When I was six years old my mother took me to the library and I got my first library card. I felt like I had just been given the key to a wonderful treasure chest. I still feel that way. Like most of the booksellers I have met, I have always been an avid reader. During the summer when I did not have to go to school, I would ride the city bus to the nearest library, check out seven books which was the limit, read a book per day, and then take them back next week and get seven more. When I did not have something “age appropriate” to read, I sneaked my mother’s book-of-the-month club books and read them under the covers with a flashlight. I was like a junkie needing a fix.
Well I grew up and figured out that a family needs to eat, so I put down my books and went to work. I spent 30+ years in technology as a computer programmer, software project manager, systems engineer, etc. In 1996 I was working as a systems engineer in telecommunications and feeling burned out. I needed something to make life interesting again. So I started selling used and rare (mostly used) books online at Bibliofind.
Wow, this was fun! I haunted estate sales, friends of the library book sales, garage sales, and thrift stores looking for books to sell. I bought a bunch of dogs, but some of them sold. I did this as a hobby/sideline for several years. In 2002 I was laid off during what has been called “the telecommunications nuclear winter.” Unlike many of my laid off colleagues, I was happy. Now I could be a bookseller full-time and I had already made a lot of the usual start-up mistakes and learned from them.
At first when people asked me what my specialties were, I would say, “Whatever will sell.” I don’t say that anymore because specializing in certain areas has proven to be more profitable to me. I am a Texas native and a member of several environmental/green groups. A few years ago I attended the yearly symposium of one of these groups and took along an automobile filled with books on Texas history, Texas natural history, Texas geology, and Texas native flora and fauna. It was a good weekend and a lot of books went to new homes. It is such a joy to unite a book with someone who can appreciate it. Now the members look for me at the yearly meeting and contact me to find books for them.
I have also developed a specialty in old cookbooks. I found some of the 19th century authors of the more famous cookbooks to be interesting women. Children’s cookbooks of the 19th and early 20th century are often charming. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an article on my old cookbooks in their Food Section in August, 2006. Seeing what women in the 19th century had to do to just get a meal on the table increases my admiration for them.
I currently sell from a booth at a local antique mall, on ABE and Alibris, and from my own website. In addition to IOBA I also belong to the North Texas Booksellers’ Association, soon to be know as the Texas Booksellers’ Association. Like IOBA, this organization is also staffed by hardworking volunteers. The organization puts on the annual North Texas Book Fair in Ft. Worth each October. We just had our yearly fair and for many of us, it was successful. I am the membership chairperson and would be happy to answer any questions. We are pleased to have a number of members from outside Texas and would be even more pleased to have many more.
Shirley Dyess operates The Dust Jacket out of Irving, TX and can be contacted at http://www.thedustjacket.biz.