by Carl, Bookseller

I’m guilty.

I’m guilty of being the type of person who, at the outset of a pandemic, enthusiastically shouts out into the void that I will use this time wisely as though it were a gift bestowed upon me from some great unknown power. I am also guilty of being the type who will obsessively see it through.

Work keeps me distracted - it eases my mind, brings a sense of order to chaos. I still get up early in the morning and eat a donut on a porch. I make a to-do list and avoid listening to the news. My cat gives a little yawn as she sits in front of her empty food dish. I listen to some 80’s speed metal through my headphones while my tea brews. Then I dive headlong into my work.

My days lately have been a White Russian cocktail of creamy work-related graphic design, Kahlua-thick lapses in inspiration, and then capped off with the shot of vodka that I like to call “personal time” - time I devote to my side hustle. In addition to being a bookseller I - quite literally - moonlight as a publisher. You may have seen some of the books I’ve put out through my press, <strong>Greying Ghost</strong>, in the poetry, essay, or art sections. Since 2007 I’ve put out close to 200 books, pamphlets, zines, and prints combined. Everything is done by me, and me alone.

Brookline Booksmith and Greying Ghost have been intertwined since jump street. An old coworker encouraged me to start a press. I’ve published work created by my coworkers. I’ve sold books to coworkers. I’ve picked up a book off the shelf, devoured it, and then begged its author to send me whatever scraps of writing they had floating around, in need of a home. When people ask me where I studied graphic design I always matter-of-factly state Brookline Booksmith.

The bookstore has always been generous in their support of small independent presses. They may not be huge money makers but they immeasurably add to the overall unique character of the shop. It creates a sense of urgency for the customer. This beautiful, handmade, self-published, never-before-seen book - of which there is only one copy on the shelf - might not be here tomorrow, or ever again. I’m honored to have my press’s output on display amongst heroes and peers. Maybe someone new will discover something new.

The hardest part about not being able to go to work, aside from not being with my friends, is that I’ve lost that feeling of stumbling upon an aesthetically cool new book and, with a jolt of inspiration, say to myself, "I can’t wait to bring this home." After nearly a month of social distancing - unable to shelve books or (legally) poke around the unopened boxes of brand new books in the back room, I think I’ve found a remedy that allows me to ride the lighting one more time: Once a week I take all of my books off the bookshelves, pile them up on the floor, and then I simply put them all back on the shelf. I’ve done this five times so far.

It's the beginning of another week. Tomorrow I will get up early and sit on my porch and eat a donut. Joggers will cast a disapproving eye at my breakfast. I’ll pull up Baseball Reference on my phone and see who led the league in doubles in 1984. Roxanne, my cat, will choose which window to sleep in all day. Then I’ll go and sit at my desk and crank out some graphics for work and then later on, well into the night, I’ll continue work on the next Greying Ghost project while my friends moon me via Zoom. More importantly, I’ll still keep looking at books.

Here’s what I’ve become reacquainted with:

The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth

WEEK 1: I remember seeing this at work and falling in love with the way Steinberg uses a simple line - almost like a shrug - to deliver a subtle yet powerful message. I also do not recall ever buying this. But alas it's on my shelf so I must’ve, right? This book definitely influenced the design of the next Greying Ghost chapbook (which drops soon).
The Street Philosophy of Gary Winogrand

The Street Philosophy of Gary Winogrand

WEEK 2: I special ordered this after a proper dressing down from a friend who was aghast that I had never heard of Gary Winogrand. Flipping through it now, I wonder how many times he’d ever been punched in the face. His style of street photography was quite intrusive yet full of raw life. I’m tempted in getting his levitating cowboy photo as a tattoo on my forearm.
Weegee: Serial Photographer

Weegee: Serial Photographer

WEEK 3: I’m a huge Weegee nerd. I remember as a kid finding a book of Weegee’s photographs at the library. This being pre-internet, I felt what I assume kids today must feel when they Google ‘death’ for the first time. Weegee, for me, sparked a whole passion for the noir canon. I vaguely remember buying this used and I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet. Thank you pandemic!
The World Goes On

The World Goes On

WEEK 4: I can’t tell if this title is weirdly optimistic (for him) or if he’s simply trolling us? Who knows? I think one of our amazing book buyers snagged this for me at a New Directions office party. If you’ve read Laszlo before, you know the man loves himself a 300 page paragraph. This one seems easier to digest as there’s dialogue and line breaks. And short (for him) chapters.
Lorna Simpson Collages

Lorna Simpson Collages

WEEK 5: Finally one I remember buying. If you bought a copy of Kathleen Collins’ short story collection "What Ever Happened To Interracial Love", you will be pleased to know that the cover is a Lorna Simpson collage. Simpson’s art combines analog collage with paint and ink. I might have to try this technique soon if I’m ever able to make it out to the art store again.
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