Ian Gentles on Trenton and Classics Books

Singer, songwriter and Trenton native Ian Gentles wrote a song about white flight called a “Whiter Shade of Trash.”  Classics Used and Rare Books made the video!  Ian writes, in his latest blog,

I’m sure that most of it’s denizens today view Trenton simply as home. But as a white kid who spent most of his life growing up in the suburbs- a result of my own family’s participation in the ‘white flight’ migration- I was told not to go there. So I didn’t… Until recently.

A friend of mine opened a bookstore called ‘Classics’ on Warren street where the locals go to every Friday night to play Scrabble, Chess, and board games, or to simply just hang out and socialize. I’ve met some of the nicest people anywhere there, and you can’t help but wonder what the hell everyone was running from nearly half of a century ago. It proves just how devastating an emotion like fear can be.

Read the whole post and listen to the song here:  http://ianpatrickgentles.com/ianpatrickgentleshome.cfm?feature=3050597&postid=1675706

Everyone’s Story Blog on Classics!

My favorite exchange with the panel of interviews went as follows.

They asked, “What’s one thing you’d like to do at your bookstore you haven’t done?”

The answer, “That’s a stumper. Everything I’ve wanted to do I’ve made it happen: 

To read the rest of the interview, visit http://elainestock.blogspot.com/2011/12/eric-maywar-makings-of-successful.html

Gift Inscription

I like finding a good gift inscription in the books that come through the store.  This one struck me.  Why did he bother to give the book?

On a memo sheet enclosed in a business book

I’ve read better and

Probably could write better

Books—but thought you

Might find this interesting!



Is it the Death of the Printed Book?

I often get asked about what I am going to sell once the eBook has destroyed the printed book.  Lol.

People are alarmists.  They like to get worked up.  Just watch political commentators or weathermen.  Their ratings go up if they are wringing their hands about the imminent destruction of either the American Way of Life or the next weather pattern. When the predicted storm of the century turns out to be one inch of rain, well, no harm no foul. 

It’s that way with changes in media too.  When radio was becoming popular, commentators predicted the end of books.  When movies became popular, commentators predicted the end of radio…and books.  When TV became popular, people predicted the end of radio and movie theatres…and books.   Obviously all incorrect.  Did video kill the radio star?  Nope!  The radio star is still going strong.

So when people predict that eBooks will kill printed books, I have to yawn.

Now, I do believe that things in the industry will change.  My experience as an independent bookseller has been that the sort of customers who shopped big box stores are exactly the same type of customers who like eReaders, so there will be a battle for market share between these two.  Publishing houses may print dramatically smaller print runs of physical books.  On-line sources will take a bite out of reference materials like encyclopedias and dictionaries.  The text book industry is due for a big change.  But the accounts of the death of the book are exaggerated. 

As long as there are people who prefer a particular format, there will be businesses who will offer to sell it to them.  Best Buy carries vinyl records, for Pete’s sake.

Here are the sorts of readers who will keep buying books—


People who like the feel of a book in their hands find eReaders unsatisfying.  I have one customer who buys books from me and ships them off to have them carved out and reinforced so she can fit her Kindle into them and give her Kindle a real-book feel.  She loves her eReader, but it feels insubstantial to her. 

After he fourth purchase, I asked her how many Kindles she owned.  She told me that she owns one, but likes to swap out the covers like another person might swap IPhone cases.  That’s most excellent.

In addition to the physical sensualists, there are the visual sensualists.  People who like the looks of a room lined with bookcases filled with books.  The books become conversation starters, trophies of reading accomplishments and intimate revelations of the reader’s soul. 


EBooks (and on-line sellers) are great for the people who know exactly what book they want.  But for people who want to wander the stacks and find something they didn’t know about, you need a brick-and-mortar bookstore.  If you want to explore books that are also out of print, you need a used bookstore.


The people who search out and hoard first editions, limited releases, signed books will not be searching these things out in digital format. 


Board books are made for infants who are likely to put the book in their mouth.  Do you really want your eReader to go there?

Pop-up books?  When eReaders can produce a Richard Sabuda pop-up, I will be impressed!

Gift Givers

A wrapped book is a gift.  A copy of an email certificate for an eBook, not so much.  There are whole categories of gift books that need the printed form: coffee table books, oversized kids books, pop-up books, miniature stocking stuffer books, art books with art that deserves a venue larger than 10.1 inches.


Reading is a solitary act.  But bookstores are explosions of community.  Our bookstore has poetry readings, writing workshops, author-led discussions, Scrabble games, knitting clubs, and, up near the register, what Eric Jackson calls “one continual community meeting” arguing politics, literature, art, urban revitalization, raw foods vs. hamburgers, Jeopardy vs. Family Feud, or which Wonder Twin was the best.   Try to get that while shopping for an eBook.

In addition, these contacts help strengthen the community.  When the mural up the street was vandalized, the Scrabble club contributed to its renewal.  When they heard that our troops in Afghanistan were short helmet liners, the Trenton Knit and Stitch knitted and delivered a box of helmet liners.  After arguing near the register about the lack of publishing opportunities for Trenton writers and artists, the Trenton Review was born.  In the midst of a recession, from the contacts they made at this bookstore, two people were able to find jobs from the network of people they met in the bookstore.

People who value community and reading will always value bookstores and the books sold there.

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.

You’ve Got 49 Days: Things Found in Books

I find great, suggestive things in books.  The inscriptions are the private face one person shows another, almost always written in some private language, referring to events and people about which we can only guess.  Sometimes there are items left behind in books that are as fascinating as the book–love letters, a $7,000 check, a 4-leaf clover. 

Here are three things.

#1.  Inscription from Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within


It takes forever

When you read one page

A night.  I’m going

Back to the other book

Now.  Hope I live

Long enough to finish.

Talk to you soon—


 As I typed this inscription, the computer automatically capitalized the first word in each line, formatting it into a found, prosaic poem.

 #2.  In a book of religious quotes entitled Thorns and Thrones I found a torn corner of a photograph of a man’s face leaning into the corner.  In the background is the top of a horse’s head and trees.  The man is half-smiling and wearing a gray t-shirt and a Philadelphia Eagles base ball cap. 

He was obviously removed from some other picture, but why?  Was he cast out from the picture, or was the rest of the picture thrown away and he the only face worth saving?

 #3.  In the western, Legend of a Badman by Ray Hogan

I love you, you old shit.

Read slow.  You’ve got 49 days.

Top Ten Oddest Books

When I go out to eat, I am immediately attracted by the strangest thing on the menu.  If the restaurant is brave enough to offer the weirdest thing, it must be something special.  When I first walked in to 11, at 11 West Front Street in Trenton, New Jersey, for example, I knew I had to try the breaded spaghetti with meat sauce, raisins and broccoli.  It was great!

A friend of mine, Didi Goldmark, was a “connoisseur” of literature the way I am a “connoisseur” of food.  The stranger the title, the more she wanted it.  In her memory, I have collected the top 10 oddest books I have seen.  For purposes of this list, this can’t be books that are intentionally funny or ironic (like the Pop-Up Book of Phobias).  We also eliminated printing errors, like my cousin Mike’s  Zen philosophy primer that was given the cover for Nietzche for Beginners.

For Didi, I present the Top Ten Oddest books:

#10.  How to Avoid Huge Ships by John W. Trimmer.

This book is dedicated to educating boaters on how not to get run over by freighters.

#9.  What’s your poo telling you? By Anish Sheth. 

My friend Alexis says, “the book explains all different kinds of poo and why it happens (like your diet, stress, etc). Pretty amazing!!!”  Several of my friends recommended me include this book, including my friend, Jan, who has it in a one-a-day calendar, and my cousin Mike who describes it as “near mystical.”

#8.  Sun-Beams May Be Extracted from Cucumbers, But the Process Is Tedious: an Oration, Pronounced on the Fourth of July, 1799.

Though the contents are a non-odd criticism of Thomas Jefferson, the title is supposedly taken from a letter from Jefferson to a neighbor.  And it makes me smile every time I see it.

#7.  Over their Dead Bodies.

Though the title is consciously funny, the book is a commemoration of epitaphs from the 19th century. 

#6.  The Clowns of Death by Keith Breese

It is a 209 pg hardcover history of the band Oingo Boingo. 

#5.  Keeping Poison Frogs

#4.  Herd Registry for New Jersey 1908

Very useful in day the days before computers, this is a thick leatherbound volume listing the names, parents and birthdates (drop dates) of every cow in New Jersey.   Drop into Classics to see this!

#3.  All About Scabs by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum and Genichiro Yagyu

If you thought scabs were worth only a paragraph in a larger book on health, think again!

#2.  How to Start your own Blood Bank

One of the greatest books in Didi’s collection.  I laugh out loud every time I think of it.  Who bought this book?  Goth vampire wanna-bes?  Or did somebody in Iowa actually open up a blood bank in their basement?

The #1 Oddest Book

How to Live Through a Famine






I love the cover art with the dying stick figures in front of a pretty flower from the 1970’s.

My friend Mary’s favorite paragraph in the book is

“For an individual who has no alternatives, he should scatter what food he has, wherever he can. If one has a sack of flour… He should deposit the flour in whatever containers he can find- pop bottles, shoe boxes, coat pockets, anything suitable.”

Mary pictures people walking around with coat pockets full of flour.  Can that be a good container?  Why not keep it in the sack?

God Blesses Sexy Geeks! or, Top Ten Reasons to Visit Classics Used and Rare Books

#10.  Earthquake proof!

#9.  Click here for reason #9.

#8.  You can buy those leather books to carve out a case for your Kindle, giving it a real book feel!

#7.  We are keeping the last remaining Borders Bookstore in the back of Classics in a jar for you to visit for old times sake.

#6.  Zyzzyvas!

#5.  Click here for reason #5.

#4.  God blesses sexy geeks!  (Tanya Ray)

#3.  “I loved Classics because it was a place where I could knit and play Scrabble, and then one day I noticed it was also full of used books.  What more could one want?”  (Mary Allen)

#2.  The only place to learn about Jack the Ripper’s and his incredible piano tuning skills.  (Megan Iurilli)

#1.  Unlike its New Hope location, it is not 6 feet under water!

How Used Bookstores are Saving the Universe

The Environment

I couldn’t find any numbers for books alone, but about 54.3 million tons of paper and paper fill American landfills every year.  Among that 54 million tons are countless libraries worth of books that could be kept in circulation instead of weighing down our waste infrastructure.

When you buy used books, you don’t just help keep them out of landfills; you also help preserve our natural resources. It is estimated that 24 trees are needed to produce one ton of virgin printing paper.

Used book stores are such a part of the fabric of American life that it is easy to forget that they are as important environmental centers, as important as newer (and therefore more visible) reuse centers like TerraCycle in Trenton.

Save the environment.  Support your used bookstores. 


Used books improve education by providing low-cost options to fill a home with books. 

Not only are used bookstores already a fraction of the cost of new bookstores, some (Classics in Trenton NJ for example) provide books for FREE for local kids.  You don’t get lower-cost than that!

What impact does having books in the homes of kids have?  Especially books in the homes of low-resourced families in struggling school districts like Trenton?

The following is from “ScienceDirect – Research in Social Stratification and Mobility : Family scholarly culture and education”

Only 40% of children from bookless homes with unschooled parents can be expected to finish Year 9, compared to 88% of children with unschooled but book-rich parents, a huge 48 percentage point advantage.

A home library is also a big advantage in getting children through high school, for illiterate and university educated parents alike. For unschooled parents, the advantage of a large home library is 33 percentage points, about the same as the 37 point advantage for primary educated parents, 40 for incomplete secondary parents, 41 for parents with high school education, and 38 for university educated parents. 

Classics Used and Rare Book in Trenton (117 South Warren) has consistently handed out over $4,000 in FREE books every year to Trenton kids through their Books at Home Program.

Support education.  Support your used bookstores. 


Far more than other businesses, used bookstores are meeting grounds for the community to meet and discuss matters of community importance and then taking action.  Random collections of customers at Classics Used and Rare Books, for example, have volunteered to help restore a vandalized mural, provided back-to-school backpacks for foster kids, and knitted helmet liners for soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

In addition, used bookstores, far more than other businesses, provide space for community groups to meet.  Classics in Trenton, for example, has opened their space for Peoples and Stories, BOOST, the Urban Studies Group, the Trenton Scrabble Club, the Trenton Kids Books Club, Trenton Knit and Stitch and other community groups.

Support your community.  Support your used bookstores. 

Arts and Letters

Used bookstores are on the vanguard of supporting regional authors with booksigning opportunities and consignment sales to which chain bookstores can be insensitive.  In addition, cutting-edge used bookstores, like Classics in Trenton, find ways to offer additional support.  Classics published the Trenton Review, which features Trenton artists, authors and subjects including Pulitzer Prize-winning Trenton poet Yusef Komunyakaa and the infamous Trenton rock hall, City Gardens.

Support local arts and letters.  Support your used bookstores. 

Economic Development

Like they do in supporting local authors, used bookstores are far more receptive to selling products of local business people.  Nowhere besides Classics, for example, can you purchase Trenton bridge tee-shirts done by a Trenton artist, candles from two local candlemakers (Ana Candles and Messiah’s Candles), note cards depicting the Battles of Trenton, outlandish ties made by a Trenton seamster, a DVD on tomato pies produced by Trentonians, and music CD’s by Trenton artists like The Blue Method, Clarice Sabree and the musicians of Trenton2Nite.

Support local micro-businesses.  Support your used bookstores.