The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade

The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade

Thursday, December 9 | 6:30 PM:

Join us for a conversation with author Gary Goodman about his newly released book The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade. This program is presented in partnership with the University of Minnesota Press and Valley Bookseller.

Registration is required. Register here.  Valley Bookseller will be selling copies of the book at the event.

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.

Goodman is indeed the last of a special kind of bookseller. For many decades he owned and operated various antiquarian bookstores around the Twin Cities and he was quite good at it, because as his author bio notes: he put six kids through college selling secondhand books, a feat that makes him a Genuine American Hero. There are plenty of other bookseller diaries out there, in fact, that’s a pretty active subgenre unto itself, but there have been relatively few books on the rare and used side of the book trade and even fewer that are as entertaining as Goodman’s. The Last Bookseller describes his career as a used and rare book dealer before, during, and after the seismic shift to online book dealing.