Thursday, February 02, 2006


Book collecting obsessions

I've heard a lot of people say over the years that you can't be both a book dealer and a collector. To these folks, I say HA. I've also known a lot of dealers who were only interested in books as money-making objects. Ha HA. Many customers ask me how I can "stand to part with these great books" as they pay at my check-out desk. I hesitate to tell them that I can stand it perfectly well because I have much better books at home. Now, I don't want to give the impression that I hog all the great books for myself, because I don't. I only hog all the great books in the fields and subjects that I am personally fascinated with. Subtle difference.

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?

Dear Sarah,

Tramp freighter travel? Does that mean you've collected or will collect Howard Pease? First book of his I read had Shanghai in the title. I have it in my bookshelves somewhere.

As for what I collect dog-related books, both early & current. My dog club's been the beneficiary as I weed my collection out, since it is overwhelming my home! But I'll always keep the very best ones. Then there's Jeffrey Farnol. Great Granddaddy had these books & I inherited several from Granddad, and so started my obsession & collecting. Great sweeping romantic and swashbuckling novels.

And back to Howard Pease. I'd love to collect him, but some of the books are going for high prices. He's a great writer & I love his tattooed captain & the Cockney & kid sidekicks. So if I were collecting in this area, I'd have to say I'd collect the boy's adventure series. If you haven't tried him out yet, you're in for a treat.
Hi Kim - I have yet to read a Howard Pease mystery or series book, but he's on my list... at the moment I am drawn to nonfiction accounts of freighter travel, old or new, like "Steaming to Bamboola" by Christopher Buckley, and "Seaspray and Whiskey" by Norman Freeman. I also collect books (anthologies in particular) that were made circa 1910-1940 as take-along books or gifts for steamship travelers. And books with steamers/freighters on their dust jackets. I'll scan one for the blog sometime soon.

Thanks for the recommendation - I will keep an eagle eye out for any Pease books. I have many dog-book collectors stop in at the shop, by the way - one couple in particular comes every summer to see if I've found any new Albert Payson Terhune books for them...
I'm not a rare books collector(way too rich for my blood right now)but I do have quite a few Jane Austen sets and related books about her. I must confess that I have a small shrine to JA,complete with some items I picked up on my one and only trip to England.

Probaly,the most interesting editions I have are a Macmillian copy of Pride & Prejudice from 1927 with illustrations by Charles Brock-it's a small red book with gold leaf design on the spine and cover. It's in decent shape,even with the foxing. I also have a Macmillian Northhanger Abbey with Hugh Thomson illustrations from 1948. The NA's spine is more faded and a bit bent but the best thing about is the student notes written on the inside back cover dated 25/1/51,listing titles that influenced JA such as The Castle of Oranto(which I just finished reading!). I bought both of these in Lyme Regis and they're my favorite keepsakes from that trip.
Not only rare books, *any* books you happen to love, grouped together in some kind of a collection. Don't worry, I can't afford rare books either...

One of the additions I dream of making to my library is the Yale edition of the correspondence of Horace Walpole. A huge, expensive set that I yearn for. A library nearby has it, so I can go and visit it, at least. What a letter-writer he was - they are incredible, so alive. "Otranto" is great too, one of the first true gothic novels. Good stuff!
I'll weigh in on this on the late side. One part of my collection is books by Christopher Morley and by writers connected to him- either friends of his or authors recommended by him. His lectures to the Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach Fellowship, collected in Ex Libris Carissimis, led me to many writers that I've collected. I'm a fan of lists, and keep my eyes out for those books on his 85 Golden Florins at the end of that book. I've been led to several authors collected in his Modern Essays as well.

I have a small but growing set of books recommended by Noel Perrin in his Reader's Delight and A Child's Delight (more lists), and a nearly complete collection of Angela Thirkell.

The only other possibly interesting subset is books that have inspired movies and 1940's and 1950's comedies (sometimes overrlapping categories), such as Please Don't Eat the Daisies, the two Mr. Blandings books, Monarch of the Glen, most of the Edward Streeter books, Zotz!, The Off Islanders (made into The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming). I have a small collection of Nathaniel Benchley (writer of The Off Islanders) just because he's outshone by his father and son.

As for tramp steamers, do you know of H.M. Tomlinson's Log of a Voyage, 1935? It's a long piece in The Turn of the Tide, describing a trip on such a steamer taken by Tomlinson and his son. Good stuff.

I haven't yet bought Herbert West's ...Impecunious... suggested by you, Sarah, but will and expect that will set off a new direction for collecting.


I wonder if those dog book collectors of yours also collect Colonel S. P. Meek? He wrote many good dog stories & nowadays it seems very few libraries have any of his work. I've looked for them, but can never find them. I do have a few of Terhune's books & have read most of them. Those are also hard to find, but whether that's due to collectors or to libraries discarding them, I don't know.

As for Howard Pease, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion when you do get ahold of some of his work.

Will have to look up the steamer travel books you mention! Those sound very interesting.
Dan - if you like lists, take a look at the end of "The Seven Stairs" by Stuart Brent (reprinted in paperback in the late 1980s by Simon & Schuster, if you want an inexpensive copy). He ran a bookshop in Chicago for years, and this is his memoir, with great book lists at the end - mostly 20th century fiction, but I love his categories, and his selection. I have two Tomlinson books but I *gulp* haven't read them all the way through yet...

Thanks for your comments, everyone, I love hearing what your interests are!
I am a long-time collector of Howard Pease. I believe I have most of his books, although I'm always on the lookout for earlier editions; some of what I have are ex-library. I was a big fan of Pease as a teenager (a long time ago!) and started collecting him as a speciality of my general interest in old books. Like to hear more from other Pease readers.
Hi Greg - I still haven't found any Pease books, I've been looking in shops around Maine this winter and have come up empty-handed, but I will persevere! Especially with a second recommendation (yours) of how good he is. Thanks for your note.
Hi Greg, great to hear of another Howard Pease collector..I have 13 of his 22 books. All HB,DJ. Most 1st ed. As a kid in the early '60s, in rural Minnesota, a couple of friends and I would raid the bookmobile when it came around once a month. We read everything we could get our hands on by Howard Pease. That experience at age 9 opened the door to a life long love affair with books and reading in general. I get really irritated with people of all ages when they say the are bored! I always have to ask them if they can READ, if so how can you be bored?
Hi Sarah,

Just found your sight on google. I was researching the popularity of Howard Pease. I read him as a young adult when my 7th grade teacher read "Jungle River" to the class. Saturday, I was in a bookstore on Haight Street in San Francisco where I live and asked about Howard Pease. Well, imagine my surprise when a woman's voice behind the counter and a tall stack of books says, "we have one" and proceeds to tell me where "The Jinx Ship" is. What a wonderful surprise!!! It was even signed by him although not a first edition per se. It was issued in 1927 as near as I can tell.

Hope you manage to find a copy for yourself of any of his books.


Kent Shew
San Francisco, CA
Oh wow! Since reading some of the comments on this site, I am embarassed to say that I had completely forgotten about author, Howard Pease. I ravenously devoured Tod Moran tales beneath a summertime tree in mom's back yard years ago. How could I have forgotten? Perhaps life, a war, and then family and career pushed the gems away for a while.

But...thanks to the postings on this site, I now feel as though the rusty, creaking door to an ancient vault of dusty memories was opened to reveal a plethora of warm recollections.

My personal library of some 600 books has not a single Pease, but it may soon since I plan to immediately set off on a new quest.
It's now January 2007 and I still haven't found ANY Howard Pease books. I will keep looking - thanks for your comments, everyone, even months later. Howard Pease fans keep googling his name and finding this post! I'm always glad to hear that people are this devoted to a little-known author such as Pease. Then again, who's to say who is little-known....
Howard Pease wrote a great book called High Road To Adventure about a road trip by car from (I think) northern California to Mexico City.

It's my "hunch" that this book had a big influence on Jack Kerouac's On The Road.

I would love to read High Road again!

Why doesn't someone (such as Easton Press) reprint the Tod Moran series by Pease? It is (by far) the best written juvenile series ever...
Thanks for your comment, Dion - April 2007 now and you found a few more Pease fans here. I'm still searching...
As a young boy, I devoured every Howard Pease book I could find. Particularly, his stories of Tod Moran and the tramp steamers. I recently started looking for copies to give my grandson in hopes he will find the love of reading that these books thought me. I found a copy of "Shanghai Passage" and started reading it to see it would be appropriate for an 11 year old boy.
I didn't put it down until I was half way through the book and I'm sure I'll have it finished in no time.
I guess there's still a young boy trapped in this 70 year old body.
Thanks for your comment, Merv - I love hearing that you got lost in the book... that happens to me all the time when I'm sitting here pricing books - I idly flip through, start reading, next thing I know an hour's gone by. I'm still searching for Pease books - all these testimonies are terrific. Now I wish I had read them when I was a kid!
I've wandered the embarcadero in search for the Araby in her moorings. I've lived within sight of where she would've docked (courtesy of the USN at Treasure Island).

I've served with guys as tattooed as Captain Jarvis, just as tough, and just as smart. I've sailed out the Golden Gate (albeit on a Destroyer) with as much spirit of adventure as any wiper in the black gang could have anticipated.

I've visited the docks of San Juan where sailors find their diversion (not one of those places Mate Moran would have visited). Soon I will have a glimpse of Durban's waterfront and see it through Pease's eyes. (I would have loved to enter that port on a tramp steamer running guns up and down the coast of Africa. Such is the vision of the possible inspired by this author.)

Aside from what can be dismissed as escapist literature (and Pease would thrash anyone for suggesting that was all that he wrote); one must read "The Heart of Danger."

Certainly it has all the elements of the standard adventure fare. However, it goes into topics that are considerably darker than most juveniles approach now days. Namely, those plot turns include surviving capture by the SS during WWII and, even more, surviving the death camps of the holocaust.

Pease did not sentimentalize nor marginalize these issues. His hero has to juggle his moral demands balanced between an under-cover mission and freeing captives in the cattle cars on the same train he is hiding in. And to Pease's credit, the hero does not emerge with no more than a bandaged head and an inspiring life's lesson. This dark book sees psychological trauma and physical injury that reaches to the heart of our hero's aspiration, erasing his future's promise - but still giving him hope. Absolutely none of this can be described as escapist literature for sheltered youth seeking fantasy adventure.
Thanks for your comments, Richard - spoken eloquently and movingly about someone I have come to realize is a favorite of many. I love hearing about the devotion inspired by authors, because I feel this devotion myself, about my favorite authors. It runs deep.
Hi, Sarah & Howard Pease fans --

I was a 4th grade girl in San Francisco during the 60s & found my way to the Pease Tod Moran series in our school's library, on the recommendation of the school librarian. She may have known that my Dad had been in the Navy. Each week I checked out the next volume until I'd read every one that was there. I don't remember whether I read any that didn't feature Moran.

Lately, as my own son just passed that age, I remembered Pease again. My son doesn't like to read, so as I thought about how to engage him, I remembered this series that totally engrossed me. I mentioned it to a bookish friend who teaches 5th grade. She asked if I'd looked up Pease to see whether he's still in print. That's how I made my way to you.

I found that his collected papers are stored at University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA -- Pease's birthplace, about 50 miles inland from us. I found his 1952 letter to a fan about "How to Read Fiction". Reading all the postings on your site inspired me to do some seeking in the SF Bay Area.

Thanks for the inspiration!
-- Cathy R.
My best friend and I began reading Howard Pease sea stories during junior high school in 1957. I lived in Longview, WA on the Columbia River. These wonderful stories of the old tramp steamers inspired us to begin going aboard the cargo ships in port and inspired us to each pursue careers as mariners. I first became a professional marine artist specializing in tramp freighters and steam tugs while working on tugs during college. I got my master's license and was captain of an 80' oil-recovery vessel for 20 years. I am still painting professionally. My friend is currently a tug captain on San francisco Bay.
I have been re-reading the Pease books and experiencing again the colorful tales that have inspired me all my life. I even drew-up deck plans for the "Congo" in "Jinx Ship".
--Capt. Steve Mayo -360-676-9821
Books change lives - they always have and they still do. Thanks for sharing your story with us here, Captain. I think this blog post has received the most comments of any I've ever written - my tramp steamer book collection grows slowly, but I have been unable to find any Pease books here in Maine (I write this in January, 2010).

For many years I subscribed to TravlTips, a small magazine about freighter, container ship, and small cruise ship travel, always thinking I would take one of the trips someday. That day has not yet arrived. I still hope it will...
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