It may strike you as curious, as it certainly strikes me, that in over three years of blogging about visits to other booksellers, I have never yet had occasion to describe this operation in reverse – a fellow bookseller coming to visit me.
This is because, by and large, they simply don’t – at least not on business. There are booksellers who occasionally come socially for parties, supper, or a Sunday lunch. There have been very occasional (fingers-of-one-hand) and notable exceptions, but there is only one bookseller – a man in a quiet and private way of business – who regularly calls. He routinely comes to see me once or twice a year and just as routinely happily departs with a bagful of books. But this blessed example is not one that anyone else follows – at least until last Saturday.
Yes – a visit from a bookseller – and not just any old bookseller, but the altogether delightful Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers (www.honeyandwaxbooks.com) of Brooklyn, New York. Yes – a bookseller (and fellow blogger) from all the way across the Atlantic – here on a quickfire three-day visit to London.
The first time I received a catalogue from Heather I very nearly decided to give up bookselling – the books so exquisite, the association copies so tantalising, the taste so manifest, the catalogue so stylish, the books so beautifully photographed. It put my feeble efforts to shame – she puts us all to shame. This is how it should be done.
She has the pedigree. Curatorial assistant at the Beinecke. An academic background (taught English at Princeton). And then several years in the New York office of the redoubtable Bauman Rare Books. One of her tasks there was to go through the daily pile of incoming catalogues and it was there that her ideas of what a catalogue could and should be began to formulate.
I couldn’t imagine that she was going to find anything very much worthy of her attention on my impoverished shelves – but she said she wanted to come, a couple of other London booksellers who work from home had bizarrely declined a visit on the basis that their books were in disarray – and so she fitted me into her itinerary of the great and good of the London trade.
One of the things I really hate when I go and visit another bookseller is that moment when you seize on something you want only be told – Oh, no, sorry – that’s already been sold, we haven’t packed it yet, or, That’s just been reserved for someone else. Sloppy, sloppy, work – that’s certainly not going to happen here, I thought. As chance would have it, I had just sent out a catalogue a couple of days earlier – so it was perhaps the only day in the year on which there might be some books on the shelves which had already been ordered. Before Heather arrived I diligently went round and put them all to one side on the packing table.
All except the one on the upstairs landing, of course, which I forgot. You all know what’s going to happen next – it was the very first thing she saw. I think this is the loveliest thing I’ve found since I came to London, she called gaily down the stairs. Oh no! Oh woe! Wince! Already promised elsewhere. Ah well – it perhaps wasn’t quite as nice as it looked at first glance – and to her enormous credit she took the disobliging news very much more graciously than most of us would have done.
Thankfully she kept looking and gradually a little pile built. Then we topped it off with something altogether more rare and precious, which she carried away with her. The other books now posted on to Brooklyn. A successful visit for me – I hope she thinks so too. And if some of you think this might all be a rather heavy-handed hint that I might like you to come and buy some books – well so it is. But check out Heather’s website too.