The first time I set foot in Steve’s house, I stopped dead in my tracks on his enclosed porch and inhaled. It smelled like my grandmother’s beach cottage. I commented on that, and he said, “Oh, it’s probably all the old books.” I had never seen so many books in one person’s house. I thought my parents had a lot of books, but they weren’t running a book-selling business. I have learned a lot about having a “cottage industry” in the last few months. I like the idea of finding appreciative homes for books that someone else might have thrown onto a rubbish heap. I like the idea of having a small, personal business that enables us to make just enough money to pay the rent, but doesn’t require us to work set hours or sign a company policy based on someone else’s values. And I like the books. I like flipping through each one before we mail it off. There is so much to learn about, so much I’d like to read. Also, I like pictures. I like imagining the people and places the books will be going to. This morning, there was a book going off to Switzerland, and a book about Frank Lloyd Wright going off to Japan (neat pictures in that one!). I like my friends at the post office. We are on a first name basis and chat about camping and sports teams and what to do on the weekend here. I like discovering a treasure of stuff in the stacks that we plan to keep. I feel like we are amazingly rich in what we have to explore, just between these walls.
The business is not predictable, and it is rather a mystery why the online orders come through as they do. The hosting website manages the postings, so we have little control of how visible our books are over the other vendors’. So, we’ll have a dry spell and ponder the various factors. Is it the economy or is it the website? Not worth worrying about. The more Steve works on posting new titles, the more orders we get, even from stuff that’s been online for years. So, he just puts in the hours and the orders come in. Summer is a good time for estate sales and book sales. We have a lot of fun roaming neighborhoods for books. We did find a real beach cottage estate sale north of Milwaukee. This lady had some interesting antiques. Steve goes directly to the books, but I poke around for other stuff, just for fun. Old electric hair dryers and curling irons that were heated directly in the fire, for instance. Hats, sheet music, Victrolas, jewelry, vintage clothing, Reader’s Digest from 1958. I bought a pair of binoculars on Saturday, just like my dad’s. In a book about Opera, I found a season ticket brochure for the Lyric Opera in Chicago from 1940. Seats were only $8! I like old wooden tools and kitchen gadgets made to last a lifetime, not these flimsy, plastic, planned-obsolescence items we have so many of today.
Home economy is a term that has gone out of fashion. We don’t have Home Ec in schools now, we have Adult Living. It seems like we keep getting further away from the hands-on way of life – using electronic gadgets that can’t be fixed at home instead of simple machines, for instance. Steve hands me anything that breaks around here. He knows I like trying to figure out how to make it work. There’ s a simple satisfaction in that. Ask my mom about being one of the “last Luddites”. The value of being self-reliant is seen as old-fashioned, but I really worry about what happens when we are too reliant on mega-corporations who make large-scale decisions. Local and specific values get plowed under. Balance and scale and harmony with nature get ignored. It gets to a point where we don’t think we can change…that WalMart is going up whether we want it or not, right over 4 acres of our outlying marshlands, because we need cheap goods readily available to the people in those new subdivisions, and we need those jobs. Do we? Are you sure there isn’t another way?
Recommended reading: anything by Wendell Berry or Harland Hubbard.