• This is the kind of day where I appreciate the Calendar section of the LA Times. Instead of the usual speculation as to why the movie box office is slumping, there was a well-written article on Grove Press's new 5-volume Centenary Editon of Samuel Beckett's works. Tim Rutten, a times staff writer I'd like to read more of, wrote a perceptive and helpful article on the edition that actually includes comments on the design of the books; something usually left out of many book reviews. He points out that the edition is not the complete works, but it contains everything that is essential in Beckett's works. With the possible exception of his novel "Watt", I think he's right.

    The overall series editor is Paul Auster, but each volume has it's own seperate editor. The first two volumes cover the novels and are edited by Coim Toibin and Salman Rushdie. The Grove/Atlantic website doesn't list the contents, but I sure hope it includes Beckett's first novel, Murphy, which is an absolute knee-slapper he wrote while starving in London. To stay warm, he'd hang out in the movie theatres and was especially enamoured of Buster Keaton. You could probably say that Murphy was an extended fantasy of Beckett's where he imagines himself as a kind of Keaton character pulled off of the screen and given Beckett's troubles. I recommend this novel all the time to people at the bookstore and they come back raving about how good it is. In many ways (and as Tim Rutten points out), Beckett was a master of the novel as well as of the stage. I'd go further and say that he was a better novelist. The novel allows Beckett to speak directly to the reader, whereas his plays have to be understood through the medium of the actors, directors and designers who produce it. The novels (with the exception of Watt) are so well-written and bittersweet that I found myself enjoying them more than the various performances of the plays I'd seen. Beckett always wrote for himself. Watching his plays in the theatre (especially a good production) I've grown frustrated with the audiences who inevitably end up laughing and tittering because they can't quite figure out what's going on when it's perfectly obvious. Reading the novels you have the luxury of losing a dull audience and listening to Beckett directly. I'm a snob, but it's the truth.

    The other three volumes are; Vol. 3, Dramatic works (Edited by Edward Albee); Vol. 4, Poems, Short Fiction and Criticism (Edited by J. M. Coetze); Vol 5, "Waiting for Godot" (bilingual edition, but no editor listed). Albee is not my first choice for editing the dramatic works. Pinter would have been better since he had an ongoing relationship with Beckett and used to submit the manuscript for all of his plays to Beckett who would make comments in a red pencil. I wonder if Pinter was asked to do the editing, but because of ill health, declined. Coetze is a wonderful choice for the short fiction, poetry and essays. I've long admired his work and look forward to reading his introductory essay.

    Norman Dubie, the great unknown American Poet, once taught a class at Arizona State and I took it. He was a nut, but a brilliant nut. During an office visit, I asked him about Samuel Beckett and he told me that Beckett scared him. When I asked him why he said, "death, death, death...I won't be able to understand him until I'm an old man". Well, that's probably true for Mr. Dubie, but I started reading Beckett in my teens. I'm reasonably sure I understand him (although the novel Watt is still a puzzler), but perhaps a deeper understanding will come when I'm in my sixties.

    On second thought, no, I don't think so. I'm going to buy this new set and read him all over again. Beckett is the most important writer of the 20the century. This set is a perfect way to discover him, or, re-discover as the case may be.

    PS I went into the camp of the enemy and snuck a peek at the new editions (which are all on the shelves) and the design is, well...good. No dust-jacket, but with an embossed image on dark blue covers. It looks rather like a school book. Beckett would have liked that, I think. The font and layout are very nice. These books will be easy to read. What I don't get is why the colors are so muted. This seems to be the cliche notion of Beckett as somber and grim. Where the truth is: he is somber and grim, but he's also damn funny, strange and marvelous. There is no sense of fun in this design, whereas there is an enormous sense of fun in Beckett's works.

    Quick note on the novel "Watt": Beckett wrote this novel during the occupation (as I recall from Deidre Bair's bio of Beckett - still the best, in my opinion and to hell with amazon.com reviewers) to try to keep himself sane in an insane time. The books style and content reflect this preoccupation with detail. It's an amazing, unreadable book that reads like the journal of a mental patient trying to describe his/her daily life. At one point in the book the narrator comes into the master's bedroom and for almost four pages he describes the various ways the furniture could be re-arranged; all in puns. For example, the headboard could be placed on it's back while the sideboard could be placed on it's head....(get the idea?). I suppose it should be included in his selected works, but be warned reader; you venture onto thorny ground. Even the title is a joke: What? Watt?

  • Amazingly, we have gotten the stolen "Men Without Women" first edition back, slightly damaged, but with a $100 tucked in the book to pay for the damage. I'm still reeling from the chain of events of the last two days.

    Here is what happened;

    Friday, Gloria and Lisa both had the idea that we should look on Ebay to see if anyone might be trying to sell the stolen first edition of "Men Withought Women" by Ernest Hemingway that I mention was stolen on Iliad Bookshop's opening day. Sure enough, there was a copy up at a starting bid of $1,499 with a description that almost matched our ABE (advanced book exchange) description where we had the book for sale. Only a few small words were changed. When we looked closely at the picture that accompanied the auction, we realized it was the same picture we used at ABE only cropped and brightened up, probably in Photoshop. After checking the seller (who was located in Texas), I remembered that one of the men who spent time in the rare book section where the Hemingway was located, mentioned he was from out of town and would be leaving in a day or two.

    We decided to file a police report and then contact Ebay. We should have already filed a report, but that's another story. Dan was all for contacting the person on Ebay directly with a basic statement that we know the book was stolen from our store, we have a witness (which wasn't really true) and that if he didn't return the book, we'd contact the FBI. Dan also worded it so that if the book was returned there'd be no questions asked.

    Both Lisa and I thought this was tipping our hand too soon, but Dan had had experiences with the police before and was not confident that they'd do anything. Lisa sent the carefully worded statement to the person on Ebay and I wrote out a statement for Dan to take to the police tomorrow.

    At around 9pm this evening Dan called us at home to tell us that he had the Hemingway back in his possession. He told us that someone had called the bookstore and told him to go out to the postal box on the side of our building and look inside. The person apparently hung up before Dan could say anything else. Dan went outside and, incredibly, the "Men Without Women" copy was inside, along with a $100 bill and a short note indicating the money was to cover the cost of the damage to the dust jacket (there was a small tear on the rear cover that wasn't there before).

    When Dan called us, we immediately checked the Ebay auction and it was still up for sale. However, I've just paused in writing..(there it was)...and the auction has been removed. Isn't this the strangest turn of events? Apparently, there must have been two people; one was the person with the book here in Los Angeles, and another with the Ebay auction in Texas. The Los Angeles person must have had a change of heart when he was contacted by the Texas person and decided to return the book. Ebay may have contacted him at the same time our email arrived. Dan was right: the best approach was a direct one.

    I had suspected that the theft was one of opportunity. The "my God, no one is looking, I could steel this book" kind of thing that could tempt just about anyone. This person just succumbed to the temptation. They must have been carrying a load of guilt to return the book so soon after our contacting him. It's also possible that the threat implied in Dan's email may have simply scared him. I'm voting for the first explanation, since the person left a $100 bill in the book as well as returning it. All I can say is, "Thank you for returning the book. You did the right thing!"

    So, now our store opening was a complete success and, incredible as it seems, we had a $4,000 book returned by the person who stole it.

    Yay! Oh, Frabjus Day!

  • A little over two weeks ago, the Iliad Bookshop (where I work) began moving its 100,000+ stock of books to a new location about a mile away. I worked for 131 hours alongside volunteers and co-workers to get the new store opened by April 1st. Today, I am writing to you having survived the Great Iliad Bookshop Migration. We managed to get all of the books, the store fixtures, the bookshelves, supplies, statues, plants, files, computers, lumber, couches, coffee tables, rugs, posters, signs and front counters to the new store and arrange them so we could open this last Saturday, April 1st. Of course, we were all exhausted and bruised, but we opened the new doors to a rush of people and did booming business all day Saturday. I've finally managed to get enough sleep to sit down and write about it. I've also created a Flickr.com account that has about 3 dozen photographs arranged chronologically, so you can get a visual idea of what it was like. This event was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done physically. I was worried about my back most of all, but despite a day that was touch and go, I came through it weakened, but proud of what we had accomplished. What follows is a short description of how we went about moving an entire bookstore.

    But first a little background: The Iliad Bookshop had been at the same location for over 18 years. The reason we decided to move was because our landlord (Lord Voldemort) decided to take advantage of the crazy real estate market in California and at the end of our recent five year lease decided to raise our rent over 70%. This was the final straw for our owner, Dan, who has had to deal with the impecunities of Lord Voldemort for years and years. Dan went out and found a building that was the right size and a good location (and with room to grow) and be bought it. The financing took a long time to get put into place, so we were delayed in moving and ended up having only two weeks to move the entire store.

    After talking over the logistics a bit, we bought 1,200 book boxes from a local box store. Dan went to the new store location and began to break down walls and get the space ready for the parquet floor he was going to put in. The new location is 8,000 square feet, but the space we were moving into is only 3,000 sqft. There are two other businesses who occupy the additional 5,000 sqft. When their leases expire in the next couple years, we will take over the space and expand our new store to triple its size. This was one of the things that made the building so attractive. But for the present, we had to break down what was an old television studio, put up a new wall and get the floors ready to be covered. Dan took about a month to get the job done, a frustrating job since we discovered all kinds of problems with the electrical, plumbing and support beams in the building that had to be fixed before we could move in. Dan was working 12 to 16 hour days long before we even began to move the store. I don't know how he did it.

    Back at the old store, we had spent several months weeding out books we didn't want to move by putting them in the various free boxes out in front of the store and by culling the stock for our sale tables. This involved going through every section in the store and pulling books that had been there for years and re-pricing them to the sale tables. After storing the huge pallets of flat, empty boxes in our back rooms, I began to label every shelf in the store with a number system that would enable us to re-shelve the books in the new store in alphabetical order. In some of the pictures you'll see yellow post-it notes with numbers on them. These were the numbers that were copied to the boxes when they were packed so we could know what books were inside each box. In general, this system worked well and we were able to re-shelve efficiently. However, a problem we did not foresee was that some sections did not go into the same bookcases, since Dan had to mix and match at the new store to fit the space. Of course, the Art section was one of these and I spent most of a very tiring day with volunteer Dave sorting through every single book (Dave ended up doing most of the section and told me he never wanted to handle a book by Picasso every again).

    We began packing on March 16th. Fortunately, we had almost 10 volunteers (to whom we gave bookstore credit for hours worked) who dove right in and got us off to a fine start. We moved all of the paperbacks first and managed to get everything packed in one day, along with most of the shelving (we moved the empty bookcases whole). I think we packed and moved something like 30,000 paperbacks in one day. Bob, the king of paperbacks, and Dan went to work at the new store and got the first rows of shelving up and we began to re-shelve the next day.

    Slowly, very slowly, we began to work through each section in the store. We reserved the paperback room, which was cleared now, as the storage room for the new boxes as they were packed. Stupidly, I didn't pay attention and group all of the boxes by sections in the first few days, so many subject sections got mixed up (something that made for a lot of extra work sorting them out at the new store). Once I realized my mistake, we got the sections together and it was much easier to reshelve at the new store. The pattern became: packing books at the old store, loading up the big rented truck with about 100 boxes stacked three high (they fit perfectly on to a hand truck this way), move them to the new store and dump them in a clear area. We did this pretty much strait through the first week until we had about half of the books out of the old store.

    Then we ran into a snag; Dan wasn't able to get new shelves up fast enough for us to put books on them. So, we all had to go to the new store and shelve like crazy while Dan worked on getting the shelved together. At first I didn't realize why Dan was slow, but then I remembered he had to cut off the top shelf of every bookcase because the ceiling at the new store was 2 feet lower than the one at the old store. That and the fact that many of the shelves had to be re-backed and braced together, slowed our boxing and moving for several days.

    Lisa drove the 16 foot, 6-wheeler truck with a liftgate every day and she did a great job. We kept joking about her being the "Large Marge" character from the Pee Wee film. You can see her in the photo-set looking tough behind the wheel. Backing into the backdoor's of each store was a real bear and there were some nail-biting moments, but Lisa got the hang of it and eventually it became a piece of cake, except for the


    .....The Day From Hell.....

    Let me tell you about the "DAY FROM HELL". Dan managed to catch up with us and we were able to go back to the bookstore to pack the the last sections. We were making good progress when it started to rain. The volunteers had thinned out and we only had two left (thank you, JB and Dave!) and we had to get about 500 boxes of books to the new store in the rain. We managed to park the truck close to the back door and rig a kind of tent to keep most of the rain off of the books, but as the day progressed all of the floors got wet and there was water everywhere (I was soaked all day). On top of that we were moving the heaviest boxes, the Art books, some of which weighed up to 60lbs each. I had a terrible scare when the end of my shoe got caught between the liftgate of the truck and the edge of the truck bed. The liftgate operator wasn't paying attention and I stared in horror as the end of my shoe got crushed. Thank God, I wore shoes that I had bought from the Thrift store and that were slightly too large for me, because there was lots of space at the end of the shoe and the liftgate just missed my toe. I had dodged a bullet that time. I continued on as if nothing had happened. It was only later, in bed, that I realized how close I had come to disaster. Another awful moment in the "DAY FROM HELL".

    By this time we had made three trips and came back for a fourth when some guy came into the store and claimed that our truck had hit his car. After looking at his car (which looked like it had been hit by someone), listening to his contradictory story, and looking at our truck (which had no marks on it whatsoever), we told him we didn't think we hit him. He started arguing with us and blah blah blah. Well, this went round and round for an hour while most of us kept on loading up boxes. Eventually, Dan came over and we exchanged driver information and decided to leave it to the insurance company to sort out. Lisa was upset and didn't want to drive the truck for the rest of the day. We managed to get one last load during very heavy rain, over to the new store where we were all so tired we were just going to leave the books in the truck and unload them the next day. But Dan was worried the truck might leak, so (all of us groaning simultaneously) we unloaded the heavy, heavy, wet boxes. I think we went home at around 8pm after a 10-hour day lifting boxes. Thankfully, that was the ..

    .....end of the "DAY FROM HELL".....
    The next day was much better (apparently, Librus, the Greek god of books, decided to spare us this day) and we managed to speed up our loading and get some more volunteer help. Moving the large fixtures (the front counter and the sale tables) turned out to be much easier than we thought it was going to be and we got them all loaded and moved in one day. By the 10th, however, my back started to give me trouble and I had to stop frequently to rest. I think all of us paced ourselves very well for this huge job. Every night I'd have a hot bath to sooth my muscles and I'd take a Motrin twice a day for pain. Our volunteer, JB, was a demon with work though. Man, this guy would stay for another three hours after Lisa and I would leave! I asked him where he got the energy and he just smiled at me mumbling something about energy drinks. Lisa tells me that he told her he drank a concoction of orange juice, mountain dew and coke every morning. He called it his "jet fuel".

    Despite the wear on our bodies of moving almost 4,000 boxes of books, we got everything out of the old store. The weather cleared and we spent most of the last few days shelving and cleaning the new store for last Saturday's opening. Dan found that he had run out of shelving and so we weren't able to get Science, Nature, Erotica, Counter Culture, Cookbooks and a few other sections up onto shelves. But we got about 90% and when the doors opened people were very pleased. Of course, one of the first customers asked for the Cookbook section and I had to give her the sad news that all of the books were still in boxes (she didn't like that sound of that from the sour look she gave me). Dan plans to get the new shelves up within a week or two. He makes them from scratch; stains and waxes them so they look very nice.

    We were not without some problems, however; several sections had very curious alphabetization and some books were in completely the wrong sections. We also lost our two large couches (no room) which was disappointing to some customers. We plan on adding chairs to make up for some of the loss of comfort. We also had big problems with SBC over our DSL line. Eventually, we just fired them after one bureaucratic foul-up after another. Our Credit Card terminal had to be upgraded which took many calls on the phone late into the night. But the opening went very well. The store, while not complete, looks beautiful. The parquet floors are simply wonderful. Gloria is almost through with her magic bathroom. My friend Skip, the jazz guitar genius, remarked that he had played on stages that were smaller than our bathroom. I love it. If you make it to 5400 Cahuenga in North Hollywood, you must use our new bathroom and tre cool toilet. Our plumber, Jason, told us, "I love this toilet". Oh, and the great books.

    The only real downer for the whole experience was the theft of a very expensive Hemingway first edition from our rare bookshelves on opening day. We separated all of the rare books, but weren't able to get everything behind glass and locked. Someone took advantage of this and slipped away with a $4,000 book. We were all depressed about it for a day or two; and we're taking extra precautions now, so it won't happen again.

    So, that's the story of the Great Iliad Bookshop Migration. We are slowly getting back into shape. The store looks wonderful. We are buying books again and the rhythms of our store are starting to become familiar again. I'm heaving a big sigh.....Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh.......

    Thanks to Janet, Dave, JB, and all of the others for your help. We could not have gotten our store moved without your help. And thank you, Dan and Gloria, for having the courage to take such a huge risk and for all of your hours of hard work. I'm proud to work for you. And thanks to Loki, for making it fun to work (stop biting my shoes...down, Loki, down!)

    If you happen to be in Los Angeles, come on by our new bookstore in North Hollywood. Loki would like to see your shoes and I'd like to show you around our new store.

    Iliad Bookshop
    5400 Cahuenga
    North Hollywood, CA. 91601
    Mon-Sat, 10am to 10pm; Sun, 12pm to 6pm