Wednesday, February 13, 2008

this week: black cat books

At one reader’s prompting, another Sag Harbor independent bookstore gets its due today on auk wrecks & ark larks. Black Cat Books, located in the Main Street shopping cove, a double row of red-brick buildings just to the right of the landmark movie theatre, is exclusively used stock. If you’re expecting musty disarray, however, think again—owner Dawn Hedberg’s shelves are tidy & organized, & her offerings range from the inexpensive paperback to the vintage collectible. The warm red walls, tonally corresponding to an array of Oriental rugs, add a large measure of coziness that continues with the use of antique glass-fronted display cases containing some of the more expensive volumes.
The store seems to be about half the square footage of Canio’s, but it’s clear that Hedberg is also very selective about her merchandise; you won’t find the junk that gives many of the chains that cheap huckster appearance.

Again, an initial focus on the poetry section yielded some treasures.

Anne Sexton, The Awful Rowing Toward God (1st edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1975), with quote from Erica Jong on back of the dustjacket. In this, her eighth book, the poet’s subject matter is made clear by the title. Sexton died in 1974.

from “Riding the Elevator into the Sky”

As the fireman said:
Don’t book a room over the fifth floor
in any hotel in New York.
They have ladders that will reach further
but no one will climb them.
As the New York Times said:
The elevator always seeks out
the floor of the fire
and automatically opens
and won’t shut.
These are the warnings
that you must forget
if you’re climbing out of yourself.
If you’re going to smash into the sky.

Autumn Eros and Other Poems, by Mary Kinzie (1st edition, Knopf, 1991). As the book jacket posits, “the central subject” is the poet’s daughter.

From “Faith”

How should I let her go?
Her hair in fine
Sparse waves conforms to a small glowing head.
In all lights she looks thoughtful like a smith
Gathering up his blow.
Chirps issue from her high and spirited

When the shadows pass.
Hi, hi, she calls,
Looking from them to me if no reply
Cascades upon her watching, then we sing
The reasons why, alas,
Few of them hear. I love her till I die.

The curiously wonderful Letters, by Eric Rensberger, a chapbook signed by both poet & printer (Raintree, Bloomington, Indiana, 1981) & containing an envelope with enclosed epistolary poem—this before the successful Griffin & Sabine series. It’s worth reproducing some of the letterpress pages here:

Maybe the guy is at home now, shaking his head at the inventive things he did nearly thirty years ago & how few paid attention. But...

Dear Eric,
Someone noticed.

And in the nonfiction realm, the vintage My African Neighbors, Hans Goudenhove (1st edition—but no dust jacket—Little Brown, 1925). The author proclaims from the start that he has become “estranged from things European” since he came to Africa in 1896, & proudly states that he has “never seen an airplane, or a dirigible balloon, or a motor-bus, or a taxicab, or a motor-boat, or a wireless apparatus, or a cloud-picture, or the president of a republic, or a portrait of Einstein, or a Bolshevik.” He has not “seen any of the modern dances—‘jazz,’ I think they are called.” Even his fox terriers were terrified the first time they encountered a white lady. Despite these claims, Goudenhove does not profess to be an expert on African natives, but he does set out to dispel many of the myths of white superiority & tell a good tale in the process.

None of the above acquisitions was priced higher than $9.50.

Black Cat Books
Main Street Shopping Cove
Sag Harbor, NY

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

independent feature: canio's books

Canio’s Books, established in 1980, is on Sag Harbor’s Main Street, but not, as one might surmise, in the middle of downtown. Take the right fork in the road leading away from the stores, galleries, & cinema, & do so preferably on foot so that you can marvel at the stupendous architecture along the way. Burlapped hedges, slumbering through the winter like massive overfed brown caterpillars, lend an unintentionally comic effect to the classic features of the historic houses they front, & a jolly conversation outside the steps of the deli can be heard on a quiet Sunday morning from four blocks away.

Maryann Calendrille & Kathryn Szoka welcome newcomers warmly but unobtrusively, then continue chatting with each other in between stocking the shelves. Canio’s offers both new & used books, & even though the store is on the small side, the poetry section is admirably vast, with multiple copies of many titles available; & fiction, biography, art, history, & cooking are among the other subjects well represented. Somehow the owners have also carved out room for framed photographs, lithographs, & collages--many by local artists & all for sale. The shop is crammed but organized, bright & with cheerfully painted planked floors.

A first visit to a bookstore brings with it the desire to discover something new, which will in turn make the trip more memorable. In that spirit, one temporarily bypasses the favorite poets or the literary fiction lucky enough to be getting the great reviews in favor of making new & unexpected friends. A while later (it’s impossible to accurately gauge time when absorbed in scrutinizing the stacks) a small pile has formed:

Askance and Strangely, new & selected poems by Edmund Pennant (signed hardcover, published in 1993 by Orchises Press). Pennant lived in Bayside, Queens; earned fellowships to Yaddo & MacDowell; & taught at Adelphi University. He died in 2002. Sample excerpt, from “Incident on Times Square”:

An old man struck by a taxi in the theatre district
bled lightly onto a page from a book that went sprawling
with him in the gutter. Passersby picked up man and book,

dusting them. They had no way of knowing the book was
a first edition. So, for that matter, was the man
himself, with blue numbers fading on his arm.

Lilies Without, poems by Laura Kasishcke (Ausable Press, 2007), with a daguerrotype by John Adams Whipple (1852) reproduced on the cover. From “I Am the Coward Who Did Not Pick Up the Phone”:

I am the coward who did not pick up the phone, so as never to
know. So many clocks and yardsticks dumped into an ocean.

I am the ox which drew the cart full of urgent messages straight
into the river, emerging none the wiser on the opposite side,
never looking back at all those floating envelopes and post-
cards, the wet ashes of some loved one’s screams. How was I
to know?

So I Will Till the Ground, Gregory Djanikian (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007). The fifth book by this author, an Egyptian-born Armenian who moved to the United States at the age of eight. From “Immigrant Picnic”:

It’s the Fourth of July; the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade

And I’m grilling, I’ve got my apron,
I’ve got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I’ve got a hat shaped
like the state of Pennsylvania.

And a second excerpt, from “Whenever I Had American Friends Over”:

there would be no speaking
in Armenian no wearing the old clothes
or referring to the time when
not even the names of foods
my mother had prepared survived
lahmajoun became “garlic pizza”
kufteh the Swedish meatballs
we never had everything rounded
into shape by the prevailing friendships
which were American and ok by me […]

The next selections both turned out to be written by Sag Harbor residents. Fish, subtitled A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison (Carroll & Graf, 2007), is T. J. Parsell’s account of being incarcerated in 1978 for having held up a Fotomat with a toy gun when he was seventeen years old. He was gang raped on his first day behind bars & had to figure out how to survive. Parsell is, according to the book jacket, “one of America’s leading spokespeople for prison reform” & the former president of Stop Prisoner Rape. It promises to be a disturbing & necessary read.

When polled as to what they are currently enjoying, Kathryn Szoka replied, “Irish writers, mostly,” & specified The Gathering, Anne Enright’s Man Booker-prize winning & extraordinary novel of grief. Maryann is keen on memoirs & just finished Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit (Ecco, 2007). The visitor mentioned having had an eye on that book yet regretted being too late for the first edition hardcover (doing quite well, it is now in its fourth printing). “Actually, I think we have a secondhand copy around here—& it’s signed, too,” Maryann said, putting aside some wonderful-smelling avocado sushi & rising from the desk that serves as the till (though there is no cash register in sight; the surface is chiefly used to display more wares). Within thirty seconds she efficiently located the promised volume & had a deal. Then the women laughed & allowed themselves a bit of publicity: Kathryn, some of whose photos adorn random shelves in Canio’s, did Lagnado’s jacket portrait. This additional news seemed like the perfect punctuation to a day of shopping locally.

Canio’s Books
209 Main Street
Sag Harbor, NY 11963