The Last Bookseller

A Life in the Rare Book Trade

2021
Author:

Gary Goodman

THELASTBOOKSELLER.COM

THE LAST BOOKSELLER ON INSTAGRAM

A wry, unvarnished chronicle of a career in the rare book trade during its last Golden Age

In The Last Bookseller, Gary Goodman describes his sometimes desperate, sometimes hilarious career as a used and rare book dealer in Minnesota. As both a memoir and a history of booksellers and book scouts, criminals and collectors, The Last Bookseller offers an ultimately poignant account of the used and rare book business during its final Golden Age.

"The Last Bookseller is a readable and witty book that offers an insider’s account of a vital, disappearing trade. Packed with wry observations of colorful personalities, Gary Goodman not only captures an important moment in antiquarian book history—when a small river town in Minnesota becomes North America’s first ‘Book Town’—but also asks hard questions about what has been lost in the wake of new technology. At turns poignant, sharp, and laugh-out-loud funny, this memoir walks the fine line between being informative and wildly entertaining. Goodman offers a historical record of the book trade as well as preserving the untold stories of the men and women who made a living by selling words. Opening this book is like stepping into an old bookstore: wonders are around every corner."—Patrick Hicks, author of The Commandant of Lubizec and In the Shadow of Dora

When Gary Goodman wandered into a run-down, used-book shop that was going out of business in East St. Paul in 1982, he had no idea the visit would change his life. He walked in as a psychiatric counselor and walked out as the store’s new owner. In The Last Bookseller Goodman describes his sometimes desperate, sometimes hilarious career as a used and rare book dealer in Minnesota—the early struggles, the travels to estate sales and book fairs, the remarkable finds, and the bibliophiles, forgers, book thieves, and book hoarders he met along the way.

Here we meet the infamous St. Paul Book Bandit, Stephen Blumberg, who stole 24,000 rare books worth more than fifty million dollars; John Jenkins, the Texas rare book dealer who (probably) was murdered while standing in the middle of the Colorado River; and the eccentric Melvin McCosh, who filled his dilapidated Lake Minnetonka mansion with half a million books. In 1990, with a couple of partners, Goodman opened St. Croix Antiquarian Books in Stillwater, one of the Twin Cities region’s most venerable bookshops until it closed in 2017. This store became so successful and inspired so many other booksellers to move to town that Richard Booth, founder of the “book town” movement in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, declared Stillwater the First Book Town in North America.

The internet changed the book business forever, and Goodman details how, after 2000, the internet made stores like his obsolete. In the 1990s, the Twin Cities had nearly fifty secondhand bookshops; today, there are fewer than ten. As both a memoir and a history of booksellers and book scouts, criminals and collectors, The Last Bookseller offers an ultimately poignant account of the used and rare book business during its final Golden Age.

Gary Goodman is a semi-retired rare book dealer in Stillwater, Minnesota. He put six kids through college selling secondhand books, a feat that makes him a Genuine American Hero. He is coauthor of The Stillwater Booktown Times and The Secret History of Golf in Scotland.

The Last Bookseller is a readable and witty book that offers an insider’s account of a vital, disappearing trade. Packed with wry observations of colorful personalities, Gary Goodman not only captures an important moment in antiquarian book history—when a small river town in Minnesota becomes North America’s first ‘Book Town’—but also asks hard questions about what has been lost in the wake of new technology. At turns poignant, sharp, and laugh-out-loud funny, this memoir walks the fine line between being informative and wildly entertaining. Goodman offers a historical record of the book trade as well as preserving the untold stories of the men and women who made a living by selling words. Opening this book is like stepping into an old bookstore: wonders are around every corner.

Patrick Hicks, author of The Commandant of Lubizec and In the Shadow of Dora

The Last Bookseller is an extraordinary new book, a beautifully written firsthand account of the adventures of a man who was a mover and shaker in the book business for nearly half a century . . . a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant portrait of the larger-than-life characters, including the author himself, who dominated the world of books when books were sold by warm-blooded human beings instead of by soulless robots and a few mouse clicks. The Last Bookseller will be high on the must-read list of book lovers everywhere.

Mark Ziegler, author of Wordsongs

The Last Bookseller is the story of a dying breed—the traveling rare book dealers who roamed the earth at the end of the twentieth century. I knew Gary Goodman when he was selling books from a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in East St. Paul in the early 1980s. He went on to become one of the premier booksellers in the Midwest. In witty, unvarnished prose he describes what the book business was like before the internet drove the last booksellers to near extinction. This is a story that needed to be told.

Paul “The General” Kisselburg, Kisselburg Military Books

A well-written, engaging, educational inside account by an experienced bookseller of the contemporary antiquarian book business. Told with insight, analysis, and humor by one who survived the experience.

Steve Anderson, Ross & Haines Old Books

Luckily for readers, Gary Goodman tells his story with sardonic wit and good humor. The Dickensian parade of characters in this book world makes for delightful reading. Goodman’s journey from his Arcade Street shop in 1982 to the Stillwater Book Town several decades later traverses continents and centuries of a living (and dying) book trade. A great read!

Lynne Murphy, Valley Bookseller

Gary Goodman, a true bookman in every sense, offers us a long-awaited memoir of the rich antiquarian bookselling tradition in the Midwest. The Last Bookseller is a delightful, behind-the-scenes account of his resolute pursuit of rare books and the building of one of the great bookstores in the region. And while there is much to lament about the decline of fine secondhand bookshops, Goodman’s influence can still be found in those booksellers who strive to emulate his passion, integrity, and professionalism. Essential reading for anyone who has enjoyed the pleasures of a fine secondhand bookshop!

Judith Kissner, Scout & Morgan Books

A memoir from one of the last “hunter-gatherers in the book business.” Goodman has all the requisite irascibility for a bookseller . . . lots of fun anecdotes about book thieves, bibliomaniacs, and other familiars of the book business.

Kirkus Reviews

Highly recommended, partly for Goodman's portrait of a lost world, but also for its colorful dramatis personae.

The Washington Post

Contents

Introduction

1. Four Thousand Bad Books

2. Book Scouts and Dead Booksellers

3. Billions of Books

4. All for the Want of a Book

5. A Book Fair with the General

6. Bookman’s Alley and McCosh’s Mansion

7. Beating the Bushes

8. A Bookstore in Stillwater

9. Hoarding and Horse Barns

10. Travels to Book Towns

11. The King of Hay-on-Wye

12. The Mormon and the Map Thief

13. North America’s First Book Town

14. The Book Collectors

15. The Stillwater Booktown Times

16. The Beginning of the End

17. Survival Tactics

Epilogue

Appendix: Travel Journal

Acknowledgments

Bibliography