The bigger and more efficient a business is, the less I like it. (I'm one of those snobby people who will not set foot in Wal-Mart. This is largely because I try not to set foot in any stores, not because I have so much money I can totally eschew bargain shopping. I do my bargain shopping at St. Vincent de Paul.) So it only stands to reason that I would like small, independent, quirky publishers who probably don't make a lot of money. I like Soft Skull, for instance. And I totally LOVE Paul Dry Books, which is based in Philadelphia. Why do I love Paul Dry Books? Because of books like Murray Browne's The Book Shopper: A Life in Review.
It's a totally fun little book memoir, by a man who seems like he's lived a quite fulfilled (if not always happy or content or untroubled) life, if not a hugely rewarding one financially. The book covers exactly the subject it promises: Browne talks about shopping for books, moving books, finding books and authors he loves, keeping or selling books, and talking about books with others--in short, all the topics that real book people can talk about for hours on end. There's nothing fancy here; in fact, his prose is delightfully straightforward and unfussy. Consider:
"For those of us who want to do a lot of perusing in a short time, the physical space of a bookstore works to our advantage. I can scan a bookshelf chock full of books in a minute or two, which I can't do on the Internet no matter how speedy my connection. If I see a book that interests me, I can pull the book from the shelf and give the table of contents, the index (if nonfiction*), and several paragraphs the quick once over, taking a special note of the author's style, which is a major selling point for me." (p. 42.)
There's nothing all that special about that paragraph, but it does indicate someone who takes his book reading and searching pretty seriously, and that's really all I need to love an author. (He offers another chapter titled "Book Lovers are Not Necessarily People Lovers," and I love him for that too.) So check this one out; I think I rank it somewhere slightly above Larry McMurtry's memoir Books and slightly below Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.
And do spend a little time looking at Paul Dry's catalog. Two other of their titles that I loved were Gabriel Zaid's So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance and the wonderful photography/investigative/travel book The Rocky Stories, which actually made me want to travel to Philadelphia. Have a good weekend, all.