Some would say that over the past year I’ve been learning the ways of the bookseller with the concentration of a young Jedi knight, or a Victorian-era British apprentice. I would say that while I have learned a thing or two, my main goal has been to perfect my impersonation of a rare bookseller. There are a few things one should do in order to really live the part:

  • First, never go to any function that doesn’t include alcohol in some form, rubbing alcohol and mouthwash are only to be employed under dire circumstances.
  • Second, you will probably never fully understand the term “first edition” in its entirety.
  • Third, buying can almost be as fruitful as selling if done right, which leads me to,
  • Four, house calls are necessary.

Being the bright and enthusiastic pupil that I am, I jumped at the chance to visit some clients in New York with Tom and his lovely assistant, Matt. For the good of mankind, and for privacy’s sake, identities of non-booksellers will not be revealed, only Matt’s and Tom’s, whose privacy I care little about.

So on a Friday in the not so distant past we gathered in a parking lot in scenic Gloucester City, New Jersey at 7:30 a.m., sharp. Oh wait, I forgot, I gathered at our appointed meeting time and waited for the men to arrive. By 8 we were on our way to The Big Apple, feel free to insert your own preferred silly New York nickname, and I was on my way to Napville. After being lulled to sleep by the conversation in the front seat I awoke ninety minutes later to find we had actually made it, and no one had yet died. A brilliant start if you ask me!

Patti Smith's first vinyl single, "Hey Joe" and "Piss Factory" on the B-side, produced by Lenny Kaye for Robert Mapplethorpe.

Our first stop was a lovely penthouse apartment filled with amazing art, lots of vinyl records (which just so happens to be my vice of choice, next to shoes), and the obligatory tiny dog. The three of us sat in a much bigger kitchen than any apartment should warrant, discussing the potential buy laid out on the countertop. I quietly observed as large numbers were exchanged along with handshakes; I’d like to assume somewhere in there they decided on the correct amount of oxen and land to barter, but it was early so I can’t be sure. Two hours later and it was time to move along to house call number two, but first, everyone’s favorite game, “Find Somewhere to Leave the Car in New York.”

Our contestants for this round were Tom Congalton with his navigator, Matt Histand, on the smart phone. Suffice it to say cobblestones are not the greatest streets to choose on a busy New York afternoon. Some time later, after an interesting dispute with a parking attendant, we were in a cab en route to the other side of the city and our next house call.

After signing in at the front desk we made our way up the bazillion floors to the apartment of our second client. He poked his head out, motioned for us to come in, and we entered into something that was not comparable to a penthouse. Our host offered the mattress in the middle of the room as seating for young Matthew and myself, which we politely declined. While Tom and Matt looked over the potential buy I gazed around the cluttered apartment, books stacked to the ceiling, VHS tapes, and erotica taped to the walls. If we had had all the time in the world, and stronger stomachs, this could have been an amazing adventure. Alas we did not. Because of that, and the fact that the things that had been set out for us to look at were not the same things that had been offered, we decided to pass, but thanks, keep in touch.

An inscribed Hemingway first edition.

A big part of being a successful bookseller is keeping up the nutrients. Eating is always a must. How can you expect to buy or sell books if you’re constantly experiencing the vapors? So being in a hurry, the three of us scanned the immediate vicinity and noticed that there was a diner within walking distance, also “voted the best diner in NYC,” which is probably the 45th best in New Jersey. We’re diner folk, it’s what we’re good at, ya know, besides bookselling.

Strength sustained, we went back from whence we had come to pay a visit to Glenn Horowitz, Bookseller. His shop boasted numerous interesting books, including some fascinating Virginia Woolf items, and of course coffee which Matt and Tom were happy about. Me, I don’t touch the stuff. The visit was short, however, because there was one more pressing matter at hand in New York for the staff of Between the Covers.

You may have guessed that I wasn’t just in this for the books. I mean we all know books are great, but I had ulterior motives. There was a record fair, not just any record fair either, but reportedly the biggest record fair in the US. We stood in line with record collectors both young and old, looking for first pressings of the Clash self-titled, both the U.S. edition and the British, toting messenger bags full of bartering material, and the occasional instrument case, possibly holding automatic weapons. Next to our line was a group of cute fashionistas waiting to get into the Yves Saint Laurent sample sale. The crowds weren’t hard to tell apart. I was torn, I must say, but I went with vinyl over designer.

Inside was a Mecca of grooved plastic waiting to be checked for scratches and issue points. Trying not to salivate, I went with Tom and Matt to the booth of Adam Davis, of Division Leap. He was lovely and we briefly discussed Riot Grrrl and some of his punk rock material before I took my leave and pursued the wares surrounding me. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

When Tom and Matt had had enough I begrudgingly said goodbye but not before I purchased Ed Gein’s Car Live at CBGB’s, Bratmobile’s The Real Janelle, The Specials AKA-Live EP, and The Selector Three Minute Hero single. I was happy and not too broke.

Ashley and Matt learning the ropes of bookselling, most notably the importance of food.

Before booksellers can head all the way – almost two hours – back to New Jersey they must, you guessed it, eat more! It is a wonder I don’t weigh a million pounds. So my compatriots and I went to the Union Square Café for steak, libations, and a discussion about the Bob Newhart Show with the waiter, oh and dessert! How could I forget my favorite part of any meal?

The day ended at 10:30 p.m. when we arrived safely back at Between the Covers World Headquarters, in a carefully concealed cave, while I’m sure, Matt made fun of me. I feel like my bookseller bit is strengthened by the fact that I went into the trenches for a day, and hopefully will again soon. Who knows, maybe if I work at it long enough I could even become a legitimate seller, but that remains to be seen.