Fifty-one years after the posthumous publication of Ernest Hemingway’s ode to Paris, A Moveable Feast, French booksellers can’t keep the book in stock. It has become something of a cultural touchstone in the aftermath of the November 13 attacks in Paris, and is now left alongside other tributes in memoriam to those slain by terrorists. Why this book? Daily life in Paris has a certain flair--yes, a certain je ne sais quoi-- that has attracted writers, artists, and tourists for centuries, and Hemingway captured that essence.
The book began flying off the shelves after video surfaced showing a seventy-seven year old retired lawyer named Danielle Mérian talking to a reporter about why Hemingway’s book is an enduring symbol of Gallic values. (You can watch the clip here.) Paris Est Une Fête, the book’s French translation, is even a Twitter hashtag synonymous with resistance and defiance.
Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Atlantic and NPR ran great stories on the Moveable Feast phenomenon, so it doesn’t make sense to rehash it all here. Rather, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I’m going to paraphrase Hemingway by saying that I’m thankful to have once lived in Paris, even though it was September 2001 and I was far away from home during a time of war. Yet, the city and its people welcomed me and my fellow students, embraced us, and encouraged us to stay. The bonds we forged that year were iron-clad. It was solidarity in the face of evil that sustained my soul, and many years later I am reminded of how fortunate I was to have been an American in Paris. Nous sommes tous Français.
En savoir plus : http://www.gentside.com/attentats-paris/attentats-de-paris-danielle-une-dame-devenue-symbole-de-paix-sur-internet_art72542.html
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I also had the chance to see a couple of other terrific presentations. FB&C readers will recognize the name Marvin Sackner, co-founder the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the largest collection of typewriter art and concrete poetry in the world, who is featured in our current issue. Marvin, seen here at left, spoke about how he and his wife, Ruth, began collecting “typed artpoe” in the 1960s and how it turned into the beautiful new book, The Art of Typewriting.
A riveting session on Civil War Stories included a talk by James L. Swanson, collector of Lincolniana and author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. He described how useful artifacts are to him while he is writing--he owns, by the by, a lock of Lincoln’s hair and a shred of the blood-stained shawl worn by actress Laura Keene on the night of the president’s assassination.
My trip to Miami wasn’t complete without a visit to indie bookseller Books & Books (the flagship site in neighboring Coral Gables), a vibrant shop with an incredible selection of art books. Books & Books was opened 33 years ago by Mitchell Kaplan, not coincidentally the mastermind behind the Miami Book Fair, which celebrated its 32nd anniversary this year.
Fast-tracking throughout the Midwest, the book tour started in Kalamazoo, worked through Grand Rapids (Van Allsburg’s hometown), Cincinnati, Louisville, then Chicago, and will reach its final destination today in Milwaukee. Fans who missed the connection needn’t go off the rails, though: publisher Houghton-Mifflin recently released a commemorative edition of the book.
For the uninitiated, the captivating story starts with a young boy lying in bed, straining to hear Santa’s sleigh, even after being told Santa isn’t real. Instead of a jingling sleigh, a train whistles, and an old-fashioned steamer, the Polar Express, pulls in front of his home. The boy rides the magical locomotive with other pyjama-clad children all the way to the North Pole, visits with Mr. Claus in the flesh, and reaffirms his belief in magic. The book was an instant success, and since 1985, it has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. School Library Journal named it one of the Top 100 Picture Books of all time, and in 2004 The Polar Express was adapted into an Oscar-nominated motion picture, starring Tom Hanks as the kindly conductor.
Copyright 1985 Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express. Reproduced with permission from Houghton Mifflin.
My own piece of Polar Express memorabilia has hung on a wall in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house in Massachusetts for twenty-six years. It’s a framed, movie-size poster of the cover, signed by Van Allsburg and dated October 11, 1989. I also remember listening to the book on cassette, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt. Even when Christmas was long packed away, my sister and I insisted that the tale be on heavy rotation during the car rides to school, to the point where the audio became fuzzy and crackled. On a whim, I searched for the audio file online, and found it on YouTube. I gathered up my six-year-old daughter, and together we listened to the story. While long-forgotten childhood memories surged to the forefront of my mind, my daughter was enthralled, wrapped up in the narrative, but interrupting periodically to exclaim, “it’s a true story!” and “he met Santa? Lucky!” confirming that the spirit of The Polar Express still rings true, as I’m sure it does for others who believe in the wonder of the holiday season.
This hand-colored copy had belonged to the late Paul Fentener Van Vlissingen, a Dutch businessman and philanthropist who was ranked as the richest man in Scotland shortly before his death in 2006.
Fine Books’ map columnist Jeffrey S. Murray wrote about the Blaeu family of mapmakers in our spring 2013 issue. Joannes (Joan) Blaeu succeeded his father Willem, who had studied instrument and globe making under Tycho Brahe, as the head cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Of the Atlas Major Murray wrote:
The atlas was a remarkable achievement, one that is widely credited as having ushered in what modern collectors like to call “the golden age of Dutch cartography.” With a list of patrons that included European royalty--among them the Emperor Leopold I of Austria, King Louis XIV of France, the French controleur génèral des finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, the prince of Salé (Morocco), and the sultan of Turkey--Atlas Major was fit for a prince.Image via Sotheby’s.
In the introduction, Fleisher, who is by day the public relations director for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, relates how his journey into children’s literature began after the birth of their daughter in 2006. As it is for many families, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon became the springboard for his love of the genre. We learn later that a “very rare true first edition” of this title with its dust jacket recently sold for $800 on eBay.
While the authors do list prices of editions recently sold at auction, the book is not intended to be a price guide, rather, it is meant, Fleisher writes, “to give you a sense of what you can find out there.” A first edition of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline’s Christmas? $168 at PBA Galleries. A first edition (with a fourth-edition jacket) of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal? $395 on eBay. A second printing of Shel Silverstein’s Falling Up? $531 at Heritage Auctions.
Collecting Children’s Books is great fun to peruse--perhaps with child or grandchild on one’s lap--and for anyone interested in beginning a collection in this area, it’s the perfect introduction.
Image Courtesy of Noah Fleisher.
In search of something epic at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair? Look no further than booth 319, where Oak Knoll Books is offering a gem of 20th-century publishing: a 1935 Limited Editions Club (LEC) example of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with etchings by Henri Matisse. This 365-page volume is number 244 in a run of 1500 numbered copies, and is signed by author and illustrator. Bound in brown cloth, the book includes Matisse’s Nausicaa stamped in gold on the front cover. The spine, also stamped in gold, features a miniature of the cover design. This is one of the most highly coveted editions published by LEC, the other being a 1934 edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso.
Ulysses, by James Joyce, illustrated by Henri Matisse. Image from Oak Knoll Books.com.
LEC founder and publisher George Macy wanted his edition of Joyce’s work to be illustrated by one of the best artists of the time. He approached Matisse with his request and $5,000. In the 1930s that sum brought twenty-six full-page illustrations. Matisse was rumored not to have read Joyce’s novel (though he was provided a French translation), and the black-and-white compositions are based on themes pulled from the Greek classic. Readers looking for Matisse’s bold use of color will not find it here. Instead, grand gestures are rendered in strokes of charcoal and pencil, reflecting the artist’s belief that meaning in art could be conveyed through thoughtfully placed lines.
Presented with the Limited Editions Press Monthly Letter and prospectus loosely inserted, Ulysses is being offered for $20,000.