Shopping at the Strand with Michael Orthofer

How should one approach an overwhelming bookstore, namely the famous Strand in New York City?  Where to start, which books should you discard, and how do you make those final choices?  What if you could pick only three books to take home?

Michael Orthofer and I spent an hour together in the store, and our interaction was distilled into this 7:59 video.  Self-recommending!  And kudos to Jeff Holmes for doing the real work.

Here is my Conversations with Tyler dialogue with Michael Orthofer, the man who wants to read everything.


Who is the alpha in this burgeoning relationship between Tyler and Michael? Adolf Hitler loved Karl May (Einstein too) and his perception of america was greatly shaped by it.

Tyler, I really enjoy the new direction you're heading towards. Keep the inspirational material coming!

Agreed. This gave me mega-nostalgia for my serendipitous trips to The Strand when I was in school. Great video!

Come now, no reason to not provide a bit of background on the Creative Director for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University - 'Jeff joins Mercatus having worked most recently as a writer and producer at a creative agency in Atlanta, where he completed projects for The Coca-Cola Company, GE, Family Dollar, The High Museum of Art, and others. He got his start in filmmaking at Ken Burns’ Florentine Films, where he worked as a photo researcher on several PBS-broadcast documentaries.'

Dude, you are like a woman. You just love complaining don't you?

Now that's the sort of casual misogyny we've come to expect from a modal MR commenter!

Full CV and references available on request.

Some bookstores have a category for "miscellaneous", i.e. books that don't fit any other category. A bookseller once told me that it isn't the books you wasted money on that you regret, it's the ones you didn't buy. That was sage advice. I should have bought that book on cannablism.

" A bookseller once told me that it isn’t the books you wasted money on that you regret, it’s the ones you didn’t buy."

A bookseller would say it. A honey seller, whose honey I was not sure about, once told me it is not the bad honey you buy you regret, it's the good honey you didn't buy. Since the local bookstore closed down, I became deeply cynical.

"A bookseller would say it."

A used bookseller would say it. And a compulsive reader and bargain-shopper would know exactly what they meant. You're not going to regret not buying the new James Patterson. There will be stacks of those things in the remainder bins. But you might regret not buying that rare John D. MacDonald hardcover you found mis-shelved in the gardening section.

But you might regret not buying that rare John D. MacDonald hardcover you found mis-shelved in the gardening section."
I understand it, I attend the local second-hand books ("sebos", we call them), but I would never trust a bookseller-- in my experience, since the 90s, they are either soulless bureaucrats or crazy. Yet, funnily enough, the best bargains I have ever found, I found at online used bookstores. How it can be when everyone can see the same bargains, I don't understand.

What does he think of the Pevear translations?

Orthofer: "I'm not totally won over by them. It's not totally my style, but I think it's been good that they've gotten so much attention. "

The way to get the most out of a big bookstore like that is to have an idea what you are looking for before going in.

If it's a used bookstore, the best way is to explore the shelves that have produced good results in the past. Those are the rich veins that produce pay dirt. Unlike a mine, they are refreshed with time, so you can return in a few months and harvest again.

This has the makings of a Chico and Groucho routine:

"May I help you?"
"I'm looking for a book."
"Don't you already have one?"
"Yeah, but it's no good. I can't read it."
"I don't thing a new book is going to solve that problem. So what kind of book to you have in mind?"
"I don't know. What have you got?"
"Well, here's one on economics. You know what economics is, of course."
"Of course. Echo-nomics. It's about sound bouncing around."
"No, no, economics is about money."
"Ah, you mean it's about checks bouncing around. I'll take it."

I enjoy this series. Can we have them shopping for women in Vegas?

I am impressed he can read Norwegian, which is like an unsophisticated version of what a foreign language is - plug in the unfamiliar word for the familiar word, and there you are! But most people don't know that. (By the way, to a Norwegian, English is like an unsophisticated version of a foreign language - plug in the unfamiliar word for the familiar word, and there you are!) If you don't believe I know what I am talking about, try to obtain an interlinear version of one of Sigrid Undset's celestial paragraphs describing a medieval morning in a mountainous Norwegian valley. The impressed and happy thank yous will write themselves.

"describing a medieval morning in a mountainous Norwegian valley" should read "describing a spring-time medieval morning in a mountainous Norwegian valley." I don't often think or say this when it comes to how somebody deployed his or her words for a certain effect - almost all of which are fairly predictable effects, when you think about it ... the relation between the numerator words (limited to about 50k or so in a given language) and the denominator details of interest in any given subset of the world (a number many exponential multiples larger than the number of words available for description) being the ratio that it is ... but I don't remotely know how she did what she did with words.

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