Archive for April, 2012


Monday, April 30th, 2012

Last winter a friend of ours decided he wanted to do his part to save the bee population.  Living in Portland he was not properly situated for even one little hive.  We offered up our fields thinking it would be a win/win for all involved.

They arrived a couple of weeks ago, just before we went down to NY for the book fair.  It was pretty cold for the past little while, typical of Maine Spring.  But the past couple of days have warmed a bit and the sun has been shining gloriously, so things are blooming.  This is very good for the bees.  Our Apple trees are blooming their little hearts out, and, for the first time since we came to live here, the trees are covered with industrious buzzing bees.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.  If my camera was better I would have shot a little video.

The whole tree shown here was alive with bees.  I am not particularly afraid of bees.  Have been stung enough to know that it hurts, but somehow do not feel scared around these creatures.  Perhaps because I am concerned for their well being. Perhaps because I am anticipating beautiful apples due to their pollinating.  They make me smile.

We have been talking to some farmers about working this land we have.  A full sized vegetable garden is about as much farming as we two can handle.  But there is much wide open space just begging to be tilled.  Sometime soon we imagine a tractor will show up to start turning some earth.  Then the bees will have even more to buzz around.  I do not know how far the ladies will travel for pollen (I do know that they are ladies, the ones who do the gathering), but I imagine they will have plenty of fodder for their honeycombs in our neck of the woods.

Fly ladies fly.


May 12th

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Taking a book store apart, packing it all up in boxes, moving it to a different town and then not unpacking for a couple of months makes unpacking it challenging.  Some boxes you open and say, ‘hello old friend!’, others you open and say ‘I moved this?’.  When we first started un-boxing I had a very distinct feeling of panic that we just weren’t going to have enough shelf space.  Insane, you say, look at all that room they have!  But when it comes to actual shelf real estate, we had already filled a couple of locations with books, new books that had never seen light at 86 Middle Street.  Books that had been in boxes, or had come back from the West Coast with us.  These books took up a goodly amount of room.  So I expressed my fears to Don and he said, no worries, we’ll just set up some of the metro shelving from Portland.  So that’s what we’ve done.

Old & new shelvesHerewith the lovely wooden shelving we purchased from a fellow bookseller with two of the metal metro shelving units we had in Portland.  Don is not entirely sure of this mix yet.  I think he would prefer it to be all wood.   But we have not choice at the moment.  We have books still waiting in boxes to be given new homes.

smaller box pileSee, the pile has gotten smaller, can’t you tell?

We are getting closer to being fully unpacked.  Every day we chip away at the chaos a little  more.  But it is chaotic.  Once you have shelved books it is very hard to move them around much.  Back at 86 Middle Street there were various times when we said to ourselves, we should arrange these differently.  But moving them all would have taken a herculean effort and somehow something else would always take precedence.  Here we are setting Rabelais up again and having continuous discussions about how to organize the books on the shelf.  Do we put all books from America in the same section?  Same for France? Italy? etc.  What about books on French food by Americans?  Or Italian fish cookery? Do technique books get their own section?  Science?  What about the food writing, on Middle Street it was called Commentary, a term Don never liked.  How broad should it be here?  Will it include History?  And the wine books, oh the wine books.  I haven’t even really started to think about them. There is a Bee library we bought last year that could probably take up a whole bookcase itself.  Goodness.  It is a fraught process.  I thought we would just open boxes and out books on shelves. But Noooooo!

It is an ongoing process and now we have a date to shoot towards.  We have decided to re-open our doors, quietly, on May 12th.  If you live nearby we hope you stop by.  There will be nibbles and sips.  We will be wearing clean clothes and on our best behavior.  But be gentle with us.  This very personal project of re-imagining Rabelais is a fluid concept and I think we will be working on it for a while now.

There will be more specific details about 5/12 in an email soon, and then here on the blog, and the Facebook page.  incidentally there are a couple more pix on the Rabelais Facebook page, which you should join (or like?) if you haven’t already.

Back to unpacking…


52nd New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I sincerely apologize for taking so long to update you on this event.  We had a great show and were completely exhausted when we returned on Sunday night.  It has taken us a couple of days to catch up on sleep, paperwork, and staring at the wall.  Now beginning to feel communicative again.

We packed the car up nicely.  It was chock full.  Five large Pelican cases, four cardboard boxes and a couple of bags.  Needless to say there was the most minimal of room for the humans.  But we shoehorned ourselves in and set off.  We have loaded ourselves into and out of many book fairs since Rabelais came into being.  Don has done the same with his previous business and for others many, many times. However the New York fair is a big deal, if I haven’t mentioned that before, we were both anticipating the event so each part of this trip was new and different.  Load-in went smoothly.  The car went in a garage and the unpacking began. There were some issues with the booth size and the fixtures we had ordered, but it was all sorted out.  Don went back and forth between thinking we had way too many books and just enough.  He settled on the latter with plenty of time to sparkle for the opening of the doors.  I had baked a double batch of the lemon-rosemary butter cookies familiar to those who have visited the store in the month of December.  We filled our copper fumiere with potted herbs.  The new catalogue was stacked on the table.  Suddenly, with no warning from the house, the doors were open and the flood began.

I’m not sure I can convey how impressive the floor of this fair was.  Dealers were saying that the number of their brethren displaying was larger than in previous years.  Everyone had brought their most special, most impressive, most favoritest books.  You could feel the room vibrate with all the knowledge, information, expertise and color that a huge room of remarkable books will offer.  There were certainly examples of modern technology everywhere, (our booth neighbors-Lorne Bair Rare Books- and us were both using the Square to process credit cards on our iPhones), and there were plenty of the craned necks of the gadget-obsessed.  But the real star in that room was the books.  Printed matter on real paper.  Paper that in that collection was predominantly rag. Boards were wood in many cases.  Vellum, Morocco and calf were everywhere.  This fair really brings out the extraordinary items.

The crowd was thick and came in waves.  The first night was only four hours, but they were full hours.  These were the serious collectors.  Many of them made straight for their favorite dealers.  But others wandered, purposefully, from booth to booth.  Our subject matter brought more than one or two collectors up short.  “Cookbooks? really? All cookbooks?” For a few that meant a beeline out.  But for many more it meant a new approach to a venerable practice.   Over the course of the four days we met many new customers.  Some were from institutions/libraries.  Others were private collectors.  One woman loves to cook but had never thought about collecting cook books.  She came back after a night of tossing and turning and began her collection with a handful of our books.  Some of our regular customers from other book fairs showed up in the big room.  We were very happy to see them and catch up.

Many cookies were eaten.  Both by dealers and by customers.  One vertically challenged youngster kept coming back and back.  His Mother was surprised because he doesn’t usually eat anything but chocolate.  I took that as a compliment.  Chelsea Clinton perused the floor on Friday for quite a few hours.  Steve Martin and his gentlewoman companion shopped on Sunday, she bought a cocktail book from us.  Yoko Ono was seen making a pile to take with her.  I was particularly pleased to see the span of ages represented: a couple of toddlers seemed bemused by their parents obsessions; a pair of pre-teen girls asked me about good books to cook from; the young New York hipsters were on the scene.  It was really cool.  Yeah, cool.  Smart people know that books are cool.  We gave out dozens of catalogues, talked with dozens of people about food, books, life. By the end of the weekend we were both pretty talked out.  We sold some books.  Books that we had been honored to shepherd for a time.  Books that had been with us for a stretch, and others that we had known for only a short while. We bonded with our fellow booksellers about our love of books (and food) and the trials and tribulations of making a living from the pursuit.  Most who visit a book fair see wares on offer.  The subtext is a social world of people who hold the printed word close to their hearts.  Gathering that many dealers with that many books in one room, it is inevitably exciting, excitable, excited.

Various of our colleagues write about books and the life of booksellers.  If you are interested in anything I have said here, you should read their words.  Lorne Bair wrote most recently about this fair and the importance, to all of us, of books.  You can read him on his blog.  Sunday Steinkirschner has been enlisted to write about rare book selling for Forbes, her blog can be found here.

Your behind must be pretty flat from sitting and reading.  You should get up and move around.  I’ll write more later.


postscript: Bon Appetit visited us at the fair, see what they had to say.


Thursday, April 5th, 2012

That’s what this time of year is all about. Waiting for fresh produce to appear again at the market.  We are lucky here in Maine to have many farmers who make it a personal (and probably professional as well) mission to fight the seasons and grow as much as possible under cover.  Many of them are quite successful at it, and we thank them hardily for allowing us to eat fresh greens all Winter.  When it gets to be this time of year Spring is on the calendar, yet Mother Nature is slow to wake.  The ground is still cold and germination is tricky. This is when I really start to crave fresh vegetables. I find myself buying eggplants that I know have been trucked here from at least Florida and while they approximate the flavor of their in-season relatives, they are still a pale comparison.  Longing for the smell of fresh soil, the feeling of the sun on your back while you dig around in the garden, and the taste of the fruits of those labors.  The wait does make it all taste that much better.  I just wish it would hurry up and get here.