Saturday, August 31, 2013

Frank Shay and the oddities

I have a tremendous respect, or odd fascination, with the bookstores of days gone by. I can't remember how I first came upon this image but it has stuck with me for some time. In 1920, Frank Shay opened a little bookstore in New York City. He had customers/authors sign a door in the store as, basically, an art installation.

Everything about this door appeals to me: its vibrant color and the combination of people both famous and forgotten. Thedore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair are just a sample of the more well-known names. Remember the time period as most of the identified signatures are men.

I know lots of bookstores who have authors sign a wall in their back room. We don't have a storage area or closed area to speak of. We have an office(closet-sized) and a small bathroom. All of the receiving of books, for us, happens on the floor of the store right by the register. So, over time, I've had authors sign odds and ends. Promo pieces from publishers or ads we've run. They always seem a bit surprised and pleased to do something quite bizarre. I have a cardboard scarp with Stephen King's name on it. Cheryl Strayed signed a posterboard for her book "Wild." Jonathan Franzen signed a sheet that says, "Mr. Franzen requests no pictures be taken." We have things signed by local luminaries Deborah Keenan, Patricia Hampl, Krista Tippett and Kao Kalia Yang. I have some older things(from my Hungry Mind days) signed by Colson Whitehead, Kurt Vonnegut and Wendell Berry. These are all authors who have been beyond pleasant and a joy to work with/for.

I was reminded of this, most recently, when we hosted a reading for Eireann Lorsung and Katrina Vandenberg--two poets who have published with Milkweed Editions. Eireann lives in Europe now and runs her own small press. At the reading she gifted me a couple beautiful hand-made little books. A friend of mine(and hers) named Ben Weaver brought me a jar of sauerkraut at the event. Yes, sauerkraut.

The point of this, I suppose, is that I feel lucky to work in an industry that is generally supportive of others working in the arts. Sometimes, a name written on a door or wall or a scrap of paper is a concrete reminder of that good.

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