Friday, February 07, 2014

The Downward Spiral

My book sales have been pretty awful recently. I'm not surprised, as I've felt too tired to do much since my appendix was whipped out, other than read Trollope and watch 'Breaking Bad'.

How long does it take to fully recover from surgery? My mother-in-law confidently asserted that it was one week per hour of surgery, but I'm not convinced.

This week I made a concerted effort to put some more books on sale. Fortunately, I've now reached a point where I have valued so many different titles, I can instantly identify the books that are of no value. This saves a lot of time, but the ratio of valuable to worthless books is still depressingly low.

If I open a box of random pre-ISBN books, I'm also certain that it will contain at least one copy of the following:

Little Women,
The Ascent of Everest
Anything by Dickens
The Rose Annual
Variable Winds at Jalna, by Mazo de la Roche
Rogue Herries
The Pilgrim's Progress
A Famous Five book
A late Victorian 'penny dreadful', published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
What Katy Did
Over two dozen Companion Book Club/Readers' Union hardbacks
A 1920s title about book-keeping
The Wooden Horse
Popski's Private Army
A reference book published by Odhams
Something by or about George Bernard Shaw
Heute Abend! Book One
The Wind in the Willows

I could go on, but I'm sure you'd rather I didn't.

Any title that isn't familiar gives a little skip to the heart, particularly if it isn't published by Rupert Hart-Davis (for some reason, nearly all of their books are worthless). Perhaps this will be the book that pulls me back from the brink of penury. I type in the details and press enter. It is worth 61p.

But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised:

This signed first edition by the author of 'Goodbye Mr Chips' was a refreshing change from finding yet another novel by Storm Jameson and sold at auction for a couple of hundred quid.

Even on a bad day, I can usually rely on finding a title that will provide some harmless peurile amusement:

(I wonder if they have cottaging in the USA? I only ask because I once had a terrible time trying to explain the concept of a public toilet to a San Francisco cafe owner. He assured me that they didn't exist in America, but this seems unlikely.)

I was also amused by these covers:

I can only suppose that a 'slapper' was something different then, but I find it hard to believe that the book I found yesterday - a 1930s Encyclopaedia of Sex by someone called A. Willy - didn't raise a smirk in the publisher's office.

I also find titles that provide surprisingly pertinent information. For example, after my recent rant about house prices ruining the 'dreaming suburb' of Teddington, I came across this:

"In some London districts it is reckoned that more than one quarter of the inhabitants change their address each year."

That quote from a late Victorian book called 'The Problems of Poverty' by John Hobson reminded me that London's population has been in a constant state of flux since the Industrial Revolution and that the seemingly unchanging world of postwar Teddington was just a brief interlude.

However, although it's good to find titles that interest or amuse, I need to derive an income from my books. Every month I have to pay for stock, plus the rent, postage and commission fees. Whatever's left over is my wage. Last month it reached a new low.

Between recovering from an operation and dealing with a child with 'special needs' (I hate that phrase, but can't think of an alternative), it has been a struggle to deal with a backlog of work. This month, I hope to make up for lost time and perhaps in the process, I may find some more gems.

On the other hand, I may just find books like this:

If the bookselling doesn't work out, maybe I'll become a nylon pirate.


Debra said...

Does it make you feel better to know that I laughed out loud reading this post ? (Believe me, I really need to laugh out loud these days, even if YOU probably need it more than I do, from a material perspective.)
Cottaging, huh ?
My daughter still manages not to use public restrooms wherever she goes.. It CAN be done, and reading about cottaging makes me understand her better.
"Little Women", "Heidi", and "The Wind in the Willows", along with "The Secret Garden" were bulwarks for me growing up. I reread "Heidi" recently, from a sociological perspective, and it blew me away noticing how very pertinent it still is...
What is nyloning, in your last phrase ?
What I don't know will fill up Wikipedia..
What is your booksite, please ?

Desperate Reader said...

Whenever I go in a second hand bookshop I can guarantee finding 'The Well of Loneliness' and 'Precious Bane'. I have never wanted to read either. After that Shaw does seem to be well represented. I found after an operation a few years ago that it took months to feel normal again and not get tired really quickly, all I can say is don't rush it.

Dale said...

I keep an eye on what books are in favour by checking what people are throwing out at our annual Lions Bookfair, which usually turns over about 30,000 to 35,000 books (money goes to charity).

This year there was a heavy representation of books by and about Lance Armstrong - guess the cheating revelation put a lot of people off a former hero. I have noticed that folk throw out celebrity auto/biographies within a year or two of the celeb dying. Surprised you didn't mention Winston Churchill's various histories, they've been at every jumble sale I've ever been to!

Speaking of transience, it's remarkable how short-lived most slang is, isn't it? I don't remember "willy" turning up much before the 1980s, but YMMV. And when you read books that use a quantity of contemporary slang, like early Ben Elton for example, they go off quicker than whipped cream.

Steerforth said...

Debra - As far as I know, nylon is still a noun rather than a verb, but I may be wrong. When my wife had to edit a publication on HIV, we discovered a whole new vocabulary of acts, many of which evoked rather unpleasant images.

Desperate Reader - You're right. Anything by Mary Webb goes straight in the bin. I stuck with her for a good year, dutifully looking each title up, before giving up.

I read the first part of 'The Well of Loneliness' but had to give up as it was too dull. It's a pity that such a culturally important novel isn't terribly well written.

Dale - Churchill - how could I have left him off the list! Once again, straight in the bin. Sorry Sir Winston, but your print runs were too big.

As for Ben Elton, I picked up a copy of 'Sussex Life' at the doctors' surgery recently and saw a sub-Tatler piece featuring photos of aristocrats at a local ball in someone's stately home. Ben Elton was there, immaculately dressed, chatting to a lady who looked like an exiled German duchess. How people change (or revert to type).

Brian Busby said...

Nearly 6000 books in this house and not a single one published by Rupert Hart-Davis. That said, we do have four written by Mazo de la Roche, all rescued from bookstore 'FREE' boxes. An Ontario girl, her books are pretty thick on the ground in where I live, but not so much as in England. Lovat Dickson had a theory about this…

I'm going on. If you care, I've quoted Dickson here.

Really, this is just an excuse to share two things stumbled over last month:

1) There exists a Mazo de la Roche Society.

2) The Society is campaigning for Miss de la Roche's image on our $50 bill.

Won't happen. Even Arthur Hailey is more likely.

Bet you're coming across plenty of copies of Airport, too.

Hoping that things pick up. Do keep me in mind if you come across any Canadian oddities.

Dale said...

Don't want to hog the conversation here, but I've also remembered that most years the Bookfair has about 3-4 metres of royal books. The whole country is throwing out its books about the British royal family, and usually I am the only one buying any. (I only want the serious ones as the English class system is one of my book reviewing specialty topics.)

Which tells me that a) the younger generation is selling off Mum's old books and don't want a bar of the royal fluff, and b) New Zealand is well down the road to becoming a republic.

MikeP said...

You forgot Rogue Herries and The Forsyte Saga...There's a book called Tobit Transplanted by Stella Benson which seemed to turn up in every second-hand bookshop I ever went into. I eventually bought a copy just to put it out of its misery, but never felt tempted to read it.

I think you should start a division of your operation selling the sort of books you write about on here. Call it Daft Books. I'm a sucker for book titles that appeal to my adolescent sense of humour, or books of no literary value that have stunning jackets. They need to be preserved.

MikeP said...

*edit* - you had Rogue Herries in your list - missed it first time, sorry!

Steerforth said...

Brian - Thanks for the links. That explains why I come across an extraordinary number of Jalna titles. I suppose the same thing happens in reverse, when people in the 'New World' like watching television dramas set in an England that is rural, white and populated by the stock characters from an Agatha Christie novel.

These days, Canada is perceived as a sort of Scandinavian version of the USA, with less rampant capitalism and better gun control. While that may be largely true, it's yet another stereotype.

I don't come across 'Airport' that often, surprisingly, but that's probably because I don't get many paperbacks. The most intriguing version I found was a Soviet edition, in English.

I'll keep an eye out for any Canadian oddities.

Dale - Yes, I should have added books about the Royal Family, particularly titles about the 1936 and 1953 coronations.

I'm not sure if the lack of demand for old books about the Windsors is an indication of growing republicanism though. People went potty when William and Kate got married. I think the monarchy still has a lot of life left in it, particularly when republics produces leaders like Bush, Putin, Hollande and Berlusconi.

Mike - I almost added the Galsworthy, but knew that I had to stop. I can't say I've ever seen the Benson though. Perhaps it's so good, nobody throws it out!

I should sell some of these books. I know that I would have had several buyers for 'Gay Gardens From Seed' if I'd put it on sale, along with titles like 'The Queer Holiday', 'The Queer Adventure' etc.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

When I had a Saturday job in the library, I remember shelving Mazo de la Roche books - instantly recognisable by the pink d/js, and also armfuls of medical novels by Frank G Slaughter and westerns by J T Edson. That was in the late 1970s - they were all popular in Norbury, South London.

I hope you find lots of books of value soon, and are fully recovered. All the best.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Annabel - I've had poor sales before and they have always bounced back, so I'm not losing too much sleep. It's just annoying, as January was going to be a month of solid book logging.

That said, I've enjoyed watching 'Breaking Bad' and reading Mr Trollope.

zmkc said...

Jalna - I remember trying to convince myself those books would be worth reading on a holiday in Cornwall in a house where the choice was between them or Bertrand Russell or Why Britain Should Join the Common Market. Pelmanism won out in the end. I read somewhere that David Niven's The Moon's a Balloon is the single most common book secondhand dealers end up with, but perhaps that was specific to Australia.

Steerforth said...

Zoe - The Moon's a Balloon is another title I could have added to the list - usually the Book Club Associates edition.

Other titles I could have mentioned are:

My Family and Other Animals
Anything by James Herriot
Ring of Bright Water
Anything by Arthur Mee or H.V.Morton
Anthing by Rafael Sabatini

Seeing the same books can be a little soul-destroying, but it's better than having to deal with newer titles. I've looked at the modern, barcoded books that appear and once you've removed Dan Brown, the misery memoirs, the 'chic lit' and the celebrity biogs, there isn't much left.

George said...

Certainly there are public toilets in the United States, but generally they are in public parks or places like train stations. I think you may have encountered what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of, the variance in American and English expression.

Nicholas Monsarrat I would associate more with traditional than nylon piracy, probably because out of all his books I only ever read The Cruel Sea.

I work a couple of blocks from a used bookstore that began as an annual "pop-up" sale, the proceeds going to a literacy program, the staff all volunteer. This being Washington, DC, the books that one sees over and over again tend to be political or about local notables. It took several years for Kay Graham's A Personal History to work its way through the sale, for example.

Travellin Penguin - Pam said...

Our local 2nd hand book store in Tasmania set up a Facebook page and put photos of funny, pulpy covers and silly books on it and people write in and say they want it. Don't know if they get caught up in the moment or truly want it b/c it;s so quirky but he sells everything he puts up. Quite fun to visit the page.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Agree that it takes "months to feel normal again and not get tired really quickly". Also I think you should take up MikeP's suggestion and have a wacky books section. Otherwise you are doing us all a favour by removing all this dross from circulation. (I remember when everybody had The Cruel Sea and Born Free in their spare room.)

Canadian Chickadee said...

As a writer who has written barrels of stuff, most of which has never (and will never) see light of day, or a print run of any size, it's reassuring to see that authors who were once popular can land in the rubbish bins too.

PS - The fact that no editor seems to want to publish any of my pearls of wisdom hasn't stopped me from writing. Years ago I promised to leave my daughter a garage full of unpublished mss. and a garageful she's going to get!

Victoria Harris said...

It's interesting to see that some of those that are worthless are good stuff. But I suppose even good books can reach saturation point. If I have Dickens and my mother has Dickens I'm not going to want two copies when she dies, so one will go to the charity shop.

Hope you're feeling better soon.

Kid said...

The word 'willy' was quite common in the '60s in Scotland - in fact, I don't think it's ever gone away.

What editions of Wind In the Willows do you have? I might be interested.

Hope things pick up for you soon.

Steerforth said...

George - That's what I thought. I'm sure I've used a coyly-named public 'restroom' in the USA, although I do remember an awful morning driving around Beverly Hills searching in vain for one. Perhaps the very wealthy don't go to the loo, but just wait for their next colonic irrigation appointment.

Pam - I suppose I do that on this blog, but I just need to learn to 'monetize' these funny books. There used to be a bookshop in Lewes that had wonderful window displays featuring unintentionally saucy titles, but sadly it now sells overpriced kitchenware to ex-Londoners.

Lucy - How could I have failed to mention 'Born Free'! I could have built a small house out the number of copies I've received. 'The Cruel Sea' is one of my favourite films, but I can't say I've ever been tempted to read the book. It was clearly very popular, as the copies I handle usually say something like "17th printing".

Perhaps I am performing a useful activity if I'm separating the wheat from the chaff. I don't think books are sacred objects and there is a certain pleasure to be derived from throwing bad books in a skip. I remember watching a biography of Justin Lee Collins slowly fall apart in a puddle during the course of a week. A very satisfying experience.

Carol - I think that's how the Derek diaries made their way to us. Perhaps you'll be a posthumous literary sensation, appreciated by a more discerning generation of readers. But don't give up on getting published 'prehumously' - ebooks are giving authors new opportunities.

Victoria - You've hit the nail on the head. It's all about supply and demand. When I throw Dickens in the skip, I feel a pang of guilt, but then I remind myself that there are simply too many copies in circulation. Also, if I want to read 'Great Expectations', I'd probably prefer a modern paperback than a 1920s reprint.

Apparently, a lot of the unwanted Dickens novels end up as road surfacing material!

Steerforth said...

Kid - I had a nice Folio edition, but that went. I haven't got anything that I'd recommend at the moment, but I still live in hope that a nice early edition will find its way to me.

Was it 'willy' or 'wullie' in Scotland?

I remember this little ditty from my schooldays:

"My friend Billy
Had a ten foot willy
And he showed it to the girl next door.
She thought it was a snake
So she hit it with a rake
And now it's only six foot four."

Remember that?

helenalex said...

Re: surgery recovery times, there's no simple answer as it depends on type and location or surgery, age, pre-surgery level of fitness, and so on.

About two weeks after my last surgery, having spent that time in bed and on the couch, I realised my energy levels were actually getting lower. Even though I felt like any exertion would be too much, I forced myself to go out and do some light gardening, and almost immediately felt better and more energetic. After about two days of that my body sort of reset itself to about 80% of normal energy levels, up from something like 10%. Obviously you can take it too far, but as long as you are able to stop when you need to, and don't do anything that might burst your stitches, you're probably better off overdoing it than underdoing it. Well, that was my experience, anyway.

Kid said...

Steerforth, indeed I do remember it - there was also a joke about the three bears having to jump out of a plane with only two parachutes, but while it was funny in the innocence of youth, it might raise a few eyebrows nowadays. ("Me no daft, me no silly..." You can finish the rest for yourself if you remember it.)

As for 'willy' or 'willie' - I think willy was for one's little trouser snake and willie was short for William. (Also spelt Wullie on occasion.)

Steerforth said...

helenalex - Yes, I think you're right. The less you do the more your world shrinks. Having my own business has stopped the bone idle part of me from completely taking over, as I've had to go in and pack orders from three days after surgery (with a lot of help from my wife). I've been gradually increasing my workload, but some days I feel washed out after a couple of hours. It's frustrating.

Kid - I didn't know that one, but I've just Googled it. Fascinating how jokes like that spread, from playground to playground.

Debra said...

Here, here. I vote for helenalex's advice, having followed it myself, and knowing from long experience how much it... costs to lie fallow for too long in the age of machines.
Yesterday I took a little stroll along the American am site's "Beowulf" page. "Beowulf" which goes way further back than Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", for example.
In five years, there are now at least two or three new translations/treatments of the epic poem. Impressive, huh ? And we thought that only the NEW stuff was popular ?....
I have my theories about this, but will spare you for now.
I'm not averse to picking up a copy of "Born Free" in good condition. A hardback ?
In maybe fifteen years when my kids get around to procreating, in the time their progeniture take to be able to listen to the book read aloud, it will look and sound like the Ladybird picture book, if it doesn't already...

MikeP said...

Steerforth - not sure what the moral of this story is, but felt the need to share...I collect books by or illustrated by Ronald Searle. Just taken delivery of 'Ronald Searle in Le Monde', which I bought on eBay pretty cheaply from one of those book processing factories. Imagine my delight when it turned out to be signed and dedicated - to Jeffrey Archer! A pretty double-edged dedication, too: 'For Jeffrey Archer, with best wishes from someone who also knows the horror of doing time...' Perjury v. the Japanese and the Burma Railroad, hmm...I'm delighted, especially since it's the first signed RS I've found at a sensible price.

Anonymous said...

I might want some of those books that you chuck out..! I'm building a collection of popular fiction published between 1900-1950 at Sheffield Hallam University, precisely to preserve those books that were once read by thousands of people and are now forgotten. Do get in touch if you think might have anything for us.

Good luck on the recovery. I've ahd a few operations and the recovery always take much longer than I and those around me think it ought to. Tiring and tedious.

RoByn Thompson said...

I've not heard it called "cottaging" in the US. Don't really know what we call that here but it exists. Most famously,
Recover can be hard. Sending you positive energy.
I enjoy your observations very much.

Steerforth said...

Debra - If it ever stops raining (which is doubtful), I'll start going out for a 'constitutional' again.

Mike - Good old Ronald Searle - what a wonderful find. As you know, the publishing world is full of Archer anecdotes. One rep told me a story about a time when he and some colleagues went to Jeffrey Archer's flat to get some stock signed. Apparently a rep was leaning against a wall and as Archer was writing, he said "Tell that moron that if he doesn't take his hand off the wall, he can pay for it to be repainted."

Reading19001950 - I'd be happy to send some books if you need any. I'm glad that someone's preserving titles that once had such a huge impact on popular culture.

I'm glad to read that I'm not alone in finding the recovery process more drawn-out than expected.

RoByn - Thanks for the link about Larry Craig. How unfortunate that he was so outspoken about Bill Clinton: "The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy – a naughty boy. I'm going to speak out for the citizens of my state..."

People in glass houses, etc.

Thomas at My Porch said...

Cottaging does indeed exist in the US, but it is generally not referred to as cottaging. It is also not as brazen as I have observed in the UK and Europe. The first time I ever saw anything of this sort was at the town hall equivalent in Windsor right near the castle. Shocked the hell out of my 21-year old self. A week later while using the facilities at the bus station in Cambridge (I was headed to Ely for the day) I spotted more of it. It is one of those things that once you notice it it is hard not to notice more of it.

Steerforth said...

Thomas - In Windsor? Near the Castle? Hmmm...

I can understand that people like the thrill of cottaging, but as someone who veers towards OCDish behaviour, I'd be put off by the thought of all the germs in a public convenience.