Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
AP

Review: 'The Last Bookseller,' by Gary Goodman

  • 0
"The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade," by Gary Goodman.

"The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade," by Gary Goodman. (University of Minnesota Press/TNS)

NONFICTION: An adventure of a lifetime in a trade nearly killed by the internet — bookselling.

"The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade" by Gary Goodman; University of Minnesota Press (200 pages, $19.95)

———

"A ghost story" is how Gary Goodman characterizes his memoir "The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade," and there is a whiff of sepia among its pages. It is, after all, about a way of making a living that has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks to the internet, but it's also a swashbuckling tale of thieves and forgers, a man who would be king, celebrities and the never-ending search for gold — in this case, books, rare ones, and the lengths some will go to acquire them.

Goodman is a bit disingenuous when he tries to refute this: "Most bookseller memoirs are about finding a pamphlet by Edgar Allan Poe at the bottom of a coal chute and selling it for a half a million dollars. Not this one." His career may have been an accident, one he stumbled into in 1982 when he bought a "dismal hole" of a secondhand bookstore on St. Paul's East Side, but knowing nothing about books didn't stop him from having the adventure of a lifetime.

The highlights of that adventure are Goodman's encounters with those forgers and thieves, although he is quick to point out that "Some of the most educated and honorable people I have ever met were in the book business, but some of the most unsavory and illiterate were book people, too." And some of the most notorious were homegrown.

Goodman crossed paths with the "Book Bandit," St. Paul native Stephen Blumberg, in 1989 when the thief entered his Arcade Street bookstore. When asked if he needed any help, Blumberg left. He stopped coming in once he found out there was no rare book room or any rare books. Blumberg was arrested in 1990 after stealing 23,600 books worth about $20 million: "Unlike most book thieves, Blumberg didn't steal the books to sell but to 'protect' them from their current owners. (Not selling the books was one reason he was able to operate undetected for so long.)"

Along with the accounts of scalawags are those of eccentric Twin Cities booksellers, for whom Goodman clearly has affection. Melvin McCosh, who owned a dilapidated 17-room Lake Minnetonka mansion crammed with books and a Dinkytown bookstore frequented by Bob Dylan, ranks among them.

There is also a chapter devoted to hoarders — such as the St. Paul woman who "completely filled" three houses with books as she searched for 12 family photo albums her mother sold when she was a girl — and valuable discoveries among the floor-to-ceiling stacks and jumbles of books. Woven throughout is Goodman's own rags-to-enough-money-to-send-his-six-children-to-college story that includes owning St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers in Stillwater, North America's first "book town."

Appropriately, the tone is conversational ("As you might have guessed from his name, E. Forbes Smiley III was not your average dude," for instance). He tells his tale like a man who has seen a thing or two and lived to tell about it, a story best unwound over a beer in the corner of a dive bar. And if a tidbit from Goodman's life or something gleaned from all his research doesn't quite fit the narrative? A footnote provides further details. Many, many footnotes, actually, strewn like nuggets of gold in this treasure trove of a memoir.

0 Comments
0
0
0
0
0

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

"Seasonal Work: Stories" by Laura Lippman; William Morrow (336 pages, $26.99) ——— Laura Lippman has been mixing it up lately. Long known as a top-notch crime fiction writer, two years ago she delivered a terrific essay collection, "My Life as a Villainess." Last year she turned to psychological horror with the deliciously twisty "Dream Girl." Her new book, "Seasonal Work," is a short story ...

AUSTIN, Texas — We first ask Noah Hawley: “How are you feeling?” “It’s a hard question to answer,” says Hawley, the Austin author, filmmaker and TV showrunner whose expansive new novel, “Anthem,” came out Jan. 4. He muses. He asks if we can skip ahead to the next question. We say sure, but mention that the book lends itself to inward exploration. He muses some more. “The book is how I’m ...

A new year, a new stack of paperbacks (ideally). Here are six fresh picks; mostly fiction, all promising. "A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself" by Peter Ho Davies (HarperCollins, $15.99). Davies, author of "The Fortunes" and "The Welsh Girl," here spins a semiautobiographical novel about a writer becoming a father. "This is a complicated story, told with fearless honesty," wrote a reviewer ...

LOS ANGELES — Can a single object contain within it the narratives of a family and an entire nation? If so, for Joan Didion that item may have been a potato masher. The masher in question — a humble kitchen implement whose creation dates to the first half of the 19th century — made the arduous overland journey west some time in 1846-87 with her ancestors, the Cornwalls, a faction of the ...

Why, I ask myself, do I have such an absurd number of books? We had a friend over for dinner the other night. Even though we are all fully vaccinated, it felt a little risky, but this was a rare balmy winter evening so we sat on the drafty three-season porch for a while and then moved in by the fire, with a window cracked. My husband and I had done the requisite tidying up — dusting, ...

A sublime, erudite memoir explores the connection between grief and love. "Lost & Found" by Kathryn Schulz; Random House (236 pages, $27) ——— Near the end of "Lost & Found," her sublime, compassionate new memoir, Kathryn Schulz revisits the myth of Eros, the sickly, lonely son of Aphrodite, and his younger brother, Anteros, conceived as a kind of caretaker. These gods embodied the push-pull of ...

NONFICTION: A legendary newspaper journalist looks back at the formative years of his career. "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" by Carl Bernstein; Henry Holt (384 pages, $29.99) ——— Fear not, aspiring journalists with lousy academic records. You, too, could be in danger of not graduating from high school yet still go on to help bring down a president and become one of the best-known ...

I’ve been reading about transformation. Which is what you’re supposed to be thinking about at the onset of a new year — a new you, refreshed and eager, free from the excess and confusion that accumulated over the past 12 months and culminated with six weeks of anxiety and joy and gratitude and melancholy. That’s all behind you now. Begin again! Hit factory reset! At least that’s the elevator ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Jan. 8, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan © 2022 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. © 2022, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. "Invisible: A Novel" by Danielle Steel (Delacorte) Last week: — 2. "The ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News