Judging Books By Their Covers, And Only Their Covers — Here’s How It’s Done.

As I announced a while ago, I now have the unbearably glamorous volunteer job of co-managing a used book store here on the north shore of Long Island.

The wall clock stopped telling time about a decade ago, and the fireplace underneath it is used only for its mantel.

100% of our inventory of used books comes from donations…which means that we often get bag-loads of crap dumped on us, from people who think that “donations” is another word for “here, this stuff is now your problem.”

So I wrote up new guidelines:

Please, no college text books, water-damaged Philip Roth novels, spinning wheel repair manuals, baby raccoons, left-over lasagna, or out-of-state library books. Everything else between two covers is gladly and gratefully accepted.

The book store is in the front parlor (I like to think it used to be old Mrs. Valentine’s sitting room where she had tea parties during the Monroe administration) in the historic c. 1820 Valentine House in Roslyn, NY and all the money we make from selling used books goes to the local library.

As the enviously philanthropic volunteer co-manager of the Roslyn library used book store, I wield absolute power when it comes to deciding what to display on the fireplace mantel. Here’s the display I made in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month:

The vertical rainbows are paperback, and the horizontal rainbows are hard-backs. I had the most trouble finding book covers in the color green. Judging by my inventory, green is the least-used color in book-binding.

We were also lacking inventory in green book covers because I had previously plundered our stock for my  own bookshelves:

The idea came to me on a slow day in the used-book selling world. It was also raining (which doesn’t bring in the punters) and I was hungry.

As you can see, my decor à live combines low and high culture…if indeed such a distinction can be made:

I confess that I am not tempted to read any of the books on display chez moi. I think that reading them would totally ruin them for me, as objets d’art, don’t you think?

I rather like the image of Light on Snow, and it makes me happy to imagine all the possibilities that might be contained in Anita Shreve’s novel. And look! Stacked as they are, they make a poem:

Light on Snow, Winter Study

Jem (and Sam)…

heart of the matter

This relates: The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (so I’ve heard; I’ve never read any of his books) was teaching literature to undergraduates in Ithaca, New York when he wrote about a meeting he’d had with a student who was failing his class. In his diary, dated March 21, 1951, Nabokov wrote:

“the student explained to me me that when reading a novel (Ulysses, in this case) he likes to skip passages and pages so as to get his own idea, you know, about the book and not be influenced by the author.”

Nobaokov did  not record whether this kid made him laugh, or cry, or both.

There was plenty of space left on our book store mantel on either side of my rainbow display, and I searched for good LGBTQ titles but, this being a used book store, I had to go with what I had on hand.

I went with the most glamorous titles we had, because the New York Gay Pride Parade on June 24 will be amazingly glittery…but I’m still a teeny bit concerned that my intentions will be misinterpreted. Are there better topics other than Hollywood and royalty that I should have considered? Discuss.

And, as long as we are all sitting in a circle and having a chat, let us all congratulate Dear Reader Kirra from The Land of Oz, who is taking up residence in Salzburg, Austria next year. When she dropped that news on us last month, the first thing I thought was, Girl, you need a theme song.

Kirra, I’m talking to you from experience; you need to take a mixed tape with you to Salzburg so that you will play it over and over in your garrett, to become ingrained in your daily life, so that for ever more, when those songs come on the radio, you will be shot back to that special time and place with an intensity and recall that only music can trigger. Which I don’t have to tell you — you’re a music teacher.

You don’t have to decide right now what your theme song is, but you do have to have a play list that you will sing along with and remember home by and console and inspire yourself with, on all those nights and days in that foreign land.

Whenever I hear  Haven’t Got Time For The Pain by Carly Simon, or  The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell, or The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett, I am instantly 22 again, living through one of the coldest Winters on record in Paris. Add a glass or two of wine to the soundtrack and I can re-play the entire year, all the sights and sounds and tastes and feelings. Oh, the misery and oh, the giddiness. Nothing will ever feel so bad and so good at the same time as being 22 years old in Paris, and nothing brings it back more vividly than this bunch of accidental theme songs. I want that for you, Kirra.

Speaking of Paris, the capital of France, I want to take this opportunity to whine about something that has always annoyed me about the book cover that Bloomsbury did for my book about France, called Le Road Trip:

THIS (above) is not what makes me unhappy about the cover. THIS (below) is what I can’t stand:

I pitched a fit when I saw this and I tried to get them to change it, but I was told that it was too late, the covers had already been printed. I absolutely and undyingly loathe the green lettering of the title because it’s an unattractive shade of green and because green makes no fucking sense. What makes it so maddening is that I was in on the editorial meetings when we discussed cover art and I specifiedthat the coloring on the spine should be blue, white, and red for obvious reasons:

Did the art director hand off this assignment to a beginner graphic artist who called in sick the day we sat around a big table in the conference room and discussed what I wanted? Or is the person who chose to go with this stupid green lettering just a terribledesigner? When you are designing something — anything — you have to consider every single itty bitty detail; you have to question every aspect, you have to know the reason for, and be able to justify, each of the countless small and large choice that you make.

Do you think that the great designer Marc Jacobs designs his lace overlay silk jacket and then lets an assistant choose the buttons?

The answer is, “No.”

I never, in a million years, would have chosen puke olive green for the spine lettering on a book about France. Every time I look at those stupid three words in shades of  scum I want to punch somebody. I have very little tolerance for shoddy thinking.

The Chinese and Korean editions of Le Road Trip didn’t go along with the blue, white, and red color palette either …

… but I wasn’t in on the editorial meetings so I’m OK with that.

Next post about my fabulous incarnation as a volunteer co-manager at the used book store will be all about the staff, all retirees, one of which who asked me, “Do we alphabetize our books by author, or by title?”

Or maybe we will discuss How I Never Want To Get Old And Stupid.

My Darling Readers, have a glittery, glitzy, stupidity-free weekend. May all your theme songs make you want to get up and dance, dance, dance!

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