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Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart

by W. G. Rogers

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    Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach (lilithcat)
    lilithcat: Two books about great bookstores and the women who ran them.

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Though not the best-written book, this is worth it for the story it tells.

In 1920, Frances Steloff founded the Gotham Book Mart, and, although she sold it in 1967, remained actively involved in it until her death in 1989 at the age of 101.

GBM was more than just a bookstore. It was a gathering place and a nurturing place for writers. Steloff was a great supporter of those "little magazines" that are the beginnings of so many literary careers, where so many poets and short story writers find their first works published.

She was a defender of books against censorship, and was taken to court on more than one occasion on the charge of selling "obscene" literature. She was vindicated each time.

Steloff was an early promoter of books through author readings and parties, held in the garden at GBM's first location. She was a founding member of the James Joyce Society.

Yet, oddly enough, Steloff was not much of a reader herself. Says her biographer, "Maybe the truth is that she likes books more than she likes to read books. She is related to the water diviner who by some mysterious and inimitable process divines for the benefit of friends and patrons infinitely more water than he himself has any use for." What she did have was the instinctive ability to recognize literary genius, and to introduce good people who liked books to the company of those who created them.

Shortly after her 100th birthday, The New Yorker published a piece in "Talk of the Town", which began: "The shelf life of a book at the Gotham Book Mart, the most celebrated bookshop in New York, appears to be however long it takes for the person who is next destined to read the book to arrive at the shop and discover that it's there. That books have destinies as objects, and people appointments with them, is a fundamental principle of life at the Gotham". No nonsense about "bestsellers" here!
2 vote lilithcat | Oct 18, 2005 |
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