AbeBooks Sellers Jo Ann and Don

Jo Ann and Don

Jo Ann Reisler and her husband Don have been in the bookselling business since 1970 and have been selling on AbeBooks since 1998. Starting purely by chance, Jo Ann began what was to be her future career looking for some nice books for her young daughter to read, and stumbled upon some used bookstores. Learning that she had an eye for the older titles she began to accumulate more and more volumes. As the books began to pile up it occurred to her that other people might also enjoy these books as much as she did. Jo Ann decided to test the theory and took up an ad in the Washington Post. Post readers saw the ad, came to buy their books, and away they went.

For years Jo Ann worked more than full time and Don helped out part time while continuing to run his consulting company of 25 years. Don often took off for book events leaving his employees to do the work. “I always thought it showed a great ability to delegate, apparently some of them may have claimed abandonment. Who knows!” Don says with a laugh. Over time the allure of the books was too great, “I became tired of my clients and in turn they became tired of me, it worked out perfectly.” Don’s consulting days then went into the history books cementing the husband and wife team as booksellers though and through.

The couple work on their own, from their home, selling by appointment and online and continue to operate their business on their own terms. “After having managed numbers of employees for many years I wanted nothing further to do with management; Jo Ann never had the joy of managing others (except for myself which is its own special and consuming challenge) and she also wanted no part of management. Therefore, we decided if the business reached the size where we could not take care of all things ourselves, we would need to reconfigure.”

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Specialists in children's literature Jo Ann and Don exude a passion for the books they sell. "We were never generalists but started focused from the first day, and will continue this way until the very end", explains Don.

Browsing though Jo Ann Reisler's online catalogue you will no doubt find the books of your childhood. For me Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss were some of the first books I remember as a child and their old covers bring back fond memories. The Reisler's vaults hold not only books but amazing water colours and other illustrations from the pages of Mother Goose, Sleeping Beauty, Wind and the Willows and many more.

"In general we find that issuing print catalogues is a major part of our business and the on line selling is a complement to the central focus of our work. We do all aspects of the print catalogues from research to writing to layout to scanning and photographing so that the final product leaves our house on DVD ready to go for commercial printing. Each catalogue is a multi-month project and in the past 15 years we have issued about 75 such catalogues, most in full color. Our web site shows a sample of the recent offerings. We find that many of our clients are focused on printed material so the presentation of a printed catalogue is more compatible with their modality of examination."

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Michael Hague

To this end, one of the major projects Jo Ann Reisler books embarked upon over the years was to develop a comprehensive catalogue of Michael Hague's artwork. Hague is known for illustrating classics such as The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. "We have worked with Michael for a few decades," Don explains, "and it seemed that his work deserved a comprehensive catalogue. I thought it would be relatively easy, maybe a few months of work. However it took years to complete but came out pretty good."

Such an art catalogue was a natural outgrowth of our interest in the original illustrative art which started in the middle 1970's when Jo Ann almost single-handedly recognized and invented the field, since at that time such material was viewed as works in progress, not final products. We were finding art in the oddest and least protected places, it took many years before this component of our business matured to the state it is in today. We have been delighted to be able to participate in the identification and maturation of the field. Today our catalogues and displays offer a substantial fraction of such original illustrative art and it is really fun to handle.

Reflecting on over 36 years of bookselling Don shared a story about his and Jo Ann's early days as booksellers.

In the early years we scoured the Eastern half of the country living in our old van and sleeping in campgrounds and certain select book friends driveways. We would get up early and have a campsite breakfast, then hit the road and search for wonderful books. We searched all day and finished late in the evening, often with a memorable dinner at a kindly book sellers house, and then we parked the van, raised the curtains, and went to sleep. The beds were set on an elevated frame which permitted us to keep boxes and boxes underneath and so we started our policy of living with our books.

During these wonderful early years we got to have fun and meet some really memorable people. I suppose the events of early life and the people whom we met during these formative years are especially notable but it was sure great. We used to drive all evening and show up to a field in the woods to park and sleep while Jo Ann, with a flashlight, would scour the blackened booths for wonderful books.

Little did we know when all this started that it was life transforming; it is only in the rear view mirror that such things can be measured. Sharing the passion for the books has been utterly rewarding and it has been a marvelously happy way to spend a life.