Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hardcovers and an old manuscript

This winter, my used book sales seem to be flagging at my internet store.  I’ve been expecting this, what with Kindle and digital books.  But until this year, I hadn’t seen much of a decrease in book sales.  What happened?

I think it’s what happened to me.  I never bought a Kindle however I put the program on my PC so that I could read new books.  Then last April, I bought a tablet.  Within a week the Kindle application was on it.  Once I could take my tablet around with me – and while waiting for estate sales to begin – I warmed to reading on it.  I’ve downloaded all sorts of books.

In the last years, I began buying differently.  When I first found books for re-sale, I sold many reading copies.  Hardcover used books could be less expensive than paperbacks.  They haven’t been doing so well.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius

Yet I see amongst readers and writers and at book sites an appreciation for the traditional book look.  My first year at a used bookstore, I bought my favorite books in collectible copies and filled a living room bookshelf.  This was to have the books but it was also for furnishing.  Now many book lots on eBay are being advertised as books for interior design.

Photographs of beautiful libraries and remarkable bookshelves, closets turned into book nooks, can go viral on the internet.  Anyway, a nice bookshelf with especially picked spines, books one likes to re-visit, can look as good as antique furniture in a room.   Unfortunately, many books from before 1900 are not books to read.  They can literally deteriorate in the reader’s hands if each page is read.  That is why I bought reading copies of desirable titles.  I find that desirable and popular titles are often very inexpensive as digital books.

While I’ve been wondering where all my book customers are – they are the nicest eBay customers, I think – I’ve been rewriting my first piece of long fiction.  It was more of a sentimental journey than a crafted story.  I thought I had it revised but it still wasn’t ready to submit or publish.  There had once been interest in it.  

Because the story was based on a childhood experience, I could still get enmeshed in it.  Sometimes I think I’ll be putting that manuscript away and revising it until I can’t think anymore.  I watched Amadeus again during this, during a bad cold, and said, “Now I think this is my Requiem Mass.”  Probably, every artist has one.   I noticed in a rejection of that manuscript the word elegiac.

A book for children with an elderly character who is forced to give up his special occupation. 

Then I found an early Louisa May Alcott story in a 1870 Home and Hearth magazine that I obtained.  Mary E. Dodge, or Mary Mapes Dodge, the author of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, was the associate editor of that magazine then.  “The Moss People” by Louisa M. Alcott was a fairy story.  It was charming.

That reminded me how my first draft was written as fantasy.  At that time,  I attended a workshop with an editor at Tichnor & Fields and he was saying that publishers were having trouble selling fantasy.  He was encouraging people to write realistic fiction. 

Well, my story had some very realistic elements, so the incarnations of it.  I finally remembered my fantasy take-off and that became disturbing this last month.  Today, I’ve decided to let it sit for awhile and see if I want to tinker with it again.

Juvenile novels of the 19th century were family fare, G-rated and written for the hearth.  Authors probably expected them to be read aloud.  Alcott and Twain were famed for their realistic novels.  But they both dabbled in fantasy, and Twain eventually wrote a time-travel.  Since Alice in Wonderland, the demands for fantasy and realism have alternated.

There are books authors like to write and books the public likes to read.  In the best scenarios, those two experiences coincide.

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