Saturday, January 25, 2020

Is This The Worst 19th C. British Novel?

by Stephen J. Gertz

It’s rarely a good idea to begin a novel with a Preface. It’s never a good idea to write a Preface as apology for what is to come. And what writer in their right mind would trust that their readers be indulgent and not too.critical of what they are about to read? Only a novelist who subconsciously knows that he is issuing a warning: Caution! Train-Wreck Ahead.

Santa left ashes in the author's Xmas 1893 stocking.

No such luck for The Author, one T. Duthie-Lisle. The reviews for this three-decker upon its publication were devastating; this may be the worst 19th century British novel ever published.

"The hardiest spirit may well quail before the stupendous task of giving any accurate idea of what is, apparently, the first-fruits of Mr. Duthie-Lisle's imagination" (The Saturday Review Dec. 30, 1893); "...obtrudes itself on almost every page as deficient in sense as of grammar" (The Academy Oct., 21, 1893); "...this incredibly foolish book" (The Speaker Sept. 16, 1893); and this dart to its heart: "One of the missions of the literary critic is to warn off intending readers from books that are utterly worthless, and 'The Heirloom' comes within this category" (The Athenaeum Sept. 9, 1893). 

Seventy-eight years later Robert Lee Wolff, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, declared it "...unbelievably awful as to style - antiquated, ungrammatical, melodramatic, like a parody of itself." 

Of the author, little is known; it is hoped T. Duthie-Lisle survived the reviews to live in hiding. It appears that this was TD-L's first and last foray into “the wildest schemes which his imagination [could] conceive, the marvelous combinations which a turn of the magic kaleidoscope of eventualities, and what we misname fortune may produce, are again and again out acted in real life.”

Why was this novel issued? It was not the sort of book that its publisher, Gay and Bird, usually published.

Wolff suggests that it was a “‘prestige’ publication.” If so, Gay and Bird’s standards for prestige were decidedly low; the book deals prestige a deadly blow. Could the brain trust at Gay and Bird have been so devoid of taste and discernment? Their publication of this novel strongly suggests that they possessed the editorial instincts of a cane toad, Australia’s answer to promiscuous publishing: cane toads will attempt to copulate with dead animals including dead female cane toads, dead salamanders, dead rodents, dead reptiles. Hence the dead on arrival publication of this dreadful doozy. 

Yet beyond its status as arguably the worst nineteenth century British novel, The Heirloom is significant as being among the last of the three-deckers, a format that ceased to exist by the end of 1894, with only an occasional three-decker published in the twentieth century, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings the most notable example. This copy of The Heirloom was deaccessioned from a circulation library and that tells us a story.

Introduced in the early nineteenth century, three volume novels were expensive - the average retail price was 31 shillings.6 pence  - far too expensive for even middle class readers. But though three-deckers did indeed provide a measure of prestige to the publisher, author, and the book, because of their expense the major source of reading distribution was through a circulation library. Yes, you could buy inexpensive reprints in single volumes but if you wanted to read the latest "prestige" novels you had to borrow from a library. With low print runs (generally 1000 copies or fewer) and high price a publisher could earn a tidy profit. Ultimately, however, publishers of three-deckers had to bow to commercial pressures and began to issue single volume novels. Single volume novels were less expensive to produce, could be sold for less than a three-decker, and though their price was low, greater profits could be earned via dramatically increased sales volume.

At this point, you may be curious about the plot of The Heirloom. It is the sorry plight of the reader to plow through it. Three-decker novels typically possessed complicated plots, often dealing with marriage and property. The Heirloom cubes the complications,  throws in a lot of mush, and the result is a plot so convoluted that one is tempted to go full-Alexander the Great and take a sword to this Gordian knot. It would, alas, take a machete to hack through it but with no guarantee of success. 

It begins with the near-death ravings of Bertram Gonault, the presumptive hero of the story, as he lies in bed at Vernwood Manor. He made a fabulous fortune, and met a beautiful girl, who mysteriously vanished just prior to their wedding. As usual when a man loses the woman of his dreams, Bertram hit the road of dissipation that ended in deathbed delirium, an old man at 50 on page one, "at what a price!" A half hour after his feverish diatribe he was murdered. By the end of volume one, after an at best wearisome telling of the story of Bertram’s life, “the reader feels relieved when at the end of [that volume] he resumes his place in Bertram’s bedchamber” (The Speaker). You may want to get in bed with Bertie and take a quick nap before the murderer shows up.

The remaining two volumes are devoted to discovering the mystery murderer, finding a beneficiary for Vernwood Manor, the title's heirloom, and locating a mysterious ring, another heirloom to pad out the narrative. This is tantamount to asking readers to take a hundred mile hike with a hundred pound rucksack. Really, an army Ranger with a reading habit would be challenged to get though this book without giving up. 

Oh, lordy, this book's a doozy. And quite scarce.

DUTHIE-LISLE, T. THE HEIRLOOM; or The Descent of Vernwood Manor. London: Gay and Bird, 1893. First (only) Edition. Three octavo volumes (7 3/3 x 4 3/4 in.). vii, (1, blank), 247, (1, blank), 16 (catalog); vii, (1, blank), 222, (2, blank), 16 (catalog); vii, (1, blank), 246, (2, blank), 16 (catalog) pp. Publisher's original gray cloth, gilt lettered title, sprig of leaves in black.  Cloth soiled, lt-mod. wear, a few sm tears to spine tails, spine exhibits library label ghosts, "Lorde Circulating Library" stamped in purple to preliminary blanks, offsets to preliminary blanks from bookplate of Britten Memorial Library, otherwise a Good copy of a genuinely scarce work. Wolff 1966. 


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Christopher Isherwood and Me at the Gym

 by Stephen J. Gertz

(Written five years ago, the following has the honor of being rejected by every literary journal in California secondary to length (and perhaps certain content). Time to get it out, throw it on the wall, and see if it sticks).

“I’ve started going to the Physical Services gym at Westwood and Santa Monica, and already the exercise makes me feel good. I needed it so badly. That’s a good habit started. I must keep it up.” (Christopher Isherwood,  Diaries, January 12, 1954).

Chris stood at his locker with a towel wrapped around his waist and shower sandals on his feet. He was soaked. He usually set aside a couple of extra towels; they were too small for any one of them to completely dry a body. He seemed lost and said nothing but it was clear what the problem was: a jerk too lazy to walk to the locker room entrance and get his own had walked off with Chris’. His partner, Don Bachardy, wasn’t around; perhaps still in the shower, or not present at all; I don’t recall. I brought Chris (for that is how he asked to be addressed after my initial “Mr. Isherwood”) a few more. It was part of my job: gym instructor, physical therapy aide, towel boy. 

“The smog was so bad yesterday that Bruce Conners [sic] at the gym said one really shouldn’t go out jogging in it; making yourself breathe heavily and inhale all that stuff does you much more harm than the exercise does you good.” (October 3, 1970).

The gym was the Bruce Conner - Al Hinds Health Club, established in 1947 as Bruce Conner’s Physical Services by Bruce Conner (1919-2010), a physical therapist with roots in competitive gymnastics and weightlifting, and the original Muscle Beach. Unlike the franchise model established by his friends, Vic Tanny and Jack Lalanne, Bruce opened what was at the time the only gym in the U.S. for men and women offering physical therapy and massage services. It’s quite possible that every orthopod in the area referred patients to Bruce; because it was operated by a physical therapist and respected athlete it was legit, not strictly for health nuts and ironheads, a nice space (Chris thought the atmosphere at Vic Tanny’s in Santa Monica, “squalid”), and Bruce was quite likable. Word got around. 

It was located on Little Santa Monica Blvd. one block east of Westwood Blvd. on L.A.’s Westside. Because of its proximity to Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and Santa Monica and its canyon communities, the gym attracted wealthy celebrity and civilian patients and members, as well as the general, non-wealthy public. In 1964 Bruce trained eleven Olympic medal winners,   and the Russian Olympic weightlifting team once worked out at the gym. It was old-school—a small neighborhood spot with separate facilities for men and women, few machines, and little chrome, mostly for the ladies. I was a member for a few years before I worked there, 1976-78.

“I went to the gym, where [actor] Richard Egan works out in a hooded sweater with a mackintosh pair of pants over it, presumably to make him sweat that much extra”  (November 14, 1961).

It was where I became friendly with many appropriately dressed, overdressed, underdressed, and completely undressed film, television, and music personalities. 

Riccardo “Rick” Montalban didn’t bother with the graceful glide he had adopted to mask his pronounced limp and was thankfully amused when I once described a workout bench as being upholstered in rich Corinthian vinyl because I couldn’t resist. Richard “Dick” Jaeckel, a short, scrawny kid in his acting debut in Guadalcanal Diary (1943), had subsequently morphed into a mighty tree stump with blond hair, eternal tan, and solid chops (see Sometimes a Great Notion). Film director George Sidney, like me, grew up in Queens, NYC, and was a trove of vintage Hollywood lore and legend I could listen to at length and did because George liked to talk about the old days and dump on the new while exercising - or eating donuts he brought in and offered to all. A patient of Bruce and Al, Jan Berry, of Surf City’s Jan and Dean, never fully recovered from brain injuries after totaling his ’Vette ten years earlier near Dead Man’s Curve on Sunset Blvd. in Beverly Hills, two years after Jan and Dean’s Dead Man’s Curve became a top ten hit. Vito Scotti played Nazorine, the baker whose unwed daughter had a bun in the oven and boyfriend without green card in The Godfather. Password game-show host Allen Ludden was a good sport when I once asked for the password as he entered the steam room. 

There were many more, including screenwriter Bill Kerby, who, during pre-production for The Rose, his take on Janis Joplin starring Bette Midler, wrote Van Nuys Boulevard, mercifully unproduced to spare the public from a scene appearing on page 62:


With a searing CRASH! Man Mountain Wawrzeniak drops loaded dumbbells to the floor and looks at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. He nods his head. Next to him, FRED DRYER (Defensive End for the L.A. Rams) and STEVE GERTZ, stand by and openly stare. They are both specimens, themselves, but now they’re in the presence of Greatness and they know it.

                          STEVE GERTZ

                                Good set.

                           MAN MOUNTAIN


                            FRED DRYER

                       You should’ve gone 

                              t’the pros.

                            MAN MOUNTAIN

                               Football’s pussy.

And with that, he turns and walks into the locker room. Gertz and Dryer look at each other.

                             STEVE GERTZ

                               An intellectual…                                             

Yes, Fred was a member, too. “Kate the Great” Schmidt, a close friend who held the American (and soon World) record in women’s javelin, began to workout there, then Jane Frederick, American record holder in women’s heptathlon; Maren Seidler, who had a lock on the American record in women’s shot put; and Italian track star Giulia Montefiore. The Montreal games were on the horizon and the gym again became an unofficial Olympics weight-training site, at least for the Olympians I knew.

“At the gym I feel very strong” (September 12, 1962).

It’s where I reconnected with Lolo, a dear friend from high school who worked the front desk. It’s where I became friends with Levey, an instructor who, like me, was a former NYer, jazz drummer, and competitive boxer with a big, tough father sired by a tougher father, each of whom had been fighters; we shared issues as well as interests. 

It’s where I met “Schitzo Nitz-o,” who, prior to working at the gym, did time for manslaughter after a bar fight went bad; kept a copy of the Physicians Desk Reference at home so he could investigate whatever pharmaceutical he was considering for abuse then take it no matter what the PDR said; was my co-bouncer at a couple of Westside bars; and accompanied me on evictions I handled for a gym member with upscale rental properties but a few downscale tenants who required emphatic assistance to immediately vacate. 

It’s where I caught up with Lisa Lyon, another high school friend, who joined the gym to build strength while studying kendo, became Schitzo’s workout and otherwise partner, and later wound up as the first Women’s World Pro bodybuilding champion, and muse to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and philosopher, neuro-scientist, and psychedelicist John C. Lilly. 

It’s where I met Karl, an elderly, easily irritated and delight-to-incite staff masseur, he of the wandering hands and thankful distaff clientele. He, with fluffy gray-to-white hair on the loss, hard, ice-blue Nordic eyes, and Teutonic accent, we suspected had been Hitler’s personal masseur who fled the bunker after indiscreetly makin’ mit der shiatsu mit Eva, and whose delivery of Schatziputzi, a German term of endearment, remains the most obscenely creepy thing ever heard—just ask Lolo. 

It's where I met Abbye  (strictly ironic “Pudgy”) Stockton, a staff instructor and Muscle Beach alumnus who, during the ’50s health and fitness scene, was “America’s Foremost Bar-Belle." Her husband, Les, another Muscle Beach graduate and staff instructor, was a merry old philandering satyr with a twinkle in his eye and apparently a sparkle in his dick, judging from the effect on the women in the gym he sacked.

It’s where I met The Amazing Mary, a middle-aged, formerly miserably married, sexually repressed lady who, according to her liberator, Les, was a subject of study at a sex institute in Santa Monica where she earned the world record for most orgasms within a given brief period of time. It’s a feat I can vouch for, having been treated to a clinical demonstration while sitting in the passenger seat of her VW Beetle in the gym’s parking lot in broad daylight as she, at the behest of Les, digitally drove herself in the driver’s seat. Les and a few men from the gym kept an apartment nearby for entertainment purposes, the purpose being to entertain themselves with Mary, who enjoyed entertaining and being entertained.

The gym was where I met Mambo, the woman who would eventually become my ex-wife due to my instability, with stupidity a close second.

“153 1/2 [lbs.]. We went to the gym” (July 22, 1976).

And it was where I met Christopher Isherwood.

I became aware of him when I was fifteen years old. My mother took my sister and me to see the original Broadway production of Cabaret and I saw his name in the Playbill. I read Berlin Stories a few years later and it sparked an interest in Weimar culture. By the time I began working at the gym I was mindful of his larger literary reputation but hadn’t read any of his other books and was unaware that he had written screenplays. Berlin Stories was sufficient to make a profound impression. When Chris was in the gym I was in the presence of Greatness and I knew it.

But I didn’t do much about it. In fact, I did nothing. I’ve regretted it ever since.

Chris had been a member on and off for twenty-two years before I made his acquaintance, for some time also a member of Lyle Fox’s gym in Pacific Palisades, returning exclusively to Bruce’s when the Fox gym closed. He came in regularly, and stepped on the men’s locker room scale as if punching a time clock. Because I was either busy with a new member, PT patient, laundering towels, in the ladies gym where I spent half my workweek, or preoccupied with my own workouts, I never had many opportunities to talk to him. And Chris and Don kept to themselves, which I respected. But I could have engineered situations. The reality is that I was paralyzed by shyness. As a seasoned Hollywood veteran (I’d worked, after all, as a studio laborer, greensman, and propmaker) I had no trouble kibbitzing with the show biz set. But Chris, he was another matter. I was a precocious reader as a kid and, though I certainly loved movies and TV, accorded book writers with a degree of respect and awe reserved only for heroes. I’d placed him on a pedestal and was completely star-struck. That was not the case with Ray Bradbury, who I’d met a few years earlier while working in a Beverly Hills record shop. Ray was warm, open, and initiated conversation. Chris was not, and did not.

During this time I was also touring the East, reading the Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabarata. I was interested in Vedanta. I would have loved to talk to Chris about this stuff, as well as literature. I probably would have been intrusively annoying, or so I sensed otherwise I would not have been so pathetically timid. It’s not that Chris had some sort of force field that he deliberately turned on to keep people away from him, but he projected an element of self-possession and reserve that might be interpreted as aloof, distant, and/or cold which, as I’ve since learned, he was not. I know because, like him, I was (and remain) a Virgo, his birthday falling on the day after mine, though I hope the reaction he got when answering “what’s your sign?” was better than I’ve ever received: “oh,” the “I’m so sorry” tacitly expressed. Maybe Chris and Don, like most people, just wanted to get in, workout, and get out; the likely explanation.

“154 1/2 [lbs.] We saw Stay Hungry (with Jeff Bridges), went to the gym.”  (July 19, 1976).

For an instant in the continuum of human existence I had the most spectacular calves in the cosmos. With a pair of glorious gastrocnemius, solid gold soleus, peroneus longus and brevis to long for, and with each sharply cut and precisely defined, I was “Mr. Universe from the knees down,” a wry homage by former Mr. America, Mr. World, and 4-time Mr. Universe (as well as escort service mogul, organized crimester, and arm-wrestling hustler who often earned over $1,000 a week from that alone) Dennis Tinerino, yet another gym member. 

Support for that sterling epithet presented itself when, as a contestant in the 1977 Jr. Mr. Southern California competition, I was called out as the ideal against which all other contestants’ calves were to be judged, and the enthusiastically vocal audience, now awestruck at the appearance of my dogies, gasped before erupting into wild, unrestrained bravos as Also sprach Zarathustra heralded my ascension into the pantheon, the heavens opened up, a golden shaft of light bathed me in its numinous glow, I experienced ego death, everything was everything, I took my place on the Great Mandala and was at one with All, even the guy in the front row who for a moment looked like a hipster chimp with goatee and shades. On stage, posing before a packed auditorium, with an applied tan, shaved and greased-up from the neck down, and wearing only the suggestion of a Speedo that highlighted my religious heritage, things weren’t surreal enough so I’d dropped a cap of mescaline halfway through the event.

Afterward, I rendezvoused with Spin and Lolo and her sister in the lobby and waited for our chauffeur, Gibson, to bring his limo around. Spin (gym member, natch’), who I’d been with for a few months, dropped her cap. The plan was to go Dada post-contest; I just arrived early. Lolo and Gibby (gym member, of course) had been dating; the limo ride was his idea and it was refined after a committee was formed to consider the possibilities for pagan worship. And so The Golden Calves Revue hit the road.

“Good workout again at the gym today” (February 28, 1961).

Because of work, travel, and various ailments in 1964, Chris wasn’t going to the gym very much. If he’d observed the following he would have surely recorded it.

Photo courtesy of Royal Books.

That year the gym earned a footnote in modern American art history when painter, sculptor, assemblager, filmmaker, and art-provocateur Bruce Conner visited Bruce Conner’s Physical Services and demanded that Bruce remove his name from the building: there was only one, true Bruce Conner and the town wasn’t big enough for the both of ’em. Suffice it to say, Bruce Conner, physical therapist, gave Bruce Conner, artist, the heave-ho and don’t ‘cha come back no mo’. Incensed (mock or otherwise), Bruce Conner, artist, returned with actor-photographer Dennis Hopper, who documented artist Conner and a gaggle of models posed beneath the gym’s painted sign on the outside west wall. (Original prints of Hopper’s photograph now sell for upwards of $20,000). The visual pun was intended - and unintentionally appropriate: the place was Libidoland.  Afterward, Bruce Conner, artist, went inside and distributed buttons to the membership that read, “I am not Bruce Conner,” while sporting his own button, “I am Bruce Conner.” It was a happening, baby! The gym’s signage remained when, in 1971, Bruce retired and turned the business over to Alan Hinds, a physical therapist who had been his assistant. 

“The only achievement for me has been at the gym” (July 28, 1966).

The ladies gym was a garden. If I’d had the temperament for promiscuity I’d have needed a thirteen-month calendar to schedule dates. This is not ego; it was the same story for the other instructors. A member once told me she wanted to see what it was like with a big, built guy. Musicians looking like dental floss with legs may have been the ideal in the outside world during the mid-1970s but inside the gym muscle was exotic and, apparently, tempting, the apple on the tree. I had the astonishing opportunity to meet a lot of women, get to know them, become friends, and then and only then, ask them out if I was interested in something more. This was a first. Prior to that I didn’t meet many women so when one crossed my path discrimination tipped its hat to desperation and took a hike. Though I had a couple of escapades between them, prior to meeting Mambo I had two intense amours fous with women I met at the gym.

You could fit Spin in a tea cup and still have room for a tea bag and two lumps of sugar but she had big ideas. Most of them involved sex, many of which I enjoyed, others not so much. She held my testicles hostage to being “open-minded” and so I always said yes when my head was often screaming no. On one occasion she’d contrived I felt like a crash-test dummy at an orgy. She lived a few blocks away from the gym with her long-term boyfriend in an open relationship well on its way to closing up shop. She scared the hell out of me when she once lost consciousness after an orgasm and I thought I’d killed her, but she finally came to and wanted more. But I made excuses, afraid anxiety might kill me. During an evening shift, we once trysted in the gym’s ultrasound/hydrotherapy room, from within which on enchanted nights it was not unusual to hear ultra-sounds having nothing to do with standard therapeutic modalities. I was volunteered to pose for the boyfriend, a professional photographer with a scheme to broaden his portrait business with “fine art” erotic photography catering to sophisticated couples. His shot of me, however, looked like a porn bar mitzvah commemorative: naket boychick in full profile, head bowed and turned away in reverence with shadows for the sacred and solemn but head not turned and shadowed enough to mask the bar mitzvah boy’s punim. It was not a photograph I was keen on anybody ever seeing but people did when the weasel set up a display in The Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood without my consent. I had to pay him a social call to request all prints and negative, a visit I hope his recollection of stimulates the panic I witnessed when he opened the door and saw me looking nothing like happy. Macho has its appropriate moments.

Rima was smart, exotic, and pensive, with a face like a bright full moon with a dark cloud hovering over its surface. She was a successful business machine saleswoman six years my senior whose twisted on and off relationship with her demon shrink she hoped I’d be the cure for. She told me she loved me and I believed her but couldn’t say it back because I didn’t want to believe it even though I felt it; doomed if I do, damned if I don’t. A hothouse flower, she wore Jungle Gardenia, a scent so overpowering that I often swooned when we embraced, so I asked her to tone it down. She did, confining it to down below. She asked me to hurt her during sex but that was new to me and I was too scared; I couldn’t meet that need and felt that I had failed her in a fundamental way. She wanted me to run away with her, somewhere, anywhere but I didn’t have the guts or maybe it was just good sense because I felt something wrong inside her, like a dog can smell cancer. I raced to see her at 2AM when she called, drunk and in tears two months after she once again fell under Freudenstein’s spell, and begged me to come over and hold her and I did, rocking her in my arms on her couch for as long as she needed because you don’t leave a wounded and defenseless animal in the middle of the road, you just don’t. But I abandoned her without a note after carrying her to bed and tucking her in when she finally passed out, a careless act not meant to be so that has haunted me ever since.

“Today I did my first full day’s work at Fox. I have what seems to be a dream secretary, Eleanor Breese” (September 24, 1956).

I was anxious to move on from the gym; I was serious with Mambo and needed to demonstrate that I had a future. Lisa was a story analyst at American-International Pictures, and the knowledge that there was a job informally  called “reader” was a welcome revelation. Sometime later I was talking to Bill Kerby about this employment manna and he said that a friend of his might need some help. He arranged a meeting. I put together a few writing samples, met his friend and for the next four years worked as assistant to and reader for a dream employer, Eleanor Breese, executive story editor at Lorimar Productions, at the time the number one television production company. During that period Eleanor talked about working in the Scribner’s steno pool for Maxwell Perkins and assignments he sent her on, e.g. working at the kitchen table in Thomas Wolfe’s Brooklyn apartment, typing up manuscript pages as he threw them over his shoulder while using the refrigerator as a standing desk. She mentioned working at Fox, but Chris never came up, which is odd because as I’ve subsequently learned the two became friends and socialized outside of work. If she had talked about him I’d have remembered.

I asked Lolo what she remembers about Chris. Not much of anything, it turns out. Chris was gentle, Levey recalls. “He’d say ‘hi,’ when he came in. He fidgeted around; he didn’t sweat buckets.” Lisa, who was a friend of Don, doesn’t recall seeing Chris at the gym at all. Apparently, he possessed the power of invisibility when he wanted to move through the world unobserved.

I’d have asked Schitzo but restlessness consumed him and he went AWOL. For three years if my phone rang in the middle of the night—as it did around once a month; it was his metaphysical menses—I knew who was calling and what to expect: in the midst of an existential crisis and heavily drugged he would channel The Beach Boys. And I’d respond in kind to keep him on the line and away from the ledge. I’d pick-up the phone and without greeting he’d begin.

“I’m gettin’ bugged drivin’ up and down the same old strip. I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip.”

“Don’t worry, Bobby, everything will turn out alright.”

“Now it’s dark and I’m alone, in my room. What good is the dawn that grows into day? The sunset at night, or livin’ this way?”

“At least you’ve got the warmth of the sun.”

“Yeah, but will I look back and say that I wish I hadn't done what I did?”

He already wished that. Time to distract.

“Perhaps, but here’s a little peninsula, and over here’s a viaduct leading over to the mainland.”

“Why a duck?”

And we’d run that Marx Bros. scene.

Schitzo scrammed to Australia and worked in a health club in Sydney. When he got kicked out of kangaroo-land for lack of a work permit he wound up in Hong Kong, working in another health club. At one point in the mid-‘80s a mutual friend called to tell me that Schitzo was in town and wanted to get together. So I went over. I met his recent bride, a young Chinese girl who spoke no English. Schitzo didn’t speak Chinese. That can only have improved the marriage’s prospects for success. I would have asked him about it but he wasn’t around. Just before I arrived he announced to our friend that he was going out for a few minutes. I waited a few hours. He never showed.

“154 1/2 [lbs.]. Don in Santa Barbara. By myself at the gym today, old Dobbin puttering about. I don’t do very much but it makes me feel as if I am really trying, and I am in my old Dobbin way. I am so lazy and exercising is so boring but I must do it. I fear that I will be too consumed by sloth to attend my own funeral. (I must stop thinking about death. Courage. Onward!). After showering, I went to my locker and found that someone had walked off with my towels. But Stan, one of the instructors, was kind to get some more. The young man is nice, and seems to always be on the verge of asking me a question but never does. I sometimes find myself  staring at him, an Adonis from the knees down.”

I wish he’d written that entry, even if he got my name wrong. Most fans of anyone feel that they know the person. This is particularly true with authors, who foster one on one relationships, the writer and reader engaged in a pas de deux, a rendezvous of minds with a strong tactile element: the feel of a book in the hands, the touch of a page. There is a certain intimacy. People curl up with a book; no one curls up with a movie. Yet whatever the medium fans would like to be acknowledged and set apart from the crowd. It would have been very satisfying to have gained Chris’ attention in a diary aside however trivial, silly, or critical. I regularly saw the guy, I (sort of) knew the guy. I was someone special! It is a vanity I confess to, an egoism I accept, just as Chris accepted his own vanity and egotism. I struggle to find connections, however tenuous, between us, forcing synchronicity where it doesn’t exist. Perhaps Chris’ guru, Swami Prabhavananda, head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, could have made more of coincidence than I can. One of the few things I get out of it is the gnawing sense that crossing paths with him was an augury that I ignored; that a life with books was my fate but I wasn’t paying attention until decades later when I finally awoke from an unsettling sleep.

Taps has blown for the golden calves, and time hasn’t done me any favors from the knees up. The armor has fallen away and I feel lighter inside, though terribly vulnerable. Yet the world doesn’t hurt as much as it once did. As my body rides off into the sunset I watch from my homestead porch with amused irony. I have reverted to the tall, thin bookworm I began as, the intervening years as if a 45-year aberration, a strenuous journey essential to finding a place within my family, myself, and the world.

For three years the gym was the center of my life and a formative experience that influenced all that followed. It was to me what Weimar Berlin was to Christopher Isherwood: a way station and safe place to explore young manhood, pursue adventures in masculinity, and observe and experience a fascinating, decadent milieu, albeit from a different orientation, and certainly without Nazis in the background, unless you count Karl. I wasn’t a camera but my Kundalini was taking notes.

“Even now I can’t altogether believe that any of this happened” (Goodbye to Berlin).

Nor can I. Memories are viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, so far away yet a nanometer nearby, trapped, stretched, and distorted between perspectives. The appearance of a golden age of youth is no more than that. When I woke up in the morning the days were dark and I’d hope they’d get light. The anger, confusion, and depression so well disguised that I fooled even myself remained veiled, their origins evaded until they could no longer be avoided. The past lies in wait, and it is patient. If you don’t deal with it, the past will deal with you. 



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Bodhisattva of the Book: William Dailey

by Stephen J. Gertz

With a note of sadness, Booktryst is otherwise pleased to announce its latest publication, A Bodhisattva of the Book: William Dailey, a memorial to the Southern California bookman who tragically died in December 2017.

Featuring heartfelt contributions by John Burnham, Michael R. Thompson, Pom Harrington, Ari Grossman, Peter Háy, John Martin, Barry Humphries, Bruce Whiteman, Bettina Hubby, Peter Kraus, Johan Kugelberg, myself, and others, the book celebrates the consummate rare and antiquarian bookseller who was a mentor to many, a friend to many more, and whose book shop in Los Angeles was the hip Mecca on Melrose for bibliophiles.

A Bodhisattva of the Book: William Dailey. McMinnville: Booktryst, 2019. Octavo (8 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.). 69, (1) pp. Color photo-illustrated wrappers. $25.


Friday, January 25, 2019

John R. Payne Reviews Catalogue 1: Rara Eros

by John R. Payne

John Payne’s most recent book is Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers, published in 2018.  He is also the bibliographer of the English ornithologist and novelist, W. H. Hudson.  John collaborated with the book collector, Adrian Goldstone, to compile a bibliographical catalogue of his collection of works by and about John Steinbeck that was published by The Harry Ransom Center in 1974. I am honored by his kind words -SJG.

First Catalogues
 First catalogues by booksellers are always cause for celebration.

“There is never anything elusive about a dealer’s catalogue,” wrote Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern.  “If it is a good one it will be its maker’s earthly representative and hopefully remembered.  A catalogue is a dealer’s showcase.  In it he displays his wares, parades his knowledge, offers his expertise.  His first catalogue is extremely significant.  He has made his public début before a critical group of connoisseurs.  This, his first catalogue, occasionally becomes his hallmark, stamping him as a specialist in Western Americana, medieval arts and letters, or modern firsts.”

Stephen Gertz’s Catalogue One: Rara Eros 16th-20th centuries is a sensitive, thoughtful, and bibliographically carefully described selection of 16th through 20th century imprints. Each title is illustrated in color, some with multiple illustrations. Prices range from $100 to $4,500.  At the lower end is Claire Willows’ Modern Slaves: A Profound Study of the Forces of Destiny ….  With ten full page illustrations.  New York: issued Privately for Collectors by The Gargoyle Press, no date (1931).  Limited edition of 1,350 copies.  $100

Books illustrated by Mahlon Blaine are priced $400 to $3,000, the later price being for a copy of Venus Sardonica. 50 Extravaganzas …  New York: (Jacob Brussel), 1929 (1938).  Limited edition of 160 copies numbered and signed by Blaine.  This is considered by Blaine and critics to be his finest work.

The least expensive item in the catalogue is Issue No. 1 of Exotica.  New York: Selbee Associates [Leonard Burtman], n.d. (1960), Second Series in large format of Leonard Burtman’s classic fetish magazine published subsequent to Exotique.  (Catalogue item 25).  $35

Mr. Gertz gained his expertise with rare books the hard way: by working with other well-established booksellers, first from 1999 to 2007 with Bill Dailey, as head cataloguer and later as manager of his shop.  After Bill closed his shop in 2007, Stephen worked for David Brass, as head cataloguer and later as Executive Director of David Brass Rare Books.  He now describes his experience as running the gamut from incunabula through 20th century vintage paperbacks.

“My interests as a collector have always been erotica and drug literature, which I bring to bear as a seller.  But one cannot live on sex and drugs alone—too risky in real life, too narrow to depend upon as a bookseller.  So, while those are primary specialties, I will be offering, as the subscript to Booktryst states, ‘interesting and curious rare and antiquarian books, etc.’ I have an eye for the unusual, provocative, and controversial. My uncle, famed Chicago First Amendment and civil liberties attorney, Elmer Gertz, won Tropic of Cancer’s first victory in the U. S. in 1962.  I must carry on the family tradition!”

You can access Rara Eros here.

Catalogue 1: Rara Eros 16th-20th centuries

by Stephen J. Gertz

Booktryst is pleased to announce Catalogue 1: Rara Eros 16th-20th centuries.

Featuring 60 items, including books and prints, it is illustrated with over 82 images, the majority in full color. The catalogue was designed by Poltroon Press in Berkeley, CA.

Within you will see many scarce and obscure books that have not been seen in decades if not longer, artist proofs, and titlepages and illustrations published for the first time outside of the books themselves.

You may view the catalogue as a double-page spread PDF (recommended) here.

If you prefer a single-page PDF you can view it here.

It pains me that given the current cultural climate I must offer a trigger warning: sexually explicit imagery (by respected artists mostly working anonymously or under pseudonym) is present within the catalogue. So, gird your loins, take a tip from Dante and "abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

A print version is available in a strictly limited edition of 50 copies only. It is 11 x 8 1/2 in. 32 pp. on 70# matte Titan white, 82 color and black and white illustrations, permabound, full color cover on 10 pt C1S/white stock with matte layflat lamination. Because of the nature of the material, its scarcity, the rigorous descriptions, informative and engaging annotations, and exceptional design, this catalogue will become collectable.

Purchase a copy of Rara Eros in print for only $55.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Booktryst At Rare Books - LA

by Stephen J. Gertz

Booktryst makes its book fair debut at Rare Books Los Angeles, at the Pasadena Convention Center February 1-2, 2019.

With many scarcities not seen in decades if not longer, and a gathering of books and prints that will have your eyes popping out of their sockets, our Booth 704 will definitely arouse your interest and may be the most provocative of the weekend.

This is also Rare Books - LA's debut and I'm pleased to be a part of it, all the more so on my home turf and among friends in the Southern California trade and local collectors. Kudos to Brad and Jen Johnson for organizing the event

Please stop by and say hello. That is, of course, if you're not left speechless by what Booktryst has in store for you. I'll publish a partial preview tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Booktryst Returns With Booktryst Anew

by Stephen J. Gertz

Having recently emerged from a secret lair within British Columbia where I'd been hibernating with a sloth of grizzly bears that had adopted me, I bring news of Booktryst.  

Booktryst now sells books. 

Over the last 18-24 months I've been slowly transitioning Booktryst from blog to bookseller, remaining true to my tradition of doing things ass-backward. During this reorganization, I've been acquiring interesting and curious rare and antiquarian books, etc. (note  new subscript below our header), sending out miscellaneous lists  to a select few, growing sales, and carefully building the business toward a public debut.

That time is now. 

I'll be posting important news over the next few days, with a major announcement on Friday, so keep an eye out (you can put it back in afterward).

In the meantime, I'm so post-hibernation hungry I could eat a raw tarantula.

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