Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New York Art Book Fair Opens October 2d

Printed Matter, the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to publications made by artists, presents the fourth annual NY Art Book Fair, October 2-4 at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, Queens. The Fair previews on the evening of Thursday, October 1, followed by a Benefit. Admission to the fair is FREE.

The Fair hosts over 200 international presses, booksellers, antiquarian dealers, and independent artist/publishers presenting a diverse range of the best in contemporary art publications.

Philip Aarons, Chairman of the Board at Printed Matter, said: “Printed Matter's NY Art Book Fair re-establishes New York City as the heart of art publishing. This extraordinarily democratic and far-reaching project brings together ground-breaking and unique exhibitors, speakers, and events from twenty-one countries.”

Printed Matter presents a special exhibition of books and posters by Richard Prince, as well as The Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference, cosponsored with the Art Libraries Society of New York (ARLIS/NY); and The Classroom, a full-schedule of informal artist talks, performances, and screenings.

PREVIEW: The Fair opens for preview October 1, 6-8 PM at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
22-25 Jackson Ave at the intersection of 46th Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101 (map)

Friday/Saturday, October 2 & 3, 2009, 11am - 7pm
Sunday, October 4, 2009, 11am - 5pm

The NY Art Book Fair is FREE and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Books Banned, Author Imprisoned

The human rights organization, Amnesty International, marks Banned Books Week (September 26- October 3, 2009) by reminding us that in some parts of the world, the price for freedom of expression is the loss of personal freedom. Librarians generally note the week with displays of books targeted for removal from school and public libraries by would-be censors. While this is a serious matter, it in no way compares to the restrictions placed on controversial books and authors worldwide.

Amnesty International's website highlights the cases of writers, journalists, and documentarians who have literally risked their lives in the
attempt to uphold civil liberties. One such case involves
Iranian writer Emadeddin Baghi. Mr. Baghi is the author of more than 25 books, six of which have been banned in his homeland. But censorship has been the least of the consequences he has faced for expressing an opinion contrary to that of those in power.

The author first went to prison in 2000, when he was given a three-year sentence for “attacking national security” by writing about the killing of dissident intellectuals in the late 1990s. After his release in February 2003, he founded the Society To Defend Prisoners’ Rights. Detained at Tehran’s airport in October 2004 as he attempted to travel to New York to receive the Civil Courage Prize, an award given for defending human rights, his passport was confiscated and he has since been unable to leave the country.

Emadeddin Baghi was subsequently sentenced to another prison term in July 2007. He appealed that sentence, and in 2008 was acquitted of charges of “activities against national security” and “publicity in favor of the regime’s opponents.” Also in July 2007, Baghi’s wife and daughter were given three-year suspended prison sentences and five years probation for taking part in a series of human rights workshops in Dubai. The charge was “meeting and colluding with the aim of disrupting national security.”

In October 2007, Baghi was arrested and questioned about his activities as a prisoner's rights advocate. He was then accused of “publishing secret government documents.” While his family was in the process of delivering bail money, they were told that, instead of being released on bail, he would immediately serve a suspended one-year prison sentence imposed in 2003 when he was found guilty of “printing lies” and “endangering national security.”

On December 26 2007, while in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison, Baghi suffered a seizure. He was hospitalized, and suffered a second seizure. He was returned to prison the following day. In January 2008, he was granted medical leave for hospital treatment until April, after which he suffered yet another seizure, as well as a heart attack, in his cell. Released from prison on October 5, 2008, Emadeddin Baghi continues to be an advocate for civil liberties in Iran. He now faces new charges relating to his criticism of the treatment of other human rights defenders who have been imprisoned.

Mr. Baghi's story is far from unique. Amnesty International's website details many similar stories of the repression, harassment, and imprisonment of writers who have the courage to express unpopular or forbidden ideas. Most of us would be unwilling to risk such grave consequences in defense of freedom of speech. The bravery of these authors in defending the written word reminds us of the importance of preserving the ability to write and publish material that challenges the tyranny of those who rule by fear and intimidation.

"Always Lead With Bestiality"

If every book tells a story, every book has a story, bibliography tells the story of the book, and cataloging a rare book tells the story of that particular copy.

But there is a fundamental difference between cataloging for the trade and cataloging for an institution: rare book dealers have to sell the books they catalogue. How you tell the story of your copy can be the difference between a sale and a shelf-puppy.

Presuming that you know the fundamentals of collation, including collation by signature if you have an antiquarian book before you, physical description, and have marshaled your research and reference citations, you are ready to begin.

Researchers at MIT have calculated that each year a forest is slain so that rare book catalogues may live. Due to the increasing volume of catalogues issued by dealers throughout the world, it is likely that the recipients never read them all, or if they do, don’t read them from beginning to end simply because the overwhelming majority of them are so dryly written or scribed with such boring ink that they are difficult to read much less plow through. Many readers' first impulse is to scream.

The challenge in cataloging rare books for the trade is that of grabbing eyeballs and mindshare from a mountain of competing catalogues so that your catalogue descriptions stand out from the crowd in a manner that is informative, scholastically sound, and, yes, entertaining. Entertaining because you want people to read, enjoy, and buy, which people are more likely to do when, after reading your description, they are in a pleasant frame of mind rather than fatigued by ponderous, academic over-writing.

The fundamentals of journalism and advertising copy writing need to be brought to bear.

First, organize your story: The who, what, when, and how. What are the key sales points? Get this info to the reader at the very beginning. If, for instance, you’ve done due diligence and have discovered that only four copies of the book are found within institutional holdings, state that fact right at the beginning before anything else. Same with auction records. Only two copies at auction within the last thirty-five years? Only four known signed copies? Tell it upfront. You want potential buyers to know just how rare or special your copy is; don’t make them wait: you’re not writing a suspense thriller. You’re leading them into temptation, you want to keep them on that path, and you want to close the sale.

In short, immediately grab attention and give readers the goodies first, don’t bury them at the end or somewhere in the body of your description where they will be glossed over or potentially unnoticed.

What is so special about the book? Here is where research can be so enjoyable. Find a fun factoid, something unusual and little known about the book, the original owner of your copy (if provenance is known). Find an eye-opening piece of info; a jolt will keep eyes on the page and mind at attention.

I know a rare book cataloger, well respected, formally trained as a librarian, and who worked at one of the nation’s finest libraries. This person moved over into the trade, cataloging for a major rare book dealer. And wrote the longest, most difficult to plow through, and boring descriptions imaginable. This person insisted on purity and didn’t wish to sully their pen by injecting anything that might be construed as salesmanship.

Long descriptions are not a crime as long as they are readable and - most important - are not an excuse for the cataloger to impress by their superior knowledge. The point is to sell the book, not yourself. There is no conflict between sales and scholarship as long as they are balanced.

“You’ve got to have this book! It’s the greatest copy since books have been printed! Buy now, don’t delay or this copy will be gone!” No. We’re selling rare books, not used cars.

“The only first edition copy of Ptolemy’s Geografica in contemporary original vellum to come to market in forty years. A rare and excellent opportunity for the discerning collector.” Yes.

It is not necessary, or desirable, to tell everything there is to know about the book you are cataloging. At a certain point, reached fast, it all becomes palaver and you risk losing the reader. Chances are, collectors already are aware of this stuff. Tell them something they are unlikely to know.

Rare book dealer Michael Horowitz began his career working for Howell’s in San Francisco, and developed a reputation for writing some of the best, most succinct descriptions around. He can distill a book into three sentences that capture the essence, importance, and “oomph” of the copy before him. That’s a gift. But readers may want more. The other extreme is a ponderous and lengthy description. Stay on point, don’t drift. Really, if you’ve written well your description should be no longer than one or one and a half pages, tops. Thomas Jefferson got the Declaration of Independence down in a single page. Follow his lead.

Remember, too, that attention spans have shortened. Don’t challenge them, no matter how well you may write.

Keep paragraphs short. Long text blocks are difficult enough to read in print; now that most rare book dealers have websites, reading long text blocks on a computer screen is even more challenging - if the reader looks away from the screen for a moment they may lose their place. Format text in chunks.

Writing for the Internet poses its own challenges. and opportunities. These days, collectors are more likely to be exposed to your online description before seeing it in print but I've yet to see a rare book description online that integrates hyperlinks. This is a major way to add interesting and expansive footnote content without adding to the length of the description.

Be good to the reader. Put yourself in the collector's shoes. When you get out of them remember to write from the collector's perspective; what is going to be most important to them? Here's an interesting experiment in market research: Ask a few key clients what they look for in a catalogue description. What bores them? Excites them?

A few words about headlines. The purpose of a headline is to grab attention. A good headline should have one of three (or a combination of these) factors going for it: Huh? Wow! Oh! “One of Only Three Existing Presentation Copies.” “The Most Distinguished Copy of the Most Important Book By [...]." “The Copy That Twain Gave To His Best Friend.” "Scarce In Its Original Binding.” “Is This the Finest Copy Extant? These are headlines.

“First Edition, First Printing” is not a headline, it’s a lazy, simple statement of fact that does nothing to make your copy special unless a first printing of the first edition is truly a rarity. If that’s the case, say so in the headline: “A Very Good Copy of the Exceedingly Rare First Edition, First Printing.”

In the end, your description must tell a compelling story, tell it well and economically, and leave the reader in a frame of mind to buy.

Never forget that writing - no matter what form - is an act of seduction. Entice, tempt, bait, and conquer.

The principles of writing good catalog descriptions for the trade are summed up by one of the key principles of journalism. I’ve known this instinctively but it was recently - and delightfully - expressed to me by Cokie Anderson, head cataloger for Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts and Booktryst contributor, in a form not likely used by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger but quite possibly by William Randolph Hearst. Phil, a former journalist, confirmed it to me in Cokie’s exact words as today’s headline, which is vernacular straight from the newsroom floor that marries the Huh? Wow! Oh! all in one very tidy - and attention-grabbing, indeed! - line that clearly sets priorities when writing rare book descriptions.

It got your attention, didn't it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Erotika Biblia at the Colophon Club

Colophons will be swollen and printer slugs tumescent when Bruce Whiteman, Head Librarian at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library of U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles, presents an address to The Colophon Club of San Francisco on October 13, 2009 titled Erotika Biblia or, Collecting Naughty Books at a Distinguished Institutional Library (Not at the Public’s Expense, I Assure You).
Bruce has been kind to share in advance with me the text of his lecture. In it, he discusses William Clark’s personal interest in erotica, erotica esoterica, and the kind of material in this area that Bruce has been acquiring for the Clark, with attention to some of the more interesting collections he’s bought, and unusual titles, amongst which are (and these are near the apex - or nadir, depending upon one’s point of view):

• The fourth known copy of Dirty Dogs for Dirty Puddings, or Memoirs of the Luscious Amours of the Several Persons of Both Sexes of Quality and Distinction, 1732, which includes a dialogue between “Lean-Asse” and “Fat-Asse.”

The Natural History of the Frutex Vulvaria, or Flowering Shrub, 1732. Only three copies in two states of this pamphlet are recorded.

An Essay Upon Improving and Adding to the Strength of Great-Britain and Ireland, By Fornication, Justifying the Same from Scripture and Reason, 1735.

Broken Slavery, or the Society of Free-Farters, 1756, printed at ( in Greek-disguised) “Fartopolis.” (The book is in French).

The Colophon Club of San Francisco was founded in 1979 by Sandra Denola Kirshenbaum, a rare-book dealer before founding Fine Print in 1975, a journal devoted to the book arts. At the time, the Roxburghe Club, established in 1928 for book collectors of a particularly erudite (some would say insufferably snobbish) stripe, was a men-only fraternity. The Colophon Club was formed to give women working in the book arts a place to belong and, in part, to add a more social element to the local book scene. Its members include bibliophiles, book collectors, art printers, bookbinders, book artists, etc. It's a wonderful group of Old School and New School craftspeople and aficionados who meet once a month to talk shop and listen to guest speakers over dinner and drinks.

Bruce Whiteman has published books and essays on bibliography, poetry, publishing history, book collecting, and forgery. His most recent book is a translation of the Pervigilium Veneris (New York: Russell Maret, 2009). Bruce is one of the leading lights in the Southern California rare book world, his influence has spread nationwide, and he's a genuinely nice - and very witty - man. His brain is the size of a watermelon which he somehow fits into a standard- sized cranium; he’s amongst the smartest, most erudite and knowledgeable people I have the pleasure to call a friend. We’ve known each other for ten years, having bonded over rare books in general and the subject of erotic literature in particular. I’ve had the privilege of offering him a few choice volumes of erotica over the years which he was kind enough to acquire for the Clark.

Anyone with an interest in the subject will want to attend. Bruce really knows his stuff and I learned things from the lecture's text that I’d not known before. Bruce can be very annoying in that regard, and I thank him.

The lecture is, presumably, for members only, but you may be shown mercy by contacting Nancy Wickes at or at 510 849-2376 by October 7th.

When: Tuesday, October 13, 2009.
Where: The Berkeley Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA
Time: Cocktails 6. Dinner 7. Lecture 8.
Cost: $33.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beware Of Bibliophiles Bearing Bedbugs

To avoid what amounts to a modern day version of the Trojan Horse, Denver Public Library has banned one of its most avid borrowers due to his continued introduction of vermin into the book collection.

The borrower in question, Roger Goffeney, is actually uninterested in reading the books he takes out. Rather he reviews the books, comparing them to online versions scanned into the Project Gutenberg database of archived materials. Unfortunately, this review process takes place in Goffeney 's home, an apartment in downtown Denver owned by the Catholic Archdiocese. This apartment is infested with bedbugs, and therein the rub, or rather the itch.

On three separate occasions, the main branch of the Denver library has been quarantined and fumigated due to Goffeney's returning of books with a little something extra inside: namely bedbugs, their larval offspring, and their feces. Thirty-one books have been destroyed in efforts to contain the infestation, according to Susan Greene of The Denver Post.

Many of the books Mr. Goffeney has contaminated are rare volumes of classic literature obtained via interlibrary loan. This fact led Denver Public Library's Manager of Security and Safety, Tom Scott, to point out: "It's everybody's collections and everybody's homes at risk."

Mr. Goffeney takes no responsibility for the invasion of the bedbugs. He admits that his apartment is overrun with insects that "skip, hop and jump," into the library books he stacks on the floor next to his bed. However he blames his "lousy landlord" for the problem. (No indication whether the Archdiocese actually has a lice problem, or if Goffeney is using the term "lousy" figuratively.)

Library officials have asked the erstwhile preservationist to bag any books he returns, and to refrain from returning them in the drop slot that empties directly into the building. He has refused to cooperate. The library responded by canceling Goffeney's borrowing privileges, and banning him from the premises. "At this point, it's an intentional act," says Tom Scott. Costs for fumigating the main branch have reached $6,000. This does not include the replacement cost of the books that have been damaged or destroyed.

Goffeney recently visited the offices of The Denver Post in order to protest his "unfair" treatment by the library. He's irate that the system has banned and fined him, and that he will be charged with criminal trespass should he try to access the facility. He fails to see the irony in the fact that the very books he hoped to preserve wound up being destroyed due to the blight. "Huh . . .," he says. "I guess I've never thought of it like that."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Last Chance For Planned Parenthood + 40 Tons of Books

The 35th annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale is currently in progress at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, California. Beginning on September 16, 2009, it will continue through this Sunday, September 27th.

The Planned Parenthood Book Sale has now become a major happy hunting ground for book collectors and dealers. Opening day found a dozen book lovers lined up at 8AM; by the time the doors opened at 5PM collectors had reproduced into the hundreds and descended upon the collectible books display tables like starving neonates in search of mother’s milk. Think a Macy’s ladies undergarment sale with frenzied shoppers going through the merchandise as if in a battle royal, life and death, free-for-all.

“These are the compulsive bibliophiles and dealers,” sale chair Peggy Nicholson said of the opening night crowd. “When you get to check out at 9 o’clock you practically have to grab them by the neck and move them out.”

Nicholson said the sale, a fundraiser for local chapters of Planned Parenthood, grows, by book volume, every year. Last year, she said the sale grossed $123,908, the exact same amount to the dollar that it made in 2007. On opening night, the sale typically brings in around $23,000.

Volunteers start cataloguing and pricing the books in early January. Nicholson said so many books are donated at the organization’s warehouse, 721 E. Gutierrez St., that volunteers consistently work two days a week through September preparing for the sale.

Moving the 40 tons of books to Warren Hall this year required three moving trucks, and Nicholson said volunteers spent two days unpacking.

Collectors and dealers come from all over California to sift through the selection of books which, in a stroke merchandising genius, are replenished daily with fresh material, thereby keeping serious book stalkers busy for the entire length of the fair and not just on opening night to cherry-pick the ripest fruit.

This is not a laid back book fair. It’s a ten-day bustle n’ hustle for books and tranquility takes a holiday until buyers get home, sit back and bathe in the warmth of new acquisitions.

More from the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Has the Government of Nepal Shut Down the Kathmandu Post?

Servers for the Kathmandu Post have been been non-responsive for the last forty-eight hours in the wake of two stories within the last week involving books, freedom of the press and speech issues.

In the midst of gathering material for yesterday’s post on Barnes & Noble in Kathmandu, I came across a curious story in the online Kathmandu Post (aka Kantipur Online) about the rare book trade in Nepal.

On September 20, 2009, Harsha Man Maharjan reported that “the rare book business is expanding in Kathmandu. But the sellers do not want to divulge much information, because they don't want their competitors to know their trade secrets. So it's a difficult task finding out what really goes on in this sector. It is difficult to find out who is engaged in the business. If we google the rare book market in Nepal, chances are only Pilgrims Book House will come up. But there are quite a few other traders, who prefer to keep a low profile.

“Rare book sellers are quite rare in Kathmandu.”

I didn’t expect a booming rare book trade in Nepal. Then, in the last paragraph, the story took an interesting turn:

“Many ethnic communities are working to rewrite Nepal’s history to counter the official version that is being taught in the schools. There is a plethora of history books based on texts produced by foreign scholars. Except for a few writers, they rarely use texts from Nepal. Nepali scholars should write history from Nepali texts. And rare books definitely help in this task.”

The full text can be found on South Asian Media Net; the Kathmandu Post has disappeared from the Web.

Just a few days prior to that story, the Kathmandu Post ran an article on the Power of the Press; that story, too, is now inaccessible.

The BBC has recently reported that Nepal has been involved in a civil war with Maoist guerillas for the last ten years; over 16,000 people have been killed thus far. It is also trying to maintain a political balance with China, which claims to have interests in the nation, as does India.

Two weeks ago, Reporters Without Borders ran a story, Authorities Tighten Grip on Tibetan Websites and Readers.

All this has occurred leading up to a gushing reception held yesterday, September 23d, at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China that was attended by senior political leaders of both nations.

Not a word of the fate of the Kathmandu Post has been reported on,

Has the Nepalese government, in it’s careful dance with China, cracked down on freedom of the press?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Barnes and Noble Opens New Shop in...Kathmandu?

Is Barnes & Noble trying to conquer the Asian book market beginning from the continent’s highest altitude to it’s lowest? Attempting to provide Mt. Everest climbers with reading material for the schlep up and down?

Has the executive suite at Barnes & Noble filled with hashish smoke, courtesy of Kathmandu’s famed Eden Hashish Centre?

When Maria and Gim, two travelers reporting on their Around the World in 90 Days tour for Travelblog, were recently walking around the Thamel district of Katmandu, the city’s tourist district, during their visit to Nepal, they turned a corner and passed the above book shop. Gim got some great deals on new books at $5 each. I presume used-new as opposed to counterfeit new.

“Doesn’t seem to be a branch of our beloved Barnes in the States though.” Gim reports.

Unlikely. I don't think the chain (or its legal reach) is that long. But try to open an indie Barnes & Noble Book House in Kalamazoo and a K2 -size legal team will fall on you.

Two questions remain, for those of a certain turn of mind: Where, Oh, Where is the Eden Hashish Center located in Kathmandu? and Does Southwest have direct flights?

Bad news for bongers: The Eden Hashish Center closed in 1973 under pressure from the Nepalese government, in turn pressured by the U.S. And no, Southwest does not fly into Kathmandu.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Library Nixes Final Exits

In what would seem to be the smart move for a library that values live customers, Vancouver Public Library has opted to cancel a scheduled workshop on how to commit suicide.

The Australian-based suicide advocacy organization, Exit International, has been denied the use of a room for the workshop to be held in early September. The booking was cancelled by city librarian Paul Whitney, upon receipt of advice from attorneys and the Vancouver Police Department. Whitney stated he was told: "In what, for lawyers, I would describe as fairly unambiguous language that the program as presented by Exit International would be in contravention of the Criminal Code."

Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code states that it is an indictable offense to counsel or aid or abet any person to commit suicide. The maximum sentence if convicted is 14 years, whether a suicide takes place or not. "This seems sort of, fairly clear to us," Whitney told the media. The two part workshop was to consist of a public discussion on the politics of the assisted suicide movement, and then a private lesson for persons over 55 years of age on specific ways to commit suicide that would include information about which drugs to take, how to obtain them, and how to ingest them. It was this private part of the program that caused the library to cancel the event.

Exit International is now planning to hold a workshop on assisted suicide elsewhere in Vancouver in early November. Meanwhile the group hopes the library will rescind the ban. David Eby, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the association will be meeting with the library's board of directors in an effort to have the ban lifted. He said the library was inappropriately restricting free speech by preventing the right-to-die group from discussing suicide methods with members of the public.

Exit International founder Dr. Phillip Nitschke admits his group's workshops are controversial, but says his organization wants to help the terminally ill decide when and how they die. "What we do at these gatherings is to, first of all, explain to people why we think it's a good idea to know how to kill yourself peacefully and reliably."

John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition British Columbia believes that the library made the right decision. He observed that carrying a book about an illegal activity is not equivalent to holding a seminar on how to accomplish such an activity. "I am certain the Library has books about robbing banks, making bombs, and all sorts of other illegal activity. Can we expect 'how to' workshops on these things in the near future and will the Civil Liberties people be lining up to defend the rights of those presenters too? People who give lessons on how to kill people, be it yourself or someone else, should be dealt with by the police and charged with aiding and abetting."

Criminologist Russell Ogden says the proposed workshops focus on content that is already readily available in other publications, including books in the Vancouver Public Library dating back to 1991. "We have the curious circumstance where the publication of the material is apparently fine with the public library but talking about it is not," he said.

Librarian Whitney stands by his decision to cancel the workshop: "Freedom of speech and access to information are core values for us, but having said that, the library was not prepared to be party to a probable criminal offense, which could result in the loss of life."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Library Bling: The Chain's The Thing

Bookish buyers break out your bucks. The British edition of Elle Magazine has chosen the must have fashion accessory for Fall 2009: "Dirty Librarian Chains."

Reporter Amy Lawrensen announces the trend with her In Store This Week column: "Dirty Librarian Chains will add autumn’s essential punk edge to anything pretty."

Promising to deliver "an edgy, understated and yet slightly askew elegance," designer Susan Domelsmith creates a collection of "vintage chains that were deconstructed and reconfigured into new designs, meticulously composed, but still exuding an easy, streetwise wearability." What to call these chains NOT made for fools? What else but "Dirty Librarian Chains?"

The line's website features a lipsticked librarian sucking on a pencil, her throat encircled by the designer's "Archive" necklace. Other chains in the collection bear such bibliophilic monikers as "Prose," "Poetry," "Stacks," "Verso," "Due Date," and "Reference." Matching bracelets, earrings, and rings are also available. And finally catering to the muses who inspired these baubles, bangles, and beads, Domelsmith offers the "Dewey Eyeglass Chain" in gold tone, silver tone, or printer friendly black and white. Librarians of the world unite. You've got style to gain with these chains.

Update: Philly Free Dodges Bullet

We are pleased to report a happy ending to a potentially dire story featured here recently. In an encouraging development for threatened urban public libraries, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted to pass a bill which allows the Free Library of Philadelphia to remain open.

Passed on September 17, 2009, Senate Bill 1828 allows the City of Philadelphia to avoid the "Doomsday" Plan C budget scenario, which would have resulted in the layoff of 3,000 city employees and forced the closing of all libraries.

According to the Free Library's blog, more than 2,000 letters were received by state legislators, along with countless calls and emails underscoring the importance of public libraries to the community. The legislation passed by a vote of 32 to 17, and provides monies to keep all 54 branches in the system open.

Pennsylvania is nicknamed The Keystone State. A keystone is the central wedge-shaped stone in an arch which holds all the other stones in place:

keystone in arch

The public library is likewise a key supporting a state's social, economic, cultural, and educational life. Pennsylvania, the home of the Liberty Bell and the birthplace of the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address, also boasts a citizenry strong enough to support the foundations of democracy: freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right to read.

On the Road With Minnesota Fats

by Stephen J. Gertz

I’ve been shooting pool since I was four years old. No con. By the time I was six I was playing for stakes. My first sucker was a neighborhood kid in Washington Heights. I spotted him coming out of a candy store with an enormous bag of gumdrops. He was about five years older than me but I shot him straight pool and I won every last one of his gumdrops. He went home crying. When I was ten I started playing for cash” (Minnesota Fats, The Bank Shot and Other Robberies).

My introduction to Minnesota Fats, legendary pool hustler:

It’s 1986. After arriving late into Nashville, I check into The Hermitage, the hotel where Fats, 73, lives rent-free in exchange for hanging out on the hotel’s mezzanine and shooting pool for and with the guests for a few hours each day. He’s in the lobby, lounging on a sofa with two very attractive women draped over him like shawls.

“You’re late, Kid,” he caroms in a gruffly quiet yet very emphatic New York accent. I’m thirty-five. “I got the double-double on these tomatoes. It’s harvest time. I’ll catch you on the break.”

He stands up, the chicks attach themselves to his arms, and the three vamoose to his room.

I catch him on the break – at breakfast the next morning.

“Let’s belt out some calories,” he commands, “and we’ll talk the proposition.”

Said proposition: I’m in town to supervise a brief promotional tour for Fats’ first (and only) video, How To Play Pool Starring Minnesota Fats (Karl-Lorimar Video, 1986). It is also the exact time that Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money is being released, the latter-day sequel to The Hustler (1961), the movie that introduced Minnesota Fats to the world. Disney gave me the double-door when I proposed a promotional alliance, and now, just for spite, I’m determined to piggy-back onto The Color of Money because the color of money is the same hue for both projects and we need to sell 15,000 copies for the video to break even.

I’ve set up a release party in Nashville with the help of a local music industry publicist who’s promised to deliver the city’s Country-Western stars; Waylon Jennings is in the video as Fatty’s guest, everybody in town loves Fats, and, I'm assured, it’s a Hungarian cinch that the party will be star-studded. The publicist is also a very attractive woman, a fact that will go a long way toward ensuring Fatty’s ongoing cooperation because he put the cranky in cantankerous and cannot be moved by anything other than money on the table or a gorgeous babe. As there is no money on the table (or anywhere else) for him to be paid for his promo toil, this is not an effort he is enthusiastic about enduring, and the big maha from the home office, me, does not impress him at all. For all I know, Fats considers me strictly a filage.

Breakfast conversation quickly turns from the proposition to all the people Fats has known “since time began.” Fats has a generous sense of temporal existence. He, in fact, has a generous sense of just about everything and has turned hyperbole into high art. A woman is not merely beautiful, she is beautiful “beyond compare,” she “makes Raquel Welch look like an onion.” He is, also, “the greatest storyteller since Aesop,” and after listening to him for a while I know he’s on the square; I could listen to him for hours. He speaks in a colorful patois, the language of poolrooms, gamblers and hustlers, and I want to hang a jewelry box around his neck like a feed bag to catch the pearls that routinely fall out of his mouth. He is an enchanting, if sometimes difficult, personality.
David Kastle, Fatty’s manager, has joined us. David is a few years younger than I am, a sharp guy who fell in love with Fats and decided to take him on and reinvigorate his career, which had faded with his advancing age leaving not much more than the legend. But a legend is not legal tender; bills have to be paid with cash. The legend needed to be leveraged. The video deal is a first step and David will be accompanying us for the duration. He, too, wants everything to run smoothly. David can handle Fats – up to a point. When reason fails bring in the girls.

I spend the afternoon frantically going over arrangements with the publicist who lulls me into a sense of nervous prostration. Everything will be fine – unless it isn’t.

Dolly Parton, George Jones, and the rest of the stellar cast of promised Country-Western artists have, evidently, made other plans for the evening - they are not standing by their man - and the press has, apparently, other pressing engagements. I’m dying, David Kastle is fuming. The publicist blames a misalignment of the planets.

Fatty, in contrast, couldn’t care less. Salesmen and the V.P. of Ingram Distribution’s video division are in attendance and eager to shoot a little pool with the legend, who has no qualms about separating them from their simoleans and it doesn’t matter whether it’s two-bits, a single, a fin, a ten-spot or a deuce that’s on the table, money means action and he’s as predatory as if a carbuncle had been laid on the felt. No matter how shallow or deep the green, Fatty sees red, smells blood, goes in for the kill, and whacks out all of ‘em. But never have losers felt so much like winners; the salesmen now have a story, How Minnesota Fats Wiped the Table With My Ass, that they’ll be telling for the rest of their lives.

Were it not for its motivating effect upon the sales force – a fact far more important than having stars show up – the release party would have been a complete scratch. It is an ill-wind omen of things to come, as is the brick itching to evacuate my bowels.
Afterward, Fats, David, the publicist, the Ingram V.P., and I grab a late dinner and, once again, Fatty regales with stories about Willie Mosconi – his pool-universe arch-enemy; Princess Fatima, who appreciated his moves with a stick; Zsa-Zsa Gabor; the day Dillinger dropped; Russian pinochle on the high seas; craps on the Hudson; a south-of-the-border standoff (“El Gordo,” the Fat One, wins); the sultans, viziers, rajas, ranis, maharajas, the crowned heads of Europe, the potentates of all stripes that he's met, and other fables from a fabled life.

With all his talk about knowing everyone since God created the heavens and earth, I can’t help but try to throw him a curve to see if I can force a strike.

“Did you know Louis Levinson?” This was a cousin of mine, actually one of my paternal grandfather’s first cousins, an ultimately deceased by unnatural cause citizen of Detroit  who might just as well have been a denizen of Damon Runyon’s Broadway, an underworld character with color and a legend of his own.
He swings.
Home run.
But before I can confirm that yes, I am referring to “Sleep-Out Louie" Levinson, second-story man in youth, a gambler of renown and owner of Club Flamingo, a rug-joint (an illegal casino with carpeting to attract the straight, monied class, as opposed to the standard clandestine, no-frills sawdust-joint) in Newport, Kentucky, action-central for gambling in the mid-west U.S., Fatty proceeds to weave the tale of how “Sleep-Out “ earned his moniker, a story I was weaned on: He lived at home but his professional activities were nocturnal and he’d often return at all hours of the early morning, if he got home at all. More often than not, he’d just lie down on a table in the local pool hall and cop z’s, hence “Sleep-Out.”

When he didn’t show up at home, his mother, my grandfather's Aunt Mary, a big bear of a Russian Jewess who, had she remained in the Motherland, could have crushed Hitler’s invading army simply by falling on it, would go out looking for him, her first stop the pool hall where she’d find him sawing logs comfy on the green felt, grab him by the ear and march him out of the pool room, down the street, and home like he was a five-year-old juvenile delinquent. This scene would invariably inspire hysterics in bystanders innocent and otherwise.
"Sleep-Out" earned a couple of footnotes in the Federal annals during his career. At the 1951 O'Conor Senate Committee Investigating Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce hearings, the following burlesque routine occurred during the October 16th session:
Witness: John Maddock, bookie.

Mr. Rice. Have you ever transacted any business with Howard Sports in Baltimore?

Mr. Maddock. Who is Howard Sports?

Mr. Rice. Howard Sports, the news service.

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.

Mr. Rice. In 1944, did you transact any business with Howard Sports ?

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.

Mr. Rice. Do you know a man by the name of Sleep-out Louis ?

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.
Later that same day:
Witness: Meyer Rosen “sporting figure” in Baltimore, the night-shift bartender at Phil's Bar, a job that covered his bookmaking activities:

Mr. Rice. I have a series of checks here, I wonder if you can help us out on these. They are drawn on that account [Phil's Bar]. Here is one drawn December 13, 1945, on that Maryland Trust Co. account to Louis Levinson in the amount of $7,227, deposited in Newport, Ky.

Mr. Rosen. I don't know anything about it.

Mr. Rice. Did you ever hear anything about Louis Levinson?

Mr. Rosen. Never heard of him.

Mr. Rice. Wouldn't know any reason why "Sleep Out Louie" would be receiving $7,000 from Phil's Bar account?
Mr. Rosen: I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.
"Sleep-Out," apparently, was held in such high esteem by his colleagues that to even admit to his existence was considered a profoundly rude discourtesy, anti-social behavior that might land you in the slammer - or worse. His brother, my "Uncle" Eddie Levinson, was one of Meyer Lansky's top lieutenants ("Eddie Levine" gets a slice of the Cuba cake in Godfather II), running Meyer's casinos in Miami, Havana, and Las Vegas.
Suffice it to say, when news of my connection to Sleep-Out hits Fatty's ears my stock with him rises into the stratosphere. I'm practically family. It won't last long.
Our first and last stop on the grand tour is Atlanta. Ingram has set up a few in-store appearances for Fatty, the Atlanta premiere for The Color of Money will occur while we’re in town, and I’ve heard a rumor that Paul Newman and Tom Cruise will be racing at the Atlanta Speedway that weekend. This is our opp to glom on to The Color of Money like green on a pea.
Make it happen, I tell the publicist, who, as insurance for Fatty's continuing cooperation, I insist must accompany us to Atlanta.
Just how we got to Atlanta from Nashville is lost to me, contrary to Montaigne's dictum that "nothing fixes a thing so intensely as the desire to forget it." Chalk it up to PTSD.
We arrive at our hotel, dump our stuff, eat lunch, and head for the first video store on the schedule. Ingram, apparently, sub-contracted the in-store promotion and publicity to the CIA because all evidence points to Fatty's appearance being a state secret. David Kastle is royally pissed, the publicist is tsk-tsk-ing, I'm beside myself (always one too many) with aggravation, and "El Gordo" is irritated "beyond compare." We go through the motions with a few people who accidentally walk into the store, and wrap up this disaster before FEMA shows up.
The store didn't even have any copies of the record on hand.

I couldn't bear any of the promotional tchotchkes that vendors had been offering - how many variations on an 8-ball can there be? Plenty, it turned out: 8-ball keychains, 8-ball paperweights, 8-ball slip-on pencil erasers, pens with a hula girl with 8-ball breasts, 8-ball balls, etc. (including a cue stick pen). So when David Kastle told me that he'd recently thrown Fats into a recording studio with a bunch of young, adoring guys and dolls, had Fats tell his stories, and taped the whole thing, I ran some numbers and realized we could press and package a record for only three cents more per unit than the cost of the lame promo gifts I was offered. Hence, The Sultan of Stroke: The Legendary Minnesota Fats in His Own Words. Mea culpa: my title.
Because when he spun his amusing folk tales of pool hustling life he employed his own, incomparable, often indecipherable argot, I reprinted the glossary that appears within The Bank Shot and Other Robberies, Fats' autobiography and the best book that Fats had anything to do with, on the back of the album cover as A Brief Dictionary of the English Language by Minnesota Fats. Any one with an interest in weird words and phrases needs to get a copy of this book; there are things within the glossary that I've never seen in any slang dictionary, or heard elsewhere. Space precludes a full reprint; here are a few gems, in Minnesota Fats' own words:
A Filage: An out-and-out fraud. An impostor claiming he's a chef when he can't even fry an egg. (The word, of French origin, is slang for cheating, as in palming a card, or faking, as in bluffing. I use it as a noun and a verb).
Who Shot John?: Ridiculous conversation, ridiculous beyond compare.
Hungarian Cinch: A proposition where there's no way to lose. A sure thing, a mortal lock.
A Carbuncle: A Gargantuan bankroll, like maybe the size of an eggplant.
A Tomato: A doll whose natural endowments are exquisite beyond belief.
A Multi: A person who not only has millions but lives like he has millions.
A Big Maha: A very important person who moves like a very important person. (Short for Maharajah).
The Double-Double: extra-strong sweet-talk, usually accompanied by a smile.
The Double Door: To get rid of somebody real quick, like walking in the front door of a joint and out a side door.
The Horns: When there's no way to win a bet on account of somebody has put a curse on you.
Tush Hog: A very tough guy who is always looking to use muscle on somebody.
Triple Smart: An extremely intelligent person who is not only three or even more times more intelligent than a very intelligent person, but whose intellectual capabilities border on the phenomenal. A triple smart person is such a rare and extraordinary individual that only one comes along in a whole lifetime. (In my long and illustrious career, I've also been known as both Double Smart Fats and Triple Smart Fats).
Tapioca: The never-never land of busted gamblers. A very, very lonely and hideous place indeed.

• • •

The other video store on the calendar? A sensory deprivation tank with cash register and drop-in box.
By this time, I'm feeling in the thick of the pudding, Tapioca's favorite son.
We eat dinner at a coffee shop near the theater where The Color of Money will shortly make its Atlanta debut. Sitting at the counter, we have two women flanking us who, upon overhearing our conversation and learning who the old guy with us is, lean in so close that Fats now has human epaulets on his shoulders. Please believe me when I tell you that they soon opened their purses, took out the keys to their hotel rooms across the street, and presented them to Fats. I have never seen anything like it. Young, old, and all women in between fell all over Minnesota Fats when he opened his mouth. His name and legend were a free pass to Mount Venus.
We can see a crowd forming in front of the theater with a line snaking up the street and around the corner.
"I'm not standing in no line," Fats states as inarguable fact.
Not a problem. I walk our group up toward the entrance and whisper to the theater crowd control kid the identity of the old man in our party, a whisper modulated so that only people within a half-mile radius can overhear. 

Magically, the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Oohs, ahs, and hushed bruits accompany our promenade through the mob, into the theater, and into our seats because every one alive has heard of Minnesota Fats but few have ever seen him; the legend precedes him like Jane Mansfield's rack and, like same, everyone wants to bump into it, if for no other reason than a reality check.
"Minnesota Fats" was born Rudolf Wanderone in 1913 in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood. When he was ten years old, his father took him to Europe to study with the great German billiards player Erich Hagenlocher. He won his first major tournament when he was thirteen. He left school in the eighth grade and began his life as a traveling pool hustler. Over the years he became known by many variations of the handle "Fats:" Triple Smart Fats, Broadway Fats, Chicago Fats, etc. He was New York Fats when The Hustler came out in 1961. When Willie Mosconi, who had been the technical adviser on the film, let it slip that the fictional character "Minnesota Fats" in the movie was based upon New York Fats, Rudolf "New York Fats" Wanderone, approximately a nanosecond afterward, exploited the situation, appropriated the character's name, and Minnesota Fats - a real, living person and instant legend - was born. He became a popular guest on television talk shows, noted as much for his entertaining manner as his pool skills. And he loved the limelight.
The limelight had dimmed to near dark, and the pathetic direction of this little tour had become a humiliating embarrassment for Fatty, who, incidentally, hated The Color of Money. My affection for Fats had grown deep, my well of guilt was overflowing its large capacity, and I definitely felt like a cheap filage.
He was not happy about schlepping out to the Atlanta Speedway on the off-chance that we might catch Newman and Cruise and capture publicity. The publicist, who was now assuaging Fats' mounting irritation with full-time cooing that was losing its ability to calm, was dubious about us getting in. I insisted that we try.
We arrive at the Speedway and pull into the parking lot. A young attendant stops us. The publicist, who is driving with Fats in the passenger seat next to her, rolls down the window. I'm in the back seat with David Kastle, and the gist of what I hear is that we cannot enter without special tickets to get us to the pit area where Newman and Cruise are hanging out. The publicist is trying to BS our way in. 

Rudolf Wanderone, aka Triple Smart Fats, Broadway Fats, and Chicago Fats, who had been unusually quiet during the  drive,  was  growing  visibly agitated.

"I have often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says, 'This is the real me'" (William James).
Fed-up with how events had thus far transpired and with patience exhausted for everything, he leaned in toward the publicist so that the parking attendant could see and hear him through the window and, age seventy-three now electrically and instantly rolled back decades, impaled the young man with an existential flag on sharpened flagpole meant for the whole world:
"I'm Minnesota Fats" - he then emphatically grabbed his crotch - "an' here's my fuckin' ticket!"
We breezed in.
In over twenty years I have never seen a copy of The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies (New York: World, 1966) in fine condition in a fine dust jacket. There just don't seem to be any out there. I am aware of only one signed copy but I am somewhat dubious about its authenticity: Minnesota Fats rarely signed anything in holograph; he carried a self-inking rubber stamp of his signature which he used whenever asked for an autograph. When I inquired about how long he had been doing so, he simply - and predictably - declared, "since time began."
He died in 1993.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Hollywood Ending For Highland Park Library

A Michigan library closed since 2002 has a chance to be revived courtesy of Hollywood.

In a unique resuscitation of yet another public library drowning in a sea of red ink, a filmmaker's inspiration may accomplish what a city could not. The saga of the McGregor Public Library in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit, captured the imagination of writer-director-producer Andrew Meieran when he learned of it while surfing the web.

The library began as a grand symbol of the industry, prosperity, and culture of a community. The village of Highland Park was incorporated as a city in 1918 to protect its tax base, including the Highland Park Ford Plant, where Henry Ford opened the first assembly line in 1913. Chrysler later chose to build its world headquarters in the suburb. In 1910 Highland Park had 4,120 residents. Between 1910 and 1920 that population increased by 1,081 percent. Good jobs were plentiful, and middle class homeowners ensured a healthy economy.

In 1918, the voters of Highland Park approved a $500,000 bond issue for library construction. The library was to be a grand architectural symbol for the proud community. At the time of the groundbreaking, Adam Strohm, head of the Detroit Public Library, advised the city government: "whatever you do, make the building attractive—beautiful inside and out—so that one gets an
uplift, a clear vision of beauty in the building. When you do that, you do
something not alone for Highland Park, but for the Nation."

The new McGregor Library was dedicated on March 5, 1926, and was the recipient of a Gold Medal for Architectural Merit by the AIA. The most outstanding of the building's many artistic flourishes was the entrance, a lavishly decorated pair of bronze doors designed by Chicago sculptor
Frederick Torrey.

The design fittingly celebrated the
automotive industry. Double doors are graced by winged figures, one a symbol of mechanics, the other a symbol of the creative spirit. Together they support the torch of knowledge.

Those magnificent doors are now concealed behind crude plywood boards. The building, a once monument to culture and literacy, is a decaying relic fallen to rack and ruin. Why the drastic reversal of fortune? In the late 1950s Henry Ford bought huge tracts of inexpensive land outside of Detroit and built new plants. When the Highland Park Plant was closed, jobs dried up and homeowners fled. A declining population and increasing poverty soon followed, accompanied by a high crime rate. In 1967 the Detroit riots dealt another blow to the

White flight from the area accelerated, and Highland Park became a city of impoverished minorities. Then Chrysler left for the suburbs, and the city had insufficient taxable income to maintain its infrastructure. That included the now dilapidated and woefully underfunded library.

Filmmaker Meieran has vowed to restore the library to its former glory, ironically to create a suitable location for depicting its decline. The film, with a working title of "Highland Park" and expected to star Danny Glover, might generate enough publicity to bring charitable donations and federal grants sufficient to reopen the building.

Dorothy Robinson, artistic director of Detroit's oldest black professional theater company hopes that comes to pass. At a recent news conference announcing the movie, Robinson sought out those in charge of the production to ask about work for her actors. "When they reopen the library, we'll know Highland Park is back."

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