Monday, August 06, 2007


The art of the dust jacket

Here are two interesting dust jackets that I brought home - with their accompanying books, of course - from a big annual friends-of-the-library sale we went to on Saturday (bought eight cartons of decent books for $250):

Both are books of poetry; the first was unfamiliar to me and is a long narrative poem about a boxer, The Kid by D.P. Berenberg (Macmillan 1931), and second is of course 1x1 by e.e. cummings (Henry Holt 1944). I really love the jacket design for The Kid, it's got that great 1930s vibe going for it, and I think it's the more successful of the two, design-wise, but both share that strong graphic use of black and white, and an interesting use of typography, which to me spells great dust jacket art.

I opened up the e.e. cummings book and read this - more poetry about books! it's everywhere! - from the untitled poem beginning "if everything happens that can't be done":

"so world is a leaf so tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
than books
tell how)
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
around again fly)
forever was never till now


we're anything brighter than even the sun
(we're everything greater
than books
might mean)
we're everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
alive we're alive)
we're wonderful one times one"

I've never read much e.e. cummings, but that made me sit up and pay attention. The Kid, I don't know if I'll read it. I don't think I'd like it, in the same way I don't like George Bellows's paintings of boxers. It looks good but not quite enough like archy and mehitabel (same era) to really please me. So, out for sale it goes. The book sorting has ground to a halt, by the way. The weather got too fine, so instead of getting ready to move, we went to the coast for most of the weekend.

A short but rather incredible experience from yesterday: the little town we're moving to has a public dock and boat landing, and we drove by and stumbled upon a weekend of free sailboat rides there - a group of local boat owners are promoting the harbor and sailing in general - so we signed up for a sail later in the day. When our time came, we went back down to the dock and realized we were about to go aboard a forty-one foot Concordia yawl, a beautifully-maintained old wooden sailboat with a teak deck. We sailed around the harbor with two other people and the two owners of the boat, for an hour or two. It was lovely, unexpected, like a wonderful dream. I held the tiller and steered for a while, and helped take up the slack on the lines when we came about. Though I've been on boats and ferries before, I'd never sailed, and on this elegant thing I felt like royalty, for a day. It was like learning how to drive in a Rolls Royce, or going to a library sale for the very first time and finding a signed Ernest Hemingway first edition for a dollar. I can see I'll have to sell more books somehow, so we can get a little boat.

My mind is a sieve these days, but I do remember reading, who was it, perhaps a collector of books, who, upon becoming a bookseller, finally said to himself one day, "I can sell it now, because I have owned it, treasured it, and now I can allow someone else to own it." Well, those weren't the words, but that's how they became for me. That doesn't mean it's easy to part from my books these days, but it is easier....
It is becoming easier for me, too - though certain books are stuck like glue to my shelves at home, and I stare at entire sections trying to find just ONE or TWO I could bring to the shop to sell, out of a whole wall-full. So, not so easy after all, I guess!

We just hired movers, and that's a weight off my mind (a great weight - the heaviness of 120 cartons of books, to be precise). I have two and a half more weeks to sort and pack. In so many places I've read and been told that a book dealer can't also be a collector - well, I'm living proof that that's just not true. All the dealers I know keep some books back for themselves, usually in some arcane subject that only they (we) are interested in.

After dealing in used books for years, it becomes glaringly obvious what is truly scarce and what is common. So the urge to keep scarce or rare books, if I'm interested in the subject matter, is strong. Strong as the burly arms of my moving men? As I've said before, metaphors are not my strong suit, but you get my drift.
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