books, collecting

Letting Go of Books

I don’t collect many things. Shells, sea glass, pine cones, and, likely the only thing of monetary value, first edition books. At least that’s what I am hoping as I go through my collection and decide what to keep or sell.

I got serious about collecting books well over twenty years ago. That’s when I started wanting to own the books written by the authors I loved. I believe Annie Proulx was the first.

But being a rather frugal person, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I frequented second-hand bookstores on my lunch hour at the newspaper where I worked in Western Mass., and on occasion, yard sales. My obsession continued when we moved to Taos, New Mexico and back to Western Mass., where I now live.

In a few instances, I was able to get that book signed at a reading like my experience with Russell Banks. I was attending his reading at a literary festival for his then new book, The Darling. I had brought along my favorite, The Sweet Hereafter. I waited patiently in the auditorium while he signed other fans’ books. One of the organizers politely asked Banks to come sign books in the entrance area. He pointed toward me and said, “Yes, but she comes with me.”

For a while, I wanted to collect everything certain authors wrote. That’s when I took to book-selling websites. I only went for first editions and if the price was reasonable, signed. A few books arrived unexpectedly signed. That’s how I got my Sherman Alexie books.

The best bargains were in places that didn’t value books like second-hand stores that had a few bookcases off to the side. That’s where I scored first editions of the Harry Potter series in like new condition for a buck a piece. I got a vintage “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison at a Habitat for Humanity Store.

Then, there were the so-called free tables in places where I worked. I got a book by Hemingway that way one time.

If I find an author I admire or a book I treasure, I will try to buy up others. Sometimes I’ve been disappointed that a certain quality hasn’t been maintained. Or they really only had one great book in them, like Harper Lee.

I don’t own an immense amount of books, a couple hundred or more, but then we’ve moved 2,400 miles twice in the past sixteen years. As the mover said, the weight on those adds up.

But I’ve reached the conclusion, it is time to part with most of my books. I have read them all and most I won’t read again. I honestly don’t feel I need to hold onto them and after doing research, I realize that I can make some money. My plan is to sell them online.

So for the past few days, I’ve been going through my books and doing research online. Any book that has nominal value has been passed onto one of the free little libraries in town, which is actually a small minority of the collection. I have been compiling info for each, assessing their condition, and researching what they would fetch on a site I’ve used many times. Many, I have found, have greatly exceeded the amount I paid for them. That’s good news.

However, there are books that are too near and dear to me to sell. I will write about them in another post. And then there are those books written by my author friends. Those, too, are keepers.

One of the amusing parts of this exercise is finding bookmarks with names of the stores that sold them. Many don’t even exist. I am holding onto them as well.

As far as selling, I have a ways to go, but I will make an announcement here and elsewhere when I do.

art, Woodworking

When Art Is Made From Wood

Being the humble person he is, Hank wouldn’t call himself an artist. So I will. And his medium of choice is wood.


Hank in his shop

For so many years, my huband used wood while working on other people’s homes and businesses as a finish carpenter. He has done the same for us and our family, plus building furniture including, chairs, stools, dining room tables, frames, and dansus. He built the desk on which I am writing this post.

At some point, Hank started making boxes from leftover wood, giving them as gifts to oh-so-many people. Consider yourself fortunate if you have one. I’ve managed to hold onto a few I won’t let him give away.

And now the boxes he creates are on display in a gallery in our village. He calls them art boxes, and I believe that is an apt description.

Hank call me in to his shop to show me what he’s working on, explaining how he cut the wood and glued the pieces together in a process called book match to create a grain with interesting patterns. I will see a box in its many stages, including the shaping and carving that give it character. No two boxes are ever alike.

White Cedar Box No. 1 copy

White Cedar Box 1

Hank uses a variety of local, exotic, and recycled wood such as chestnut, fir, and cedar. Here’s what went into White Cedar Box No. 1 — Laminated white cedar lid, mortised cherry handle, purple heart bottom, sapele and purple heart feathers. This box has a Zuni influence.

Lids, handles, and knobs are hand-shaped as well as some boxes, employing joinery, aniline dyes, and a variety of finishes.

Hank’s a bit of a perfectionist, but then you have to be to build cabinetry and stairs properly. But he is also inspired by the beauty and serenity in the imperfection of simple things like wood —  wabi-sabi. Other inspirations are the Indigenous pottery of Taos, New Mexico, where he once lived and sold his art boxes and furniture, Japanese pottery and architecture, Art Deco, and Southwestern geometric designs.

Pagoda Blue HLivingston copy

Blue Pagoda Box

Hanks sold boxes through galleries in Taos and Albuquerque, and since a couple of weeks ago, they’ve been for sale at Salmon Falls Gallery in Shelburne Falls, the village in Western Massachusetts where we live. The owner is Josh Simpson, a well-known glass artist.

Last week, the first box sold — the Blue Pagoda Box. Certainly, this acknowledgement of Hank’s talent was a reason to celebrate.

Want to see them for yourself? Here’s the link to four of his boxes on Salmon Falls’ website. Four more are in the works in his studio workshop, including one he calls the Red Pencil Box with mortise and tenon joints, a walnut cover with a hand-carved knob and red aniline dye on the box. It’s a work of art.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the Local Pine Box.  It has an incense cedar lid, mortised purple heart handle, white cedar bottom, sapele and pine feathers and clipped corners with mesa step detail. The pine is from Hall Tavern Farm in Charlemont.

books, free, reading

Finding Free Books Wherever I Go

I saw the first so-called Free Little Library in the small city where I worked for a local newspaper. It was an attractive box, with plexiglass on the door that was held in place with a hook and eye, and raised on a post beside the sidewalk. I didn’t find a book I wanted for free but I was intrigued by the concept. Then my curiosity grew as I began finding these free book boxes in my village, and today, I got a lesson about IMG_2578the rewards of sharing. (Stick until the end of this post for that.)

But before I go any further … if you are reading this on Saturday, March 26 and you are a Kindle reader, then you can get one of my books for free. Peace, Love, and You Know What is the first book I published.

Here’s a brief synopsis: Turn on, tune in, and then what? That’s the question facing Tim and Lenora. But first they’ll escape to a three-day graduation bash put on by Tim and his roommates at their funky, hippie pad. Peace, Love, and You Know What is a comedy framed by the Vietnam War and Watergate.

Now back to those free book boxes … I found the first in our village as I drove along a main street. I was curious enough to later walk out of my way to find it. Alas, there wasn’t anything inside I wanted to take.

But now that I’ve expanded my walks through the village, aiming for that magical 10K steps, I found five more free book boxes. One has a note advising donors to leave only newer books and in great condition. That’s where I found a first edition in like new condition of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, and the next day I returned with three newish books in gratitude.

The other day I explored a section of streets on my side of the village — Shelburne Falls is separated by the Deerfield River with the town of Shelburne on one side and Buckland, where I live, on the other. I was surprised to find two more. One was the traditional enclosed box on the
post. The other was what had to be the best use of a small refrigerator, which had a metal overhangIMG_2576 and was mounted on post. The outside said “LIBRARY” and the books were stacked neatly inside.

So far the Colson Whitehead is the only book I have scored but I haven’t given up looking for a read. I also see this as an opportunity to find a good home for the books I no longer want to keep or sell. (More on the selling in another post.) I’m talking about paperbacks and even hard covers that I’ve read and will never read again. I will give them to people who might want them.

And so, here is that interesting lesson that happened about an hour ago. Hank and I were walking home from having coffee in the lower village when we passed a woman reading in a chair outside a restaurant. She was ingrained in the book she held, even smiling and nodding. That’s when I recognized the paperback, Tony Hillerman’s The Great Taos Bank Robbery: And Other True Stories of the Southwest. It was one of the books I had left in a box the other day. I had bought the book or maybe it was given to me when I was the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in New Mexico.

I was glad to see by donating the book, I was contributing to someone’s reading enjoyment. Pass it on, I say.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the inside to a small refrigerator cleverly converted into a free book box.


Peace fb


Gardening, Writing

The First Dig

Ever since the snow melted, I’ve wanted to dig in the dirt. My flower beds will stay undisturbed until it gets much warmer, but my initial focus is on expanding my vegetable garden. So, yesterday, I got a shovel out of the garage and began. Like other things that I do, including my writing, it’s a matter of starting and keeping with it.

I had a vegetable garden I built at the other homes we owned. But the one we have now in Shelburne Falls has a very small yard largely shaded by large trees that thankfully keep the house cool during the summer but don’t permit much sunshine. Then there are the deep slopes and one large swarth of level land the previous owners unfortunately allowed to be consumed by the invasive Japanese knotweed that is so difficult to remove. The only spot for a garden is at the top of the backyard hill that abuts land owned by the Catholic Church next door.

So, I created a garden from the grassy, weedy spot. I removed what was growing and then proceeded to supplement the soil — I dug down about two feet — with compost and manure. In the end I had a 5-by-10-foot garden read to plant last year.

I didn’t expect much. After all it takes a while to build a soil’s wealth and there had never been a garden here. I was also warned not to grow anything the deer that wander in from the woods might like. That first year crop included tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, onions, beans, and squash, including a couple of volunteers that came from seeds from the compost. It was a decent first effort. (I also planted garlic in the fall for this year’s crop.)

My focus this year is expanding to the areas I covered with black plastic — I recycled the compost and manure bags — to kill what had been growing there. So itching to get started, on my first dig, I expanded the original plot by 18 inches on each side. Now, there are two deep, long trenches ready for compost and to be backfilled with the dirt I saved plus other nutritional stuff I will add. It wasn’t that warm yesterday, but the sun was strong enough that I shed my jacket.

Frankly, I don’t do much thinking in my garden. For me, digging is one of those “be here now” experiences. Yesterday, I forgot about finishing our taxes and other stuff on my to-do list. I pushed the shovel into the ground with my foot, shook out the dirt from the dead plants before tossing them into a hole I’m trying to fill, and lifted the soil on top of the existing garden for later. Today, I will work on the vertical expansion. Tomorrow we’re getting rain.

It’s one shovelful after another. I see similarities in my style of writing. I stay totally focused while enjoying the moment — digging one word after another as I work toward a bountiful end. And the more I do it, the better I get at it.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A selfie in my sunny garden.

A LINK TO MY BOOKS: Interested in my other growing project? Here is the link: Joan Livingston Books on Amazon



life, Writing

Paring Down

When we moved 2,400 miles twice, my motto regarding our possessions is that we had to absolutely need them or love them and hopefully both. But now that we’ve settled into our village life after finding, renovating, and moving into our current home, it’s time to reassess what we own — and thankfully I now have the time to do it. (Yes, I am a fan of Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy.] I am also applying this to my writing, one book in specific, but I’ll get to that later in this post.

It began with the filing cabinet. I am starting our taxes and while looking for copies of last year’s, I realized how much crap I’ve dumped into this two-drawer cabinet Hank built for me a long time ago. So, I’m going through each file. Some of it, like tax documents going back a dozen years will be shredded, while I keep what’s more recent. I’ve heard three years, I’m doing five just to be on the safe side. The rest goes into the recycling bin.

Regarding papers, I am well aware I have boxes of old drafts of my novels in manila envelopes in our attic. I sincerely doubt anyone, including myself will want to read them. I will give the ones for my current unpublished novels a look to see if they are worth saving or contain something I could use.

Next on my list is clothing. When I look in my closet I find clothing I wore only when I tried them on at the second-hand store. They don’t fit my current lifestyle or taste, but maybe they will somebody else’s. Into the bag they are going.

Then there is my book collection. About twenty-five years ago I started collecting first editions of books that I love written by authors I admire. It started with regular visits to a second-hand bookstore, sadly no longer in existence, on my lunch hour. Then there were community sales like library fundraisers. When we traveled, I hit the local used bookstore. I never paid much. I found the best deals were in the places people didn’t value books — my biggest find was a very early edition of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in a Habitat for Humanity Store in New Mexico. Then, then there are what colleagues left on the free table where I worked. Of course, there are online bookstores, which enabled me to fill in my collections at moderate prices.

But recently I’ve decided it’s time to pare down this collection, keeping a much smaller ones of the books that are truly near and dear to me. I know better than to try selling them to a bookstore. I will do it myself online and perhaps make money.

My computer… soon I will be retiring this writing machine that I’ve had ten years and getting another. I’ve been diligently cleaning out files. Next, I will attempt that with photos.

And now that book. It’s the first one I tried to write. When I showed the opening to my first agent, he expressed more interest in another of my books. Ha. Both are still unpublished but I hope to change that. As I’ve mentioned before, The Swanson Shuffle was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house, but it is definitely not a memoir. Now, I am doing the read-aloud function on my computer, finding words and paragraphs that are unnecessary, and in some cases adding a missing word. Since starting, I’ve trimmed a thousand words and I believe the novel is all the better for it.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The five books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series are on display and for sale in our son, Zack’s Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls, Mass., the village where we live. Hank built the display shelf, with shapes that allude to our village’s Bridge of Flowers. I am a lucky author.

LINKS: Curious about my books? You can get them in paperback and Kindle here: