Friday, July 25, 2008

Guest Post #2: R J Keefe of Portico

(Pictured left: even better than Sean Connery: it's R J Keefe)

[Editor’s Note: R J Keefe is a man who knows a thing or two about blogging, as he should; he’s been doing it now for nearly four years and he keeps getting better and better. His website is, and it scintillates with so much intellect, wit, and originality that I can’t help but smile every time I visit. I am humbled that Mr. Keefe has shown an interest in this site and even more so that he has taken the time to send an email regarding my guest post plea about bookshops and booksellers. Here is an excerpt:]

The bookshop in Niles, Michigan (long gone now, I’m sure) that also dealt in gas ranges. The owner had been with the power company, and still kept his hand in.

The bookshop in Marlborough, New Hampshire, that used to do, and perhaps still does, a very nice sideline in fine old linens—beautiful damask tablecloths and the like. Maybe the books are the sideline. I bought a fantastic (and fantastical) cookbook there, Meals for Males. I ought to send it to the guy who writes Mad Men—it’s the same vintage. (Must remember to blog about this when the series resumes this weekend.)

And then of course there is the Traveler Restaurant in Union, Connecticut, where they give away books with meals.

I seem to have a food thing going on here. What’s that about? My aunt and uncle bought a decrepit mansion in Westchester almost fifty years ago. They were required, by the terms of the closing, to take on the “library” (cartons of books) in the house. I have two: Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria and the far more priceless (to me, anyway) Secrets of Dethroned Royalty (John Lane, 1920), by Princess Catherine Radziwill. Very high dish.

And now that I am beginning my seventh decade, I’m obliged to prune to make room for new acquisitions, most of which tend to be new books. It’s painful, because I long ago disposed of the marginal books. In fact, I have a storage unit here in Manhattan for which I pay an ungodly rent. There’s a sort of library annex there, except that, in ten years, I have withdrawn—or just plain touched—no more than a dozen of the hundreds that are there.

And why do I have them? Because I used to give away all or part of my library when I was young, in the Sixties and Seventies. More aesthetic disgust than anything else: I just wanted not to have so many things. I now know that books are not things. Usually, when you get rid of a thing, you don’t want to see it again. Get rid of a book, and you’ll be paying a fortune for it at Alibris ten years later. There’s no way to tell, sadly, if you’re going to want to have a book back.

To allay this anxiety, it’s useful to give books to people who need them. In theory, you just might be able to wheedle them back. (I have never actually tried.) I had a good thing going with a young writer in Manila. But then the USPS in its infinite wisdom stopped shipping books by ship. So much for that.

[Keefe closes his email with some sage advice regarding my BookSaga dilemma which I have taken to heart and also with a very high compliment that will send me onward. Most apprectiated, Mr. Keefe!—PF]