Monday, March 23, 2009

Annals of Bookselling-The 100 Proof Seekers

No, they are not alcoholics,they are the proof seekers, an unlikely, if not somewhat unruly crowd which haunts and controls that area in the corner of the New York City bookstore basement that houses in several bookcases, the uncorrected advance review copies of books to be published.In their hangout, they control admission and departures so thoroughly that the section has been compared to the tribal areas of Waziristan where the Pakistan army dares not show its face.

And they are a motley group, from the 70ish short "retired investor" with wiry hair who is in the shop, I am told , every day, with his adoring wife,to the woman with the brown and white mutt often seen at the review desk downstairs picking up a bundle of 5 books, the guy with the oversized brown tortoise-shellglasses who looks like an aging hippie and who reads with his nose literally buried into the pages, and others of varying persuasions, at least some of whom are quite quite knowledgeable about books.

According to store legend, they have been known to push and shove overtly if not banish hostile proof seekers out of the aisle back onto the main section downstairs, preserving their proximity to the new proofs just dumped on the shelves.

For these are narrow aisles and there is no order ,alphabetically or otherwise to these filings- you just have to plunge in , look fast and grab. And they all cost a mere $1.49(up from 99c two years ago).Do some of them resell these treasures on e-Bay? Who knows- You can wait far and long before a proof even claims a $50 price- Like 2666 by Bolano.

So when I ventured into the basement one recent Friday evening and saw the knot of people hovering over and against the two shelves that had just received a deposit of new titles, I knew I had litle chance of moving them aside. I therefore engaged in a bit of pleasant banter, and with the delicacy necessary to thread between the tentacles of an octopus, reached between them and precisely and gently with two fingers picked out the autobiography of ex 1968 Columbia radical Mark Rudd and the terrific account by Michela Wrong-"It's Our Turn to Eat, The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower" .

At last the group fanned out over the basement, leading me to forget those critical passages in "Crowds and Power" by Nobel prize winning author Elias Canetti, about the organic quality and latent explosive powers possessed by a crowd.

I had my prizes, picked up a translation by Anne Carson ,of the three plays constituting the Oresteia, one each from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and headed for the exit ,happy to escape with a good stash and no fatal wounds.

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