- and every one of them I could vouch for in some way.  I tried to have something I could recommend to most readers, but I also wanted to be able to say -- there is no junk here.

That's enough for now... More to follow.  I need to get back to my book.

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