A French friend told me that the acronym for Zoe Abrams Rare Books – “ZARB” – is verlan (slang formed by reversing syllables, e.g., l’envers) for “bizarre.” Fitting! The past six months have been a whirlwind of auctions, flea markets, brocantes, book fairs, dealer visits across Europe, and lots of exciting material coming and going here at ZARB, our bizarre little enterprise. With two lists down and a third in the works, I’ve learned a lot. For example, did you know cliché is a printing term? From clicher, to make a stereotype, which is also a printing term meaning a plate made from composed type. I’m not the type to go on pedantically so… never mind.
What is a typical ZARB day like? I go to the office as early as possible, meaning I make coffee in the kitchen and then shuffle to my desk a few feet away. With such a short commute, there’s more time for my favorite activities: searching sale catalogs and, if I find something for a client or inventory, or just if I think it’s worth going, visiting book venues across Paris. Depending on what’s in my email I could be out the door and off to an auction, fair, market, or shop, sometimes with very little notice. Or, I could be at my desk all day cataloguing the material I already have. When I’ve done enough writing and research at home, I take my laptop to the Bibliothèque Nationale, a research palace with excellent vending machines, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a forest in the center of the building, and a movie theater across the plaza.
Since almost the moment we arrived in Paris from New York, my husband and I have been traveling a lot. When we’re in a foreign city, I spend all day at local bookshops or markets. It is really fun but it is also real work! There’s a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time; I try to look at everything but I buy very selectively. Clothes get dirty, occupational hazard. At the end of each trip, I enter my new inventory in my database and calculate costs. When inventory reaches critical mass, I make a list of items to sell. Of course there are also special books I’m saving on the shelf, but, as a wise colleague once said, “it isn’t a business if you aren’t selling.” To that end I also frequently make offers hors serie.
Most of my routine I learned from working with and watching other dealers, to whom I owe a lot. However every small business is different and I love being on my own schedule. À Paris, mon rêve! The bibliosphere here is incredible. So many bookshops, you could barely visit them all in a year; so many sales, you wish you could be in three places at once; so many catalogs, you could spend days reading them. At some point you have to prioritize and actually sell something to fund the next adventure — which is exactly what I’ll be doing today!
I leave you with this rubber stamp wisdom:
“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.