I, The Book Mole

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When it comes to books there are all kinds of people. To identify a few:
—Those who have no interest in reading (no one at the RR).
—Those who have slowly gained an appreciation for pleasure reading, perhaps scarred by having been required in high school to read and report on Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge in English lit class (may or may not have been me).
—Those who would not bother cracking open a book for the obvious reason that it’s easier to watch television.
—Those who devour books, not necessarily paying attention to the book’s condition or its edition/printing/binding.

Then there are those who, like me, have fallen off the far end of the spectrum when it comes to persnicketiness—admitted book snobs, who for incomprehensible reasons must have in our personal collections the very first printing of the very first edition of the title as it first appeared in the world. The thrill of the hunt for our tiny populace is, in the heat of the moment, not really knowing what we want until we find it staring back at us. Mass paperbacks hold no allure for this stubborn breed. Avid collectors—not to be confused with avid readers—do not pretend that in their lifetime they will have time enough to read the entirety of their libraries, but they bask in the sheer joy of being surrounded (literally and figuratively) by the literati adorning their floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. In such homes, book stacks may as well be furniture. Into this eccentric category I have fallen.

I can track my interests in book collecting and selling back to an early 21st-century visit to a small college town in Vermont. My host, knowing my appreciation for author Frederick Buechner, himself a Vermont resident, took me to visit no fewer than three local used bookstores the morning before the show I was to play. It was this virgin foray into secondhand bookshops that sparked my obsession.

One of those shops survives to this day and remains high among my all-time favorites. A drab sheet-metal building with high ceilings, narrow aisles, and a less than helpful owner give the place its charm. In shops like this, ladders are required to reach the uppermost shelves where dust settles upon the hard-to-reach top pages’ edges. An uncomfortable crick in my neck—the result of contorting my own spine ninety degrees in order to scan each and every book’s spine—is but a mere job hazard, easily tolerated for the thrill of the hunt. Precarious stalagmitic book piles rise from the floor. I am not above crouching on my hands and knees to gain a clear view of these layered volumes.

In brick-and-mortars like these there exists neither the sparkle of bestseller end-caps nor the sheen of life-sized, cardboard author effigies smiling an invitation to purchase. The only shelf space inhabitants are the overlooked, no-longer-wanted, outdated, rare, and antiquarian worlds existing between the rubbed, soiled, faded, gilt-stamped covers. The variously tempered mom & pop owners—some as friendly and outgoing as your mom, others as crusty and cranky as your pop on a bad day—sit behind their counters eating tuna salad out of Tupperware, sipping black coffee, reading their morning papers, chewing the stems of their unlit pipes, or methodically minding stacks of books yet to be catalogued and shelved.

Then of course there is the smell—the Smell!—of modern and antiquarian volumes comingling in the confined, papered paradise. Sniffing the open pages of an early 20th-century tome is an addiction I tell you, an addiction akin to any habit-forming drug. I am a habitual sniffer. It is not without humility (and glee) that I admit this neurosis.

Toward the end of 2013, an idea began to burrow into my brain: if there were other people in the world like me—fellow book-sniffers and folks seeking specific authors and titles—why not put my travel schedule as a musician, and frequent (habitual?) ventures to far-flung bookstores (something I was already doing) to work by offering my services as personal book shopper? Thus was born The Book Mole (cue superhero music). Later, the idea that I should take it a step further and resell books—a virtual used bookstore—made complete and utter sense to me. Though I don’t yet have a brick-and-mortar shop, I do have the tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, curmudgeonly owner part down pat.

A few months ago, I opened the official The Book Mole webstore. Were I a physical storefront, I would gladly welcome you with a smile, a hug, a Dr. Pepper, or maybe coffee, or tea and crumpets— anything to make you feel welcome and safe. For now a digital smiley face emoticon will have to suffice. * As a matter of principle, I refuse to type said colon followed by an end-parenthesis.

In addition to books and the book-finder service, there are accoutrements available: gift cards, the option of Brodart mylar dustjacket wraps (to protect your book’s DJ), and custom linocut bookmarks, hand-cut and printed by artist Lee Younger.

A small sampling of TBM’s ever-changing current listings:
—signed Civil War histories
—1st edition of Bertrand Russell’s 3-volume autobiography
—early printing of Gibran’s The Prophet
—sizable selection of Frederick Buechner titles
—G.K. Chesterton volumes
—Louisiana history
—literature, fiction, theology, art, education, US and world history, presidential biographies, author biographies, pirates, poetry, children’s books, family resources, and ephemera

Visit The Book Mole, you might find something you like. Thank you, and happy Moling.

Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


9 Comments

  1. Carrie

    I was fortunate enough to have already become a devourer of good literature before I was scarred by reading *The Mayor of Casterbridge* in high school. The experience didn’t put me off reading, but it definitely put a dent in my willingness to try Thomas Hardy…

  2. Karissa

    Ever since I’ve moved to Nashville and have started the process of discovering the myriad used bookstores in this lovely town, I know from experience that ache from crooking my neck and even getting on my hands and knees to read the spines of every book in my preferential genre aisles.

    I checked out The Book Mole site a few weeks ago–great collection! What a brilliant idea. This first-edition aficionado appreciates your efforts.

  3. Liz

    Um, which small Vermont town?!?

    Says the super pregnant woman planning a winter getaway to Vermont with her husband next month. Forget skiing. Used bookstores are it’s AT.

  4. Candifer

    Yesssss! Book sniffers unite!! When I was living in Berlin, Germany, we ventured into a quaint village in the Netherlands (because Europe) called Bredevoort. With a population of 1500 residents and more than 20 second-hand book stores, it’s hard to walk away without a few books in hand. I’m a church music nerd so I collect old hymnals, but I also left with several early edition classics. That was the beginning for me…

  5. Nathan

    I think it’s genetic. Our daughter is three – I was reading for a class the other day, and she came up to the desk and asked if she could smell the book I was referencing. She did, and then proclaimed “mmmmmm…that’s good.” I beamed.

  6. Kaitlyn Luce

    This is the best idea ever. I’m eyeing that copy of Buechner’s “Now and Then”. I’ve been looking for it for a while now and immediately thought before I headed over, “I wonder if The Book Mole would have it.”

  7. Amy Whitfield

    The Book Mole’s finder service has served our family well for many months. Books I searched for years to find appeared in my mailbox after just a few weeks. If we were able, we’d scour all these bookshops ourselves. What a joy to have someone who will keep our lists and search for these titles, knowing he will treat them with the same care that he assigns to his own favorites. But that’s the connection of bibliophiles– even when our specific titles are different, the love for those pages is the same. Besides, it’s always fun to step away from a meeting and say with great importance, “Excuse me, I need to check this text message from my book buyer.”

  8. Matthew

    This reminds me of Weller Books in Salt Lake City. I picked up a copy of Chesterton Essays entitle “On Running After One’s Hat” there several years ago in their “rare books room.” Great bookstore, though the prices were a bit higher than I like for the used books. There were several other chesterton books there, but I couldn’t justify buying more than one.

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