Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Wild-Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller, Series 2, Episode 4

by Arnold M. Herr

A hot August afternoon, 1989:

Mickey Tsimmis and I were standing in front of his book shop on Melrose Ave. gazing at the pus-colored air hovering over Hollywood and the Mickster was waxing annoyed. 

Mickey:  You’ve gotten a lot mileage out of the stories you tell about me.  Drinks, meals, women, money, fame.

Me:  Uh huh…if only that were true.

Mickey:  People have said that I’m a figment of your imagination.

Me:  Yeah, I’ve heard that too.

Mickey:  That’s wrong.  I’m a figment of my own imagination.  Give credit where credit is due.

Me:  OK, tell me a story I haven’t heard before.  I’ll give you full credit for it.

Mickey:  All right.  This one happened in 1933 when we were living near Crotona Park in the Bronx.  Big apartment house.  My mother used to go into hysterics for no reason at all.  The slightest perceived insult would get her raving.  She loved tapping into her inner Blanche du Bois.  Weeping, thrashing around, hollering…it was all very theatrical.  My father, mother and I were home one day; I don’t remember where my brother Irving was, but I’m sure he wasn’t there.  When my mother was really stressed out she would dash out of the apartment, run up to the roof and threaten to throw herself off.  I dreamed of the day she would go through with it; I longed for it.

One time she dashed up there with my copy of Bomba the Jungle Boy, a book I loved.  I ran after trying to get it back.  She got to the edge and ripped it apart and threw the pieces into the air and they fluttered down to the street below.  I was so upset I started running toward her intending to push her over the parapet.  Before I reached her though, I stopped, realized what I had nearly done and fell into a swoon.   As I lay there, she rushed over and started beating me; she must have sensed the murder in my eyes.  It probably frightened her so she responded in the only way she knew how:  she drubbed me into a coma.

Anyway, on this later occasion, she went tearing up to the roof.  I don’t remember what set her off, but she was screaming hysterically.  Foaming at the mouth too.  My father who was seated at his desk turned to me and said “Go up and see that she doesn’t hurt herself.”  I asked him “Why don’t you go up?  You’re an adult.  I’m just a kid.” 

Pop said, “Because I’m busy.  I’m writing a poem.  Get going.” 

I started whining, “I don’t like going up there.  It scares me.  She scares me.”  He said, “I know, sometimes she scares ME.  But she’s acting crazy, so go anyway.”

I hated him for that.  “I can’t stop her, she’s bigger than I am,” I argued.  “She might throw me off the roof.”  But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

“Stop being silly and go up there.  Now!”

At that point a body dropped past the window and a loud smack could be heard from the sidewalk.  My father and I stared at each other for what seemed like a full minute.

 Finally I said, “I guess I don’t have to go up on the roof now, huh?

And he said to me, “Go in the kitchen and see if she left us anything for dinner.”

Next: A dead dog on Melrose and the thrill of Animal Control.

Nancy Takes a Break

Nancy Mattoon, Booktryst's popular library correspondent, is taking a well-deserved vacation and will return in August.

We wish her the best of rests and look forward to her homecoming.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sacher-Masoch Complains About Suffering

by Stephen J. Gertz

On the sixteenth of February, 1887, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the journalist and author whose  novel, Venus In Furs (1870), provided the first literary documentation of female sexual domination, male subjugation, and the erotic joy of of pain and suffering, wrote a letter to his friend, French novelist Alphonse Daudet.

The year before, in 1886, the first edition of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis appeared. In this classic text on sexual psychopathology, Krafft-Ebing coined the term "masochism" to describe the behavior of those who are sexually aroused by pain and suffering. Sacher-Masoch thus became the first person in history to have a sexual variation named after him while still alive and published in a major book for all to read. 

And you think Facebook is fast and loose with your personal life.

So it is was with great, if unintended, mordant humor that Sacher-Masoch opened this letter to Daudet with the following:

“Still suffering ["toujours souffrant”], I could not come to the opening of Nuima Roumestan but send you my congratulations today...” 

And thus another entry into the Annals of Irony.

That said, if a masochist stubs their toe, it's not pleasant at all; it hurts like hell. It only hurts like heaven if the master or mistress commands the toe be stubbed, then sharply squeezes it afterward for loving emphasis. 

In all probability, Leopold was ill when he wrote this note. But still, if you have an eye for autograph material that  winks and makes your brain smile while appealing to your literary libido items rarely get cooler than this.

SACHER-MASOCH, Léopold von. Autograph Note, signed (“Sacher-Masoch”), to Alphonse Daudet. One page, in ink, on small blue “télégramme” form, addressed on the verso by Daudet. 12mo, Paris: 16 fevrier 1887.

Image courtesy of James Cummins Bookseller, who is currently offering this signed autograph letter, with our thanks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vintage Shoe Art Walks the Runway at Bonhams

by Stephen J. Gertz

 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Munich collector and scholar Karl Friedrich Schoensiegel assembled what was at the time one of the most important collections of shoes in the world. Exhibited in Berlin in 1939, the War prevented further public exhibition of the collection or publication.

Bonham's recently  auctioned the Schoensiegel Collection archives at their Fine Books and Manuscripts sale, June 22, 2011. Estimated to sell for between $40,000 - $60,000, the hammer fell at $42,700, including buyer's premium.

It's a tremendous archive of original watercolors, drawings, manuscripts, and scholarly materials related to shoes and their historical and their cultural significance.

Schoensiegel's vibrant and skillful watercolor renderings document the collection in part, and  other materials gathered therein preserve an important contribution to fashion scholarship that has yet to be fully realized.

The archive is comprised of: Das Schuhmuseum in der Mappe (The Shoe Museum in a Portfolio), 277 bright and clean original watercolors on paper executed by Schoensiegel, depicting shoes in the artist's own collection and in the collections of museums around the world, housed in six portfolios hand-titled in black and red. The watercolors are grouped into several geographic and historical sections: Asia, Africa, America, Australia, and Europe; Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries.

...A collection of sixty-one smaller original watercolors on paper, seven ink drawings, one drawing in pencil, and one shoe sole and ink collage, of shoes, soles, and related subjects, many of an erotic nature. It was inevitable, I suspect, that eroticism would, ultimately, suffuse the collection.

...And 145 original tracings on transparencies of shoes (many from the watercolors in the Schuhmuseum) and related subjects.

Also included are several manuscripts and typescripts, published and unpublished, of Schoensiegel's and his collaborator Valentin Dittmeier's historical and interpretative studies of shoes: Der Bau und die Funktion des Fusses {The Construction and Function of the Foot, Ulm-Donau: Fachzeitung der Schuhmachermeister, 1939]; Der Schuhim Wandel durch Sechs Jahrtausende (The Change in  Shoes Through Six Millennia, Ulm-Donau: Fachzeitung der Schuhmachermeister, 1940.]; Von der Bedeutung (Symbolik) des Fusses und des Schuhs (Of the Symbolic Meaning of the Foot and the Shoe); Geschichte der Fussbekleidung (History of Footwear); and Uber die Bedeutung des Fusses und des Schuhes. (On the Importance of the Foot and the Shoe).

Finally, the collection features several folders containing miscellaneous materials for educational use or the preparation of manuscripts including mounted clippings, reproductions of drawings, and other ephemera, with extensive annotations and captions in Schoensiegel's hand, as well as a portfolio of mounted black and white and color photographs and reproductions featuring the legs of women wearing high heels. 

All images courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Two Very Rare Books For Cat Lovers Only (A Naughty Story)

by Stephen J. Gertz

In New York City, c. 1935, an  anonymously written erotic novella was clandestinely published in parts titled, M. Fontaine's Establishment. The narrative is episodic: for a fee, interesting things are arranged for the masked patrons of M. Fontaine's establishment, a specialty brothel.

You will, then, I prithee, forgive me after I confess that when a copy of Madame Tabby's Establishment, a book I was unfamiliar with, recently passed through my hands I immediately thought, Cathouse!

"'Run," shrieked the court."

And, indeed, Madame Tabby's Establishment (1886) is a cathouse of sorts, a finishing school for kitties seeking to be all that they can be and let their feline flag fly.

"'Hang the council,' said Jumpy Wumpy."

It's the earliest book illustrated by the great cat painter, Louis Wain, and extremely rare. OCLC records only ten copies in libraries worldwide, and only one copy has come to auction within the last thirty-six years, the copy I  pawed.

"The animal! The animal!"

At the end of the last century, Louis Wain (1860-1939), the Edwardian cat artist who went mad, became a household name as an illustrator of cats, whom he depicted in all sorts of activities, from skating and playing cricket to driving motor cars, attending dances, and playing musical instruments.

"The party trotted out of the wood."

"From 1883, Wain began to draw cats as they had never been drawn before, cats in humorous guises, in human situations, but always beautifully handled, although he was sometimes forced to draw dogs before he became well-known!" (Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists 1800-1914).

"Shortears began and sung a solo. Then all the cats
 joined and sung the chorus to Madame's satisfaction."

Wain's "artistic skill had attracted some attention, and in 1886 he was asked by Macmillan to illustrate a children's book, Madame Tabby's Establishment....this book tells the story of a little girl, Diana, who, having found herself accepted in the Cat's Court (her grandmother being the late owner of the King of Cats) is sent to Madame Tabby's establishment to learn how to behave like a cat...Madam Tabby's Establishment was published in the autumn of 1886 and became quite popular in the nursery" (Dale, Rodney. Louis Wain The Man Who Drew Cats, pp. 19-20).

"Diana found herself opposite a raised dais."

"He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves" (H.G. Wells).

"Away went the cat and returned with a piece of bread wrapped in a leaf."

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, however, Wain began to exhibit symptoms of mental instability that manifest itself in his cat portraits; by the late 1920s his mental illness was full-blown and his cats went completely 'round the bend.

Painted during Wain's later mental illness.

Booktryst readers who also attended the Grateful Dead concert at Legion Stadium in Wilmington, Los Angeles on  December 26, 1970 while post-Noël tripping on 400 mgs of pure Orange Sunshine will immediately recognize the kitty in the Wain illustration above as the shape-shifting creature with shimmering aura that danced dos-e-dos oh so close in the aisle then disappeared "to the bathroom" during the last minutes of Jerry Garcia's eternal (or so it seemed) solo on Truckin', never to be seen again. 

She still looks good to me. But I want my copy of the I Ching back.

•  •  •

It's raining scarce Wain on my desk and while it was likely a random accident I prefer to think, given the wry irony, that Divine Providence placed the following delightfully charming volume immediately below Madame Tabby's Establishment in my cataloging pile. It's an even rarer book, that, just as Madame Tabby's  has nothing to do with the business at M. Fontaine's establishment, I assure you has absolutely nothing to do with Storyville, New Orleans' fabled red-light district.

Queenie (at left), however, does sing the blues.

[WAIN, Louis, illustrator]. KARI (pseudonym of Caroline Hughes). Madame Tabby's Establishment. Illustrated by L. Wain. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1886.

First edition, inscribed by the author's mother to her mother-in-law on the half-title. Octavo . [6], 157, [1, blank] pp. Seven full-page black and white illustrations, including frontispiece.

Publisher's original light blue cloth with dark blue-stamped decorated borders, gilt lettering and vignette. Black endpapers. Author's identity neatly inked below byline on title page. The inked inscription reads: "Mrs. Hughes, With best wishes of / the new year 1887 / from the author's / mother!" (Emily Hughes).

Wood 141.

WAIN, Louis. Music In Pussytown. Father Tuck's "Wonderland" Series No. 3154. London - Paris - New York: Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., n.d. [1919-1920].

First edition. Oblong quarto. [14] pp. on heavy stock. Four full-page, numerous color text illustrations throughout. Color pictorial paper boards.

No copies recorded by OCLC/KVK. Only one copy has come to auction within the last thirty-six years.

Not in Dale. Unrecorded by Wood.

Images from Madame Tabby's Establishment, which make their Internet debut here on Booktryst, courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks. Ditto thanks re: Music in Pussytown.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fame, Fortune, And First Folios At The Folger

By Nancy Mattoon

Title Page From
Folger First Folio Number 75.

(All Images Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.)

The First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623, is one of the most studied and influential books in the English language. In Summer 2011, the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to nearly a third of the world’s extant First Folios, explores the limitless allure of this volume in Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio. According to the library's press release, "The exhibition will feature eleven complete First Folios drawn from the Folger collection, as well as artwork and illustrations, portions of other First Folios, and items related to the library’s founder and avid Shakespeare collector Henry Clay Folger. The exhibition includes over one hundred items from the Folger collection, as well as materials from the Bodleian Library, Williams College, and other institutions."

Portrait Of Henry Clay Folger,
Frank O. Salisbury.
Oil On Canvas, 1927.

Exhibition co-curator Owen Williams stresses the literary importance of the volume, "The First Folio is so significant because fewer than half of the thirty-six plays contained in the Shakespeare First Folio had appeared in print before. Since Shakespeare died seven years earlier and no original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays exist, eighteen plays would likely have been lost had they not been included in the First Folio. These include some of his most famous comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Tempest, and tragedies like Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra."

Eminent commentators
and editors of Shakespeare's works

A 19th Century Print
Charles Michel Geoffroy.

Despite the high value placed on them by collectors--in 2001 a copy sold for a record $6.2 million--First Folios are not particularly rare. Exhibition co-curator Anthony James West notes that 232 copies exist today in institutions around the world as well as in private libraries. Although each copy was produced on a printing press, no two are exactly identical. "Each one of the 232 copies is unique, each with its individual history" says West. "One thing that interests me is the provenance, the succession of owners. And it’s not just the individual but also their collective history that is fascinating—for example, when and how the volumes spread around the world. If you handle a book that’s 400 years old, and you think of all its owners and readers, you have a feeling you’re as close as you can get to these people."

Table Of Contents From
The Stolen And Vandalized
Durham University First Folio.

A book this valuable is a magnet for thieves. Three First Folios were stolen in the twentieth century--one from Williams College, Massachusetts in 1940; one from John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, England in 1972; and one from Durham University in 1998. Sadly, only two of these copies have been recovered. The Williams College copy was returned the same year it was stolen, but the whereabouts of the Durham copy remained a mystery for 10 years. In 2008 it was brought to the Folger by a man who said he was a book dealer, and who claimed he had acquired the volume in Cuba. Evidence submitted by Folger staff and other experts to the FBI and Durham police, proving that the "Cuban copy" was in fact the volume stolen from Durham, is included in the exhibition.

A 1623 Etching Of Constantine Huygens,
The First Man Outside Of England
To Own A First Folio.

A 2003 publication by exhibition co-curator Anthony James West, A New Worldwide Census of First Folios, was instrumental in identifying Durham's stolen folio, which had been stripped of its binding. The census meticulously documents all known copies of the First Folio around the world. (Since its publication, four more copies have surfaced, bringing the grand total of known Folios to 232.) West's census shows that the earliest known First Folio to go abroad belonged to the Dutch diplomat, poet, and book collector Constantine Huygens, who purchased it in 1647. (It is now Folger Library Copy Number 75.)

12 First Folios at Kodama Memorial Library,
Meisei Univeristy, Tokyo.

The majority of the known copies of the First Folio changed hands between 1850 and 1950. But Kodama Library at Meisei University in Tokyo acquired twelve First Folios in the 1980s. Kodama is now the second largest repository of First Folios in the world, behind only the Folger Library. Only about twenty First Folios remain in private hands, making sales infrequent, but two First Folios have gone under the hammer in the 21st century. Exhibition Co-curator Owen Williams, Assistant Director of the Folger Institute, has edited a new publication in conjunction with Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio, entitled Foliomania! Stories behind Shakespeare’s Most Important Book.

Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio continues through September 3, 2011 at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wild-Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller, Series 2, Episode 3

by Arnold M. Herr

A Friend in need:

I was zonked when the phone recently rang at  2:45AM.  It was Mickey and he was whispering hoarsely.

Mickey:  He’s dead.  Rupert Barnyogurt is dead.

This bulletin could have waited ‘til morning.  I liked Rupert Barnyogurt well enough, but being awakened and told of his demise at 2:45 in the morning is a bit rude.

Me:  Couldn’t this have waited until later?  It’s the middle of the night.

Mickey:  It can’t wait!  He’s here.

Me:  Where?

Mickey:  Here at the store.  I’m in trouble Arnold.  He died here in my book shop.  Behind the counter.

Me:  Heart attack?  Stroke?

Mickey:  Premature burial.  He died in an landslide.  He was looking at
some Blavatsky volumes I had back there – he kinda dug that Theosophical claptrap when suddenly there was a tectonic shift in the heapage and he was buried.  Simple as that.  All I could see of him was one of his legs and a hand.

Me:  Are you sure he’s dead?

Mickey:  He stopped twitching half an hour ago.

Me:  You could have called 911.

Mickey:  What good what that have done?   Lots of questions for me.  You know how I detest authority figures.  One look around the store and they would have been blaming me.

Me:  Well….

Mickey:  Now don’t YOU start.

Me:  Whaddya want me to do Mickey?

Mickey:  Help me get him out of here.

Me:  And then what?

Mickey:  We’ll take him home.

Me:  Whose home?

Mickey:  His.  I don’t have a home, I live here in the store, remember?

Me:  Right, and you wouldn’t want him there.

Mickey:  And I’m sure you don’t want him at your place.

Me:  Good guess.

Mickey:  So his place is the logical choice.

Me: Uh huh…

Mickey:  We’ll toss him in your van…

Me:  After we pull him from the Vesuvian lava flow…

I could imagine the slag heap behind the counter wherein Barnyogurt lay.

Me:  Yea verily, you really are the wizard of ooze…

Mickey:  We’ll deposit him in his own place.  Who’s gonna know?

Me:  You.  Me.  God.  Someone could see us struggling to get him into the van.  His neighbors might see us dragging him into his house.

Mickey:  Once we get him inside, we leave him there and we can split. 

I didn’t say anything for a moment.  Mickey must have thought I had hung up.

Mickey:  You still there?

Me:  Yeah.  You make it all sound so easy.

Mickey:  What’s so difficult?  Didn’t you once say that his dead mother was in there somewhere?

Me:  Yeah, mommy’s mummy.

Mickey:  What?

Me:  His mommy’s a mummy.  She croaked years ago and I guess he saw no need to bury her when he could just keep her at the house.  It’s not like there’s anyone else around that dump to complain…

Mickey:  You saw her, right?

Me:  Yeah, a long time ago.  She’s probably still there, propped up on the couch.  A dried-up carcass.
I remembered that once when I attempted to buy books from Rupert Barnyogurt it was like performing surgery to remove a polyp from an unyielding intestinal tract.  Once inside, it was “snip, snip”, grab some books and then crawl backwards with them through the serpentine channel and emerge through a narrow, contracting aperture. 

“Rupert,” I yelled, “does your mother know you live like this?”

Rupert:  Yes she did.  In fact, you might have come across her body somewhere in there.  When I moved her in here for the last few months of her life, she said she thought she had died and gone to heaven.  A short time later she did die.  And since she liked it here so much, I left her where she was.  There’s such a potpourri of smells in here, I hardly noticed the stench.
Mickey:  So we place Rupert right next to her.  Sounds like a plan.

Me: If we can get Rupert through the tunnels.  He’s a pretty big guy.  Really, really big.

Mickey:  Oh, I almost forget the best part:  he bought that 12-volume set of Frazier’s THE GOLDEN BOUGH.  Paid me cash for it.  That means I get to keep the dough AND the books.   I can sell them to someone else.  Who’s gonna know?

Me:  You’re a prince among bookmen, Mickey.

Mickey:  That’s true, I am…but you WILL help me won’t you?

Me:  I’m your friend Mickey…that’s what friends are for.

Mickey:  You’re more than a friend Arnold, you’re a GOOD friend.

Me:  Yeah, that’s me all right……He was right you know…

Mickey:  Who was right?

Me:  Nat, another friend of mine.  He once said “a friend will help you move.  A GOOD friend will help you move a body.”

Next: Mickey's mommy, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and a bottle of tabasco sauce take the stage.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Herman Melville's Travel Desk Comes to Auction

by Stephen J. Gertz

Call it Ishmael.

Today, June 22, 2011, Bonham's - NY is auctioning Herman Melville's travel desk. Those wishing to harpoon it will have to lay out a lot of blubber. It is estimated to sell for $20,000 - $30,000.

This brass-mounted mahogany traveling lap-desk dates from the third quarter of the 19th century. Its rectangular top opens to a hinged brown velvet-lined writing surface with fitted compartments and a pen well. The lid interior possesses a red leather folio with brass securing clips, and the writing surface lifts to reveal a storage well and removable guard concealing three secret drawers. The sides have brass bale handles.

Enclosed within the desk are a gilt-metal-mounted agate snuff box, two small pen knives, one inscribed "E M Marett," a molded glass inkwell with associated cap, a pair of tweezers, a glass intaglio seal engraved "EMM," and a gilt-metal and mother-of-pearl pen.

The interior of the lid is mounted with caricature prints, and two period small yellow sheets inscribed "Our Box at the Post Office is 1162" and "Herman Melville / 104 East 26th St / New York" respectively.

Herman Melville came into possession of this small writing desk through Ellen Martha Marett Gifford, whose name is inscribed on the pen knife and whose initials are engraved on the glass intaglio included among the desk's effects. Gifford (d.1889) was Elizabeth Melville's cousin, a life-long correspondent of the Melville's and, later in life, the couple's benefactor.

In 1886, aided in part by a generous gift from Ellen and by inheritances from Ellen's mother, Martha, and Elizabeth's brother, Lemuel Shaw, Jr., Melville was able to retire from his long-held position at the New York Custom-House. In his final years, he privately published two volumes of poems: John Marr and Other Sailors (1888), and Timleon (1891); and began Billy Budd which he worked on until his death.

Melville found time to travel in his retirement and it  appears, from the presence of his ownership labels, that the desk traveled with him. He fortuitously avoided the Great Blizzard of 1888 when he journeyed abroad to Bermuda (returning by way of Florida); and the following year he spent a fortnight with friends in Savannah.

Melville occupied the house at 104 East 26th St. from 1863 until his death in 1891.

6/26/2011 UPDATE: Sold for $34,160, incl. buyer's premium.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Books Are More Than Simply Text

by Stephen J. Gertz

Full cover.

If every book tells a story, every book has a story.

Until recently, a book’s text and its physical manifestation were indivisible, their stories intertwined. With the advent of ebooks, however, text is now independent of what we’ve come to understand as a “book,” a physical object with metaphysical content that, in its origins, was presented as scrolled, later bound, manuscript, and then, with Gutenberg, as bound leaves of print.

A day cannot go by, it seems, without an article tolling the death knell of the book, either heralding a new, golden age of information delivery and consumption, or as a mournful elegy. Soon, it seems, lovers of traditional books will be consulting mediums to reach beyond the veil and communicate with beloved books in the great hereafter. We'll want to know how they're doing, tell them how much we love and miss them, and express sorrow for not defending them heartily enough when they were still with us but struggling for their lives. We need comfort and consolation.

In the absence of David Dunglas Home, the 19th century Scottish spiritualist and medium, David Pearson, Director of Libraries, Archives, and Guildhall Art Gallery at the City of London, is here to say, It’s okay.

That books have value beyond their text is not news to bibliophiles. But the argument for their essential worth as objects and historical artifacts has never been presented as comprehensively as Pearson has in Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts, his 2008 book published to broad critical acclaim, and now issued in its first softcover edition, revised, updated, and enlarged.

He does so unsentimentally, recognizing that the digitalization of text will provide new opportunities for writers to organize and present the product of their pen (an inked stylus now itself a quaint artifact of bygone years) in creative ways we’ve only begun to imagine. Hand-wringers and garment renders seeking comfort and support will be disappointed; Pearson does not condemn ebooks as demon spawn.

What he does, in eight lavishly illustrated chapters - Books in History; Books Beyond Text; Individuality in Mass Production; Variety Through Ownership; Variety Through Binding; The Collective Value of Libraries; Values for the Future; and Variety Between Copies - is demolish the idea, current with the digital faithful, that physical books are passé, that they have been merely text all dressed up, now with no place to go.

Quoth Pearson the raven, Nevermore!

Books as History has two main themes. Primarily, it is about the various ways in which books can be interesting as artifacts, as objects wth individual histories and design characteristics, beyond whatever value they may have in the texts they convey. The ways in which books are made, owned, written in, mutilated and bound all add something to the documentary heritage which is central to the record of human civilisation. The second theme is around the importance of seeing this, at a time when the world of books is in flux, and the need for them is questioned as their traditional functions are increasingly undertaken by electronic media. Books may cease to be read but let us recognise that we may have other reasons to value them.”

That book lovers will adore Books as History is a given, I believe. It’s a joy to behold, read, and digest. While it is not meant to do so, it is, though, preaching to a congregation of believers, however secular and universal Pearson’s intent. 

The hard-core ebook missionary for whom it would provide a valuable, eye-opening education and perspective will not, I fear, be reading this book for pleasure or insight. When the brain goes completely binary there is little hope. Oriented to only 0's and 1's, the binary brain does not recognize the beautiful depth of diversity that 2 to infinity provides, the terrain that the physical book occupies. To appreciate books as culturally essential, historically and artistically important physical objects the binaries will have to do the math. In this regard, Books as History is Euclid’s Geometry and should be required reading before graduation from high school.

PEARSON, David. Books as History. The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts. London and New Castle, DE: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2011. First softcover edition, revised, updated and enlarged. Tall octavo (8.75 x 9.5 inches). 208 pages. Color-illustrated throughout. $29.95.  You may order here.

Of related interest: E-Publishing Consultant Mike Shatzkin Doesn't Understand Books.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When Kerouac Met Dostoyevsky

by Stephen J. Gertz

Jack Kerouac's "Dostoyevsky Mad-Face" by Allen Ginsberg, 1953.

Sometime during March-April, 1949, John-not-yet-Jack Kerouac, 27 years old and living with his parents as "The Wizard of Ozone Park" (Queens, NYC), as his Beat friends referred to him, bought a cheap reprint edition of short stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He annotated the book, and entered his ownership signature.

Dostoyevsky was an important influence on Kerouac; his novel, The Subterraneans, was consciously modeled on Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, one of his favorite books, and there are many references to the Russian author in Kerouac's novels and letters.

Dostoyevsky was something of a guiding literary and philosophical spirit to the Beats (and buddy - Kerouac affectionately called him "Dusty"), and Notes From the Underground, which Sartre considered to be a major forerunner of existentialism, a  handbook of sorts for the Western Man isolated, apart from, and at odds with the culture in which he lives, alienated from the mainstream, an outsider creating and living life on his own terms. Notes from the Underground is the companion piece to Mezz Mezzrow's Really The Blues (1946), the  gospel of hipster-jazz subculture that the Beats adopted as their book of revelations. The two books serve as the liturgy to Beat theology.

In 1949, the year that Kerouac bought this book, he had just completed the legendary road trips with Neal Cassady that began in July, 1947, wrote The Town and the City, was working on Dr. Sax,  and crafting the first draft of On the Road (in its essential religiosity a sort of Brothers Karamazov in a car; Kerouac, a devout, though lapsed Catholic;  a lonely, fallen altar-boy on an odyssey seeking enlightenment, redemption and communion with the Godhead, Brother Cassady his co-pilot and navigator riding shotgun no matter where he sat. On the Road is not about getting kicks on Route 66. Kerouac is an Irish-Catholic Siddartha). 1949 was a key year in Kerouac's journey, and Dostoyevsky was heavily on his mind.

In a letter written to his friend Alan Harrington on April 23, 1949 Kerouac wrote: "I've just read 'An Unfortunate [sic] Predicament,' a long story by Dusty-what's-his-name. I studied it carefully and found that he begins with 'ideas' and then demolishes them in the fury of what actually becomes the story. This letter is a similar venture. However, nothing detracts from the fact that this is a mad letter. 'So be it! So be it!'"

And boy, did he so be it. The first two pages of An Unpleasant Predicament (1861), one of the stories in the collection, are  annotated by Kerouac, who has written six remarks in the margins commenting on Dostoyevsky's usage and writing.

For example, next to the sentence that begins: "The fact..." Kerouac writes: "Truly 'the fact.' Always fluffs the rest, & gets to the 'fact.'"

Next to the word "fond" Kerouac writes: "fond always gives a batty tone -- just right."

About Dostoyevsky's use of the word "actual" he writes "Dusty's way of being a card."

Commenting on the sentence, "He was a bachelor because he was an egoist," Kerouac writes "A Family man's reflection."

Inappropriate behavior, scandalous activity, moral experimentation, ambiguity, and socio-political and literary polemic set within a mocking, carnivalistic atmosphere characterize this story of three generals' argument of ideas that degenerates when one of them, wishing to test his liberal-humanistic thinking, leaves, crashes the wedding of a subordinate, and gets drunk to satirically disastrous result. This was the Beat's bread and butter at its merriest, stepping on sacred cultural cow-pies, enjoying the squish, and hoping the scent offends bourgeois nostrils.

This copy of Dostoyevsky's short stories is a wonderful personal artifact from Kerouac's developing years as a writer, demonstrating his early literary thinking and roots. The year he bought and read it, the author, the subject - here dawn energetically breaks on the Beats and especially on Jack Kerouac.

(KEROUAC, Jack). DOSTOIEVSKI, Fiodor [Fyodor Dostoyevsky]. Short Stories. New York and Boston: Books, Inc., n.d. [c. 1940s]. Reprint edition. Octavo. 248 pp. Signed and dated by Kerouac, with his holograph margin annotations in pencil.

Images from book courtesy of Between the Covers, currently offering this volume, with our thanks.

Photo of Kerouac ©Allen Ginsberg LLC 2010, from Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A Beautifully Illustrated Baudelaire

by Stephen J. Gertz


A gorgeous edition of selected poems by Charles Baudelaire has recently come to my attention. It's a stunner out of Munich, 1922, featuring hand-painted vignettes to the cover and endpapers and twenty-one engravings by Josef Eberz, six of which are full page. The text is entirely engraved.

Artist Josef Eberz was born in Limburg/Lahn in Germany on June 3, 1880 but the family soon moved to Frankfurt/Main, where he finished school in 1901. His father, a post office clerk, asked for a transfer to Munich so his sons, Josef and Ottfried, would have an opportunity to further their education.

From 1901 to 1903 Josef studied at the Munich Art Academy with Hugo von Habermann and Franz von Stuck.  In 1905 he became the student of Christian Landenberger in Stuttgart. Eberz, however, spent his most important student years with Adolf Hölzel at the Stuttgart Academy from 1907 to 1912. He met the painter, Gertrud Alber, at the academy and married her in 1917.

Hand-painted endpaper.

The artist permanently settled in Munich in 1918. A year later Eberz participated in an exhibition of the radical left-wing  Novembergruppe in Berlin. He formally joined the November Group in 1920, and took part in their 1924 and 1929 exhibitions.

Together with Max Beckmann, Kasimir Edschmid, and  Ludwig Meidner the artist was amongst the first members of the Darmstadt Secession. Additionally, he showed works in the first exhibition of "Das Junge Rheinland" (The Young Rhineland), the artists' association in Düsseldorf.

Eberz was also active as book illustrator, providing the art (thirty-three etchings) for an edition of Josef von Eichendorff''s Ahnung und Gegenwart in 1920, as well the as etched illustrations and the full-color hand-painted vignettes for this edition of Baudelaire in 1922.

Hand-painted endpaper.

In 1928 he was appointed as a professor. After 1933, however, almost all of his works in German museums were confiscated by the Nazis; they were, as was all modern art, considered degenerate and unworthy of superior German culture. He was fired from his teaching position.

Impoverished, Josef Eberz died of congestive heart failure  in Munich in August 1942.

This is an extremely rare edition, wth OCLC reporting only five copies in libraries worldwide, three in Germany, one in France, and the other in the National Library of Israel. Only one copy has come to auction within the last thirty-six years.

BAUDELAIRE, [Charles]. EBERZ, Josef (illustrator). Poemes Choisis. [Munich: Recht-Verlag, 1922]. Limited to 100 copies (of a total edition of 200) printed on Japanese paper with engraved text and twenty-one woodcut engravings, including six full-page and numerous  head- tail vignettes. Hand-painted watercolor design to upper cover, and four (2 x 2) hand-painted watercolor designs to endpapers. Quarto. 28, [4] pp. Cream boards. Engraved text.

All images courtesy of the William Reese Company with the exception of the header, which is courtesy of Blackwell's Rare Books. We thank them both, particularly Leslie Arthur at Reeseco (not to be confused with Ronco, maker of the Rare Book Rotisserie - Set It, Forget It, You Read It! Perfect books, perfectly rare, every time. It's E-Z!).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wild-Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller, Series 2, Episode 2

by Arnold M. Herr

I think this occurred sometime in July 2003:

Mickey Tsimmis had just walked into my used bookshop on Fairfax Avenue, followed by a strikingly beautiful blonde young woman asking for books on American Indians.  I pointed out the bookcase filled with books on American Indians and ethnology.  It was halfway down the length of the store.  She walked down the aisle and I turned to Mickey.

Mickey:  A production company wants to use my shop as a location for a day in two weeks.

Me:  Uh huh.

Mickey:  You know Industrial Design Magazine once said that the interior of my bookshop is very tastefully arranged.

Me:  No, what they actually said was “it’s where good taste goes to die.”

Mickey:  Well, what do you think I should charge them?  I’ve done this before with film companies, but I never know if I’m undercharging or overcharging them.

Me:  If they’re bringing in a major film star, figure they have a large budget and can probably afford whatever extortionate amount you come up with.

Mickey:  Sounds like a good rule of thumb.

Me:  What are they filming?

Mickey:  Breaking Wind, Fart II.

Me:  I heard Fart I was pretty successful.  Go for the gold.

Just then the pretty blonde returned to the counter. 

Blonde:  I can’t find what I’m looking for.

Mickey:  Something specific?

Blonde:  Yes, something about a tribe in Illinois.

Me:  Do you know the tribe’s name?

Blonde:  Yes, the Red Sox.  They used to live in the Chicago area.

Mickey:  I think they lived in New England.

Me:  Yeah, close to Boston.

Blonde:  Are you sure?

Me:  No, I’m not sure of anything anymore.

Very recently:

I had dropped by Mickey’s and he asked me to briefly spell him at the front counter.  As usual, the radio was tuned to static.  He hadn’t slept well the night before and needed to lie down in the back room wherein he dwelt.  I told him I could only stick around for an hour or so and he said that would be plenty.  He asked me to call him on his cell phone to wake him up when I was ready to leave and he would come out front so I could split.

I phoned him an hour later and he said he would be right out.  He sounded a little groggy – the air in the back of the store is a miasmic effluvia - and he told me he would have liked to have dozed a little longer, but he’d be out in a jiffy.  The doorway to the aisle that leads to his living quarters was badly cluttered and clogged with boxes, broken furniture, tires, bones and other assorted rubble.  It’s impossible to walk through this avalanche-prone debris field, but Mickey didn’t mind crawling around on his hands and knees.  The door in the doorway was too blocked to close, hence the clutter, to deter easy access by unwanted and light fingered guests.  There was a small opening at the bottom so Mickey could crawl in and out.  It resembled a vent more than a doorway. 

From where I was behind the counter, I could see a large woman standing in front of the doorway and facing away from it while reading a book. Her feet were spread apart as Mickey’s head and shoulders emerged through the opening.  Mickey was maybe halfway through when the woman glanced down and noticed him between her shoes. 

“What the fuck?” she exclaimed. 

Startled, Mickey twisted around and looked up - between her legs and up her dress. 

“Arnold,” he said, “Your beard’s gotten darker.” 

The woman raised one leg and was about to stomp him. 

“No, no,  please don’t,” whimpered Mickey, “I’m just a little old man.”

I walked over, placating her.  “It’s OK ma’am.  He’s the CEO of this establishment.” 

She stomped him anyway and his head bounced on the floor.  A guy from farther down the aisle walked up to her and said, “Velma, I didn’t know you were about to deliver.”

Velma (to the guy):  Shut up, wiseass!

Guy:  I’m your husband, yet I’m always the last to know these things.

They left the store.  Mickey was lying peacefully on the floor enjoying probably the first deep sleep he’d had in days.  I didn’t have the heart to disturb him, and the wounds could probably wait until later for dressing.  I went back to the counter figuring I would probably stick around for another hour or two and let him snooze.  Every now and then I’d look over at him and I noticed flies entering his open, drooling mouth.  Some flew out carrying Krugerrands.

Next:  Rupert Barnyogurt bites it in the book shop and the body must be disposed of.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Seduction in Paris, 1824

by Stephen j. Gertz

The day of the laundress - signed J.S.
("I need need a little starch in my shorts").

The contemporary manners, customs, and costumes of Parisian society in typical scenes, illustrated  in twenty-one hand-colored lithographs with great charm and wry, understated humor by Swiss genre painter and lithographer Jean Gabriel Scheffer (1797-1876) and [Edme] J[ean]. Pigal (1798 - 1873), are featured in Recueil des Scènes Familiéres, et de Société de Paris, a scarce, three-volume suite of color plates published in Paris, 1824.

8 AM - signed J.S.
(Ah, possibilities ahead!").

A beautiful fresh Gamin! - signed J.S.
("The Georges Sand look - enchanteur, ma chére!).

Scheffer studied with Jean-Baptiste Regnault and was a friend of Corot, Théodore Carurelle d'Aligny, and Louis-Léopold Robert. His work was shown at the Salon de Paris beginning in 1822; his reputation as a designer of many wryly humorous lithographs, typically signed "J.S.," was firm. (See Benezit  Vol. 9, p. 354).

 It would be nice as a smock. - signed J.S
("And you'd look nicer without it on!")

A Cabinet - dinner in an hour - signed J.S.
("And you, ma chére, are on the menu").

Closely associated with printer-publisher Chez Martinet and lithographer Villain, Scheffer also created Scènes de jeunes gens (1825), Ce qu'on dit et ce qu'on pense (1829), and Petits travers (1830) with them.

How the devil does she knows it all? - signed J.S.
("She senses my desire; I fear the jig is up!").

 8 pm - signed J.S. *
(The night is young. I still have a shot.").

"From the late 1820's to the late 1830's, [J. Pigal] produced numerous lithographs caricaturing contemporary customs and social types, in which he ridiculed the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and the vulgarity of the lower classes. His favorite characters were the street urchins of Paris, servants, coachmen and doormen, and lecherous old men" (Beatrice Farwell, The Charged Image: French Lithographic Caricature, 1816-1848. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 1989, p. 127).

A tone was wise - unsigned
("But true wisdom is in the flesh!").

I'll take you back again - signed J.S.
("Whew, that was a close one!").

"A major French nineteenth century artist and caricaturist, Edme Jean Pigal [1798-1873] studied art in Paris in the studio of Baron Gros. He first exhibited his paintings at the Paris Salon in 1827 and continued to annually exhibit his art there for more than thirty years. Pigal's early art was mainly in the medium of lithography. After 1838 he turned more towards painting, particularly religious and historical scenes commissioned by the French government. His last years were spent as a professor of art at the Lycee in Sens" (Art of the Print).

So hurry up, there will be more seats - unsigned
("Uh, chére, we're not going anywhere, and this is coming off, not going on").

Should he answer... signed J.S.
("Now that you've given it away, do you really think he'll respond? What a ninny!")

Only one copy of  Recueil des Scènes Familiéres, et de Société de Paris is  found in libraries worldwide, at Yale. No copies have come to auction within the last thirty-five years.

Suspect me, me!! - Signed J.S.
("Yes, I suspect you're a fat bore").

Last moments of a young lady - signed J.S.
("Buck up, amie. Be thankful the old sod is saving your reputation").

[SCHEFFER, Jean-Gabriel]. J.S -, PIGAL, &c, &c. Recueil des Scènes Familiéres, et de Société de Paris. Paris: n.p. [Chez Martinet], 1824.

First (only) issue, complete in three parts. Three folio volumes containing a total of twenty-one hand-colored lithographed plates signed: Chez Martinet, Lith. de Villain; numbered and captioned, with original tissue guards, and watermarked "J Whatman 1823." Original printed wrappers. All edges gilt. 

Not in Colas, Lipperheide, or Hiler.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
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