Paperbacks from Hell

Paperbacks from Hell_72dpi.jpgNew from Quirk Books is an account of the world of horror pulp fiction of the 1970s and ’80s. Author and horror historian Grady Hendrix (Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism) traces the unexpected success of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, and William Blatty’s The Exorcist--three nightmare novels that became bestsellers and spawned two decades of provocative horror publishing.

Stories of devils, demonic possession, strange science, and other themes are explored in devilish detail--with chapters like “Hail Satan,” and “Inhumanoids,” Hendrix explains how this standard checkout-aisle fare went from being the derided black sheep of the publishing industry during the 1940s and ’50s to taking over bestseller lists and movie screens.

“Horror was for nobodies,” writes Hendrix, that is, until books with Satan as the almighty culprit took center stage. Then, every horror story that came along tried to outgore the unholy trinity of Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist, ultimately leading to the genre’s demise in the late 80s as a fading parody--“roadkill on the superhighway of the ’90s,” as Hendrix puts it. The author gleefully digs around this forgotten time capsule of the publishing world while also delving into the tales of the writers and artists who catapulted this genre into the public consciousness. Hendrix’s infectious zeal for killer creatures and the undead make Paperbacks from Hell truly enjoyable.

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, by Grady Hendrix: Quirk Books, $24.99, 256 pages.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Image courtesy of Quirk Books

Collecting Dr. Johnson


It may sound like hyperbole, but there is something enchanting about the Samuel Johnson house, which can difficult to find even if navigating from a smart phone, even if you have been there before. Tucked away through alleys in a nearly hidden square of Fitzrovia in London, it’s a house that stands apart from the slick tall glass structures surrounding it. It’s also a house that remains popular for literary pilgrims despite Dr. Johnson’s age. This week, three days after the anniversary of Dr. Johnson’s 1709 birthdate of September 18, I ducked in to see their latest exhibition, Collecting Johnson: Attracted by rarity, seduced by example, and inflamed by competition, which brings together rare and intriguing items from ten prestigious private collections, both anonymous and named, of Johnsonia from Great Britain, America, and Australia. 

                                                                                                                                                                                 Despite his importance to the study of the English language, as the author of The Dictionary of the English Language, there is no single concentrated collection of Johnson material, as he himself decided to quickly sell off his possessions at auction upon his death to raise funds for a trust for his servant, a freed slave from Jamaica, and, essentially adopted son, Francis Barber and his family. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     What has been brought together is a curious selection of items and books, including volumes of his edition of Shakespeare, with an original subscription card -- ever disorganized, Johnson had scratched out one subscriber’s name and added another -- and rare pamphlets including one to remove “the nuisance of common prostitutes from the streets of this metropolis,” written mostly by Johnson, but published under the name Saunders Welch, one of the justices of Westminster. 

                                                                                                                                                                                  Another highlight is Johnson biographer James Boswell’s snuff box made of antler, a portrait of Johnson attributed to the “Circle of Joshua Reynolds” paired with its fascinating x-ray analysis, a print Johnson owned by John Milton, and contemporary objects featuring Johnson including a large Cheshire cheese platter.


Collecting Johnson runs through October 14.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Image credit: A.N. Devers

ciociaria_cover.jpgThe autumn issue of Fine Books features a survey of photobook collecting, past and present. For the section on contemporary photobooks, we spoke to the founder of the Indie Photobook Library (now at Yale) and featured the work of Douglas Stockdale. The cover of his 2011 photobook, Ciociaria, appears on page 33 (and here at right). But Stockdale isn’t only a photographer, he’s also the founder, editor, and publisher of The PhotoBook Journal (TPBJ).

Based in Southern California, TPBJ is an online journal that promotes “the international photographic community,” primarily by posting reviews of contemporary photobooks and artist’s books that cover a range of subjects and formats. Since its founding in 2008, the journal has published more than 450 book reviews, garnering attention for limited editions, self-published artist’s books, and trade art books alike. “With few exceptions, most books reviewed are first editions, and we provide a pulse on current photobook trends,” according to TPBJ’s fact sheet.  

If this is an area of collecting interest, we direct you to TPBJ here, or to its Facebook page.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of Douglas Stockdale


                                                                                                                                                                                                          For roughly one hundred years, from the mid-1800s through the 1950s, luxurious ocean liners lured travelers to exotic locales, themselves floating masterpieces of sophistication and the latest technological innovations. Now through October 9, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is hosting an exhibition exploring the beautiful nautical heritage of these grande dames: Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style, co-organized with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The exhibition is a logical choice for the PEM; founded in 1799 by sea captains and merchant traders, PEM has been actively collecting art and design related to ocean liners since at least 1870, while the V&A, originally known as the South Kensington Museum, has been actively collecting ship models and technology patents since the 1800s in order to give British commerce a leg up on the competition.

Ocean liners were intricately constructed pieces of culture -- in the appearance of their design, the elegance of their engineering and the division of their social space -- and each with its own distinct personality. Drawing from international institutions and private collections, the exhibition brings together nearly 200 works including paintings, sculpture, models, furniture, lighting, wall panels, textiles, fashion, photographs, posters, and film. Travelers expected sophistication and style, and everything from the advertising posters to flatware was expressly designed to reflect that aspiration, lending each vessel distinct personalities. Like vintage airline posters, ocean liner advertisements are often sought by collectors for their idealized and majestic renderings of farway places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo via Boston Public Library

Yes, those Beechers.

Beecher_family-LG.jpgA collection of four photographs depicting the famous Beecher family of nineteenth-century American writers, social reformers, and all around do-gooders has come up for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book & Photography Shop. The group portrait pictured above, c. 1850s, headlines the collection, showing ten members of the family. Harriet Beecher Stowe, celebrated author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is seated at right; her brother, abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, stands at far right. The half-plate ambrotype was taken by Mathew Brady Studios, though its case bears the stamp of a Maine “daguerreian” named George M. Howe. “The use of a case from a gallery in Maine may be explained by Harriet’s move to Brunswick, Maine in 1850 when her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe secured a teaching position at Bowdoin,” according to the online description. Tom Edsall of the 19th Century Rare Book and Photography Shop further told us, “The ambrotype came from a private New England collection.”

The collection also includes another Brady print, c. 1856, of family patriarch Lyman Beecher; a signed albumen print of Harriet, c. 1880s; and a hand-colored portrait of the long-suffering Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher, c. 1860s, who wrote books about domestic life, though hers was, as the description has it, “complicated.”

The Beecher family photos will be sold en bloc, and the price tag reads $42,000.

Image courtesy of the 19th Century Rare Book and Photography Shop


This year marks seventy years since The Folio Society began publishing beautiful editions of global literary classics. To mark the occasion, the publishing house is offering a showstopping selection of titles in its fall catalog--Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a two-volume set of The Little Prince, and other great books. In addition, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition entitled The Artful Book, featuring illustrated books, bindings, and original artwork from the Folio Society’s vast archives. Highlights include commissions from illustrators like Quentin Blake, Sara Ogilvie, Kate Baylay, Neil Packer, and many others.

Folio Society’s Editorial Director Tom Walker recently spoke about the milestone year, how they put together this recent catalog, and how he hopes Folio Society will continue to honor the company creed of producing books “in a form worthy of their contents.”

BBR: This year marks the 70th anniversary of Folio Society. What influenced the selections in the fall catalog? How did you decide what made the cut? What was the theme, if any, for the fall titles?

TW: These are all significant works which had the potential to become exquisite reading editions. How the cut is finally made is a long process which starts life around two years prior to publication. The selection is a combination of constantly reading in new and classic areas; understanding what our readers want, and indeed asking them directly about our ideas; curating these ideas against our backlist and then discussing what a Folio edition might bring to the work, whether that be a new introduction, commissioned artwork, a new picture selection, or simply a perfect work of material production. The labour of a book, or a catalogue, can be quite hotly contested amongst us at Folio, but my ultimate guide is that we must be genuinely excited by the prospect - it is only then that we can engage with our customers reader-to-reader, as it were, and create something which is truly exciting for us both.

Subjective judgement also comes into it, I must admit: from The Little Prince to The Spy who Came in from the Cold, these are indeed some of my favorite books. The overarching criterion though is that we at Folio are excited by the process of transformation. We have, for example, published Great Expectations a number of times in our history, but this is almost the most thrilling book of the catalogue for me because we were able to make those tiny, multiple judgements in areas like typography or cloth pattern or paper choice - and we have been able to create a completely new, modern edition which is still deeply respectful of the heritage of the great work. We treat each book we work on with the same level of individual attention to detail, and this I think is Folio’s most significant contribution over the years - its unique ability to add depth and texture to a reading experience.

BBR: The Little Prince two-volume set is magnificent, and follows on the heels of the Morgan’s exhibition in 2014. Could you talk about the process of reintroducing this book to a new generation of readers? What makes this translation different from previous iterations? Also, the illustrations seem to pop more than in previous editions--could you talk a little about what went into that production process?

TW:  It’s a book I’ve wanted to publish since I started at Folio a decade ago. I was adamant that the only way we would publish a Folio edition was if we could create something absolutely worthy of the text. For Saint-Exupéry’s illustrations I knew that we would be able to reproduce them to the very highest standards, but it took a lot of research at the British Library comparing various early editions, to find the best versions to work from. Our production team then spent days working on them to ensure the colour and integrity is of a quality not seen since its first publication in 1943.


Whilst researching the various editions, we wrote to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York for advice as to which versions to use, and it was then that I realised we had a whole new opportunity. As you mention, the Morgan inherited Saint-Exupéry’s early sketches in watercolor, which he worked on in New York during the war, but which were never published in the final version of his text. I went to view these in New York last year, and the curator there who created the Saint-Exupéry exhibition on 2014 is very much a fellow fan of his work, and was so generous with her knowledge that it felt only right that she should pen the commentary volume. She also lent to me a mid-century French edition of the work, with a stunning binding by designer Paul Bonet, which we ended up replicating on one of the volumes. The final element I wanted to be sure of was the introduction, and frankly there could be no finer author for this than Stacy Schiff, who quite apart from being Saint-Exupéry’s biographer, is a superb writer. The final version is, I hope, made by devotees for devotees - and it is one I personally am very proud of.

BBR: The LP commentary was written by Christine Nelson, who curated the 2014 LP exhibition, and she discusses preliminary and revised sketches and scenes for the book. What do you hope readers learn from this volume?

TW: There is much to be learnt on every page of this volume, but I think what has stayed with me most is the complexity of thought which Saint-Exupéry was obviously undertaking, in order to create a work which ended up so elementally simple. That seems to me almost the definition of greatness in the literary sphere, that the artist is able to bring this multitude into a series of resonant symbols which he has created - in this case, both in words and image.

BBR: What is it about this visitor from Asteroid B612 that remains relevant and captures our imagination?

TW: The Little Prince is one of the most elusive, untouchable characters in literature. His own history is only ever alluded to with such a lightness of touch that he feels as fragile a presence as the author himself. I suppose because of that we readers will always try to fill the vacuum, to take Marvel’s line, and impose whatever meanings we need to upon him. It is particularly tempting now to think of the work as an allegory for innocence and experience, and for the voice of compassion and of the meek to be heard in a brutal and often nonsensical world. Whenever we do that though, I have the feeling that the Little Prince himself is resisting such an imposition.

This must in part be due to the beautiful marriage of text and illustrations, which I am of course particularly alive to. The final pages in particular, where Saint-Exupéry strips his artwork down to two lines to represent a vast expanse of desert, are hauntingly good and keep one’s imagination completely engaged without imposing meaning. What storytelling!

BBR: What else would you like FB&C readers to know about the 70th anniversary of Folio Society? How else are you marking the occasion? 

TW: We ran a huge poll last year to decide the two books - one fiction and one non-fiction -- which our longstanding readers would most like to see as Folio editions. These will be announced very soon. They are both magisterial works and we are delighted to be publishing them.

We are also very proud to have a display specifically on Folio’s history at the world’s leading museum of design, the V&A in London -- I urge you to go if you are able.

As part of the selection of materials for the display I spent a lot of time rummaging in our archives, and came across one particular document which I found a very fitting way to think about our anniversary year. It was in fact our founding document, the paper on which Charles Ede drafted the proposal for The Folio Society in 1946/7. He writes of Folio as being ‘a sort of provide books at a reasonable price whose content will be of lasting value, and whose format will be equal to the best production of modern private presses.’ The fact that we believe in and uphold these values as much today as in 1947 is, I think, the finest possible way to celebrate our seventieth.

A few years ago, I didn’t know I would be moving to England, didn’t know I would be entering the book trade, and didn’t foresee how jealous I would be as my good friend and former employer, Stephanie Valdez, co-owner of Community and Terrace bookstores, in Brooklyn, NY, signed up and received a scholarship to attend the long-running Antiquarian Book Seminar in Colorado (CABS) before launching an antiquarian arm of her bookshops.

                                                                                                                                                    I had only heard of the University of Virginia’s distinguished Rare Book School, which focuses on the history of the book and printed marterials from an academic perspective, and long dreamt of attending. I had only recently begun writing for Fine Books, helping out my neighbor and new friend, Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax, with some publicity for a new local book fair she founded in Brooklyn, and somehow was drawn quite quickly into the world of rare books and book fairs. But I had no idea there was a seminar in which to learn about the handling, buying, and selling of antiquarian books--and unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to go to CABS, I had just had a baby and soon would be moving to England.

                                                                                                                                                                                     IMG_0370 copy.jpgBut as luck would have it, as I was pining for the opportunity to attend such a program, one was being founded in my new country, in York, England, at the start of the York National Book Fair, the largest fair in Britain. Begun in 2011, by CABS graduate and bookshop owner, Anthony Smithson, and co-directed by bookseller Jonathan Kearns, the York Antiquarian Book Seminar is a three-day enlightenment and indoctrination in the basics of the book trade--the key lesson for being a successful bookseller was repeated over and over again by instructors and guest lecturers: “To make a living, buy what you like.” (Pictured at left: Bookseller Simon Beattie guiding YABS through the cataloging of a copy of Don Quixote.)

                                                                                                                                                                                       Over the last three days, amidst thrilling stories about detecting forgeries and accidentally purchasing stolen books, I learned to collate an 800-page farming dictionary from 1717 properly; learned how and why a bookseller might take the time and pour enormous effort into trying to catalog and place archives in an appropriate library or institution; learned how to tell the difference between vellums and printing methods; and discussed what tools are available to the trade, how to get up and running online, and what good practices are essential for being a friendly book dealer, and that’s just a taste of what was covered.

                                                                                                                                                                                          I am starting my business focused primarily on modern firsts and literature by women in the coming months. I have been buying all year, have stock, have had my first sales, but until attending YABS, I had so much fear and uncertainty about whether I could make a leap into this field in a way that would be meaningful and sustainable. After YABS, I am still scared, but I no longer doubt that there is room for me in the book trade, and more than that, that I can make a proper business out of my interest in literature by women. It’s thrilling to feel prepared and inspired and well-supported by classmates and instructors, who want you to do well.

                                                                                                                                                                                Image credit: A.N. Devers

Thoreau’s bicentennial year has created quite the buzz, perhaps loudest in New York City, where the Morgan Library’s exhibition, which closed this past Sunday, offered a substantial view of a writer who continues to provoke strong opinions. Now the attention turns back toward Thoreau’s native Concord, Massachusetts. The Morgan exhibition, a collaboration with the Concord Museum, will be packed up, relocated, and reopened at the museum on September 29. But before that, another exhibit debuts in town.

800px-Replica_of_Thoreau's_cabin_near_Walden_Pond_and_his_statue.jpgTomorrow, Walden Woods Project founder (and rock star) Don Henley will join state officials at a public ceremony to launch new exhibits at the Walden Pond Visitor Center at the WP State Reservation. The free and public event at 11 a.m. includes a preview of a new film about Thoreau and the unveiling of an interactive Where’s Your Walden exhibit. According to an announcement, “In this exhibit, we invite the visitor to consider their own special place in the world--their Walden--and their connection to it.”

Also on view through October 30 at the Concord Library is “Concord, which is my Rome:” Henry Thoreau and His Home Town Exhibition.

Needless to day, fall in the perfect time to visit Concord. Recommended reading if you go: Autumnal Tints.

Image: Replica of Thoreau’s cabin and statue at Walden Pond. Credit: RhythmicQuietude via Wikimedia Commons.

Pint-Sized Bookstore Takes Up Residence in LA


Though already home to a sizable number of independent, brick-and-mortar bookshops, Los Angeles recently welcomed a new addition to the family: OOF Bookstore, which opened its doors in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Cypress Park on July 2. Writer Christie Hayden first felt the call to launch a bookstore while studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and in 2015 created Bookish, a mobile bookshop on wheels staffed by artists in Baltimore City featuring small press titles and independent projects. (Not to be confused with the book recommendation website by the same name created by publishing giants Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.)

Since then, the Bookish founders traveled to New York City, the District of Columbia, and eventually found their way to Los Angeles. Hayden discovered the location of OOF while searching for an apartment on Craigslist. Like Bookish, Hayden stocks OOF with locally published ‘zines and books, catalogues, art books, and ceramics, and hosts artist exhibitions of works on paper.

Whether intentional or not, Hayden is staying true to her nomadic roots and doesn’t have a website for OOF, though the store’s Facebook page contains basic contact information and is updated regularly with new inventory announcements and sales. We wish all the best of luck to this free-spirited endeavor. OOF Books is located at 912A Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90065.

Later this month, the grand Vivien Leigh collection will be offered at Sotheby’s London, and it seems Leigh was quite the book hound. Not only did she hold dear a presentation copy of Gone With the Wind, given to her by author Margaret Mitchell, she owned many inscribed books from her literary acquaintances, e.g., Truman Capote and Evelyn Waugh, among others. As the auction house noted, “Vivien’s library gives a tantalizing glimpse into the circles she moved in, and the many friends she accumulated during her lifetime.”

Olivier-Hamlet.jpgIt is, however, a book (or rather, a set of books) that belonged to her husband and fellow actor and director/producer, Sir Laurence Olivier, that provides a fascinating glimpse of film and theater history. The 40-volume Cambridge Shakespeare (of which 38 are present), published by Macmillan in London in 1893-95, was Olivier’s go-to source while plotting his 1947 production of King Lear at the Old Vic and his 1948 film of Hamlet, which went on to win four Academy Awards. Olivier’s extensive annotations and edits can be seen throughout; he even recorded a casting “wish list” in the “Dramatis Personae” that precedes Hamlet. He would, of course, play Hamlet. And though Leigh expected she might portray Ophelia, as she had on stage a decade earlier, Olivier is cagey, writing only the word “Swedish” in that slot. In the end, he cast Jean Simmons, who was not Swedish.     

The auction estimate for Olivier’s Shakespeare is £5,000-7,000 ($6,600-9,250).

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Auction Guide