NovelTea Blog #0

Have you ever heard of Zane Grey? He was a writer who played a part in establishing the Western as the genre which refuses to die. Most of fiction’s rough riders, majestic countrysides, and saloon brawls owe something to Grey. Credit where it’s due, the guy wrote from experience. He was a cowboy who understood the American landscape, the habits of the wildlife, and the daily concerns of actual people on the frontier.

Proof of his literary influence resides in the legal battles he underwent to defend his work. Early Hollywood’s saddles-and-six-shooters owed him both respect and legal fees. Even when the copyright was settled, Grey became so convinced the book was better that he began playing a part in the film studios, setting the precedent for how books are adapted into film. He went on to write eighty-nine novels.

Overall, seems like an interesting guy. I’ve never read any of his work.

I know the above information because someone came to the NovelTea Bookstore in Truro, Nova Scotia. They hefted a pile of 70s reprints into my hands, thus making it my job to appraise them.

“Well,” I thought as I stared at a milk crate of twenty-plus books, “who is this guy?”

That pretty much did it. I had to research the guy no matter what. Luckily, it’s part of my job.

Hello, my name’s Brent. I’m the tall dude at the bookstore who looks like the lovechild of Yahtzee Croshaw and Ethan Hawke. Grew up in rural Ontario, taught English in rural Japan, and now I work in a bookstore while tinkering with my own fiction. I expect Hallmark to pull a Zane Grey for copying their plotlines with the broad strokes of my life.

Better Hallmark than Troma, at least.

If you’re wondering why I’m the one writing these posts, feel free to [judge] check out my other writing. I’ve got Japanese media analyses, an over-researched art history series, and an ongoing short fiction serial.

In any case, this isn’t about me. This is about books. Specifically, it’s about strange, cool, or interesting books that can be found around NovelTea. A little analysis, a little spotlight, and a lot of geeking out. And yes, for transparency, this is an advertisement. I don’t expect my boss (the Duchess of Hazzard) to put up posts of me gushing about the things which tempt my employee discount. It’s a business; we need to move stock.

Did I mention that the only remaining Zane Grey novel on our shelves is Riders of the Purple Sage, his bestselling work? (Is this subtle enough?)

That said, anything covered here is something that I think is worth your time. Will it be good? Maybe not. Old? Sometimes. Part of my job is to work with the antiques, but I also hope to use this space to highlight new works from Nova Scotian (or at least Canadian) authors. In case you haven’t guessed, the style will be not so much Tillyard as Tim Rogers.

The next post, our first real one, will be a better showcase of the format. A central book or author at the spotlight, with a coterie of other things from the store that I think are neat. If it’s here, it’s stuff that either can’t fit into a regular social media post.

(It’s also for people like me who find social media to be scary and confusing.)

The fact that we now have a first edition of Rebecca could go onto our regular social media. What can’t fit is why it was so cool to hold a copy of Dickens’ Hard Times. It’s cool because it was published by A. L. Burt Publishers company, a small press begun by a travelling salesman who started with dictionaries and branched out into fiction. I almost pulled up a catalogue of the company’s entire publishing history because I could find literally only one person on the entire Internet who’d heard of this edition. That led down the rabbit hole of learning about old Albert Levi Burt.

I’ve yet to decide his ratio of “magnificent” to “bastard”. Is it a grift or savvy business to sell a dictionary as a companion to a manual or reference book? Whatever the case, it worked for him. The travelling salesman settled in New York and began publishing dictionaries and old classics, like Dickens. Eventually, the guy became so successful that he was able to get new authors to work with him for their first editions. Among these end-of-the-century upstarts was the grandaddy of westerns: Zane Grey.

Never stop at one more page. Happy reading.

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