On books, book selling, and how things used to be and should be again.

A week or so back I wrote a post about John Irving. His book ‘ in one person’ still sits waiting for me to read it. I want to clear work out of the way and just sit and read for a week. My idea of a holiday. But, I had the most amazing message sent to me from Kim Durkin in response to my post. So amazing that I think it should live here, not lost in the comments of my blog.

There was a time when our towns teemed with small independent bookshops. These were individual shops that were staffed by enthusiasts. No one went into books to make a fortune, just to make a living doing something they loved. Publishers had reps who loved books, who would fall in love with a book and promote it with great enthusiasm. There were catalogues. Publishers maintained a back list of books. Sometimes it takes a while for word of mouth to spread the worth of a good book, so books were kept in print. This is a tale from those days.


Re: Love: or, My Life with John Irving.

I too have a long time relationship with Mr. Irving. Similar stacks of his books sit by my bedside – and favorite reading chair. They are like dear old friends. When I read your piece – I literally burst out crying – you evoked it all so beautifully.

A story: Years ago I managed an independent bookstore (before the independents were virtually wiped out in this country by the mega stores). Then, book sales reps from all the publishers came and took your order, tried to promote their personal favorites – and talked books! They knew books! They became your friends – thru the mutual love of books. It was before computerized ordering, and the BIG event of the year was the American Bookseller Association convention. It was massive, five days, the biggest event of the year – with huge orders given and taken – amazing panel discussions and astonishing author appearances’. The parties at night in the publishers suites – and the free books…it was Heaven! 1977 – One of my favorite sales reps, Gerry, was obsessed with a relative unknown author and gave me a readers copy to read overnight. He really, really, wanted it to be successful- and we were a well know store in a high profile spot. I stayed up all night reading Garp. I was in love. I was the book buyer – but for a huge order I had to have the owners approval- and I literally staked my job on the success of this book. It was the largest single order we had ever place for a hardback book. That evening Gerry came by to take me out for cocktails to thank me. Sitting in the hotel bar, Gerry mentioned a few friends would be joining us…moments later John Irving walked in and sat down at our table. He thanked me for the order, gave me a copy of the first edition of Garp, and wrote a lovely inscription. I treasure it beyond words. Of course, this was all before he became mega-famous, but he was warm, charming, VERY sexy and without pretensions. I so remember sitting there, looking at him with wonder and thinking – this man’s life is going to change forever. The book world then was so intimate, personal, and full of life – and of course, everyone drank like fish! Of course I was in absolute heaven – sitting with two handsome, funny, articulate, smart, book lovers. Then it took a truly surreal turn when Gerry’s two other “friends” arrived. First G. Gordon Liddy – then Jerzy Kosiński – then James Baldwin. I only wish I could have tape recorded the whole thing. Needless to say, the discussion was lively, sometimes rabid, and often hilarious. Massive amounts of alcohol were consumed. It was a night I will never forget. Nevertheless, for me, it was all about John Irving. Needless to say, the book did quite well and I kept my job!

Isn’t it just so magical? How a storyteller can inhabit you life and stay with you forever? To this day, my best friend (Marguarette Wagner on your FB page) and I communicate to each other a thousand different feelings – in one word – when one of us is having a bad time – we just say “It’s the Under Toad…”

At any rate – he gave me something else that night and I would like to pass it on to you. Reading your words about him – I know you will appreciate it. It’s not a huge deal- but I think you will like it. Your art gives me so much joy – it is a small trade off! So, if you could send me your mailing addresse – I will ship it off to you.

“Love: or, My Life with John Irving” …and aren’t we the lucky ones for it …

Kindest thoughts to you and your Red Cats,

…and my Red Cats”

So, thank you Kimberly, for the story, for the anticipation of waiting to see what this ‘something else’ is. I do love a good story.

( And for anyone else who wants to come and play on facebook, send me a friend request at http://www.facebook.co./JackieMorrisArtist )


About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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1 Response to On books, book selling, and how things used to be and should be again.

  1. Jane says:

    Really enjoyed reading about your friends wonderful evening meeting with the authors, how brilliant was that! I too miss all those lovely individual bookshops back then, some stll hang on here and there, and it’s an absolute pleasure to spend time and money in them.
    As always…..your work is just so beautiful!


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