Friday, May 14, 2010

Turning the pages,

my excitement—and my pleasure at having discovered such a jewel—grew: A recipe for Sour Cream Hot Cakes by Charlie Chaplin? A Chicken Burgundy Style from Katharine Hepburn? A Crab Soup from Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt—Eleanor?! Another from Salvador Dalì? A Pineapple Sherbet from Elizabeth Arden? It seemed as though every other recipe had a famous name attached to it. Unbelievable as it felt, there it all was, in black ink on slightly yellowed paper, hidden behind a simple yet elegant blue-checkered cover—it was the 1949 edition’s, Bill explained, and quite different from the 1940 original, which he assured me was beautiful. I had to have it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

After a while,

Bill must have sensed that I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by his offerings—there was so much to discover, to learn, and so many pages to turn! With what I later realized was his typical graciousness, Bill turned to a couple of low shelves near a corner. These were vintage cookbooks, he explained, another passion of his. He pulled out Spécialités de la Maison and encouraged me to look through it, saying something like: “You’re French—you’ll appreciate this. It’s really quite a fun book: All kinds of great people from the ’40s are in there, and all to help France during the war.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

On what I recall as a chilly day,

Bill told me about his two-decades-long career dealing books, which started at the legendary Strand Book Store in Manhattan, and took me on a tour of High Valley Books' shelves. They were filled with hard-to-find volumes and vintage magazines about interior decoration, architecture, photography, art, fashion, the lives of society figures and of creators of all stripes—all topics I was interested in. He pulled out a dozen volumes, introducing me, among other things, to monographs about overlooked Italian architects, catalogues for early 20th-century European designers whose ideas were being mined by American decorators today, and illustrations by British artists whose work graced great classics of literature as well as landscape designing manuals. I was impressed. His taste was exquisite, his knowledge deep, and his ability to cross-reference and connect both books and figures in his collection awe-inspiring.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Luckily that September,

I had made a new friend, the coolest father in my youngest son’s nursery class. He spoke in a kind, soft voice, smiled often, and made thick plaid pants and corduroys look very stylish. We bonded: We were both spending long hours ferrying our children from Brooklyn to the very chic Upper East Side Lycée Français de New York and back again; I was a freelance writer specializing in design and architecture; William Hall was a rare and out-of-print books dealer who ran his business, High Valley Books, out of his living room. Happy to have made a new friend and desperate for ideas, I made an appointment to visit him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It was November 2008 and I was getting worried...

The publications for which I had long been writing—Elle Decor, Interior Design, Bookforum—were no longer calling me with assignments. Having always relied on their contacting me rather than my pitching them, I realized that I now had to do some research and find a good idea, a bright architect, or a beautiful home to propose as a story. But I was getting nowhere. I felt out of the loop and out of favor. It took me a few months to realize that I was experiencing the impact of the recession on my line of work...