Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Thank you, Anne Fadiman

   Anne Fadiman may be responsible for riverrun’s survival and we never thanked her properly.  In fact, though profoundly grateful, we never thanked her at all.
     The transition from riverrun owner Frank Scioscia, who always subsidized the bookstore quite heavily, to his son in law Chris Stephens, who did not have the luxury of outside funds, was fraught with peril.  At one very dark moment I was beginning to wonder if we could make it.
Then there was a miracle.  Someone told us that they’d read a zippy article about the store.  Several other customers came in telling us how they’d read of riverrun in a complimentary article by Anne Fadiman.  We didn’t know Anne Fadiman.  A stranger had discovered us!
     Someone brought us the article from the Library of Congress magazine, Civilization.  We loved it.  It isn’t really an essay about riverrun.  It is an essay about the love of books, the way books furnish an outward environment for the inward self, and about a husband who has the good sense to share one’s love of books.  Only incidentally does the essay mention a birthday surprise expedition to riverrun bookshop, the long browse there, and the 19-pound purchase carried back to New York City.  The way we read it though, it was an essay about riverrun.  It buoyed our spirit and strengthened our will and eased our way across the difficult transition.
     We taped that article to the front windows of riverrun and it continued to smile at us daily as we came into the store.
     Seasons passed.  The ink from the article transferred itself to the window glass.  The paper became brown and tattered but remained in place until the landlady had to replace the store windows.
     Gone with the discarded old windows!  Why hadn’t we made copies of the article when it was fresh and new and still readable?
     No matter.  Anne Fadiman’s collected essays from Civilization were published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in a wonderful book called Ex Libris.  The essay mentioning riverrun is the last in the book, “Secondhand Prose”.  Clever.
     My first copy of Ex Libris was given to Chris and me by a beaming customer.  Re-reading “Secondhand Prose” was such a pleasure that I read and reread every essay in the book, oblivious to all else.  I read them again today when I took this book out to scan for the blog.
    These essays are perfect.  I wanted more.  Luckily there are more.  I just ordered another couple of books by Anne Fadiman.  At Large and At Small and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  I have a treat coming in the mail.
     Not everyone knows about these jewels.  Why not? For one thing essays are hard to categorize.  I know of a case of mis-categorization.
     Our daughter Mary – quite a good bookwoman herself – was working at a bookstore in Memphis.  Mary was keeping a low profile for reasons of her own, but she couldn’t keep silent when she saw Ex Libris shelved in the foreign language section.  “This book isn’t written in a foreign language,” she told another worker.
    “It isn’t?”  He stared at the title, baffled.
     If I had been Mary, I’d have stood on a chair waving the book in the air and making noise.  “This book mentions my family’s bookstore,” I would have shouted.  “And it belongs in a high visibility spot so people can buy these superb essays!”

     I thank Fadiman for those superb essays.  They are a delight to read and to reread.  I also thank her for mentioning riverrun at a point in history when the bookshop might have winked out of existence.

    Thank you, Anne Fadiman, thank you!

Books by Anne Fadiman (all readily available)

Ex Libris
At Large and At Small
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Rereading: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (edited by Fadiman)

Bio from Yale:

article and interview from Atlantic online:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Isaac Asimov

photo by Chris Stephen at NY Book Fair in 1970s

   Isaac Asimov was a scientist and an historian.  He wrote what seems like millions of books (really just over a half thousand).  Most famously, he wrote science fiction but he also wrote an analytic critique of Shakespeare’s plays and he wrote mysteries and hard science and philosophical speculation about the future of humanity.  Through his heroic futuristic novels he opened up, not only the possibility but, the expectation of commonplace human space travel.
   As a young girl, I read Inside the Atom by Asimov and as a teenager I read his sci fi.  I believed it all.
   Asimov was part of an optimistic generation that had survived both the Great Depression and the second world war.  Asimov helped to popularize the miraculous march of science. He and others promised children more from harnessing the power of the atom and more from the space program than has yet been delivered.
   No matter.  He wrote so well that I still believe him.  I’m ready for the spaceports, when they’re built.  At that time I’ll rocket out to explore the great cosmos.  In the meantime I’ll settle into a comfy chair and read another interesting book by Isaac Asimov.

                                                 Isaac Asimov  1920 - 1992

A very appealing 1988 interview of Isaac Asimov by a young Polish
fan, Slawek Wojtowic

A good overall website for Asimov by Edward Seiler

youtube of Asimov extolling the present and future use of computers with libraries of knowledge available to peruse at one’s own speed and along the lines of one’s own interests.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the missing bit more

Even as a Little Kid, Chris Stephens was a Big Reader.  He was a library regular.  He had an inquisitive mind too, but overwhelmlngly his was an acquisitive mind.  He acquired knowledge.  He acquired information.  He wanted to know things.
     Young Chris read about animals and trees and Native American tribes.  He read history and etymology.  He read about countries where the stamps in his stamp collection originated.  He read about coins and about moths and butterflies.
     Much later, when I met him, he was still collecting butterflies.  He looked great leaping through meadows with his net held high above his head.  Like Vladimir Nabokov, Chris collected moths, butterflies and interesting words.
     Young Chris read mostly non-fiction, but he read some fiction too.  Cowboy fiction.  Science fiction.  Baseball stories.  Comic books.
     Chris acquired so darned much information that he seemed a perfect candidate for the Quiz Kids Radio Show.  In the “green room”, before the show started, the personable Quiz Kids host chatted with Chris, taking notes with which to later betray Chris.
     Young Chris was too short to reach the microphone so an assistant got a couple of telephone books to put on Chris’ chair.  I don’t think those 4-inch thick telephone books even exist nowadays.  Three other kids sat at the table.  They were able to speak into their microphones without the assistance of height boosters.
     The red light went on for live radio.  The host asked questions.  Three little geniuses were eager to answer.  Not Chris.  It wasn’t his style.
    When Chris sat on his hands, even for easy questions, the host took out his notes and asked the kids obscure questions about Native Americans and insects and tiny countries that issued lovely stamps.  The other kids scowled.  Only Chris knew these particular answers.  He didn’t raise his hand though.  Didn’t want to.
    But it was radio.  No one could see whose hand was up and whose hand was quite resolutely down.
     “Ah.  I see little Chris Stephens has his hand up”, lied the host smoothly.  Trapped on live radio by an entertainment professional, Chris was forced to answer questions. He didn’t like it though, and wouldn’t come back to the show.
     Chris went back to the hobbies he loved: collecting interesting things and reading lots of books.  Now, ten Little Chris lifetimes along, these are hobbies he continues to love.
     His disinterests have endured all this time too.  For instance, I’ve always thought that Chris and I would make a great vaudevillian-style comedy team.  His extremely dry humor cracks me up.  He would be the straight man, delivering very funny lines without breaking a smile. For contrast, I’d be only too happy to ham it up a bit.
     Alas.  Even after all this time to reconsider, Christopher Stephens still has no interest in show business.

Clips from old quiz kids shows (Chris’ single show is not included)

NY Times article about Vladimir Nabokov and his alternate identity as  lepidopterist extrodinaire