Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rubbed, Bumped and Cocked (A Post About Books*)

(*Apologies to all connoisseurs of pornography who have visited this site in error, thanks to the post's title)

I have now been self-employed for four months and seem to be settling into a routine that mirrors my old working life. I think I need the discpline of a self-imposed timetable, otherwise I'd just lie in bed looking at YouTube clips of chimpanzees playing the bassoon. Perhaps I'd start to smell too.

Every weekday, without fail, I'm out of the house by 9.00am and drive to my cowshed, listening to Radio Four podcasts. Yesterday I listened to one about the rise of megacities and how many of us secretly wished that most people would disappear, apart from our friends and loved ones. I concurred.

I rarely spend more than five minutes at the farm. The Steerforth Books cowshed is just a bare concrete shell and at this time of year, isn't the most inviting of environments. It is also surprisingly noisy, with a succession of tractors and lorries appearing at regular intervals.

I had planned to turn the farm unit into an office with two workstations, shelving for 6,000 books and a packing area. But at the moment, I just grab a few boxes of unsorted stock and take them back to the warmth and comfort of my home, where I can listen to music and make as many cups of tea as I like.

The first two hours of the day are spent valuing stock, identifying the small percentage of titles that are worth selling. Sometimes it can be quite soul-destroying to realise that books which seemed to have so much promise are utterly worthless, but at least I get to enjoy covers like this:

Shortly before lunchtime I pack the orders and take them to be posted. People often complain about post office staff, but the employees of the Lewes branch deserve a medal for their unceasing courtesy and professionalism, in the face of unremitting tedium. I'm sure their hearts sink when I walk in the door with a bag full of parcels, but they never let on.

After lunch I begin logging the valuable books, adding them to the sales inventory. Each title requires a full description of the book's condition, listing every fault. Phrases like 'cocked binding', 'bumped corners' and 'light rubbing' are part of my small lexicion of bibliographical terms. I avoid acronyms or excessive jargon.

There is a repetitive, machine-like quality to the work and I know that it drives some people mad, but the reward is the ever changing selection of books, many of which are unintentionally amusing:

'Staring at her offensively were several villagers'

'Where did you get this pass from, Missy?'

"Pull, Jill, pull" cried Laura, exerting all her strength

"And if anyone asks what we're doing, tell them you dropped half a crown down your dress and I'm helping you find it"

'Sheelagh bore the new girl off in triumph'
(clearly unperturbed by the fact that she was an identical clone of 'Sheelagh')

"Gosh, after all that fresh air I can't wait until we get to Radclyffe Hall!"

"One of these is a genuine Louis Vuitton, the other's from Primark. Can you tell them apart?"

Obviously I made some of these up (and refrained from publishing the ruder ones), but the original captions often contain unintended double entendres and there's something poignant about their innocence. Today, the small white object in the policeman's hand would be a sachet of cocaine or a cloned credit card.

Finally, a superb dustjacket for a novel by a writer who was, to George Orwell's dismay, one of the most popular authors of her day:


Kári Tulinius said...

Does the blue book in this illustration say "Flowsie" or am I seeing things? I'll admit, if I saw a book on sale called Flowsie, I'd assume it was a cheerful guide for teenage girls about their first menstruation.

Steerforth said...

It does look like it, but after looking at the original I think it's just a made-up word. I haven't come across the term 'flowsie' - is it an Americanism?

Anonymous said...

I just love these posts - the covers and illustrations are so funny.

resolutereader said...

I'd like to try and support your endeavours. Do you have any form of catalogue / stock list online or offline yet?

Steerforth said...

Nothing yet I'm afraid, but as soon as I have a decent inventory I'll post some links.

Poetry24 said...

Even in the midst of huge upheaval, your posts remain predictably delightful. More power to your elbow, Steerforth!

Kid said...

Glad to hear you're being kept busy at least. If you had too much 'quiet time', you'd probably be driven mad with anxiety. Good to hear that you're off to such a promising start.

Canadian Chickadee said...

What a great post. Your captions are wonderful.

You're right about the post office. I too feel that they often get a bad rap. The other day I went up to our local postal sub-station to mail a small but rather heavy box to a friend in North Carolina.

The clerk looked at my package, and said, "I think we can stuff it into this 'if it fits it ships at a flat rate' envelope, and it'll save you $6!"

We did, and it did. It's no wonder the US post office moans about declining revenues.

But I sure appreciated Anna's saving me over half on the cost of mailing my package.

Now that's what I call service!

Steerforth said...

Thanks Martin, Kid, Alienne and Chickadee - there are plenty more where these came from! Sadly, they're all from books that are destined to become road surfacing material - charity shop rejects that have no value to anyone.

It goes against the grain to throw books away, particularly ones with beautiful covers and plates, so I rescue what I can. The illustrations may not be great art, but someone spent hours creating them and I like the fact that they can enjoy a second life on the internet.

James Russell said...

The staff at my local post office are also wonderful, treating even the most deranged customers with respect.

I have a neighbour who has a similar business to yours, only in records rather than books, and what I find particularly admirable is his ability to keep parceling up singles, writing addresses, fixing on stamps and taking the packages to the post office. It takes me a month to post one letter: a week to find an envelope; a further week to track down the address; then a fortnight's delay caused by mislaying the letter in a pile of bills I'm pretending aren't really for me.

Online (& mail order) traders, I salute you!

Kári Tulinius said...

Steerforth: I haven't come across the term 'flowsie' - is it an Americanism?

No, not that I know. Though there are many variations on "flow" as a euphemism for menstruation, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone had used it at some point.

zmkc said...

Wherever the Rocks of Valpre may have been, there were clearly very good laundry facilities available. Or else that fox terrier had unusual skills a la Mrs Tiggywinkle.

Desperate Reader said...

I'm curious, do the dust jackets have a value separate to the books? I can well imagine people being prepared to part with more money for the covers than for the contents in some of these cases.

Little Nell said...

I do enjoy your captions Steerforth. What a pity you can’t self-publish a book of these; I’d buy it. No time I suppose as it would detract from your observations of bassoon-playing chimpanzees.

Biscuit said...

It's probably a long shot, but there are quite a few people on Etsy, for example, who repurpose interesting old book covers into covers for blank notebooks, also iPad/Kindle covers. Maybe they would be glad to take some off your hands that you might otherwise just discard?

Look! Firearms encylopedia!

Steerforth said...

Kári - I will emulate my wife's grandfather's response to any mention of 'women's things': we've had some very mild weather for the time of year, haven't we?

zmkc - Yes, they clearly used biological washing powder. I love the simple elegance of their clothes, which must have seemed so terribly 'modern' to the older generation.

I'll have to answer Desperate Reader and Biscuit together - yes, some images can be sold separately and in my last job, one of my colleagues ran a trial selling ilustrations on Etsy. For some reason, the only plates that were really successful were those of star charts from old astronomy books.

I'm sure that there must be some potential for selling out of copyright images - I've noticed quite a few A3-sized pictures on eBay, which suggests that people are copying old illustrations on A3 scanners and printers (A3 scanners and printers are reasonably cheap), so I might try that.

Little Nell - My years in the book trade make me break out into a sweat at the tiniest mention of the phrase 'self published'. It would be fun to collect all of the images and photos I've found and publish them as a book, but unless a professional thinks it's worth publishing, I wouldn't do it.

Steerforth said...

James - the feeling is mutual. My entire livelihood depends on people who have forsaken lucrative careers to write books. We salute you!

Christine Laennec said...

How funny, thank you for the laugh! Your made-up captions are hilarious, and some of the non-made-up ones are very funny too.