Review: ‘The Last Bookseller’ by Gary Goodman

“A Ghost Story” is how Gary Goodman characterizes his memoir “The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade,” and there is a tinge of sepia among the pages. After all, it’s about a way of earning a living, which has changed drastically in recent years, thanks to the internet, but it’s also an overwhelming tale of thieves and counterfeiters, a man who would become king, celebrities and the infinite. search for gold – in this case books, rare, and how far some will go to acquire them.

Goodman is a bit dishonest when he tries to refute this: “Most bookseller’s memoirs are about finding a pamphlet by Edgar Allan Poe at the bottom of a coal mine and selling it for half a million dollars. Not this one.” His career may have been an accident, one he fell into in 1982, when he bought a “gloomy hole” from a used bookstore on St. Paul’s East Side, however, that he knew nothing about books did not prevent him from experiencing the adventures of his life.

The highlights of that adventure are Goodman’s encounters with these fakes and thieves, though he is quick to point out that “Some of the most educated and honorable people I have ever met were in the book business, but some of the most distasteful and illiterate were book people too. ” And some of the most infamous were home grown.

Goodman crossed paths with “Book Bandit,” St. Paul was a native of Stephen Blumberg, in 1989, when the thief walked into his Arcade Street bookstore. When asked if he needed help, Blumberg left. He stopped coming in when he found out that there was no rare book space or any rare books. Blumberg was arrested in 1990 after stealing 23,600 books worth about $ 20 million: “Unlike most book thieves, Blumberg did not steal the books to sell, but to ‘protect’ them from their current owners. (Not that selling the books was one of the reasons he was able to function undetected for so long.) “

Along with the stories about scalawags are stories from eccentric Twin Cities bookstores that Goodman clearly loves. Melvin McCosh, who owned a dilapidated 17-bedroom Lake Minnetonka mansion crammed with books and a Dinkytown bookstore frequented by Bob Dylan, is among them.

There is also a chapter devoted to hamsters – such as St. The Paul woman who “completely filled” three houses with books while searching for 12 family photo albums her mother sold when she was a girl – and valuable discoveries among floor-to-ceiling stacks and jumble of books. Interwoven are Goodman’s own rags-for-enough-money-to-send-six-kids-to-college-history, which includes owning St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers in Stillwater, North America’s first “book town”.

Appropriately, the tone is conversational (“As you might have guessed from his name, E. Forbes Smiley III was not your average guy,” for example). He tells his story as a man who has seen a thing or two and lived to tell about it, a story best settled over a beer in the corner of a bar. And if a treat from Goodman’s life or something taken from all his research does not quite fit the narrative? A footnote provides further details. Many, many footnotes, actually strewn like nuggets of gold in this treasure chest of a memoir.

Maren Longbella is the editor of Star Tribune.

The Last Bookstore: A Life in the Rare Bookstore

By: Gary Goodman.

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 200 pages, $ 19.95.

Event: 6.30pm December 9, Stillwater Public Library, hosted by Valley Bookseller. Sign up at

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