From the early 1930s through the late 1940s, wealthy Oklahoma oil millionaire Roy Milisander Johnson commissioned 2xweek clandestine erotic manuscripts from writers in major cities across the country though bookseller-agents.

The names of the majority of these writers will forever remain a mystery but there are a handful whose identities have been confirmed:

HENRY MILLER (1891-1980) fled Paris for New York in 1940 at the start of WWII. He arrived in New York penniless. Legman, who knew Miller but didn't like him, was in the process of working with Miller and NY publisher-bookseller Jack Brussel on the first American edition of Tropic of Cancer (the "Medusa" edition). Legman approached Miller about writing for Johnson and set up an appointment to meet at Frances Steloff's Gotham Book Mart. Miller didn't show; he sent Anais Nin to work out the details with Legman, who wound up recruiting her to write for Johnson as well.

Miller's contributions have been identified by Legman as the roots for Miller's Sexus, Nexus, and Plexus (The Rosy Crucifixion) and as his Opus Pistorum (1941).

ANAIS NIN (1903-1977) fled France to New York with Henry Miller as WWII began. She, too, was broke and needed cash, fast.

"I gather poets around me and we all write beautiful erotica. As we have to suppress poetry, lyrical flight, and are condemned to focus only on sensuality, we have violent explosions of poetry. Writing erotica becomes a road to sainthood rather than to debauchery...We have to cut out the poetry, and are haunted by the marvelous tales we cannot tell. WE have sat around, imagined this old man, talked of how much we hate him, because he will not allow us to make a fusion of sexuality with feeling, sensuality and emotion, and lyrical flights which intensify eroticism." (1).

Later, completely fed up and unable to continue, she wrote a letter to Johnson, who she didn't know by name and had no way to send the letter to him:

"Dear Collector;

We hate you. Sex loses all its its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships, which change its colour, flavour, rhythms, intensities...You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood..." (2)

She goes on in the same vein. Had Johnson actually received this letter his eponymous appendage would have fallen off from shame.

In the late 1960s, Ray Locke, an editor at Holloway House, a pulp porn publisher in Los Angeles, walked into Bennett & Marshall, the rare book shop at 8214 Melrose Avenue, to scout for material to reprint (3). He was shown a few erotic manuscripts that had been written sub-rosa over twenty-five years prior. He looked them over; the writing seemed familiar to him. The manuscripts appeared to have been written by his friend and Hollywood Hills neighbor, Anais Nin. Locke contacted her, they got together, she examined the manuscripts and confirmed that they were hers. Ray eagerly offered to publish them at Holloway House. Understanding that there was a new, open market for this old, clandestine work of hers, she politely declined Ray's offer, reworked the material (she'd been admonished by Johnson to stick to direct, explicit narrative, "less poetry;" she put the poetry back in) and in 1977, the year of her death, Delta of Venus, the first of her two volumes of erotica, was published by mainstream publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich..

CARESSE CROSBY (1892-1970), poet and widow of poet Harry Crosby, had been, with her husband, one of the lights of Paris during the 1920s. Deeply immersed in Paris's literary and art scene and social circuit, the two established Black Sun Press, one of the fine small publishers of its time, noted for the artistry of its productions. She remained in Paris after his suicide in 1929 but returned to New York during the 1930s, remarried and divorced. Her memoir, The Passionate Years (1953), remains one of the best views of American ex-pats in Paris during the 1920s.

On November 3, 1914, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent to Caresse Crosby under her maiden name, Mary P. Jacob, for the 'Backless Brassiere', the first modern bra design. Whalebone futures presumably nosedived.

ROBERT CAMPBELL BRAGG aka N.R. De Mexico (1918-1954) lived in Greenwich Village, a bohemian in the literary and art scene. He was known to his friends as "Bob De Mexico" and wrote under that pseudonym or as N.R. De Mexico. According to his son, Kim, "the pen name N.R. de Mexico means 'N' for nee (born), 'R' for Robert of Mexico. I think the Mexico was a gag because at one point he had taught himself to speak Spanish well enough for him to translate for some additional income. During the war he worked for military intelligence. In the years just after WWII he was an editor for an architectural magazine, and only began writing novels [openly published ones!] after that period" (4).

BOOKS: Madman on a Drum (1944), a noir suspense thriller; Color TV, Now or Later?: A Comparative Survey and Analysis of the Several Color Systems and Their Impact on the Industry (1950); Marijuana Girl (1951); Designs (1951), a book about crime, gambling, prostitution; Private Chauffeur (1952), an aviation thriller.
BERNARD WOLFE (1915-1985), dramatist, television writer, and novelist graduated from Yale and after service in WWII worked briefly as secretary and bodyguard to Leon Trotsky during the revolutionary's exile in Mexico (he was off-duty at the time Trotsky got plugged) before settling in New York to become a writer. He co-wrote Really the Blues (1946), the memoir of Mezz Mezzrow, a book that would have an enormous impact upon the Beats. His 1972 autobiography, Memoirs of a Not Altogether Shy Pornographer, is a fine read and provides amusing details to his work for the unseen, unknown Johnson.


ROBERT DUNCAN (1919-1988). Space precludes full note of Duncan, whose influence on modern American poetry cannot be under estimated. Just click on the hyperlink to learn about him, if you are not already familiar with the poet and his work. His early, mimeographed journals, Epitaph and Experimental Review were influential when originally published and remain so today.

GEORGE BARKER (1913-1991). The acclaimed British poet left London at the onset of war in 1939 and settled in New York. An impecunious party animal, he desperately needed money and joined the group of secret pornsters at Nin's invitation. "He drank away the money he earned in this way" (5). He returned to the U.K. in 1943. Barker's novel, The Dead Seagull (1950), described his affair with novelist Elizabeth Smart, whose novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945) was also about the affair. His Collected Poems were edited by Robert Fraser and published in 1987 by Faber and Faber.

VIRGINIA ADMIRAL (1915-2000) was a painter who studied with Hans Hoffman and writer who worked with poet Robert Duncan to launch Epitaph, which developed into The Experimental Review. She later wrote for True Crime magazine. In 1942 she married painter Robert De Niro and a year later their son, the actor Robert De Niro, was born. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

ROBERT DE NIRO, SR. (1922-1993) was an abstract expressionist painter who studied with Hans Hoffman at the artist's Provincetown, MA studio where he met his future wife, Virginia Admiral. The couple were at the center of the Greenwich Village art and literary scene, with Henry Miller, Anais Nin, young Tennessee Williams, and poet Robert Duncan (with whom De Niro, Sr. would have an affair) as friends and boon companions. His son, the actor Robert De Niro, is protective of his father's legacy.
JAMES COONEY founded and edited the late 1930s dissident art journal, The Phoenix, with his wife, Blanche in 1938 at an artist's commune in Woodstock, New York. Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Robert Duncan were contributors.

HARVEY BREIT (1909-1968), poet, playwright, essayist, critic and interviewer, was a reviewer for the New York Times Book Review from 1940-1965. He presumably wrote for Johnson prior to landing the job with the Times, no doubt invited by Nin to supplement his meager if not non-existent income from poetry. He co-wrote with Budd Schulberg the play The Disenchanted (1950) and in 1956 issued The Writer Observed.

JACK HANLEY (1905-1963), a novelist and television writer of no special talent, specialized in racy material:

Let's Make Mary : Being a Gentleman's Guide to Scientific Seduction in Eight Easy Lessons (1937); Exposing the Marijuana Drug Evil in Swing Bands (Radio Stars magazine, July 1938); Star Lust (1949); The Guy From Coney Island (1954); Bed For Beginners (1958); Strip Street (1954, under the pseudonym Gene Harvey); Tomcat in Tights (1959); Very Private Secretary (1960).

I think it safe to say that Hanley was not part of the Nin group.

ROBERT SEWALL. Not much is known about Sewall beyond that he was a childhood friend of G. Legman's in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Legman recruited him to write erotica for Johnson when he found it impossible to continue to churn out his own contributions to Johnson's cause, which were continuations of An Oxford Thesis on Love by "L. Erectus Mentulus," written for Johnson by Lupton Wilkinson. Sewall, "very talented at pastiche" (Legman) did a few of the Oxford sequels, then branched out into parodies of Henry Miller, then began a related series of Dashiell Hammett-like erotic murder-mysteries. These would later be collected and clandestinely issued as The Devil's Advocate (1942) by "Wood C. Lamont," his jab at fellow secret porn writer, the American poet and literateur, Clement Wood, known primarily for his still-in-print The Rhyming Dictionary (1936).

In one of the ironies that erotic literature is rife with, after he retired from writing, Sewall, according to Legman's widow, Judith (6), moved to Brattleboro, Vermont and became the town's postmaster, a job that would have earlier required that he arrest himself for sending obscene material through the mails.

GENE FOWLER (1890--1960). The highly regarded journalist, dramatist, and screenwriter was at one time the highest paid scribe in Hollywood. He began as a popular journalist in New York, and moved to Los Angeles in the very early 1930s. He was notorious for being in and out of the money on a regular basis and likely wrote erotica strictly for fast cash. But Fowler, one of the great wits of the day, couldn't write "straight" sex. His two contributions to American erotica are the uproariously funny clandestine masterpieces, The Demi-Wang by Peter Long (1931) and Nirvana, Or The Adventures of Miss Aveh Koosie by Dr. Desernet (1934), the former a farce in which a young man born with obvious shortcomings undergoes transplant surgery but the surgeon shows up drunk and when our hero awakens he has a horse rather than human virile member that causes him hardship; be careful what you wish for.

I have personally examined these two books in their first printed and bound editions, put together, apparently, after Fowler had delivered the manuscripts. They are printed in attractive letterpress on laid paper. Fowler was part of the writers' crowd that hung out at Stanley Rose's bookshop to bullshit - and appreciate the scenery that Rose would routinely have on display after-hours in the back room. I suspect that Rose originally acted on Johnson's behalf with the commissions but that Fowler took his carbon copies over to Jake Zeitlin, who had them printed and bound (by one of L.A.'s better printer-publishers, yet unknown. But a strong possibility is that the printer and binder was Saul Marks, who had moved to L.A. in 1930 and whom Zeitlin had taken to and given his first work in L.A. as a struggling printer before founding, with his wife, Lillian, Plantin Press), then distributed them, with faux location on the title pages, New York.

LUPTON WILKINSON (1902-1993). Wilkinson began writing articles, poems and stories for magazines, then sensationalistic fare for the pulps. In the early 1930s he became head of publicity for The Hays Office, Hollywood's self-censorship bureau and, in 1938, wrote for Johnson the classic erotic novel, An Oxford Thesis on Love. Irony doesn't get any more ironic. After leaving the Hays Office, Wilkinson became a writer for movie fan magazines and press agent.

ANTHONY GUDAITIS aka Anton Gud, aka Tony Gud wrote anonymously or under pseudonym many works for Samuel Roth, America's most prosecuted publisher of erotica. Lady Chatterley's Husbands (1931) is firmly attributed to him. Under his own name he wrote Young Man About to Committ Suicide (NY: William Faro [Sam Roth], 1934). As "Anton Gud" he compiled and edited the volume Don't Vote 'Til You Read This! (1952).

CLIFTON CUTHBERTSON. We have a name. That's it. The Social Security Death Index doesn't even have that. Who was this guy?

PAUL HUGO LITTLE.(1915-1987). The man of a 1000 pseudonyms was born Paul Hugo Litwinsky in Chicago to wealthy merchants. Little ultimately became one of America's most prolific writers with over 700 novels and books to his credit. They are almost all porn of the poorest literary quality. A chess expert, he has a few chess instructionals to his name, and wrote a book in 1965 titled The Procurers, a title about one of Chicago's most notorious call-girls who had her phones unilaterally turned off by the sheriff of Cook County. Some believe this book is fiction. It is not. My uncle, Elmer Gertz, in his day one of the U.S.'s most celebrated civil liberties and First Amendment attorneys (he won Tropic of Cancer's first case in the U.S.), was this woman's advocate in her suit against the sheriff and, natch, got her off hook and back on the phone. I once possessed a copy of this book that Little had inscribed to my uncle. I sold it ten years ago. It is now online and selling for $150. Geez...

One day someone will write at length about this character, known primarily for his porn work under the pseudonym, "A. Grandamour," who, according to my uncle (who knew him well), was a spoiled rich Jewish kid, well-educated, who turned his back on his family and background, was thrown out of the Chicago branch of The Standard Club, the social organization for successful Jews, for conduct unbecoming, married an Episcopalian, converted to Christianity, and then churned out so much crude erotica that he surely could not have had time to perform his connubial responsibilities.

CLEMENT WOOD (1988-1950). The poet, critic and litterateur wrote Flesh (1930) Lady Chatterley's Friends (1932), amongst many such novels he cranked out for Sam Roth. He was wealthy and didn't need the money; he just loved writing about sex. He must have leapt at the opportunity to write for Johnson. His The Rhyming Dictionary (1936) has never been out of print.

Of the Los Angeles contingent Legman wrote, "I was told that many Hollywood writers had written for this combine" (7). Stanley Rose's book shop was the local hang-out for screenwriters and novelists, famous and otherwise (a lot of otherwise); Rose was notorious for the back room activities of his shop, and there was no shortage of Hollywood scriveners in need of scratch and not particular about how they earned it.

So boring was writing for Johnson that the Greenwich Village division of Johnson's libido wrote much of their output round-robin style. "I am," Anais Nin wrote, "the madam of this literary, snobbish house of prostitution-writing, from which vulgarity was excluded...I supply the paper and carbon, I deliver the manuscripts anonymously, I protect everyone's anonymity" (8).

Almost everyone.

In 1953, Roy M. Johnson was elected to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. A one-man New Deal WPA, he is still awaiting recognition by PEN for his employment services to starving writers during the Depression.


1. Nin, Anais. Diaries, Volume III, p. 157.
2. ibid., pp. 177-178).
3. Interview with the author, September, 2000.
4. Tucker, Fender. Who Is N.R. De Mexico? Paperback Parade #69, Jan. 2008, pp 95-96.
5. Legman, G. Introduction to the Private Case, p. 57.
6. Email to the author.
7. Legman, G. Introduction to The Private Case, p. 53.
8. Nin, op cit, p. 151.

Aside from Legman's Introduction to Patrick J. Kearney's The Private Case, and Jay A. Gertzman's key Bookleggers and Smuthounds (1999), the Introduction by C.J. Scheiner to White Stains (Delectus, 1995) has been helpful, though Scheiner's speculation that Nin and/or members of her group wrote the erotic stories within this tome (first appearing c. 1940) is not well-developed, based entirely upon the coincidence that the stories in White Stains are also well written, and fails to provide any sort of textual comparison to known erotica by Nin or her writing in general to support his notion.
As I suspect is true for many book people, I've always loved the New York Times crossword. I'm not as good as, say, the solvers in the documentary Wordplay, but I do the puzzle every day - even if Friday's and Saturday's sometimes remain half-finished (for non-crossword types, the NYT puzzle grows progressively harder as the week goes on). The puzzle is part of my daily routine, as is checking in (when I'm finished or simply stumped) with the aptly-titled blog Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle. The site is the work of Michael Sharp (Rex Parker is a pseudonym) and every day he posts the completed crossword along with his (often extensive) commentary.

There are many reasons why I enjoy the site (not the least of which is that we're both roughly the same age and have taught - I formerly, he currently - college literature). Sharp writes with humor ("I am the 44th Greatest Crossword Puzzle Solver In The Universe!") and insight. He approaches crosswords from an aesthetic point-of-view which belies his literary background and has deepened my own appreciation for the form. But for Fine Books and Collections readers, perhaps the best reason to like Sharp is that he's not simply a reader and word aficionado, he's a collector. Sharp's other blog, Pop Sensations, is dedicated to his collection of vintage pulp paperbacks and offers commentary lively enough to match the lurid cover images he posts.

All of which is a rather lengthy prelude to this charming anecdote Sharp included at the end of today's Rex Parker post, a story which serves as a welcome reminder that sometimes condition isn't the only thing:

Last night, I was reading "Fat" by Raymond Carver in a used paperback edition of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" that I got at a book sale a while back. Carver was my idol as a (very) young man, and I hadn't read him in ages, so I was excited to revisit his stories, especially "Fat," which stuck in my mind like few others. As I read, the pages came loose and fell neatly out of the book, but I didn't think anything of it - after all, it was a used book that I got for virtually nothing. When I finished the story, I flipped the small stack of loose pages over and noticed, for the very first time, the following inscription: "For Pat Wilcox, with my thanks for being here tonight, Ray. Carver 11/10/81" I discover that I own a signed Carver only because the book literally falls apart in my hands. It was tragic and magical all at the same time. Next to his signature, Carver has underlined the date, and just below that, he's written my favorite part of the whole inscription: "Binghamton!" What's weird - Carver would have been here (Binghamton, where I live) visiting, among others, the novelist John Gardner, who taught here for many years. Gardner would die in a motorcycle accident less than a year after Carver's visit.

Since it's already fallen out of the book, I think I'm going to frame that inscribed title page and put it right underneath the framed Ali signature from 1971 that's addressed to me and my mom. 
During the early 1930s through the late 1940s, the good folks of the small yet bustling burg of Ardmore, Oklahoma had no idea that their leading citizen was America's foremost patron of profane literature.

"There are in Oklahoma a number of valiant men engaged in productive enterprise whose success has largely resulted from the application of rare common sense in conjunction with speed of action. There are none in whom this combination is more conspicuously developed than Roy Melisander Johnson, of Ardmore, who, in a comparatively brief period of time and while still in early middle life, has reached a point of prosperity that is a fine tribute to his is said by his fellow citizens that no man in the State stands higher in the regard of its people than he...a dominating influence".(I)

While he was certainly so in his business and civic activities, he was, as well, certainly the dominating influence in the creation of clandestine erotica in the United States. Having commissioned nearly 2000 private erotic manuscripts(II) to be written for him, he was and remains the single most significant patron of erotic literature - and probably of all literature - in world history.

Johnson (1881-1960) began as a linotype operator, established a newspaper in Ardmore in 1907, the Ardmore Statesman, an openly Republican paper in a staunchly Democratic Party region, and thus proclaimed himself as a man willing to go against popular opinion.

But the newspaper business was not enough for Johnson, who went on to found Healdton Petroleum Co, the first company to exploit the Healdton oil field, the largest oil reserve in Oklahoma, which Johnson had co-discovered in 1913. He became fabulously wealthy. Elected to state office, a member of every civic organization imaginable, he was also deacon of the First Presbyterian Church of Ardmore.

When not in church or drilling natural resources, he was a connoisseur and avid collector of the literature of natural resources, erotica, who, according to Gershon Legman "had all the printed erotica in English, but who found - like the readers of murder-mysteries - that each story excited his imagination and his jaded virility only once." (III) His drill bit, apparently was no longer up to the task and so "he thereafter continually needed fresh manuscripts written for him, two a week."(IV)

To that end, Johnson had agent-booksellers in major cities all over the country engaged in commissioning private smut from struggling writers who wrote blue for the green, $200 per manuscript to the agents, who were to keep $100 and give the rest to the writer but who rarely kept their side of the bargain; the writers were lucky to see $50 for their tumescent labors.

He kept his collection of printed and manuscript erotica in olive-drab steel filing cabinets in his business office because his wife refused to allow them in their house, a home now registered as a historical landmark.(V)  Given what was in his file cabinets, his office should have been registered as a historical landmark.

The agent-booksellers were located in New York, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.(VI)  In New York, the agent was a bookseller known as "Rudolph Bernays" (Legman) or "Barneybill Roster" (Bernard Wolfe); by those clues, it was likely Barnet Ruder. In Chicago, it was likely Ben Abramson of Argus Books; in Los Angeles, it was surely Stanley Rose of the Satyr Book Shop who later opened a shop nearby under his own name that had a notorious "back room" where "art studies" would be held after closing and where the "art" books were sold (VII); legendary L.A. rare book dealer Jake Zeitlin may have also been involved (VIII), and later, after Rose died, bookseller Mel Royer (IX).

Many if not most of the agent-booksellers, though they were not supposed to, kept copies of the manuscripts and sold them to other clients. For this the writers received zip.

Upon his death, Johnson's collection of printed and manuscript erotica would be disbursed into the marketplace, at first clandestinely by booksellers to trusted clients then, post-1965 Supreme Court decisions, openly. The largest purchasers of the manuscripts at that point were pulp porn publishers who scouted rare book shops for material to reprint.

Though I hesitate to say so - oh brother, do I hesitate - I have had much of this material pass through my hands. Pulp porn publishers reprinted the stuff under the original titles or changed titles simply to distinguish their editions from competing editions; at the time there were often four to five editions of the same book in the marketplace.

Through attention to detail it's fairly easy to identify the reprints as Johnson manuscripts. One of the writers was known for his Henry Miller and Dashiell Hammett erotic pastiches. Stumble across a paperback of similar style and if the time period checks, it's likely one of this fellow's contributions.

While the authors of some of the material have been firmly identified, authorship of the overwhelming majority of the material remains unknown. Many of the original manuscripts were crudely written, yet in many of the paperback reprints one is struck by craft, cleverness and/or lyricism begging to be set loose. Those are the ones written by the better writers, and we can hear in these short novels a group of Greenwich Village artists, poets, and bohemians having a good time while desperately trying to satisfy an old man's flagging libido to earn the rent.

Though the list of writers who slathered secret sauce onto Johnson's bedtime snacks contains names of marginal interest, it remains quite impressive for those writers of significance, small and large, and provides a brief who's who of the literary arts scene in New York and Los Angeles during the era.

NEXT: The Perp Walk.


I. Thoburn, Joseph B. and Muriel Wright. OK, A History of the State and Its People (NY,  1929), vol. 4, p.603-04.
II..Two per week, over nearly a twenty year period.
III.Legman, G. Introduction to The Private Case (1981), p. 53.
IVIbid, p. 54.
V.United States Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places
VI. Ferrario, Peter (one of the numerous pseudonyms of Paul Hugo Little). The Classical Underground Erotica. Volume 2, University Circle Press, 1971,  p. 88. This is a trashy book issued by a porn publisher, and Little, a rotten writer by any standard, tells all about himself and his contributions to Johnson's hobby but in the third person, as the author's "friend." Legman, op cit, provides a similar list of cities involved.
VII. Author interview with Teevee Moss, who worked for Rose at his Hollywood Bvld shop.
VIII. Gertzman, Jay A. Booklegger and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica 1920-1940, Philadelphia, 1999, p. 61.
IX. Royer's shop was located at 8216 Melrose Ave. The space was later occupied by William Dailey Rare Books, where I hung my hat for many years. Royer's widow, Dorothy, now deceased,, refused to speak to me of her husband's extra-curricular activities fearful of his name being besmirched. Royer is also the only bookseller known to have actually visited Johnson in his home in Ardmore.

Via the Beyond Little House blog, an announcement from announcement from Michael Edmonds, head of Digital Collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society:

The Wisconsin Historical Society has recently published on its website more than a dozen original letters written during the Civil War by relatives of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), author of Little House on the Prairie and other popular books for young readers.

Wilder's famous novels are thinly disguised recollections of her childhood, and these private letters between her mother, uncles and an aunt shed light on the real-world adults whom she fictionalized. They include a four-page letter written by her mother, Caroline Quiner Ingalls, shortly after being married and others written by various uncles* while fighting in the Civil War.

The original handwritten documents are presented in color, accompanied by typed transcriptions, in the Society's Turning Points in Wisconsin History digital collection. A lesson plan based on them has also been provided for the use of elementary school teachers who use the Little House books in the classroom.

Beyond Little House adds: "*Please note: Although the Wisconsin Historical Society website refers several times to the Civil War letters being written by Laura's uncles, these letters were actually written by the brothers of Laura's uncle, Charles Carpenter, who was married to Caroline's (Ma's) sister Martha. One of the Civil War letters is written by Laura's aunt, Nancy Quiner, who married Ma's brother Joseph."

If you're a fan of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, as I am, check out Beyond Little House. Written by both fans and scholars of Wilder and her works, it is a treasure trove of new information.

See you in the stacks!

TP2.jpgThe subject of today's rumination deals with an Associated Press dispatch just coming out of Japan that reports the forthcoming publication of a novel written by Koji Suzuki, a popular author said to be that country's counterpart to Stephen King--and printed entirely on rolls of toilet paper.

Normally, the whole idea of a printed book is that it involves an element of permanence, not something as patently disposable as bathroom tissue, but the theme of this work, apparently, is what suggested the unusual format. The nine-chapter novella, titled "Drop," is set in a public restroom, and draws for its premise on a traditional Japanese folktale that suggests ghosts have a tendency to hide in what are euphemistically known as rest rooms.

Given that Japanese characters do not read from left to right, or right to left, but up and down, the format of an unfolding scroll, as it were, seemed ideally suited to presenting the tale, especially on a medium that is somewhat suggestive of the content itself, and was certain to get some free advance publicity. Suzuki is no flash in the pan, I might add. A 1990 recipient of the Fantasy Novel Award in Japan, he is the author previously of "Ring," which was the basis of a Hollywood film. According to details released by the "publisher"--Hayashi Paper Corp. of Japan--"Drop" is set down on about three feet of each roll, and can be read in just a few minutes. It is being touted as a "horror experience in the toilet," and will sell for 210 yen, or $2.20 according to today's conversion rates, and go on sale on June 6.

I have no doubt that copies will be available in abundance online; indeed, for people like me, who collect unusual paper samples, I'm afraid this is going to be a must acquisition. Just last week I got some samples of hand-made paper made in Tasmania from the dung of kangaroos and wombats by a firm known as Creative Paper Tasmania. I had been alerted by one of my daughters to a piece on NPR about the unusual process, and got in touch with the papermaker, Darren Simpson.

We had a great chat by telephone, my favorite quote coming in response to the most basic question I put to him Why, I had asked, this particular fiber source, which is abundant on this large island off the coast of Australia."Why?" He answered. "Because the wombats and the 'roos pulp it for us." Boiling removes all bacteria, by the way, so it is perfectly safe to handle, and the finished product is quite nice. Learn something new every day.

Alibris will announce on Tuesday "a new book-fulfillment solution" for booksellers. The new program, called Alibris Distribution Services(ADS), will provide full cataloging and distribution services for booksellers who have "exceeded their operations capacity, have more inventory than they'll ever catalog, or want to liquidate large amounts of new and used books."

Participating booksellers will receive 70% of the price realized less 99c per item accepted into the program.

Almost sounds to good to be true. Send all that excess inventory to Alibris, let them catalog it and deal with the shipping, warehousing etc. I've rarely meet a bookseller who didn't have space issues.

Here's the catch. It is a similar model to what the notorious "penny sellers" like Better World Books and Thrift Books employ with libraries. ADS will also apply a similar pricing strategy, repricing books daily "according to current market conditions, keeping them competitively priced for sellers and appealing to customers."

Overall, the concept is a good one though in its current form I'm afraid it does more harm than good for the bookselling community at large. Granted their target audience is not the collectible, antiquarian seller but their pricing strategy puts them squarely in the 'race to the bottom' camp which has been plaguing all segments of the bookselling world.

Here is a preview of the upcoming Press Release.

Alibris Introduces Complete Cataloging and Fulfillment Program for Independent Sellers of New and Used Books

Book, music, and movie marketplace offers new service to help online booksellers to list and sell excess book inventory

EMERYVILLE, CA--May 26, 2009--Alibris has launched a new book-fulfillment solution that provides sellers of new and used books with affordable cataloging and fulfillment services. Known as Alibris Distribution Services (ADS), the Alibris program helps booksellers turn inventory into cash. In its first year, ADS has succeeded among participating sellers, who have sent more than one million books through the program.

ADS is a service for independent sellers in the United States who exceed their operations capacity, have more inventory than they'll ever catalog, or want to liquidate large amounts of new and used books. ADS includes:

· Broadest possible sales exposure. ADS books are listed on Alibris, Alibris U.K., Alibris for Libraries, and business-partner sites such as Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Borders, eBay, and

· Consignment convenience. Books are shipped to the Alibris distribution center, where they are cataloged and warehoused until they are sold on behalf of participating sellers.

· Affordable fees. As a consignment-based program, Alibris only charges $0.99 for accepted items and pays sellers 70% of the sales price when they are sold.

· No hidden charges. There are no additional processing, fulfillment, storage, or seasonal fees. ADS also covers up to the full shipping cost of moving books from the seller to the Alibris distribution center, depending on shipment size and distance.

· Market-based repricing. Alibris daily reprices books, according to current market conditions, keeping them competitively priced for sellers and appealing to customers.

· Complete customer service. At no additional charge, ADS services all book buyers and process all returned items.

"We think Alibris Distribution Services is a best-of-class solution for sellers with excess inventory," said Brian Elliott, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alibris. "A wide variety of sellers have tried and incorporated the ADS program into their businesses." Elliott also summarized the fulfillment service's assets. "ADS is attractive to sellers because of its operational simplicity, affordable economics, and proven success in turning backlogged inventory into cash."

Every time I return from a book fair I'm asked by family, friends, and colleagues, "Was it a good fair?" I'm never entirely certain how to answer that question. A "good" book fair is good because of many different elements working in conjunction with each other. A fair can be good based on the sales made; certainly we all want to make a profit for our time and effort and our investment in renting a booth. A fair can also be good based on new contacts established; you never know when getting to know someone's interests might lead to a future sale. A fair can also be good based on the purchases one makes; several times at book fairs, I have found items in other dealer's booths that gave me that fingerspitzengefuhl feeling, bought them and then sold them at a profit. Finally, a good book fair also includes a bit of camaraderie. I have to think I will make a profit in order to sign up for a book fair, but even if I don't, any of the criteria mentioned above can make the fair a good one.

This past weekend was my second time selling books at the Gold Rush Book Fair in Grass Valley. It was my sixth book fair and it was the first time I decided to rent my own booth space rather than sharing it with another seller. I think I have done enough fairs at this point to judge whether or not it was a good fair.

So, was it a good fair?

By most criteria, it was indeed a good fair, though it was not without its moments where I wondered if it would be otherwise. To begin with, the air conditioner in the Bookmobile stopped working. This meant driving around 100 degree (Fahrenheit) Grass Valley with no air conditioning and a three hour ride home through triple digit temperatures yesterday. Added to the hot weather was a lack of confidence that I think was precipitated by the fact that I have not sold my own books at a fair since September, 2008. The US economy has changed a great deal in the past six months, and I wondered whether any collectors or other dealers would have money to spend on books and on traveling to a book fair that is held in a destination town a bit off the beaten trail. Lastly, I did ok at this fair last year, breaking even on my expenses, but I really hoped to do better this year. I wondered whether that was possible or whether I might actually lose money on this fair.

Note to those of you who plan to be booksellers: None of this wondering and worrying is helpful, so you will do best to just ignore it and go to the fair. You'll sell more books than if you had stayed home.

Though it is a small regional fair (just 41 dealers this year), the Gold Rush Book Fair is one of my favorites. It's held in a picturesque historic town. It's the only fair I've done that has a special dinner for all of the booksellers, and because of this, it creates a special camaraderie among the booksellers and is just a lot of fun. After meeting for cocktails and happy hour at the lovely Toad Hall Bookshop,
toad hall
we booksellers were herded up the stairs into a Masonic Hall where Grass Valley's Chief of Police, his wife, and many other good cooks, prepared a delicious spaghetti dinner for all of the booksellers and our guests, about 75 people. Peter Siegel of Bea and Peter Siegel Books was the Honored Guest Bookseller of the 2009 Fair, and I loved hearing his story of how his mother got started in the business when he was just a boy. (Being a mother of boys myself, I especially liked hearing Peter's impressions of books and book hunting from his childhood.) Peter also shared the story of how he came to be a partner in the business and his opinions on the future of antiquarian bookselling.

Peter Siegel, left, accepting the honor of 2009 Honored Guest Bookseller from the fair's organizer, John Hardy.

The dinner was served at long, family-style tables, so I found myself getting to know some of my fellow booksellers (Stephanie Howlett West, Dan Glaeser, and Chris Volk and Shep Iams,) a little bit better. It was a fun evening and a good way to kick off the fair. Even though I have been known to be a bit shy in social situations, I wish more book fairs had such gatherings. They're good for morale and can be good for sales.

The fair got off to a brisk start at 10:00 a.m., and I had my first sale (and the best of the day) to another dealer a little before the fair opened to the public. Things were busy until about 2:00 p.m, and then seemed to slow down a bit until the fair's 5:00 closing time. By this time, I had had several sales and had made a modest profit, an improvement over last year. I sold more books to "civilians" than I did to booksellers, but the amount of the sales made to the booksellers was larger. I came away with at least two new customers who I heard from via email today, so there may be some follow-up sales this week or at a later date.

All in all it was a good book fair. Though I have made more profit at larger book fairs in major metropolitan areas, a booth at the Gold Rush Book Fair is relatively inexpensive when compared to the larger fairs. It's easier to make a profit at this smaller fair with its (for me anyway) smaller expenses.

All that glitters is not just gold at the Gold Rush Book Fair. In addition to the "gold" or potential profit a seller can make by participating in this fair, there are other intangible benefits to doing the fair. I think my post from last year sums it up best:

"The value of book fairs can not be judged by sales alone. Their worth can also be found in purchasing opportunities, in networking with colleagues, and in developing customer relationships. I love book fairs, and I loved the fair this weekend enough to come back next year."

Here's a photo of my booth.

I'll leave you with this final quote about the Gold Rush (and Gold Rush towns like Grass Valley) from historian H.W. Brands:

"California presented to people a new model for the American dream--one where the emphasis was on the ability to take risks, the willingness to gamble on the future."

I'd say this statement about California applies to book fairs as well. Booksellers take a risk when we sign up and pay for a booth space at a book fair, sometimes with mixed results. But our participation in book fairs signifies our willingness to gamble on the future of books and bookselling. Short of an open shop, a book fair is one of the best ways to bring books to the public. I'm all in.

                                              Library News
               Closures are now under review by the government, but it is difficult
               to have confidence in a minister (Andrew Burnham) who says he
               wants libraries of the future to be like 'Facebook 3-D.'
                                                                           - ABA Newsletter May 2009


Despite the dissent of library fuddy-duddy Luddites like Rachel Cook at the Guardian and Tom Roper of The Roper Organization, at 2AM on April 14 we will be making the conversion from the old library paradigm to the new.

?? Library patrons will now "log in" when they enter the Library instead of saying hello. This will free staff from unnecessary and awkward physical interaction with the public.

?? If they have not done so already, patrons must complete our new Satisfaction Survey which will mine for basic information and details of the individual's life so that we can better serve their needs, size them up for unsolicited solicitations, and match them with other Branch book lovers. At the request of the City Attorney, please be certain that patrons read the Disclaimer at bottom: "Not responsible for bad dates, stalkers, or assault with a deadly sales pitch."

?? Staff members may, if they elect, "share" with patrons the special as well as the mundane details of their lives.

?? Preferences can be set by individual staff members so that they do not have to listen to patrons reciprocate or unilaterally share the special as well as mundane details of their lives. For Preference Enforcement, call Security.

?? To encourage patrons to spend as much time as possible "on-site" and thus maximize exposure to the Library's new revenue enhancement system, we are debuting a new test-game; What Class Are You in the Dewey Decimal System? Once they've taken the test, Library users will be solicited by the Reference Librarian for their sub-set. If, for instance, patrons are "900. History and Geography and Biography. You have a need to know what was, where it was, and who was it. Kind of a busybody, aren't you?" they will be asked to further refine our search efforts by specific filters so that we will know that they are prime targets for, say, detergent advertising, i.e. New, Blue, Unscented Cheer with Scrubbing Bubbles and Free Book Inside! (The inserted paperback book will present an additional revenue opportunity as yet another splice in our continuous loop of product placement from which there is no escape).

?? When patrons check-out books, they will automatically be prompted by a suggestion for another book in the same area of interest which if they buy and not borrow will earn bonus-points that can be used for purchases from any of our Associate Rewards Member companies.

?? Library patrons, to protect their real identity and maximize their social-library experience, will have the option of choosing a mask of their favorite celebrity or historical personage from the Fictitious ID Dept. I need not point out the danger of identities assigned to more than one person at the same time. Nor, simultaneous multiple identities to the same person. Please be careful.

?? As verbal sharing amongst patrons who may or may not actually know one another will likely increase and cause distress to others wishing to hear the proverbial pin drop, use of the free StatusWhisper?? device will be encouraged, which is, essentially, a fashion-forward surgical mask which cost two cents but after selling ad space we earn two bucks apiece on.

?? The On-Site Chat feature may be disabled by pointing to the "Quiet, Please" sign. But as disabling currently requires a few tweaks for optimization, Security may instead be called.

?? Patrons who are bothered by other patrons who constantly update their status are free to leave the library at any time to return home to their pathetic, shut-in, lonely lives and unread books.

?? Library patrons who refuse to cooperate and participate in the new, improved Library may be offered use of the Cone of Silence located in the basement of each branch or shown the door. What do they think we're running around here, a library?

On a gorgeous spring morning when I would much rather be writing about a delightful trip to Southern California to give the Samuel Lazerow Lecture at UCLA--a whirlwind visit to the West Coast that included some productive time in the library of the Getty Research Institute--I find myself gazing north of Los Angeles to that magical City by the Bay, and thinking about a plan that is afoot to cherry pick treasures from the Gleason Library of the University of San Francisco, and sell them off for hard cash.

I write about this now, because there is time to mobilize a response. Many of you, I am sure, have heard about the sleazy attempt reported in January by Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., to sell off, lock stock and barrel, an extensive collection of six thousand modern art pieces that had been donated in good faith to the institution over many years by a number of benefactors.

Apparently taking a cue from this sort of cultural myopia, the president of the University of San Francisco, the Rev. Stephen Privett S.J., has, according to a nicely done article in the student newspaper, begun to sift "through a range of university assets" for purposes of "compiling a list of items that may be expendable in an economic emergency."

Tops on  Father Privett's hit list are precious materials housed in the Donahue Rare Book Room of the Gleeson Library, the pride and joy of the late William J. Moynihan, S.J., a remarkable bookman known in his time as the "penniless Medici of San Francisco" for having established one of the most distinguished institutional book collections in Northern California, and doing it with little more than irresistible Irish charm, dedication, and gentle persuasion. A perfectly lovely man--I had the great pleasure to interview and write about him in "A Gentle Madness"--Father Moynihan was also responsible for having established in 1968 the Sir Thomas More Medal for Book Collecting, the most prestigious award of its kind in the world.

Of course "compiling a list" is one thing, and actually selling stuff is another. Father Privett's backpedaling notwithstanding--he withered a bit under questioning by the student reporter, Nicholas Mukhan, by insisting that "we are not selling anything right now" from the library--that caveat does not include the set of Albrecht Durer prints that USF had already consigned to Bonham's Auction Gallery, and which were offered for sale on May 11. 

This report, needless to say, has occasioned a flurry of comments on the ExLibris site; those interested in learning more should take a look, and follow the thread, which takes in the whole phenomenon of institutions finding every excuse imaginable to sell off cultural treasures entrusted to their care, including discussion of another fire sale going on now at the Wilmington Free Library in Delaware for purposes of fixing a leaky roof and installing new air conditioning.

But the USF situation, I have to say, is the one that rankles me the most. You know you're in trouble when you read a quote like this: "Father Privett also questioned how many students visit the Rare Book Room."  When an administrator starts to justify his thinking by suggesting that special collections are a luxury that nobody is using, guess what, you're already on the slippery slope. He should be reminded that this material was solicited and given to USF with the explicit expectation that the university would be a worthy custodian--and we can be sure that it was accepted by this noble Jesuit institution on those very terms.

If you have thoughts on this matter, and would like to express them, you can write USF President Stephen Privett at or Library Dean Tyrone Cannon at I'm sure they would love to hear from you.