Fun Reads for Friday: Bookstore Wisdom, NBCC Nominees, and Historical Guides to Local ‘Linnen-Lifters’ and ‘She-Friends’

25 Things I Learned from Opening a Bookstore (open Salon)

A former lawyer turned used bookstore owner shares some nuggets of wisdom. Some of my favorites:

1.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.  Treat the money you budgeted for shelving as found money.  Go to garage sales and cruise the curbs.

2.  While you’re drafting that business plan, cut your projected profits in half.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.

23.  Everyone has a little Nancy Drew in them.  Stock up on the mysteries.

Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards

From Open Letter’s (the publisher’s) press release:

…we’re proud to announced that one of our titles—Karaoke Cultureby Dubravka Ugresic—is one of the five finalists in the “Criticism” category.

Since this is the first major American book award that Open Letter has a finalist in, we’re absolutely ecstatic. And it’s especially fitting that this is happening to Dubravka, since her last collection, Nobody’s Home, was the first book that Open Letter ever published.

I reviewed Karaoke Culture for The L last year–it’s a great collection, and I’d be delighted for it to win an award from NBCC this year. My previous post, with a link to the review is here. You can also read one of the collection’s more talked-about essays, “Assault on the Mini-Bar” on The Paris Review website here. (This actually wasn’t one of my favorites in the collection–but it’s gotten some really positive responses.)

I’m also pleased to see David Bellos’ Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything on the list of nominees for criticism, along with Ugresic. I’ve been meaning to read that book since it came out, and this gave me a little added encouragement. It’s fascinating so far.

Guidebooks to Babylon (Tony Perrottet for The New York Times)

Mr. Perrottet, author of The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe, takes a delightful look at the “guides to local harlots” that were produced for the benefit of gentlemen traveling from Paris, France to Kansas City, Missouri. His unnecessary first-line dig at librarians notwithstanding (after all, I know plenty of librarians who would be delighted with the premise of his research), here are some of the article’s more hilarious highlights:

To the uninitiated, these clandestine directories make the most dubious of all literary subgenres. They were created, of course, to provide practical information for gentlemen travelers venturing through a city’s demimonde, and so have titles that range from mildly risqué (“The Pretty Women of Paris,” “Directory to the Seraglios”) to unashamedly coarse (“A Catalogue of Jilts, Cracks and Prostitutes, Nightwalkers, Whores, She-Friends, Kind Women and Others of the Linnen-Lifting Tribe”).

The genre took a leap forward in the carnal free-for-all of 18th-century London with “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies,” a best-­selling annual published each Christmas season from 1757 to 1795 under the name of the era’s most notorious pimp, Jack Harris. Each edition offered Zagat-style reviews of London belles, including their figures, tastes, complexions and personal hygiene (and a pre-modern-dentistry obsession with the condition of their teeth).

When it comes to American guides, the available examples are far less colorful…An exception to the rule is “The Little Black Book,” produced in the 1890s in the “Paris of the Plains” — Kansas City, Mo. In between generic ads (Emma Williams, “Abundance of Beauty,” and Julia Lewis, “Fit for the Gods”) are pages of rhyming verse, poems that spell out naughty words and tales of lusty nuns.

St. Mark’s Bookshop is in Trouble

A quick piece of local bookstore-related news: it seems that St. Mark’s Bookshop, an East Village institution since 1977, is in danger of closing due to rent increases that have become rather burdensome. The bookstore rents its space on 3rd Ave. between 8th and 9th streets from the Cooper Union, and is hoping to collect 15,000 signatures (they have 10,710 as of this writing) to support its request for a rent decrease. The petition, which you can sign here reads as follows:

“The St. Mark’s Bookshop, a vital Lower East Side cultural institution, needs a rent low enough to survive. Join the Cooper Square Committee petitioning Cooper Union, the bookstore’s landlord, to give St. Mark’s Bookshop a lower rent.

The St. Mark’s Bookshop has a long tradition in the Lower East Side and serves an admirable and increasingly rare function. St. Mark’s is struggling to pay the market rent that Cooper Union is charging them at 31 3rd Ave. A significant rent concession by Cooper Union could save this irreplaceable neighborhood institution.”

Now I know that everyone’s rents are high and many small businesses aren’t getting rent breaks from their landlords, but I still think that it’s worth supporting this petition. St. Mark’s is not only an independent bookstore that has continued to be successful even as big bookstore giants like Border’s go under–it’s a store that really seeks to reflect the interests and culture of the neighborhood it exists in. The artfully-curated selection in the store reflects the surrounding neighborhood in its many art books, its wide-ranging books about music and East Village history and culture, and also diverse fiction, much of which is written by New York-based authors. Perhaps St. Marks could relocate to another, cheaper neighborhood, but that would mean a real and unfortunate change to the fabric of the East Village and a shift in what makes St. Mark’s–and its stock–a unique and valuable bookstore.

So, if you’re interested in preserving this genuinely local institution, sign the petition, or just stop by and purchase a couple books. A little goes a long way.