Recently, I aked Top Shelf vendors for some info I could use to write about them here. James, of Swamp Rabbit Books, knocked it out of the park. He replied with a well written missive that gets at the wonder and beauty of old a rare books, but a lot of what he expressed applies to an addiction to anything old and well made. His entire piece is recreated below for your perusal.
A few years before I started Swamp Rabbit Books I was in a huge bookstore on the West Coast, and I came across a misshelved little volume from the 18th century, leatherbound and worn, tucked in with
the glossy paperbacks in the travel section. I wrapped it carefully in my coat and gingerly took it to the customer service counter. The rest of the day I felt like I'd been granted a glimpse through a magical
window that looked out on centuries of history.
Now I am surrounded by books all the time: my bedroom alone has five bookcases in it, not counting the entire wall I converted to shelving when I first moved in. I love it. The smell of ink and paper, the rustle of pages turning, the stateliness of a line of titles standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a shelf. That magic contained in a book goes beyond just words on pages. A book lives through time; it doesn't just exist the way an appliance might, and it collects readers the way a reader might collect books. It keeps a piece of every reader with it: a bookplate, a signature of ownership, a dog-eared page or underlined passage, a hint of wear on the jacket. Books can change lives, and they do. My job is to help make that happen, by connecting books with readers.
I like collectible books, too: the pristine first edition, like a single moment of history -- the debut of a work of art! --preserved as it was that day; the signed copies, once held in the hands of their creator and marked by those hands. I have a few books that were the personal copies of their authors, passed down through the family after they passed.
I founded Swamp Rabbit Books in 2009, when I was living in South Carolina. A swamp rabbit is an unassuming Southern creature probably best known for an incident in which one tried to board a small boat bearing then-president Jimmy Carter, who rather ineffectively attempted to fend it off with a paddle. I thought I'd be opening up a bookstore down there at some point, and it seemed like a good mascot for a Southern bookstore. I began by selling books online, and that's still where I sell most of my books. The store never materialized and when I had the opportunity to move to Boston, one of the literary centers of the country, I jumped on it. I have a few thousand books now, ranging from the 1700s to this year, and I'm adding more all the time. Just like the search for vintage clothing, finding books of
interest is a treasure hunt and a joy.
I'll be returning to the Top Shelf Flea this fall with more modern first editions, more signed copies, and more inexpensive paperbacks. I'll also be bringing some more stationary and art, including the disbound pages of book illustrations that proved popular last spring; some of these will be framed, but most will be loose. I also expect to devote a good bit of space to antiquarian books, which I have not done in the past.
Looking forward to seeing you there!