Oct 2, 1996
In Richard Gildenmeister’s apartment just off Shaker Square, I feel as if I am cocooned in a literary womb. Here, I am protected by the thousands of books that clutter the shelves, the tables, the chairs and even the floor of Gildenmeister’s bachelor pad. In forty-one years of book selling and twenty-four years living in this humongous but jumbled flat, Gildenmeister has amassed a library to rival any kingly collection. But not only is Gildenmeister’s list impressive at about 8,500 titles and tomes-nearly half of those are signed, first edition copies of some of the most famous books of the last fifty years, many with personal notes of thanks from the authors to Richard. The most indicative of these is in James Michener’s Centennial: “Book general, keep the armies moving.”
Indeed, the man loves to lead people to books. Since selling his first book in September 1955 at Higbee’s department store bookshop (under the direction of the maverick Anne Udin, who ran the first newspaper advertisement for a then-un known Dr. Seuss) Gildenmeister has effusively demonstrated his ability to put the hottest of bestsellers and the vaguest of requests into the hands of his customers. Once owner of the Richard Gildenmeister Bookshop on the Square, and now a ten-year veteran of Beachwood’s Booksellers, Richard’s vivacious promotion of reading has left him little time to read any of the hundreds of books he’s collected.
“My detractors may say that I haven’t read enough, but I’ve enjoyed introducing people to books-and their authors-much more,” he says. Local radio personality and community events organizer Rena Blumberg is one of his avid boosters. “Richard knows the soul of the reader,” she says. “He’s a special breed.”
This month, the public is invited to see “Richard Gildenmeister: A Man & His Books,” a sampling of Gildenmeister’s signed books at Cleveland Public Library’s main branch, on exhibit during normal library hours from October 25 through the end of December.
“These books, I hope, will be the basis for my memoirs,” says Gildenmeister, whose working title is A Funny Thing Happened To Me on the Way to the Booksigning. In it, he says, he will recount a number of stories that, like the signed books collected in his apartment, attest to his inimitable way of touching the writers and authors who reach us through their books.
“I’ve got five stories to tell about Lauren Bacall alone,” he laughs. Not to mention tales about Maya Angelou, Robert Kennedy, Rex Reed-and a host of others about the friends, acquaintances, customers and strangers who have come to Gildenmeister for forty years to be inspired by his enthusiastic love of books.
Anton Zuiker ☄
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