In 1982, Gary Goodman wandered into a used bookstore in St. Paul as a psychiatric counselor and walked out as a bookseller. THE LAST BOOKSELLER; A LIFE IN THE RARE BOOK TRADE by Gary Goodman tells the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious story of his life in books.
The quote that introduces Goodman’s first chapter is from Dante’s Divine Comedy … “In the middle of my life, I found myself in a dark wood …” It is fitting. Frank, the original owner, wore a rumpled suit and smelled like he’d had a few Bloody Mary’s for breakfast, claimed he was closing the store because of a questionable heart condition. His asking price of $25,000 was gradually whittled to $2,000 – on a contract for deed with nothing down.
Goodman was thirty-one years old, married, and the father of two children. He’d been working the night shift in a hospital unit that treated violent, mentally ill adolescents. Two nights before, a nurse had thwarted a plan by his young wards to kill him by hitting him over the head with a sock filled with belt buckles. He decided it might be the right time to consider a new profession.
Life in the rare book trade had potential in 1982, before the internet and online sales gutted the bookstore business. THE LAST BOOKSTORE chronicles the seismic shifts in the rare book business from 1982 to the early 2000’s. Over the course of Goodman’s illustrious career he met con men, criminals, and collectors – booksellers who were in search of the elusive golden egg of the rare book trade. Thievery and forgery abounded among some of the more infamous of the trade. Stephen Blumberg, known as the Book Bandit, stole almost 24,000 books valued at $20 million over the course of his criminal career. He’d wandered into Goodman’s shop one day looking like Fagin from Oliver Twist, but Goodman’s books were beneath him. John Jenkins was once president of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association – and a notorious gambler. He experienced a massive fall from grace after dealing in stolen books and forged documents and died from a gunshot wound to the head.
The apex of Goodman’s career occurred in Stillwater where he opened St. Croix Antiquarian Books, one of the regions most venerable bookshops and where he was credited with making Stillwater the first book town in North America. Alas, those days and bookstores are gone, thanks to online sales of both new, used, and rare books.
“As long as new books are printed and become used, second-hand, and rare books,” Goodman writes, “someone is going to sell them. It is the process and the people that have changed.”
One of the most delightful aspects of Goodman’s book is the footnotes. If you buy the book for nothing but the footnotes, it’s a dollar well spent. They’re hilarious and snarky and reveal more about the author than the subject. For both bibliophiles and booksellers, THE LAST BOOKSELLER is a must read. With humor and great affection, Goodman invites us in for a look behind the curtain before it closes for the last time.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews and read all my book reviews at http://www.superiorreads.blog and stream them from the web at wtip.org.