Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Road trip report
Clarion Press, London 1901. It's a small fat book, pleasingly chunky being one of my favorite formats, and the gilt lettering and design on the cover is so very nice. $25 at Brattle Book Shop. I hope it's as good to read as it is to look at. At first glance Mr. Blatchford's prose looks a mite purple.
I bought two bags of books at Brattle, two bigger bags at Titcomb's, and just one lonely book at Commonwealth (although there were many more I wanted). The Hyannis bookshop I went to last year is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I think that today the proprietors must surely be wiping my nose prints off the plate glass window in the front of the shop. I stood up close and gazed at all the books I couldn't get my hands on. How frustrating. The good news is that this means I didn't spend the rent money, tomorrow being the first of the month and all.
Off to work, I'll post more about my trip tomorrow.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Champion of small presses
Look out, Massachusetts...
What does this have to do with books, you say? Well, of course we are going to visit several used bookshops both before and after the marathon. I can't remember the name of the shop on Main Street in Hyannis, but I visited a year ago and it was pretty good, so we'll go back. I'm also hoping to stop at Titcomb's in East Sandwich, and, in Boston on the way home, Brattle, and Commonwealth Books. I won't be back in the shop until Tuesday, so have a great weekend everyone, and think of me anonymously wandering the stacks of used bookshops other than mine, greedily eyeing good books left and right.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
A wee beastie
Here's a little colophon beastie from a book set in the Granjon typeface; the colophon states that Robert Granjon began his career as a type-cutter in 1523, and that he was one of the first to practice the trade of type-founder apart from that of printer. Between 1557 and 1562 Granjon printed around twenty books in types designed by himself. He lived and worked in Paris, Lyons, Antwerp, and Rome, where he worked both for the Medici and the Vatican presses. The Granjon typeface was designed in homage to him by George W. Jones (in the 20th century), and is based on the classic letterforms of Garamond.
All this information and more, and the beastie, appear in the colophon for the novel Corn in Egypt by Warwick Deeping (Knopf, 1942), and I happened across it because I was nosing around in the back of the book while checking for a bookseller's ticket. I enjoy reading colophon information, I always learn something, and once in a while come across something as good as this.
The word colophon comes from the Greek for summit or finishing stroke, and I tend to regard a colophon as the pleasing and appropriate end to any good book. Colophons started out as a way to place in the book all the information that is now found on the title page or copyright page, but the tradition has held over among many presses, if not just for a note about the typeface. I think we are all the better for it, as readers.
I've got an entire book on European printers' marks and devices. I'll have to bring it in to the shop so I can add a few more to this blog; many are quite elaborate and very beautiful. Marks were printers' ways to show their uniqueness and talent, and hopefully make their books memorable to customers and patrons. One of the most famous printer's marks is that of Aldus Manutius: the anchor and dolphin. I never did get a tattoo during my punk phase as a teenager and twentysomething, but if I had, this would have been it.
Monday, February 20, 2006
So, the antidote until the final episode next week: distraction. I went book-shopping yesterday and found a few new-to-me books to read (also bought a big stack for the shop). And, thanks to Paul Collins and his fine blog (which was the one that made me want to start my own blog, by the way), I now know that the British sit-com Black Books is finally available in the USA. I've only ever seen one episode - which a friend taped for me off BBC America last spring, and it was just great, although I wanted more bookshop-humor. For those who don't know, the show revolves around the hapless, drunken Bernard Black and his used bookshop. I'm ordering it today.
More distraction: I listened to an interview online with David Foster Wallace. He talks at one point about how he's changed as a writer as he's grown older, and how he is now less willing to hurt other people's feelings by default by writing nonfiction social commentary. This is in response to a caller's comments about the essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." (which he says parts of make him wince now) vs. his recent writing. Good stuff. I read his book of short stories Oblivion (Little, Brown 2004) over the weekend, and in this interview he reads selections from two different stories in this collection. People either hate or love his linguistic gymnastics. I love, because there's real meaning in there, he's not just being clever for the sake of cleverness. His structures enforce prolonged concentration, which for this reader is an optimal state of being. Recommended.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
David Foster Wallace is soooo good
His essays and stories (I still haven't read his novel Infinite Jest) are written the way I think people actually think - about many subjects, all at once, fast and furious, with tangents, asides, digressions, moments of great despair right next to moments of elation, and the red warning light of the b-s detector flashing on and off in response to appropriate stimuli. Every time I read a book by someone roughly my own age, and the book is stupendous, I thank god that the spirit of my generation wasn't totally crushed by materialism, money, greed, advertising, television, politics, contemporary culture, call it what you will. There are still great writers who care about the same things that humans have always cared about: humor, honor, duty, humility, intelligence, love.
My favorite David Foster Wallace book is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Little, Brown 1997). I'm a big fan of nonfiction written by fiction-writers, which I may have mentioned in previous posts. Anyway, the title essay describes in funny and excrutiating detail his paid vacation on a behemoth cruise ship. The crux of his argument is that everything that promises happiness on a trip such as this actually induces despair - the reverse of what one is led to expect from the lovely brochure. A tidy summation of materialism.
Speaking of which, I've got a shop to run. It's been a slow week, but I've sold a few good books here and there (by Melville, Poe, Hamsun), which keeps my spirit warm, in cold cold February.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
"'Omnia uincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.'"
I've returned to Samuel Pepys, after a long hiatus, and am particularly taken with how Valentines were treated in his day. Apparently names were drawn among friends, and the name one drew became one's Valentine for the coming year, a person on whom to bestow small gifts of affection (gloves, lace, an embrace) from time to time. Pepys wasn't always pleased with his Valentines, either, but graciously bowed to tradition in public, only to vent about it in his diary. A man after my own heart.
Speaking of hearts, here is yet another book from the shelves of my book-room at home:
The author, Carolyn Wells, was well-known for her poetry and satire, and this lovely little book dates from 1912 (Stokes Company). The endpapers are maps for this imaginary travel guide through the land of love; place names include Elysian Fields, Fools Paradise, the River Lethe, Twolip Court, the Hearticultural Gardens, the Course of True Love, Primrose Path, Great Joy Street, and, of course, Lover's Lane. Illustrations (including the fine cover) by A.D. Blashfield.
Advice for the traveler entering Arcady, at the Custom House:
"Hearts... are dutiable articles, and should be declared as such.
Worn on the sleeve, they are easily examined by the Inspector, though a dishonest smuggler has sometimes gone ashore with his heart in his boots.
Hearts are appraised by weight, so heavy hearts should be avoided and light hearts should be carried whenever possible.
Broken hearts are not dutiable, unless they have been repaired and are quite as good as new.
Stolen hearts may be confiscated by the Customs Inspectors and returned to their original owners. Stony hearts are exempt.
Passions should always be declared." (pp.24-26)
Monday, February 13, 2006
Post-blizzard clean-up, and weekend reading
I finished The Education of Henry Adams yesterday, which I'd been ingesting great swaths of all week. I will treasure this book always for the inside look it gives at the world of nineteenth-century politics, a subject I knew next to nothing about, which I found fascinating from this close-up vantage point. Adams makes it come alive, and holds nothing back when offering his opinions about the corruption and disintegration that inevitably follows money and power.
"...private secretaries (himself) never feel candid, however much they feel the reverse, and therefore they must affect candor; not always a simple act when one is exasperated, furious, bitter, and choking with tears over the blunders and incapacity of one's Government. If one sheds tears, they must be shed on one's pillow." (p.130, about the early Union disasters during the Civil War)
"'You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!'" (p.261, an aide to the president tells Adams this)
"Senators can never be approached with safety, but a Senator who has a very superior wife and several superior children who feel no deference for Senators as such, may be approached at times with relative impunity while they keep him under restraint." (p.354, about his friend Senator Cabot Lodge)
The book is extremely introspective, and Adams spends several chapters ruminating on his theories of the development of humanity and the universal energies that sweep us up, over the centuries. These chapters are dense thickets of reading, with some very strange twists and turns. I found myself at sea several times, but I also found nuggets of gold such as this:
"...since Bacon and Newton, English thought had gone on impatiently protesting that no one must try to know the unknowable at the same time that every one went on thinking about it." (p.451)
I'm not sure where to turn next. I tend to feel bereft after finishing a long, engrossing book such as this. I accumulated new books to read from the book sale Friday night, but none of them will do. I suspect I'll have to take a break and perhaps read a little poetry. And tonight the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to town, so I'll be seeing that instead of my usual two or three hours of evening reading. Banff is great, so if it comes to your town, dear readers, put the books down, get out of the house and go. The only time I've missed it in the past seven years was the one time I neglected to get tickets early and it was sold out. Don't let this happen to you!
Friday, February 10, 2006
Pros and cons of a small town
I'm closing early today for yet another cabin fever booksale. This one's in Ellsworth, half an hour away, and starts at 4:00. I've only had three people in the shop today, so I'm not too worried about all the business I'm going to miss.
I don't know why I ever think that I can check books out of the library and then actually return them. They come into my book room at home and some strange lock-down occurs and they are suddenly mine for life. The fine was only one dollar, for two books, but I fall for this again and again. Dear oh dear. At least I'm not as bad as a friend of mine who keeps his library books long, long, LONG overdue, and finally a posse of the good librarians comes to his door to ask for the books back. Oh, the shame.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Speaking of the hard sell
I'm trying to come up with any traditional books that do this (rather than audio), and the only thing I can think of is a great antiquarian children's book my friend Sue showed me recently, from her collection, in which each story features a popular household cleaner doing its necessary work. It's actually very droll, we were chuckling over it, but it's not trying to be literature, just straight propaganda. Also, perhaps the short story collection printed on pink paper called Mondo Barbie. But in that, Barbie is treated as a cultural icon that we all are imprinted with in some way, and the stories were not collected or written to sell more Barbie dolls. Intent is everything, I guess. This is looking sadly like a rant, so I'll call it a day.
One more steamship dust jacket
I read a book recently about the sinking of the Lusitania, and seeing this jacket illustration again afterwards sent chills up my spine. It's a short novel published by Harcourt, Brace in 1931, about an ocean liner disaster in the Atlantic, and is based on the real-life mysterious sinking of the S.S. Vestris. James Gould Cozzens won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his novel Guard of Honor (another book I haven't read - there are just so many).
Gary from North Carolina tells me that yesterday's mystery author Constance Butler was indeed a real person, she has a listing in an author's Who's Who he's seen. One mystery cleared up, thanks!
These books are not for sale at my shop, by the way (sorry, folks, but thanks for asking). This blog is not for promotion, advertising, or the hard sell in any shape or form. I hate the hard sell, and I am not a chaser of the dollar, above and beyond what it takes to keep my shop open and the bills paid up, so the blog will remain solely about books, reading, book-love, collecting, and keeping shop. Or whatever I feel like, but I really will try to stay on all topics bookish.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Another steamship dust jacket
By the way, the jacket flap tells us that the cover illustration is by Pruett Carter. Thanks, Pruett, I love it, all these years later.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Too busy to blog at length...
I hope everyone's weekend was fine? On Saturday I bought three more cartons and two bags of books for stock at another library sale, this one in Blue Hill, Maine. Spent $85. Highlights include hardcovers by David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson, etc., and two copies of 84, Charing Cross Road (one paperback and one hardcover), plus a book on the history of the bagpipes. I also found seven new booksellers' tickets in nondescript 1930s and 1940s novels. They were worth the dollar each I had to pay! And also for me: Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading (editor Steven Gilbar, Godine 1995), which I will take home this evening. Too busy, more soon...
Friday, February 03, 2006
A rationale for blogging?
"Although every one cannot be a Gargantua-Napoleon-Bismarck and walk off with the great bells of Notre Dame, every one must bear his (and her) own universe, and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their neighbors have managed to carry theirs."
(pp.4-5, Houghton Mifflin 1918, I've added the words in italics)
This seems to me to encapsulate why writers write, and why readers read, both books and now blogs. Our internal worlds are huge and varied (and we are the stars, the main attractions), and not usually shared with others. Books offer a chance to move through someone else's universe. Blogs do too, in miniature.
A look back at the week's sales slips...
- The Grammar of Colloquial Tibetan - a Dover reprint; someone's learning Tibetan!
- The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (lovely illustrations by Kay Nielsen)
- Life in Renaissance France
- The Golden Bough (abridged) by James Frazer
- Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (this was on the shelf for less than a day before it sold)
- Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White
- Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- The Haunted Tea Cosy by Edward Gorey (this book features one of my favorite character names ever: "Edmund Gravel, The Recluse of Lower Spigot")
- Gods of the Egyptians
- Bartlett's Quotations
- The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
- It's a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray
- Sidetracks by Richard Holmes
- The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
- Diaries of a Young Poet by Rilke
- Thurber Country
- Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- A Dictionary of Existentialism
- The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases
Not bad, not bad at all, a fine mix of the modern and classic, fiction and nonfiction, the weird and the wonderful. Thanks particularly to Ben, Todd, Monica, Marc, and other people whose names I don't know. How happy I am to be one of your book providers.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
A very early phrasing of the "write what you know" tenet. And how lovely...
Book collecting obsessions
Ian's recent post "On the virtues of owning books..." has got me thinking about why I collect. The simplest answer possible: joy. I don't think that cognition enters into it that much. And I'm certainly not out to impress anyone, because no one ever sees my collection except my family and the very very very occasional visitor at home, but that is a mighty rare occurence. I see so many people at the shop, that home, and my book-room in particular, is my fortress of solitude. If I really stop and ponder my collection, I have very few concrete answers (at least that I'd be willing to share with others, I should say) about why I have accumulated books on the British Raj, particularly the massacre at Cawnpore, as well as books about hoboes, books about tramp freighter travel, books on very long walks, memoirs of members of the British Royal Navy, of course books about books, and many other topics. I'm interested to hear from others on this: what odd and often unexplainable subjects are you drawn to collect?