What I Read And Hope To Sell

Every once and a while I get a little discouraged by the rapid changes in the self publishing arena, especially the recent visibility issues on Amazon, and I start dreaming about what's next for me. As I spend every day desperately searching for a house to buy over the Internet, in commuting distance of my folks, I find crazy thoughts of opening a bookstore intruding in the process. I've had a couple recurring professional fantasies in my life, and owning a used bookstore has always been in contention for a top slot. I'm not sure "used bookstore" is really the term to utilize here, because that whole business model has been changed by the Internet as much as self publishing has been. What I'd like to do is specialize in books I like to read:-)

When I was a kid, my tastes were a moving target because I read so damn fast that I used up authors and subjects. My modus operandi was to look for clusters of books by the same author in the stacks at whatever library I lived near, and take home books from a few authors as samples. If I liked the book, the next week or two would go to finishing the poor author off, and that was that. Way back in my early teens when I thought nothing of reading two books a day, I was mainly focused on science fiction and historical fiction. Eventually I drifted in contemporary fiction, and then added nonfiction history (no jokes, please) and biography. For a stretch, Maugham was my favorite author AND short story writer. And then the worse thing that could happen to any reading addict happened to me - I wrote a novel.

Suddenly, I became both a critic and a skeptic. I'd never thought much about the construction of literary works before stringing some tens of thousands of words together myself, but I discovered that there's a certain internal logic to it. Books, to some extent, do write themselves, once you give them a good push to get started. And I started noticing that this logic played out in a lot of nonfiction, especially mainstream (literary) history and biography. The sequence of events in the lives of great and famous people began fitting together just a little too well for me to believe that the author wasn't taking some liberties with the truth. It's a sad thing when the vicarious pleasure of reading about fantastic things loses its flavor to the overwhelming sense that they only occurred just that way in the author's mind.

So, I started drifting backwards through literature, initially to the early 20th century, which included many of the lions of modern English literature. Hemingway, Joyce, Lawrence, Miller, Faulkner, etc. And for a while I enjoyed them, with Scotch, though Joyce was quite a chore, but in retrospect, I felt that they were all trying too hard to be modern. I look back now at something like Tropic of Cancer, which shocked America with it's use of expletives and graphic, you know, and wonder how some critics and academics could declare it the greatest book of the 20th century. When I got to the end, I threw it in the trash, and I've only done that to a book maybe two, three times in my life.

Finally, following in my father's footsteps, I got back to Dickens, and I've more or less stayed there. Dickens, Trollope, various Frenchies in translation, pretty much the 19th century. In America, there was Twain/clemens and Wilkins/Freemen (not a pen name in the latter case, she just married late) and when I want something modern, I read "really" foreign novels, which usually aren't very good. I found Grant's memoirs highly credible, though a little of the humor in the earlier chapters may have been edited in by Twain, or inspired by Grant's reading him. I tell my religious nephews who have a limited knowledge of history that they should read old fiction. The plots are romantic, but the prices and the depictions of daily life had to wash with the audiences that read them at that time, and are probably more useful than the birds eye view so many historians attempt to provide.

So I'm thinking of opening a classic bookstore, whether on the web or with a funky little walk-in location as well. I picture going a little upscale, not first editions or rare books, but nice editions, illustrated when possible. The illustrations in 19th century lit are excellent, even though they often give away the plot turn at the start of the chapter. I was fooled in a Trollope book I read recently, I think it was Phinneas Finn Redux, when the illustration at the start of a chapter was a gallows with an open trap-door and a dropping rope. I was sure the bad guy was going to get his neck stretched, but he got off with transportation! As a business plan, the great thing is that I've never accumulated a library of books myself, living in little apartments the last 20 years, so as long as I stick with the books I like I can't lose.

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