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.

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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.

LINK TO MY BOOKS ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

Peace fb

 

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audio, books, reading

Reading While Driving

Nah, I’m not that stupid. So, I do the next best thing. I listen to someone read the book to me while I drive to and from work.

I love to read, and frankly, all those years when I couldn’t write, that’s how I learned when I finally got over that 25-year writer’s block. I was a regular at the public library wherever we lived, hauling home an armful of books. (I did this when I was a kid, too.)

Then, I got into collecting first editions. As I’ve written before, I typically buy these books at places that don’t value them, so I get great deals like the first edition but not first printing of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for a buck. I shop online and go to fundraiser book sales. My most recent score was at a local library’s sale, where it appeared someone dumped their collection of Dennis Lehane’s first editions, including a signed Mystic River. My cost? A buck a piece.

But I digress.

My job as editor-in-chief at a daily newspaper — the Greenfield Recorder — takes up a lot of my time. I won’t bore you with the hours I work, but suffice it to say my reduced free time makes me choose between writing books, specifically the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, or reading them. Then, I thought, why not listen to books?

I used to listen to audio books when I had a 45-minute commute to a newsroom years back. My current commute, at eight miles, is a lot less than that, but it’s enough time. Besides, I’m tired of listening to depressing news on NPR, and the local stations don’t interest me.

So, I went to my local library, did the paperwork for my card, and checked out Stewart O’Nan’s The Odds, about a couple in financial and marital trouble who go to a casino at Niagara Falls. It took me a bit to get used to the narrator’s voice, but he kept me entertained, even doing a woman’s voice, during my commute. I’d say it was a successful experiment.

The next audiobook, Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig, was a disappointment that I returned before I even finished the first disc. I couldn’t get into the marble-mouthed narrator. So, I traded it in for something else — Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover.

Our local library has a limited collection, but I can order books through the inter-library system. I am also going to try the much larger library at the city where I work.

I believe listening to someone reading a book is as good as my reading it myself. So, mission accomplished. I can use my free time to write instead.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene at Acadia National Park on a recent camping trip.

MY BOOKS: No, I don’t have audio books. (My attempt to do it on my own failed despite by best efforts.) But I do have books in print and digital form, including the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Get thee to Amazon. Here’s the link: Joan Livingston books

 

 

 

 

 

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books, friends

Books I’ve Kept All These Years

I moved around a lot —more so when we were younger and restless. Six months or a year or two in one place and we were ready to find somewhere else to live.

That changed when our children maxed out at six. We were settled in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts, and stayed put for 25 years although we thankfully did move from a cheap, funky rental to finally our very own home we built. Then it was Taos, New Mexico for 11 years, and two years ago we returned to Western Mass., first in a rental and then the home we bought in Shelburne Falls and renovated while living in that apartment.

Nothing like moving, especially 2,400 miles — twice — to keep your belongings pared down. But in all those years, I have held onto certain books. I thought about this today when I was surveying my bookcases, which contain mostly first editions of authors I love and for the most part got super cheap. It’s a hobby of mine.

But here are the ones I’ve kept for oh-so-many years.

FUNDAMENTALS OF POETRY: I bought this slim book, almost a pamphlet really, in fifth grade through my grammar school for a buck and it has every part of speech a wanna be poet would want to know. This is the oldest.

THE YALE SHAKESPEARE/MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The book, dated 1923, actually belonged to my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Lima. She held the book while she recited the play from memory, a remarkable performance. I gained possession of the book when my mother found it in a yard sale and mailed it to me, unaware of its significance. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive inside.

ROOTS AND WINGS/CONCEIT: These were the literary magazines from my college, now called Bridgewater State University. They contain my poetry, from when I was a fledgling poet, and later when I was the editor. My sister, Christine, mailed them to me. I had long ago passed them on, and am grateful she held onto them for me. One of them even has a clipping from the college’s newspaper that has my column: Hot Schmaltz by Ethel Schwartz. I did a sarcastic review of Rod McKuen’s poetry — in poetic form. Funny story there. A bunch of my hippie guy friends were hanging around outside the administration building. They decided the next woman who turned the corner would be named Ethel Schwartz. Yes, it turned out to be me.

KORA IN HELL: I ran into a dear college friend years later in Boston. He gave me this as a gift, one of The Pocket Poets Series. The story of Persephone has always resonated with me.

SOME STAY HOME: Poems published in 1977 by a poet/singer Jim Palana. My favorite is about a woman, Miss Ann Gately and her bike.

ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE OR A JEST IN SOBER EARNEST (ORIGINALLY PLUBLISHED 1883): Another gift from a writing friend, Fred, supposedly one of the funniest books about the English language. Here’s a sample.

Of the Man.

The brain

The brains

The fat of the leg

The ham

The inferior lip

The superior lip

The marrow

The reins.

ARROYO: A slim collection of poetry by three friends I knew in college, Bob Sullivan, Jim Palana, James G.H. Moore and myself (when I had a different last name), plus art by Julie Conway. I see a lot of poetry in these books. I stopped writing that way and eventually found prose. But for my last mystery, Checking the Traps, the victim and one of the suspects wrote poetry, which meant I had to do it, too. To tell you the truth it was fun.

TROPIC OF CANCER/TROPIC OF CAPRICORN/BLACK SPRING: I bought these hard-cover books in Seattle and have brought them along on each move since, a bit of a miracle really.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: Here’s the link to the ones I wrote … on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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books, Writing

Writing about Triangles

I like triangles. Yeah, the geometric ones are interesting, but I’m talking about the triangles that can get people into trouble. That’s why I use them in my novels. Yes, The Sweet Spot has a big one.

And to complicate things, one person in the triangle is dead.

So, there is Edie St. Claire, whose last name was Sweet before she married Gil St. Claire right after their high school graduation — much to the consternation of his parents. Theirs is a tender love. But Edie’s life is turned upside down when Gil dies in Vietnam.

The third part of this triangle is Walker St. Claire, Gil’s brother. Years after his brother dies, he takes up with Edie even though he is married and has kids of his own. (There’s another triangle.)

Edie can’t let go of her love for Gil, who by my accounts was a sweetheart of a guy, and finds something to care about in his brother besides the sex. Unfortunately, Walker is obsessed with Edie.

This situation is not going to end well, I will tell you that. The tone in this book is decidedly not comic as was the case in my first novel Peace, Love, and You Know What.

Here is a scene from early in The Sweet Spot. Walker has taken Edie to his lakeside cabin. By the way, Shane and Randy are his twin boys.

Edie dressed as she walked around the cabin. She kneeled on the couch to study the dusty black-and-white photos of men holding dead game and strings of fish. Walker grinned from the edge of the bed, where he pulled on his cowboy boots.

Her face spun toward him.

“It’s Gil and you,” she said.

Walker stood beside her. Two smiling boys, wearing plaid jackets and furry hats flapped over their ears, posed with rifles.

“It’s us alright. Dad used to bring me and Gil up here when we were kids.”

“Look at you two. Just like Shane and Randy.”

Edie studied the photo. Walker cleared his throat. He wanted her to look at him.

“What do ya think it would’ve been like if he lived?” he asked her.

“Well, for one, I wouldn’t be here with you.”

She smiled. But Walker felt his jaw freeze. His words came from the back of his throat.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying we would’ve been happily married. I wouldn’t have been alone with Amber.”

“You think so, huh?”

“Course, I do.”

“Sure.”

“Walker, this is silly.”

He clasped her arm tightly and brought his face close to hers. Her smile went flat. Edie cried out, and when he let her go, she dropped the photograph to the floor.

When I think back on the characters in the book, I see other three-pointed relationships, most of which don’t involve intimacy or sex, like Edie’s relationship with her mother and father in-law. Marie is frank about her disapproval of Edie but she puts up with her. Fred has a clear fondness for Edie although his wife runs that marriage.

There is Edie’s relationship with her father and aunt, who like to spar.

And figure in Harlan Doyle, the stranger who moves into town.

Yes, I like things in threes.

The Sweet Spot’s launch, in paperback and Kindle, is expected mid-January, when we’ve all recovered a bit from the holidays.

And here’s the link to Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: As we ponder the cover, I’ve been researching images of the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts on the internet. I found this vintage postcard of Worthington, where I once lived.

 

 

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