COMMUNITY NEWS: LIFELONG LOVE OF BOOKS BECOMES A BUSINESS
by Daphne Abeel, Armenian Mirror Spectator, May 10, 2003
Newton, Mass. -- For Marash Girl, a lifelong fascination with and love of books has led to a business, which she conducts from her large, rambling house in Newton. The ceiling-high shelves, which run the length of the hallways on the second and third floor house well over 30,000 volumes which provide the basis for the free global book search she offers to her customers. Said Marash Girl, :I think I got interested in books because of my father, Peter Bilezikian. He is a Genocide survivor from Marash. He had no early schooling but he did attend public schools in Brighton and Watertown. He didn't go to college. He always worked with his hands as a refrigerator repairman or electrician, but when he came home, he would sit down and start to read."
Her mother, whose family came from Aintab, also encouraged Marash Girl to read. "Whenever she saw me reading, she told me it was the most important thing."
Marash Girl remembers that one of her father's Yankee customers gave her family a library of books when she moved from Newton to Marshfield.
And she remembers vividly the first time she ever bought a book of her own. "I went with my father to a church book sale in Weston. We pored over the titles, and they couldn't have cost very much. We each chose a book and went home with our little treasures."
Marash Girl's interest in reading and education took her through Newton High School and to Radcliffe College, and later to Yale and Columbia Universities where she received two masters degrees -- in teaching and guidance counseling. It was at Radcliffe that she learned to speak and write Armenian. "My parents really didn't speak Armenian as they had both grown up in Turkey. My father learned Armenian when I brought my books home. He taught himself at the age of 47.
While at Yale, she embarked upon a second book-buying spree. Yale University sold off a number of illustrated books that had been published in the 18th and 19th centuries. "I wasn't interested in collecting at the time, but I bought a number of those beautifully bound and illustrated books," Marash Girl recalled.
Marash Girl embarked upon a teaching career at Lexington High School, moving later to the Boston Publich Schools. She also worked as a guidance counselor at Newton High School, but gave up her teaching career to raise four children with her husband whom she met at Harvard.
"Of course, I read to my children all the time . . . every gook in the library. Then, when my children enrolled at the AGBU Armenian School in Watertown, the principal, Gloria Hagopian, encouraged me to put together a children's library there."
Marash Girl gathered thousands of books, by going to book sales, yard sales and to the New England Mobile Book Fair, which sold children's books for a dollar apiece. She and other mothers at the school catalogued the books according to the Dewey decimal system.
Her first real business enterprise was Vintage and Classic Cookbooks, which she started in 1986. "I had always collected cookbooks, but I actually bought a huge collection, and I was even mentioned in the New York Times. I advertised in the Antiquarian Bookmabn's Weekly."
Marash Girl says she barely broke even, almost never selling a book for over $10. "I really did it for the fun. What charged for the books just covered the mailing, the postage and the printing of the catalogue."
Eventually, she gave the cookbook collection to the Bryn Mawr Bookstore in Cambridge, but a few years later, with the advent of the internet, Marash Girl found some of her old customers coming back to her.
Michael & Helen Selzer, friends, who owned several bookstores in western Massachusets had started an internet book service called Bibliofind. They urged Marash Girl to get back into the book business. "They told me, - you can be in the game with the big boys - and so I joined Bibliofind, which allowed me to upload to a generic book site."
Marash Girl does far more than simply sell a book to a customer. "It probably takes 20 minutes to a half an hour to actually do a listing. When you're buying on the internet, you don't always know what you're going to get. When I sell a book, I clean it up, I flip through the pages, put mylar on the jacket. If a book needs repair, I let people know."
The pricing of a book depends totally on supply and demand, said Marash Girl. She gives as an example a title, THE PRINCIPLES OF KNITTING which had a single printing in 1986. "This is a niche book. It's the bible for knitters and copy will now go for $250 to $300."
Marash Girl emphasizes that her search for hard-to-find, out-of-print books is free. "A lot of places like Waldenbooks will charge $10 to do a search, so what we are offering is valuable service."
One of the most unusual finds she has made was turning up a copy of SON OF THE WOLF, a novel by Jack London. Published by Houghton Mifflin in 1900, the book had no spine and was virtually falling apart. Not certain that it was a first edition, she listed the book for $50. It was bought by a Harvard graduate student. The book, in a sense, has changed his life. Recently, Charkoudian received an email from him telling her that the book was probably imperfect sheets and may have been used to train a binder's apprentice. He will be the featured speaker at the Jack London Foundation next year and will lecture on the relationship between Jack London and Houghton Mifflin.
"He'd been looking for this book for 10 years, and I was able to find it for him in one day. That's what makes me happy in this business. There's the thrill of just buying and selling books, but it's not the money you make. It's making people happy, finding a book that someone hasn't seen since they were 5. I mostly sell to ordinary people, not to collectors. I think of myself as a friend to my customers, who shares their love of books."
Marash Girl is available to give free lectures on out-of-print books. Her website is http://www.OldCornerBooks.com
And that's the story, as Daphne Abeel told it 20 years ago! The story continues, as Marash Girl continues to serve the booklovers of the world through her website, http://www.OldCornerBooks.com.
Be sure to take the time to visit one day soon . . . the book you love may be just around the corner!