2012 Trenton Books at Home Report

The Trenton Books at Home program, which distributes free books to Trenton kids, gave out $4,412 worth of books in 2012.

The program was made possible by our fiscal sponsor Children’s Futures and generous donations from people, including The Fund for Public Schools, Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, and former Mayor Doug Palmer.

Many books would be picked up by Trenton kids at the store including kids from Kilmer, Parker, Trenton Central High School, Village Charter, Trenton High West, PJ Hill, and Robbins.  Other books were distributed by partners like A Better Way, the Children’s Futures Holiday Book and Toy Drive, Mill Hill Aftercare, a book distribution center at Trenton High West and teachers throughout the Trenton school district.


Jeff Edelstein at Classics on brick-and-mortar shopping

Jeff Edelstein goofing around at Classics again, this time talking about how much better it is to shop in a real bookstore or music store than shop online. 

Tell me why he gives all the straight lines to the Princeton Record Exchange and all the fun stuff to Classics Used and Rare Books!

Here’s the link!




The Noah’s Ark of Books

I understand many of the reasons one might like physical books over electronic books.  I had never considered the potential of the Internet imploding or computer viruses eating up all eBooks like some software program from Terminator!

Silicon Valley Internet businessman Brewster Kahle spent $3 million to buy and operate a book ark, saving solid paper books in the event of a massive loss of digital information. 

In an interview with the New York Times, linked below, Kahle reminds us that while the Internet seems like the ultimate infallible technology, “microfilm and microfiche were once a utopian vision of access to all information, but it turned out we were very glad to have kept the books.”

For the complete article, click here.


Bookstore People: Poets and Lawyers

This is part two in my series of cool bookstore people.  Here was installment number one.  http://www.classicsusedbooks.com/?p=442

Yusef Komunyakaa

Soft-spoken and intense, Yusef was a Classics customer for 6 months before I realized he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994.  I know that if I won the Pulitzer Prize, my wife would probably have to talk me out of wearing a nametag that reads “I Won the Pulitzer Prize—Ask Me How Great I Am.”  Yusef, on the other hand, might be the humblest guy I ever met, encouraging to young writers and supportive of Trenton’s literary efforts.   When at Classics he can be found unassumingly browsing the stacks, when not engaged in a quiet, earnest discussion with writers and readers.

Though Yusef teaches at New York University, he still makes time to stop in at Classics when he can.  If you can’t meet him at Classics, you should meet him through his poetry.  Start with Neon Vernacular.

My favorite Yusef quote (from Neon Vernacular):  “I am this space my body believes in.”


Mark Walter

Mark has been a Classics customer since before there was a Classics, in the New Hope forerunner–The Book Cellar.  Every Friday night, with few exceptions, Mark drives from New York City where he practices law to Trenton.  He can be found in the back playing Scrabble and cracking terrible puns, walking in the door with Citerella chocolate cake, or browsing the stacks piling up stacks and stacks of Flashman novels, travel books, books about New York, Time and Again and Modesty Blaise, all of which he will share with Scrabble players and other customers. 

In addition to sharing books and chocolate cake, Mark is also happy to share stories about his father, the famed New York pianist Cy Walter.  A friendship struck at Classics with Richard Behrens led to the creation of a fantastic website in his father’s honor.  You should visit it here:  http://www.cywalter.com/index.html

Mark is one of the most generous and genuinely warm people in the world and we are richer for knowing him.

A memorable Mark quote: “Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.”

A Spy in the Bookstore

People drop off books at Classics Used and Rare Books all the time—sometimes one plastic bag at a time, other times they have to rent a U-Haul and bring so many boxes of books that you could block up a Poe character never to be seen again—I’m looking at you Richard Behrens.  Some are anonymous drive-bys, leaving bags of books on the doorsteps like orphans at a church; others are brought by regulars and friends.   But the most legendary of them all was the mysterious Dean Richards.

In five large installments, a woman claiming to be Dean Richard’s wife brought a giant collection of books of high quality.  These books included great and slightly obscure fiction, smart academic history, and interesting travelogues.  In the upper right hand corner of each of these fascinating books, Dean Richards wrote his name, a date, and a place—what we assumed was the place in which he read the book.

The books were so incredibly interesting that 5 customers, independent of each other, began searching the stacks for books with Dean Richard’s name in them—as if Richards was a secret private book reviewer only for them.

We saw hundreds of books from the Dean Richards collection.  Here’s a sample of inscriptions

  • Dean Richards 1957         Langley, VA
  • Dean Richards 1961         Saigon
  • Dean Richards 1952         Oxford
  • Dean Richards 1968         Bankok
  • Dean Richards 1957         Langley
  • Dean Richards 1954         Oxford
  • Dean Richards 1956         Langley, VA
  • Dean Richards 1971         Berlin

I don’t know to whom it occurred first.  Putting the hundreds of inscriptions together, Dean Richards outlined his history for us.  First Oxford, then Langley, then South East Asia, then Europe.  Langley, VA?  That’s CIA Headquarters!

Now, in the fevered imagination of the 6 members of the Dean Richards fan club we had the personal library of a spy who had went to school at Oxford, trained at Langley, and went on Mission Impossible-like missions during the Vietnam War and then in Cold War Europe.

Was this true?  Had we unraveled the path of a super spy?  Was this all a fantasy from watching too many episodes of The Unit?  Unknown.  Either way, whether the story belonged to the “fiction” section of the bookstore or to the “espionage” section, this was the birth of the legend of Dean Richards.

How to Organize a Bookstore

When we opened up our first bookstore in New Hope PA, it was before I had any kids, so I put the “Horror” section right above the “Parenting” section. 

It wasn’t what I thought about parenting, mind you, but I thought it was funny.  Most browsers didn’t notice it, but I would hear occasional snorts and whispers.  Sometimes people thought it was an accidental placement, which made it even funnier to them.

I’d like to take you on a behind the scene tour of Classics in Trenton, NJ.


I put the Christian section right up front near the door, the spot most likely to be the target of a shoplifter.  My theory is that if somebody steals a Bible, they’ll run home, read that stealing is a sin and bring the book right back.

In addition, the Christian section, the Islamic section, the Jewish section and the section of Buddhism and Hinduism are spread around the store as if to prevent any sectarian tensions.  This arrangement was accidental, but since there hasn’t been any religious conflict in my store, it seems like a good plan.

The Bathroom

You can shop in the bathroom too.  In this special themed section, you can find Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, How to Sh*t in the Woods and Going Abroad: Toilets in Foreign Countries

The Jeff Edelstein Science Fiction Section

Trentonian columnist Jeff Edelstein advocated separating the “Science Fiction” and “Fantasy” sections, while most American bookstores keep them combined.  Jeff had strong feelings that one of these sections shouldn’t be mingled with the other “inferior” one, and so we divorced them.

Apparently, combining the two sections is unique to the United States.  According to SF author Robert Sawyer, it is the fault of “Donald A. Wollheim, a science fiction editor, (who) brought out the first U.S. edition of what was then a unique work, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  If someone else had scooped that up first, the two genres would never have been co-mingled.”

To read more about the history of the Jeff Edelstein Science Fiction Section, visit http://www.trentonian.com/articles/2007/02/12/today’s%20stories/17841067.txt?viewmode=default


I have customers who love finding The Perfect Storm (the true story of a terrible storm that swamps the crew of the Andrea Gail) in the “Travel” section.


Comment and let me know what other changes I should make.  “Horror” and “Parenting?”  “True Crime” and “Politics?”  “Etiquette” and “Television Political Commentary?”

The Value of Bookstores: Community

More and more, people are enabled in their insularity—enabled by home entertainment systems and by the computer.  They can shop from home, watch movies at home, play games by themselves. 

People can connect with other people online at home, but in shorter and short exchanges, as if conversation was a painting smashed into a million pieces—two sentences here, 140 words there, a “like” button. 

In addition, while the entire universe of social media is diverse, people there seem to gather into little homogenous groups, as if their FaceBook pages followed the logic of high school cafeteria tables.  

Classics Used and Rare Books is a place where diverse groups of people gather to have conversations longer than a tweet, deeper than what you can find on their info page and with people you might not otherwise get the chance to meet.  Classics is a store where you learn about real people in real time–a real social medium. 

I want you to meet a couple of the Classics family.

Keturah Monroe

Keturah is a Classics customer and friend and can often be found in the front of the store carrying on a conversation on any number of topics—raw foods, philosophy, the importance of international studies for urban youth.  She is fast talking, fast thinking and has a singing voice equal to “a thousand angels.”  But, she hates compliments on her singing, because it takes energy away from her true passion—teaching kids science.

Keturah runs a science enrichment program in Trenton, called OURSEP.  She has the radical idea that kids should practice science in the field FAR afield, as in another country.  Every year she leads a group of Trenton kids abroad—their first year they studied science in the rich habitats of Costa Rica!

My favorite Keturah quote: “I am hard-headed because I fear mediocrity and its secret entrances.”

This is Keturah.  

You can learn more about OURSEP at http://www.oursep.org/.

Jon Naar

Jon was born in 1920 in Britain and is connected to Classics through the Scrabble Club, where we see him regularly on Friday nights handing out 2-letter word lists to new players and steadfastly preventing players from sneaking a look in the Scrabble dictionary in the middle of a game.  He is also connected to Classics through his many books on photography, graffiti and the environment.

With a little coaxing, Jon will tell you some of his amazing life.  In World War 2, he was a spy operating behind enemy lines, involved in the kidnapping of a German general.  He lived in New York where he was neighbors with Kurt Vonnegut, ate dinner with Julia Childs, hosted County Basie at his house, and had tea with Ghandi.  He has collaborated on books with Norman Mailer and Jacques Cousteau.  He photographed Andy Warhol and Melba Moore, Dachau and the beginnings of graffiti in New York.  His photographs are in MOMA, in the Met and on graced the final cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

All this, and here Jon is at Classics, hunched over his Scrabble rack, with many players none the wiser about his photographic talent or his endlessly fascinating life.

My favorite Jon quote, as befits a photographer, is told without words.  “

This is Jon. 

You can purchase Birth of Graffiti, Faith of Graffiti, and Getting the Picture at Classics Used and Rare Books.

You can learn more about Jon Naar at http://jonnaar.com/index.htm.

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, by Kelly Jameson

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It: A Zombie Short

by Classics author, and guest blogger, Kelly Jameson

What’s not to love? He’s relentless in his pursuit of me. Sure, he can’t bang out a Tchaikovsky symphony on the piano, haul down a steady living, or even microwave a bowl of Hormel chili, but his love, our love, transcends the grave.

He’ll never say to me, “Get me a beer, you stupid betch.” Ok, maybe he will, but I won’t understand him because it will sound like, “eturggeeretch.”

He won’t complain when I don’t make the bed. He won’t pester me to have ‘lover talks’ or go to counseling because we’re not communicating. He taught me something. You aren’t truly free to live until you’re not afraid to die. He is dark and beautiful and a little stinky, but aren’t we all?

He doesn’t care that I’m not a supermodel with fake barn-silo tits, practically no body fat, and lips like truck tires. He’ll never leave me. Unless I forget to close a door or window.

I’ve learned how to cook a variety of dishes for him using cow brains. He eats them, doesn’t complain, washes them down with Miller Lite, which pours from the holes in his rotting neck and thorax. He’s a slob. But he’s my slob.

He’s not subtle, coordinated, or mysterious. As long as he has a bowl of brains in front of him, he’ll watch hours of X Factor with me, or even Dancing with the Tards. Yeah, I kissed a zombie and I liked it.

He buries his face in my hair. He loves me for my brain. How lucky can a girl get?

Kelly Jameson is the author of Dead On, which is available at Classics, 117 South Warren, downtown Trenton, book_cellar@mindspring.com.  You can learn more about Kelly’s work at http://kellyjameson.blogspot.com/

Tips on Writing Children’s Books: Tika Bernadette

Tips on Writing Children’s Books

by Classics author, and guest blogger, Tika Bernadette 

Writing children’s fiction is a lot of fun, but it’s no easy task, in my opinion.  As with any well-written literature, there are rules and standards that industry movers expect when reviewing literary work for children.  If you wish to attract positive attention from editors, agents, publishers, educators and your target readers, there are some things you must take into serious consideration when creating your literary art for children.  Here, I will share some pointers that I’ve learned along the way to conceptualizing, writing and publishing two books for children, with a third book set for release this year. 

One simple rule for writing picture books is – Keep it simple. Let the pictures tell the story. Picture books are generally for babies and toddlers, with illustrations in place of text. Text, if any, is secondary to the illustrations and is no more than one word per picture, or two to three words per sentence, on average.  The text, if any, is often choppy.  And, the entire book is usually between 24 and 32 total pages.  

Learn the categories of children’s books so you can be sure that you are writing for your target audience.  As you have read above, many picture books are for babies and toddlers. There are also books for early readers. Readers in this group typically range from age four to age eight and are just learning to read and write.  They are still thrilled with pictures, but are also fascinated with written words.  Books for early readers have more printed words per page with fuller sentences, even when accompanied by illustrations.  The storylines, while still simple, are more fluid and imaginative. At this point, a few challenging words have been incorporated into the text.  Early readers are not as intimidated as you may think and desire to increase their vocabulary.  Structurally, books for early readers are usually between 45-60 total pages and no more than 1,500 words. Then there are your intermediate readers. Readers in this group range from age eight through age ten.  They are proud chapter books readers at this point.  Chapter books usually contain 48 to 80 pages and between 1,500 to 10,000 words.  These books tend to be thicker and have more sophisticated plots and themes.  Another category in children’s book literature is the middle school reader.  These readers are independent thinkers and are discovering themselves and beginning to pursue their own interests.  They usually select books based on their own personal taste.  Books for the middle school reader are usually 80 to 192 pages, with 20,000 to 45,000 words.

After middle school readers, we then go into young adult readers.  We won’t speak about them today. Today, we are discussing literature for young children.

Study your target audience.  Observe children’s habits, their movements, their language, their emotions, their follies, their antics.  Tune in to their interests.  Channel their energy and excitement through your work.  Take your mind back to when you were that young.  When you do so, you will find that you write on their level, but not down to them. They are intelligent creatures and learn quickly. They pick up on condescension and do not appreciate being talked down to. 

Read your story out loud.  Read to an audience of children before you send your work to an editor, agent or publisher. Get lots of feedback from parents, teachers and your target audience.  Is your audience fully engaged? Ask for audience participation.  You not only want to read your story aloud, you also want it to be interactive.  You want your readers to be so enthralled that they desire to become part of the story themselves.  Therefore, at some point during your reading, stop and ask your audience questions about what you’ve read so far.  Bring them into the story.

Keep writing!

Recommended reading:

  • Writing Children’s Books by Lesley Bolton and Lea Wait
  • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
  • How To Write And Illustrate Children’s Books (And Get Them Published) by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman

Tika Bernadette is the author of Baby Love and Zuri and Friends Conquer the Mountain.   You can buy her books on Amazon by clicking here.