Vanishing Career Paths

Michael Hayward

In high school I dreamed of becoming a seller of used books, a career path for which the guidance counsellor could offer no useful advice. Two recent memoirs have persuaded me that it was perhaps just as well that life took me down a different path. The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade (University of Minnesota Press) describes Gary Goodman’s years as a rare book dealer in Minnesota. In Goodman’s view, the invention of the internet marked the beginning of the end for the rare book trade. Suddenly, buyers could search the shelves of thousands of bookstores simultaneously, and titles which were once thought to be scarce (and priced accordingly) could now be found online by the hundreds. Prices (and profits) plunged. The Last Bookseller is a mournful account of the glory days of a once-vibrant field, its pages populated with infamous book thieves and eccentric booksellers. A Factotum in the Book Trade (Biblioasis) is a collection of essays—digressive, opinionated and erudite—which take us through Marius Kociejowski’s forty-plus-year career as an antiquarian bookseller in London, England. There are profiles of notable book collectors and of fellow booksellers (among them the late, and legendary, Vancouver bookseller Bill Hoffer). Kociejowski, who was raised in a farmhouse in rural Ontario, is also a poet and a respected travel writer; he is definitely the better writer of the two. So what lessons do we learn from this pair of memoirs? One: that you should support your local used bookstores while you can, because their days are numbered. Two: that those who are drawn to the bookselling trade are in the grip of something like an addiction. And three: if one of your offspring ever expresses a wish to become a bookseller, it might be best (though perhaps futile) for you to point out to them the many benefits of accountancy, or the under-appreciated excitements of telemarketing.

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