Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Many of you will notice I haven’t posted in quite a while. As happens to many of us, I became overly occupied with other things, and did not have the time to properly attend to the blog. It’s happened before, and perhaps it will happen again in the future, but for now my goal is to start posting again regularly. For all of you who have an itch to start something up again, but are hesitating because you feel like people will say, “Don’t you think it’s been too long?”, or that it won’t be the same as it was… Take the leap. Not having done something for a while is no reason not to try it again. In fact, it might be an argument in favor of doing it again. It’s never too late to start over, reinvent yourself, or become something different (and probably better!) than you were.

So, that’s my preamble. Look for regular posts from here onward, mostly related to books, reading, collecting, and the related historical and biographical information. Occasionally, though, I will post things a bit more general (the blog is called Musings, after all). Joining me this time around will be my most recently hired employee, Holly O’Brien, who is a fellow bibliophile with experience in the new book world, and eager to learn more about the used and antiquarian side of things.

Published in: on April 25, 2016 at 11:10 AM  Leave a Comment  

Webster Firemen’s Carnival & Parade

Tonight marks the beginning of the annual Fireman’s Carnival in Webster – the parade begins at 6:30 PM, and the carnival runs through Saturday night’s midnight fireworks display.

This year the parade is expected to be bigger than ever, as fire companies from farther afield than usual will be attending to show their support for Webster, which suffered the tragic loss of two firefighters in December of last year. Those who come to enjoy the parade and the carnival this year, make sure to send your thoughts and prayers to the families of Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, for whom this will be the first carnival since the tragedy. It will likely be a difficult weekend for them, and we at Yesterday’s Muse Books wish them all the best.

On a brighter note, another of the firefighters injured on that day recently returned to service. Our thanks go out to Joseph Hofstetter for his continued service, as well as to Theodore Scardino, who was also wounded and is still recovering.

Redoubled Efforts

After quite some time of not tending to my blog, I feel it’s time to give it another try. I realize now that, in previous incarnations of this blog, my attempts to post regularly were often hampered by excessive self-editing, a tendency to think that every entry needed to represent some significant contribution to the bookselling trade or the world. And while I’ll still try to make that the case whenever possible, I have come to understand that sometimes a quick post featuring a picture of one of the store’s resident cats, or a recreation of a slightly fragmented conversation between myself and an employee or customer, is not only acceptable, but a refreshing change.

With that in mind, I will dive into this again, with renewed resolve. Look for: the occasional book review; regular (but not religious) up-to-the-minute information on new arrivals; more extended commentary on highlights; informational articles about book buying, selling, trading, and collecting; reports on events in or around my shop, and throughout the trade in general; tidbits on literature, history, and local lore; and of course periodic musings in my previous style. Those who are familiar with our Facebook page know that we have a photo album called This Just In, which features photos of stacks of new inventory waiting to be shelved – I will be mirroring this here. I will also do my best to feature an interesting book from our stock in each post.

Watch for the occasional guest post by employees Robert Grenier and Neil Grayson, as well, though these will be infrequent enough to hide the fact that they are better writers than I. I’ll leave you with one of the cat photos I referenced earlier…

Ophelia, still a fan of her heated bed, even in summer.

Ophelia, still a fan of her heated bed, even in summer.


Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580


Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 12:23 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Journey as Destination

NOTE: This post was originally written in April of 2012.

I am writing this blog post aboard a train, on my way to New York City for the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair. The unique blend of anxiety and excitement that characterized the final days of preparation for the trip has subsided, and I finally have a few hours to relax.

As often happens when I travel by plane or train, I find myself musing on things philosophical. Something about gazing out a window as countryside hurtles past lends itself to reflection. (I’ll warn you now, this post will be one mostly dealing with thoughts on life in general, but worry not — I will tie it into books towards the end.)

The dialectic part of my brain can’t help but juxtapose the lazy idyllic landscapes with the quick steel of the train as it rumbles through. That dichotomy unearths the usual inquiries I tend to draw forth at times like these, most of which are comparisons of points on continua: leisure and work;  personal fulfillment and social responsibility; beauty and efficiency; love and friendship.

In life we continuously balance considerations such as these with one another, sometimes effectively, other times poorly, and I think our management of those balances determines how good we feel, and how effective we are in accomplishing our goals.

The problem is, most of us don’t view the relationships between these considerations the way we view other cyclical processes. Breathing in and breathing out are easy to think of as a single process. But thinking of work and leisure like this seems less instinctive. We have a tendency to elect one as the other’s superior, to favor it any time the two conflict.

It’s easy to tell when one is favoring breathing in or out too much – it’s uncomfortable, and not sustainable for very long. Other signs of imbalance are more subtle – we become irritable or agitated, less patient with minor inconveniences. What’s worse, we often ignore this feedback, or don’t link it to its cause, and continue behaving the same way. Sometimes this can make us pretty miserable people to be around (I can say this, I’ve been that guy – in fact, I was that guy when I was preparing for this trip).

Am I saying we need to avoid work? No. What I am suggesting is that, as a culture, we rearrange our way of looking at things. And here is where the title of this post comes in. Too often in life we conceive of things in a way that marginalizes some aspect of life. If we are headed to the store, the drive there becomes a nuisance. Our daily commute to work becomes a necessary chore. Our job is a necessary evil to sustain our lifestyle.

What this does is set parts of our life against one another. It makes us resent all the journeys for not being the destinations. That strikes me as a difficult way to live, and also as pretty boring, and definitely quite constricting. After all, if I make my life all about destinations, that means I need to know exactly where I’m going all the time.

If, instead, we embrace journeys as something to be valued, it changes the game. There need to be moments in life when we stop, look out the window of the train, and just think for a while.

Which brings me to books, and why I believe they are so important. Books give us that opportunity. They remove us from the incessant bustle of everything else; they demand quiet attention, and at the same time encourage us to relax. They are the window of the train, but better, because every book looks out on something different, brings you a different world, one you weren’t specifically looking for, one that has the potential to surprise and excite you, reinvigorate you, take you down a new path, or make you believe that something incredible is possible. They don’t just pick you up in Rochester and plop you down in New York City, they let you see everything in between.

It turns out a lot goes on between page one and ‘The End’. Don’t miss it.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Our Store in the Democrat and Chronicle

Our first major article has been printed and, lucky for us, it’s in the Democrat and Chronicle, which is widely read in the Rochester area. It’s going to be in the ‘Our Town’ insert which is found primarily in the Webster/Penfield copies. We’ve used the handy copy-and-paste feature so that everyone can read the article on here. If you’d like to share the article go to this link and click ‘share’ at the top to email it to your friends and family or put it on your facebook page! Here is the article:

Rare and used bookstore opens in Webster

“WEBSTER — Ask 27-year-old Jonathan Smalter what he’s most proud of in his bookstore, and he’ll probably lead you to the rare book room and point to a first-edition copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The book, priced at $3,500, is by far the most expensive item in Yesterday’s Muse.

Smalter’s used bookstore opened in December on West Main Street in the village of Webster. The store has several rare books and thousands of regular used books, from genre fiction to literary fiction to books on local history.

The store has the crisp feel of a new bookstore. Every book has a price tag. Tables of books are scattered throughout, and Smalter changes the theme of each table every couple of months.

In honor of spring, he now has tables for sports books, cookbooks, gardening books and Christian books (a nod to Easter).

Smalter’s girlfriend, Kristine Rinebold, handles data entry, promotions, customer inquiries and aspects of the store’s Web site. She also contributes to the bookstore’s blog.

“We’ll call her the Jill of all trades,” Smalter said. “She’s kind of amazing.”

The bookstore even has a resident tabby cat, Ophelia Paige, who recently wandered in as a stray.

While the physical incarnation of Yesterday’s Muse was born during a recession, Smalter has been building his bookselling career online for years. The Webster native started buying used books at garage sales and library sales when he was a philosophy major at Nazareth College. He began to learn what sorts of books would sell well on the Internet.

“I sold books out of my closet,” Smalter said. “I bought a ton of stuff and I was wrong about a lot of it.”

Some books sell quickly online for a decent profit; other titles have too many copies available on the Internet and are harder to sell, he says.

With time, Smalter has developed an eye for which titles are worth his while.

Smalter got into the book business as a teenager. The first job he ever held was unrelated: He worked as a dishwasher in the Chinese food department at Wegmans

ut Smalter’s mother encouraged him to find a job that wouldn’t send him home smelling like soy sauce and grease, and since he knew someone working at Webster Village Used Book Store, he applied for a data-entry position.

Store owner Tim Ryan hired Smalter, who was 17 at the time. He worked there for three years.

Then he sold books out of his closet for a time. And after graduating from Nazareth in 2003, he moved home and sold books out of his parents’ attic.

He had accounts with Amazon Marketplace and, among others. Eventually, he started Yesterday’s Muse as an online-only store.

Now he has a 15,000-book collection. About half of the books are displayed in his store; the rest are in storage. They’re almost all for sale online.

The trick to Smalter’s business, he says, is maximizing the different strengths of online and in-store sales. Books that don’t sell well on the Internet, such as popular fiction titles, fly out of his store.

Obscure titles might fetch a profit online, but could sit on a store shelf for months.

Gardner J. Ryan of Irondequoit was driving down Main Street a couple of months ago when he noticed the sign for Yesterday’s Muse.

“I thought, my goodness, there’s a bookstore I haven’t been in,” Ryan said.

Ryan says he’s impressed with the store’s clean layout. He’s also sold 12 boxes of books to Smalter. Ryan’s personal book collection once included about 3,000 titles, he said, though he has cut it by a third.

He’s told all his book friends about the store and has brought people in to see it, he said.

Trish Corcoran and her 4-year-old daughter, Eva Nielson, are two regular customers of Smalter’s store. Although they live in Ontario, Wayne County, they do a lot of shopping in Webster.

Corcoran was excited to discover Yesterday’s Muse.

“I was brokenhearted when Brown Bag (Book Shop) closed in the city,” she said, referring to the Monroe Avenue store that shut down last year.

Corcoran, who is in a book club, enjoys used bookstores because she can buy book club books that she may not normally have bought on her own, and she doesn’t have to spend a fortune.

She says she can afford to buy her children books more often at Yesterday’s Muse.

Her 12-year-old son, Bjarne Nielson, is also an avid reader.

And Corcoran enjoys getting store credit when she sells Smalter some of her own books.

“It’s nice to recycle your books,” she said.

“Books that I’ve enjoyed are going to another home rather than collecting dust on my shelves.”

Hope you enjoyed the article and to see you at the store sometime soon! Visit our website at for information on how to contact us or to browse for a book or two.

Ebb and Flow

It’s interesting to see the way the world ebbs and flows with time. Different cultures have their own ways of representing this phenomenon, but the idea of a sort of circular pattern, a breathing in and out, a pulse, even, is quite universal. Right now we are seeing an ebb on many fronts. Economically, things are receding (hence the term recession). Environmentally, the quality of our world is changing in frightening ways.

Any student of history, though, realizes that this is part of a greater cycle. What is important to study is the duration of these cycles, and what affects it. It is also important to acknowledge that, while the ebb phase of the cycle can be painful, it is inextricably bound up with the flow. They are, essentially, one process. We must accept the bad times as readily as the good times, because each is part and parcel of the other.

Eastern philosophy explains this with its concept of yin and yang, which unfortunately are viewed by most people to represent good and evil — in reality, it is more accurate to depict them as heads and tails on the same coin. They work with each other, not against each other. Like the wind-up and swing of a baseball bat, they are separate parts of the same action.

It is difficult to keep this perspective at the forefront of our minds as people lose jobs, homes, and retirement funds. Sadly, even holding onto the proper perspective does not shield us from the effects of what is a particularly drastic ebb. But we must have faith in the process.


At the risk of waxing philosophical, I’ve decided to write about the concept of value. This is a subject I deal with daily at work as I assess how much store credit or cash to give customers for their used books, and as I price new inventory. It used to be that the word ‘value’ indicated the inherent worth of an item, or alluded to some benefit gained from having it, hence the term ‘valuable’. Most things can possess value — there are valuable pieces of information, valuable books, valuable friendships…

A problem I’ve been seeing lately, though, is that the word ‘value’ has become misused. Companies advertise ‘better value’, when really what they are pointing out is a reduction in price: direct mail coupons are termed the ‘ValPak’; bulk foods are marked Value Size.

Unfortunately, what people have taken away from this is that the way to get a better value is to try to get the same thing for less money.

In response to this, companies have changed their strategy. Rather than trying to have the best product, many simply try to have the cheapest. Consumers initially thought this was great — paying less money has to be better, right?

That was true initially, but it’s become a slippery slope. Now companies launching new products are looking at how to make them even cheaper than the last. And they’re doing that by subtracting value. Products don’t last as long (this is a strategy called ‘planned obsolescence‘). The ingredients they include aren’t as good. The problem is, we as consumers have not pushed back enough. Companies have lowered their standards of quality, and we have gone right along with them. They are looking for the quality floor (i.e. how low they can go), and we haven’t shown it to them yet.

At some point (and in some cases that point has already been reached), this is going to have a very real effect on our society. Cheaper isn’t always better. We all know this, deep down. We all realize that something is being sacrificed along the way. Whether it be the wages of those producing the goods, the health of those consuming them, the overall economic health of the world… skimping on quality is not sustainable. Neither is skimping on service. And yet these are things we continue to shoulder more and more in modern society.

Remember when milk used to be delivered to people’s doors? Remember when all gas stations were full service? I don’t. But it used to be the case. I’m 26. It hasn’t been that long, and we’ve gone from a society where companies bend over backwards with service incentives to win our business, to one where we save a few bucks here and there. So the question for all of us becomes… does this sound like value to you?

Today’s book:

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The first volume in a favorite fantasy adventure series of mine, entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. This is an epic novel, grand in scope, original in content, rich with numerous interesting characters. And the interesting part about Martin’s approach — no one is safe. Gone are the days of traditional fantasy, where no matter the predicament the protagonist finds him/herself in, they are impervious to harm. Martin keeps you guessing with every page, which speaks to his talent, considering each book in this series is a hefty tome (500-700 pages).

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 5:26 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Ophelia Paige’s Meet and Greet!

This is Ophelia Paige, our bookstore cat. Ophelia

A few weeks ago, probably 3 at this point, this sweet little cat wandered to our door. Jonathan was at the store alone for once and I was over at the apartment getting ready to have dinner with a friend. He calls me and says: ‘Kristine! There is a cat meowing at our door… what should I do?’ And of course I respond ‘Let it in! It’s freezing out!’ I brought food over for her but apparently by the time we had gotten off of the phone she was already gone, wandering off in search of other adventures.

Being the bleeding heart that I am I call my friend, Sam, and tell him that I needed to rescue a cat and was going to be late. He grudgingly understood  and Jonathan and I bundled up for the winter night and headed out in search of the elusive feline. Behind our bookstore is a construction site where they are building a new firehouse (yay!) and rolling around in the dirt is a shadowy figure who looks suspiciously like an adorable kitty.

We talk to her from where we stand and she meows back, almost as if to say ‘Hey, I was wondering when you’d get here. Can we go inside now?’
She allows Jon to pick her up and take her in where she explores the store fearlessly — eating her delicious canned food and indulging in some fresh water, content to finally be in a warm, safe place.

We took her to the vet in the following weeks after no one called us to claim her from the ads we posted.
She was not microchipped and was indeed a feral cat who had chosen the perfect home.

Ophelia Paige now enjoys the same creature comforts as every bookstore cat, such as never-ending attention, a soft cat bed, many mice toys, a gigantic cardboard box fort, and a boundless amount of love from all who meet her. Anyone interested in coming to meet her is welcome, though we can’t promise she won’t be sleeping in her favorite spot — a J. Jill paper shopping bag under the checkout counter.

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 4:02 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Rainy with a chance of showers

It’s been a rainy week here in upstate New York, which is typical for this time of year. It’s interesting to see, though, how despite all our technological innovations, despite all the conveniences we now enjoy… weather still wins. No matter what we throw at her, mother nature can basically swat us like flies. It’s humbling, and in an important way, I think. We need to know that we are not the center of things, even though our senses would have us believe otherwise. We need to realize we are part of something greater, and try to figure out where we fit into that. Easily said, right? Well, luckily, I think that the process is the important part — learning, adapting, trying new things… the truth is, there is no answer, no end of the rainbow. But we need to behave as if there is, because that is what life is about. What weather tells me is that this world isn’t here for me — it’s the other way around. It will be here long after I’m gone. What I need to decide is what part I want to play in the ongoing cosmic game. Am I going to treat a rainy day like a wasted chance, or am I going to learn to live with what I’m given? Once we ask the question, the answer is easy — the problem is, many of us never do.

Today’s book:

Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 6:21 PM  Leave a Comment  
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What sets us apart?

There are a lot of people in the world. 6 or 7 billion. If you can’t wrap your head around that number, you’re not alone. To give you an idea — at a second per count, it would take over 190 years to count to 6 billion. So, in what is effectively an endless sea of people, how do you set yourself apart? What makes you special? If you are one in six billion, what is the probability that you could be the best at what you do? How can you compete against those odds?

My answer: giving that little extra. I have never been one to do the bare minimum. I need to push myself, I thrive on challenges, and I rarely hear myself say, “That’s good enough.” Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I do what I do better than anyone else. I would describe myself as competent, but there are many people, whether through experience or raw skill, who do my job better than I do, who are better than me at the games I like to play, or who know little tricks of the trade that give them that competitive edge.

So, I ask again, how can I compete? I know, for instance, that what I bring to the table is a willingness to challenge myself, and to work hard every day. I am also constantly reassessing what I do, trying to figure out ways to do it better. But what it your little extra? What skill or quality do you possess that determines how you do what you do? What do you do differently that lets you say, not just ‘I did it’, but ‘I did it well’?

I may not be the one to answer that question. But there is a reason I asked it. Take a look at my last post (which happened to be my first). A pretty standard introductory blog post — I said who I am, what I do, and why I do it. Lots of people have done that before, so nothing new there. But I took some extra time and went through the post, picked out what I thought might be interesting things to learn a little bit more about, and set up links for them. Some I directed to Wikipedia entries. Some I linked to organization websites. I asked myself, “Why would someone want to read my blog?” And then I asked myself, “What is going to make that person want to read my blog again?”

Nothing incredible, sure, but it was something extra. And that, I think, is what people want to see. In friends, in products, in service, in romantic relationships… they want to be able to see clearly what makes that person, that thing, that place, stand out. So relax, you don’t need to be the best at what you do. You just need to strive to be unique. Be the best you that you can be. And I suppose life is about figuring out who you want ‘you’ to be. And for me, that involves soaking up as much information as I can, every day.

That’s part of what drew me to books. And for that reason, I plan to feature one book with each post I make to this blog. Not just any book, but a book that I think is worth mentioning, because it presents a new idea, gives us a new way of looking at the world, or otherwise contributes to improving our lives, either by providing intellectual stimulation, or a much-needed dose of entertainment.

Today’s book:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point

This celebrated New York Times bestseller… is a book that is changing the way North Americans think about selling products and disseminating ideas. Gladwell’s new afterword to this edition describes how readers can constructively apply the tipping point principle in their own lives and work. Widely hailed as an important work that offers not only a road map to business success but also a profoundly encouraging approach to solving social problems.
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