May 2009 Archives

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:

Henrymiller.jpgHENRY 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.jpgANAIS 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..

1929-caresse-crosby.jpgCARESSE 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-1-sized.jpgGEORGE 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.

fowler.jpgGENE 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.

woodcle.jpgCLEMENT 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.”
One of the pleasures of collecting Charles Dickens’ books in their original, serialized parts are the colorful ads inserted at the front and rear of each. These are ads you do not want to skip past, and they are so enchanting and quaint that you may find it difficult to go on to reading the actual text of the book.

Here, the world of 19th century consumer products opens up, the ads cascading out of a cornucopia of Victorian need. It’s a strange world yet probably no stranger than the parade of sales pitches for the weird, must-have! gizmos and wacko thingamajigs that have curiously fallen to Earth from deep space and landed on 12midnight-4AM television.

Put these gotta-gets in your shopping cart - but you might want to consider wearing a bag over your head to avoid incredulous stares during check-out.

deformaties027 copy.jpgThe Invisible Spine Supporter

If you suffer from lordosis or kyphosis of this severity, forget about a spine supporter, invisible or otherwise, you need major surgery.



Alpaca Umbrellas

The perfect accessory for coati mundi mackinaws.

Copy Your Letters

Lookout, Xerox! Twenty pages a minute. Blazing speed!


Children’s Frock Coats and Pelisses

What’s a peliss? Should kids be wearing them now?


Dr. Locock’s Female Wafers

Note the other fine products from Queen Victoria’s “ovariotomist” and obstetrician:

pills029 copy.jpg

Dr. Locock’s Female Pills

Locock2026 copy.jpg

and Pulmonic Wafers

With each of these fine over-the-counter nostrums loaded with morphine, they’re absolutely guaranteed to make all your troubles go away; your illness, however, is another matter.

There are many more classic advertisements to be found within Dickens but, for my 19th century consumer shilling, none beats the following:

Headsof hair.php.jpeg

The Invisible Ventilating Heads of Hair

This, to me, sounds like an act that might have appeared on the old Ed Sullivan Show (cue Aram Khatchaturian’s Sabre Dance, get the plate-spinners on-deck); a Las Vegas show along the lines of Blue Man Group; or any one of the New Vaudeville variety acts that emerged during the 1980s.

Yet it was a real product: wigs for ladies and gentlemen. But wigs are so boring. How do you market them?

Magic wigs!

So out there was this hocus-pocus pitch that it can only be considered within the context of a modern direct-response TV ad:

The Following is a Paid Program:


billy_headshot.jpg“Hi, I’m Billy Mays for the AMAZING INVISIBLE VENTILATING HEADS OF HAIR!!

CUT TO: Studio audience of folks off the tour bus, applauding wildly.

CUT TO: Billy

Not enough air reaching your hair? Does your scalp yearn to feel the caress of cool ocean breezes and forest-fresh zephyrs? Has Hair Club For Men thrown you out? Did Dr. Bosley botch it?

This is the one toupé that is impossible to detect! Why? Because it is completely invisible! No one will suspect! That’s right,

CUT TO: Studio audience

“Can’t detect! No suspect!”

CUT TO: Billy

I’m going to take this Invisible Ventilating Head of Hair and throw visible ink on it...


And some axle grease...


Tincture of Violet...


And, finally, that purple stamp stuff they ink your hand with when you go into a swingin’ nightclub!


Now, I’m going to show you how easy it is to clean The Invisible Ventilating Heads of Hair. Watch... I simply toss one into this vat of water, throw in a little Oxy-Clean...Voilá! Ach! Mein Gott! It’s gone, vanished, invisible - and totally clean!


What is noteworthy about the ads in Dickens’ serial novels is that their very presence suggests that publishing has always been a low-margin business. At only one shilling each, the parts apparently needed the ad revenue to make them profitable. And, considering how popular Dickens was, Chapman and Hall, his publisher at the time, likely charged top rates for the ad space.


Images from David Copperfield, Parts 1 and 2 (May and June, 1849), and courtesy of David Brass Rare Books.


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.
Living With Books. Ink Jet on Paper 22” x 30”

Book Sort is an exhibition of 25 large photographs by Theresa Rae currently on view at The North Bank Artists Gallery in Vancouver, WA. The series, which is part of Rae’s larger body of work titled Questions of Identity, documents Rae’s process of unpacking and re-shelving her library after a move.


Rae says:

Everyone has their own way of finding answers. I had to rebuild my world through sorting and solitude. Book Sort documents four days of living with my books as they transitioned from storage to shelves in my home. Because these books have contributed so much to my identity,
I needed to re-bond with them en masse and give myself a sacred time and place to rediscover them individually, in order to decide which ones would remain with me. As an artist, I gave myself permission to step away from conventional methods and experience this transition in my own personal way, without judgment or parameters. I let the project evolve according to its own needs. The camera allows me to be “in the moment” and build my own context. The quietness of the barn, an hour from town--on the hillside by the river, the closeness to nature, time to think and be, personal time with idea people and their books--gave me room to grow and become myself. I am building my life by my choices.


Library News
                                There has been much in the press recently about
                                libraries - most of it bad - culminating in the case
                                of one where piped muzak has been introduced
                                because ‘libraries are not just about reading anymore.’
                                                              - ABA Newsletter, May 2009

[Censored] Library Chief Administrator Kevin Pine-Coffin looked at the screen, re-read his handiwork and sighed with a mixture of relief, pride and horror. “Who ever imagined it would come to this,” he thought. “Can’t sell books to raise money, can’t layoff staff. Damned book bloggers.” He put the final period to the end of the upcoming Calendar, then clicked Save before his blood congealed and he died of embarrassment. “Master of Library Science, Huckster, and Fund-Raising Wizard” he bemoaned. “They said ‘it shouldn’t be done’ but what choice did I have? We need money, honey!”

The Moe’s Tune-Ups and Transmission Branch
of the [Censored] Library

Schedule of Events for June 2009.

We’ve turned the economic crisis into an economic opportunity here at the Library with all sorts of fun for the whole family!

June 3. 11AM-12Noon: Book Signing w/Jenna Jamison. The porn star will be signing copies of her new book, I Lost It at the Library. Photo-ops $10. Jenna’s cherry-flavored lickable bookmarks will be available for sale.

June 8. 7:30PM-9PM: Books On Ice! Tonight our multi-talented staff debuts their new zero centigrade spectacular. The Main Reading Room will be cleared, a fast sheet of ice will be laid down, and you’ll experience the magic of singing librarians skating their hearts out. Nancy and Irma will limn a dramatic reading of Edward Lear’s nonsense verse while performing axels with a full twists and spins. Don’t miss it! Tickets: $15.

June 12. 2PM-4PM: Immodest members of the local chapter of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America will be on hand to appraise your old books for a modest fee. You will be awed by arcane, pedantic narratives about your books. Proceeds to go to our Tiki  Snack Bar Building Fund

June 14. 7PM-10PM: Bowling For Books! Our new 20-lane bowling alley is now open and our fund-raising tournament begins. The entry fee is only $20 and all money will be used to finish construction of our state-of-the-art movie multiplex which we anticipate will throw off a cool $500,000 in annual profit to be used for adding books to our collection or paying down our massive debt.

June 18. Novelist-poet turned celebrity chef Erica Jong will sign copies of her new book, Fear of Frying, and hawk sets from The Climax Collection, her line of non-stick, water-soluble cookware.
June 21. 7PM-9PM: Ultimate Fight Night! It’s no-holds barred when staff member Jimmy “Call Me a Wimp and Die” Wilson takes on all comers in the Cage of Maximum Destruction located on the 2d floor adjacent to the Conservation and Preservation department. For only $10 you can take your chance to rip Jimmy from his binding, break his joints, and crack his spine. Disclaimer: Library not responsible for subsequent recasing of unsuccessful contestants.

June 22. Christening Ceremony for the new Saul and Minnie Moskowitz Men’s Room and the Sal Hepatica Ladies Room. Cocktails served.* Proceeds from use fees will be budgeted strictly for acquisitions.

*Reminder: Every hour is Happy Hour at The Wishing Well, our fabulous new cocktail lounge located in the Children’s Reading Room. Hoist a round of Seven Dwarves of Dynamite, a flight of seven special jiggers of fine single-malt scotches, while enjoying the antics of classic Disney characters at play. Photo ops available for $5.

June 26. Smoot-Hawley Wedding. Open event, all welcome. $35 per person tariff for all you can eat and read at the same time. Time: 5:30 sharp. Late fees will be assessed.

With all the recent talk about Library-Themed Weddings, why not take it to its logical conclusion, hold your ceremony and reception here, and make your nuptials a knockout?

Nancy, our Mistress of the Reference Desk, will assist you with all your planning needs. No matter what your budget - “I do. We’re done. Let’s go” to a Prince Charles and Diana-like extravaganza - she’s sure to put the steak in the ceremony and the sizzle in the reception.

The Library is available for all special events including, but not limited to:

• Sweet Sixteens
• Bar Mitzvahs
• Confirmations
• Circumcisions
• Business conferences
• Pajama Parties
• Gang Rumbles

Announcement: We are helpless to report that the sweet, somnambulant, cascading strings of Mantovani can now be heard throughout the entire library and not just in the elevators. Going down!

Storefront of Valley Book’s previous location

ERRATA: Nat Herold, referred to below as an employee of Valley Books, is actually the co-owner of Amherst Books.


After 34 years Valley Books of Amherst, MA, one of the oldest used and antiquarian bookshops in New England, is closing.

Owner Larry Pruner says “Every good thing has to come to an end, and when it’s no longer a good thing, it comes to an end sooner.”

He then shares this:

“The used book business is like an ecosystem that’s been thrown off balance by e-books, the Internet and the recession. It’s hammering away at a world that used to exist but doesn’t in the same form anymore.”

Nat Herold, an employee at Valley Books added this nugget:

“The Internet has made everyone more cosmopolitan, but it has made Amherst more parochial”

This really is, in many ways, an unprecedented time in the history of bookselling.

Full story at Amherst Bulletin

Received today via the Ex-Libris email list from Terry Belanger, University Professor, Honorary Curator of Special Collections, and Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Full disclosure: Professor Belanger will be teaching the course I am planning to take at Rare Book School this summer. Also, USF President Stephen Privett worked at my alma mater, Santa Clara University, before moving on to USF. I did receive permission from Professor Belanger to reprint his post to the Ex-Libris list in its entirety:

From Professor Belanger:
“The following, just in from a source I trust:

‘During his tenure at the University of San Francisco (USF), President Stephen Privett has been devoted in giving all his time and energy to its benefit. In the current economic crisis, he is tasked with painfully difficult, thankless, and unpopular decisions: to identify academic programs to discontinue and assets to sell, if necessary, to stabilize USF’s finances. On Sunday, 10 May 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story on the cancellation of USF’s M.A. in Theology program amid protest. Earlier, on April 30th, the lead story in the campus newspaper, The Foghorn, told of assets identified for possible sale, primarily USF’s renowned rare book collections, but even including the possibility of the Lone Mountain campus. The story may be accessed here (or search Google for “foghorn rare books”).

Faculty and library donors and supporters have been appalled and dismayed that the Library could be stripped of its collections, virtually all of which were donated to the Library or purchased with donated funds. In the last 50 years, under the visionary leadership of Fr. William Monihan, S.J., Bay Area families and others worldwide have generously contributed books, manuscripts, artworks and funds to create the Gleeson Library and its Donohue Rare Book Room which, together, State Librarian emeritus Kevin Starr has described as “an epicenter of Jesuit Humanism” and “a library second to none.” Donors reasonably anticipated that their collections might have a permanent and secure home there.

Unfortunately, President Privett, has not only identified library treasures for sale, he has already quietly and anonymously
started to consign them for sale at auction. He recently stripped from the Timken-Zinkann Collection, an early founding core collection of the Library, a series of original woodcuts and engravings - mostly iconic images of Catholic and Christian tradition - by leading Renaissance artist and author, Albrecht Durer, in effect destroying the integrity of the collection. Together with an early, original Rembrandt etching, the Durer prints were anonymously offered for sale at auction Tuesday morning, 11 May, at Bonhams, despite a valiant last-minute effort on the part of faculty and library supporters to persuade Privett to suspend the sale.

See this link to the Bonhams website for a record of the sales.

In a down market, only the Rembrandt and a few of the Durers sold. Those of us who support the integrity of the Library’s collections, hope the unsold items may be returned to their home of many years for the continued benefit of students, researchers and faculty.

According to the Foghorn Online story cited above, Privett insists that, if the items compiled from the Rare Book Room were ever sold, they would be “non-book items, duplicate volumes, or single volumes, not part of a series or collection.” As for the Durer collection, Privett said, “They (the prints) were discovered by accident. We have an art gallery, not a museum. We didn’t have a place for them.”

Sadly, one of the Durer engravings sold (for $67,100 including buyer’s premium) is “St. Jerome in His Study,” an image which noted author Stephen Mitchell has described movingly in his writing. St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians whose feast day is September 30th. Traditionally, every September his engraving was exhibited in the Gleeson Library to bring blessings and protection to the Library itself, to the librarians who selflessly work there, and to all those who research and patronize it. Whose or what image will now bless and protect USF’s Gleeson Library? Perhaps, come next September, some one will hang black mourning cloth where once the image of St. Jerome was displayed.

Ironically, President Privett has stated that money made from the sale of Rare Book Room items will go towards the renovation of the room itself. Once collections are compromised and books, manuscripts, artworks, ephemera and related items have been cannibalized from them, for what pupose will the Rare Book Room be renovated?

Both history Professor Martin Claussen,, and Gleeson Library Associates Co-President, Walrave Jansen,, have written eloquently about saving USF’s are book collections and are actively working to do so. President Privett has agreed to meet with faculty tomorrow (Thursday 14 May), to discuss the situation.

President Privett emphasized in the campus newspaper that he was only making worst case scenario contingency plans. The fact that he had already quietly and secretly consigned items from the Library for sale at auction - courageously uncovered and exposed by history Professor Martin Claussen - belies the contingent nature of his plans. Contingencies have a way of becoming realities all too quickly!

When one thinks of Gleeson librarians Father William Monihan and D. Steven Corey, and all the collectors and donors who
contributed to make the rare book collections of USF what they are, it is dismal to recognize what is happening today.
In addition to Prof. Claussen, Walrave Jansen, Gleeson Library Associates Co-President, has been doing remarkable work to attempt to staunch the bleeding of the Donohue Rare Book Room holdings. One thing that amazes me is that the University President seems to have taken over and is attempting to micromanage deaccessioning, something that I would think should be the responsibility of the Library Dean and Library staff members.

Should you wish to express yourself to USF President Stephen Privett, or Library Dean Tyrone Cannon, they can be addressed respectively at and’

I have not yet been able to verify all of the details of this story, but (for openers) it’s clear that the prints were indeed auctioned off. The most offensive part of this sad tale is that the sales were conducted surreptitiously.

I think that the first order of business is to alert journalist friends and colleagues; there’s an important story percolating here.”

-Terry Belanger

UPDATE: Jeremy has been able to post about this topic with the commentary I wish I had time to write. Click here to read.

UPDATE #2: More commentary from Book Patrol.

In March of 2008 writer and librarian Scott Douglas and then library assistant Diana Vizcarra got married. From the invites to the table settings their book love paved the way to what had to be an event to remember.

Image by Jack Rodriguez

Now that looks like fun. No reason the theme shouldn’t become part of the arsenal for any wedding planner.

Diana shares the experience - How to Have a Library Themed Wedding

Scott shares his thoughts on the event and some pictures here

As I mentioned earlier, I’m giving a talk on Thursday in Columbus on the end of the printed book. Here’s a brief preview:

The subject of the end of the printed book, presaged by the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eBook, is often accompanied by an analogy to the replacement of vinyl records with CDs and now MP3s. This is not a useful comparison, except in that MP3s and e-books are both digital media.


A book is not like a wax cylinder, however.

Recorded music is a new technology. Music playback devices are just over 100 years old, and they have evolved constantly and rapidly during that time. No one from even twenty years ago would recognize this device as a replacement for the LP or CD.

blog-mp3.jpg Yet most contemporary readers would recognize this as a book, although it dates from the Middle Ages.

blog-codex.jpgBooks are a very mature technology, and therefore hard to replace. But not impossible.

It would be nice to take some solace in the fact that electronic books are far inferior to printed books, yet the history of the book shows that we (readers) have always chosen cheap and convenient alternatives.

Illuminated manuscripts were replaced with unadorned printed books. Hand-painted miniature illustrations were replaced by crude woodblock prints in books. Letterpress printing was replaced by crude machine-powered electrotyped books. Cloth bindings replaced leather. Paper textured to look like cloth replaced cloth. Paperbacks supplanted hardcovers as the preferred medium. Vibrant chromolithographs were replaced by 3-color halftones. And that’s why ebooks will replace printed books. And now they’re calling my flight. See you  in Columbus.

That’s the subject of my talk tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Aldus Society in Columbus, Ohio. The meeting will be held at the Thurber Center, 91 Jefferson Avenue. Socializing begins at 7:00 PM.

If you’re in the area, come to heckle or commiserate.
Author of the great succès de scandale of 19th century literature, on January 1857 Gustave Flaubert and his publishers were taken to court for “outrage to public morals and religion.”

Madame Bovary was the reason for the scandal. But while adultery and earthy language were the reasons why Flaubert was (unsuccessfully) prosecuted, he might just as well have been prosecuted for poor penmanship. Had he been in Mrs. Stallone’s third grade cursive writing class in P.S. 2, he’d still be at his desk with her standing over him drilling on flowing curves and fancy loops.

Flaubert.jpgFlaubert was a compulsive-obsessive writer. As Brigid Grauman writes in the Wall Street Journal “The nihilistic, anti-bourgeois Flaubert spent four-and-a-half years writing it, sweating over every word, every sentence, every paragraph...Flaubert’s obsession with style is legendary, down to his technique of bellowing his sentences out loud to make sure they worked musically, like poetry. His identification with the bored, highly strung, aspirational Emma Bovary is also widely documented. What is less well known is that he kept every one of the novel’s many drafts, going so far as to say that he wanted to be buried with them.”

That did not, fortunately, occur. After the novelist’s death, his niece, Caroline, donated the manuscript to the Municipal Library of Rouen, the French town where Flaubert wrote the book. Seven years ago, the Library decided, despite a lack of funding, to make every word of Flaubert’s various drafts available online.

The entire project can now be viewed at Les Manuscrits de Madame Bovary Edition Integrale sur le Web.

Bovary titlepage.jpgThe manuscript must be seen to be believed. Cross-outs, substitutions, and side notes abound. The appearance of the manuscript - all 4500 pages of text all online; yikes! - foreshadows Dada Surrealism. Suffice it to say, as compulsive as he was if Flaubert had used a computer word processing program he’d still be, 152 years later, making changes; the curse of revision made easy.

A final word on Flaubert’s penmanship skills: non-existent, like a monkey on meth. The major effort on the project was deciphering Flaubert’s handwriting for transcription for, wisely, the project has each page of the original manuscript displayed next to a readable transcription of it.

Since the site’s debut last month, it has been deluged by visitors. For a great swim into the world of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, dive into the flood.

Though I have always been a reader, I did not become a serious collector of books until I was in my mid-30s. I have always loved “things,” however, and it was not without reason that my mother called me a magpie for all the junk I hoarded as a kid. My earliest pursuits as a child were rocks, an interest I have retained to this day, especially while walking on beaches, and postcards, which I kept under my bed in a tattered old valise I had rescued from the trash. I began to gather these fabulous little curiosities around the age of seven or eight, and kept at it well into my teens, when other interests began to kick in.

I undoubtedly had this childhood fascination for postcards in mind back in 1984 when I bought, at a small auction put on by the Friends of the Goddard Library at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., 4,800 of them filed judiciously in eight boxes, all gathered over many years by the late Francis Henry Taylor, who from 1931 to 1940 was director of the Worcester Art Museum, followed by fifteen years at the helm of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, then back again to Worcester, until his death in 1957. Taylor had gathered most of these pieces of graphic ephemera while traveling the world to build the collections of the two museums, and used them, from what I have been able to determine, as a kind of pre-Internet form of search engine to gather information, not only for his art quests, but also as background for his writing; he was the author, in 1948, of “The Taste of Angels,” a best-selling history of art collecting.

walk ev.jpg

What has prompted me to recall my interest in postcards, and to mention my sub-collection of Francis Henry Taylor (which I wrote about, by the way, in “Among the Gently Mad,” pp.32-36), is a fabulous exhibition showing now through May 25 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the publication of a splendid catalog to accompany it, “Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard,” by Jeff L. Rosenheim (Steidl/Metropolitan Museum of Art, 408 pages, $65.

Walker Evans (1903-1975), of course, was one of the great photographers of his time, acclaimed by some as the poet laureate of the medium in America. A master of the documentary approach, Evans is best known for the 1938 monograph of his work, “American Photographs,” and for his collaboration with the writer James Agee in 1941 on “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” a powerful commentary on life among tenant farmers in the rural South during the Great Depression.

The exhibition at the Met includes a number of Evans’ photographs, but the principal thrust is on showcasing several hundred examples of a collection that consumed him for more than fifty years--the gathering of some nine thousand postcards--and the way they informed his vision as an artist. “A surprising number of highly accomplished writers, picture makers, and performers are obsessive collections,” Rosenheim, a curator of photography at the museum, writes in the monograph, noting the butterflies of Vladimir Nabokov, the bakelite bracelets of Andy Warhol, the vast collection of paintings by other artists coveted by Edgar Degas as just three examples.

In the instance of Evans, the postcards--most of them dating from the early decades of the twentieth century--are in the permanent collection of the museum, part of the Evans archive which it acquired from the artist’s estate. “He collected postcards when they were new and he was young, and when he was old and they had become classics,” Rosenheim notes. Evans also collected such things as printed ephemera, driftwood, tin-can pull tabs and metal and tin wood signs that he photographed in situ, and then removed from their moorings. Altogether my kind of guy.

Not content to merely collect postcards--which covered a vast range of subjects, from the purely pictorial to the nutty and the whimsical--Evans researched their history, and wrote about them as a cultural phenomenon distinctive of their time. In 1963, he gave a lecture at Yale University on them that he titled “Lyric Documentary,” a phrase he coined to describe their function as a window into American cultural life.

The book includes color reproductions of 400 examples from the collection; Rosenheim’s text is richly informed, and represents an important contribution to the study of this largely unappreciated form of popular art, and makes a very strong case for the premise that his photography was greatly influenced by it. A terrific book--and a terrific exhibition; by all means take it in if you find yourself in New York over the next couple of weeks.
Kid’s Republic is a book haven for the children of Beijing. It opened in 2005 and was designed by Japanese architect Keiichiro Sako. It’s stocked with picture books from all over the world and has an activity room that hosts storytelling events and anime screenings. It also offers one of the coolest settings for both kids and grown to interact with books.

On the design, via

36-year-old Japanese architect Keiichiro Sako’s design for children’s bookstore Kid’s Republic gives full play to the innocence, fun and inquisitiveness of the young, conjuring up images of childhood that are sure to enchant anyone walking through the doors. Twelve bands of color weave their way around the activity room to create a rainbow-like décor for a space used for storytelling and anime screenings.

Recesses in walls and ceiling accommodate light fittings and displays, and the stepped floor forms a natural stage and auditorium. The carpet provides a comfortable surface that invites children to sit or sprawl wherever takes their fancy. A ribbon of rainbow colors starts at the bottom of the stairs next to the entrance and winds its way up to the floor above, metamorphosing into various objects along the way. Functioning in places as bookshelf, table and gates, it twists and twirls to form counters and even ceiling parts, traveling a hundred meters before finally turning into a backdrop for the handrail that leads back down the stairwell to where it all began.

What a treat.

Thanks to Pratham Books for the lead
Given the increasing cacophony of loose talk, gossip, opinion, bloviation, monologue, theory, and BS in verbal and written word that has become a constant chorus in American society, it may come as a surprise to learn that at one time the United States government undertook a major campaign to get Americans to stuff a sock in it, lock their lips and throw away the key.

From 1941-1945, the Office for Emergency Management’s Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services commissioned a series of posters to mobilize Americans to be mindful that the enemy might be listening, so clam up.

While the circumstances and rationale during World War II were dramatically different, think  how radical it would be if the government were to declare a day of national silence, for no other reason than to give us all a break from the din of crapulous white noise that has become the soundtrack to our daily lives and to instill an appreciation of, and for, the value and virtue of quietude. The enemy may be listening, and the enemy is us.

It’ll never happen. But in its stead, please join me in a few moments of silence for the dearly departed, silence:


Don'tbe a sucker.gif

Less dangerous.gif


someonetalkedcolor.1.gifSilence means security.gif


And now for the role of books in fighting the war:


In fin, the War Office’s salute to International Womanhood:


The National Archives has a trove of public domain imagery. You could do worse than to spend a few hours going through its holdings, most of which are available for digital download.

Biblio-folk are showing up in interesting places these days. I joined Facebook a long time ago...and largely ignored it until relatively recently. Over the past several months, however, there has been a tremendous surge in book people (dealers/collectors/etc) who seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The ABAA now has a FB Page (as does Lux Mentis), ready for “Fans” to join and follow, as does Fine Books & Collections. The Rare Book School’s Page has nearly 450 Fans... There are also many...many...many groups that are biblio-theme, from collecting to author-specific to elements of the craft.

When I started poking about FB, there were *very* few book dealers who had accounts, now there are literally too many count. Some are active, some on personally, others professionally and some just lurk...but there are a remarkable number of the biblio-crowd on FB and more joining every day. It is rapidly becoming a vibrant network to keep your pulse on the doings of the trade, hobby and/or obsession.

Linked-In is another site I’ve been for a very long time...more actively when I did more consulting work, but I kept my profile active and periodically checked on bookish elements there. Recently, in addition to a number of “serious” dealers beginning to be found there, more than one “book group” has formed (admittedly, one by me).

Last for today, and certainly not least, is Twitter. I am quite fond of it, as it updates nicely from my iPhone and auto-updates my FB page, killing two feeds with one, so to speak. A considerable number of people are beginning to use it in interesting ways. Publishers are using it around news, booksellers are carefully using it for traffic and sales (a tricky issue, as there is a general “anti-commercial” use sentiment...but very effective in good hands, as here). Personally, I find I tend to post biblio-related missives with a bit of news and a bit of “things that amuse/annoy me”....and I tend to most enjoy those who do the same.

There are beginning to be some good focus-centers for books Twitterers. WeFollow has a well developed “Bookseller” tag (we can be found on page two). There is also a “BookCollecting” tag that I am experimenting with...

Potentially more useful (and still “emerging”) is Twibes, where tweets that share common words can be grouped for easy review. See: Books, BookCollecting, BookDealers and/or Librarians (the last very active, with over 700 members).

This, in addition to the various blogs that are out there...many feeding each other. One of the nice things, frankly, with FB is that many/most of the best book blogs are either mirrored there or are part of NetworkedBlogs there, streamlining one’s reading/following (though not, at this point, entirely replacing a good RSS reading).

There is a tremendous abundance of bookish news, personal and professional. Enjoy the data-stream...
EAST ELMHURST, QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY. March 3, 1964. Detectives from the Major Case Squad of the Queensborough Library report that a copy of The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen has now been missing for three weeks beyond its due date. They haven’t a clue.

Dear Diary:
They’re on my trail. I meant to take the book back but now it’s three weeks, I owe fines, and I can’t ask my DNA donors for help: The female will verbally torture me, and the male will gently toss me in the air with his left hand, then, both hands gripping the Louisville Slugger with my name on it, swing and swat me going, going, gone! out of the ballpark.

I fear I shall never become the success in life that Mom insists upon.

EAST ELMHURST, QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY. September 21, 1965. Stephen J. Gertz, 14, has won the J.H.S. 141 Talent Show with his virtuoso air-clarinet impression of Artie Shaw playing the opening obbligato to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue backwards followed by a sophomoric and shameful impression of “a spaz singing I Got Rhythm.”

Dear Diary:
I am consumed by George Gershwin. It must stop. I fear I may accidentally confess under the crushing weight of guilt that I bear. The Fugitive, starring David Janssen, is my new favorite TV show. It’s about a kid wrongly accused of library theft who flees in order to find the real book thief and on his odyssey meets interesting people who give him food, clothing and shelter because he doesn’t have a job much less a credit card. Or a bank account. Or driver’s license, for that matter.

EAST ELMHURST, QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY. June 14, 1966. A teenaged boy was stopped by police this evening when the little pisher was observed on the corner of Ditmars Blvd and 80th Street attempting to sing It Ain’t Necessarily So, from George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, in the style of Cab Calloway, who limned the role of Sportin’ Life in the 1953 revival of the classic. When cornered by New York’s Finest, the boy maniacally crooned, “Hidey, Hidey, Hidey Ho!” slipped his capturer’s grasp and shuffled off to Buffalo.

Dear Diary:
That was a close one! I don’t know how much longer my vaudevillian evasive tactics will work. There’s a somebody I’m longing to see,  I hope they’ll be, someone to watch over me  - but not the screws up in Sing Sing, that’s for sure. I think I now owe a hundred dollars. The book only cost $5.95! Our local capo must be getting a rake-off.

EAST ELMHURST, QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY.  January 12, 1967. Detectives on the Queens Library Major Case Squad report progress in their three-year quest to capture the “The Smart-Ass Kid” as frustrated police have taken to calling the bold and crafty thief of The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen. “He thinks he’s so smart,” Lt. Einstein said. “Well, he’s not half as smart as he thinks he is and one day he’ll outsmart himself and we’ll nab him, yer darn tootin’.”

Dear Diary:
Time to lam-ski. I have arranged for my parents to divorce, my mother to get custody of me, and a job for her in California, where a sunkissed miss says, “Don’t be late!” that’s why I can hardly wait to open up (open up! open up!) that golden gate. California, Here I Come. I shoulda won the talent show with my Jolson impression, singing Gershwin’s Swanee. Right now, I’d give the world to be among the folks in D-I-X-I-E - anyplace but here. The heat is on. I still have the book, in case I can plea bargain for a suspended sentence in exchange for returning it.
Dear diary: Love the Boeing 707! I told the stewardess that even though I looked sixteen (only one more month to go!) I was really only six so she’d give me a set of kiddie flight wings and I could flirt with her. I made sure The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen was packed along with everything else and on the moving truck before we left. With the keen criminal sophistication most often associated with Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty, I reason that if I owe $500 buckaroos for the book I might as well keep it; I paid for it, right?

EAST ELMHURST, QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY. August 2, 1967. Stymied in their efforts to capture the criminal mastermind behind the sensational booknapping of The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen from the Bookmobile back in ‘64, detectives from the Queens Library Major Case Squad have quietly put the case on ice. “One day, one day,” Detective Kramden declared, “pow, zoom, to the moon with this mug.”

LOS ANGELES, CA. May 3, 2009. At dawn this morning, members of the L.A.P.D.’s SWAT team descended upon a small, itsy bitsy bungalow in  West L.A. where a man was on his roof, threatening to commit suicide and take the neighborhood with him. The man was reportedly upset that he now owed $1.2 trillion in late fines, interest and penalties for a book he had borrowed from the library forty-five years ago, The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen, and never returned due to acute irresponsibility secondary to an immature pre-frontal cortex, and he was consumed with guilt and shame. Yet still defiant.

News reporters and cameramen descended upon the scene, along with teams from Entertainment Tonight, Hollywood Insider and the Maury Povitch Show. A circus atmosphere permeated the site with peanut and cotton candy vendors working the crowd.

“J’Accuse!” the SWAT team leader, Lt. Zola, shouted to him.

“I owe $1.2 tril, I’m bigger than Citibank, BofA. I’m bigger than Madoff, whose exploits make Ponzi seem like Fonzi in comparison,” the man crowed. “And I don’t even have the book; I lost it thirty-five years ago. $1.2 trillion for a book? I thought Heritage Book Shop closed!”

The SWAT team took careful aim.

“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” were his last words before the fusillade hit home.

LOS ANGELES. May 5, 2009. Funeral services were held today for Stephen J. Gertz aka The Smart-Ass Kid, Peck’s Bad Boy, Wisenheimer Jones, and The Bad Seed, who was the subject of an international dragnet involving Interpol, Scotland Yard, and the KGB in connection with the theft, forty-five years ago, of The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen, from the Queensborough Library Bookmobile. At the request of the deceased, mourners sang Gershwin’s tune, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.


The Story of George Gershwin by David Ewen was published in 1943 by Henry Holt & Co. R.I.P.

Back in February, I posted about the pilot of the airplane that safely crash-landed in the Hudson River, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, having a good excuse for not returning on time the library books he’d had with him on the airplane. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks so. The San Francisco Public Library tapped “Sully” and several other minor celebrities to do some public service announcements about the Library’s Fine Amnesty Week -- May 3-16, 2009. During this week, library patrons can return overdue books without the penalty of a fine.

Click here to see Sullenberger’s PSA, in which he explains how the books that landed in the Hudson are now being freeze-dried and restored.  Among several other PSA’s on the site, the one by comedian and “sometime reader” Josh Kornbluth is also worth watching.

And for those of you who are San Francisco locals, get over to the San Francisco Public Library and return those overdue books.  

What’s your excuse?

See you in the stacks!

Here is one that could work in cities and towns across the planet.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is offering readers the chance to win a bookshelf makeover. The offer accompanies Kathy Flanigan’s piece in their Home and Garden section titled; Novel ideas : Style rather than pile, your cherished book collections.

“You don’t have to line up books like soldiers to make a bookshelf look like a library”

Here’s their pitch:

“Contest - Get a bookshelf makeover

Are your bookshelves such a mess that you won’t let your friends see them?

Do you worry about pulling out a book for fear of starting an avalanche?

You need help, dear reader, and we’ve got it.

Send us a photo of your bookshelf disaster, along with a few sentences about the embarrassment, hilarity or inconvenience it has caused you.

The worst bookshelf will get a free makeover from interior designer Merri Cvetan of Big Bend.”

Before and after photos of the winning bookshelf will be posted in a future piece.

Thanks to Ron Charles for the lead.

Image via

Nothing worthwhile ever happens in a vacuum. Authors say it all the time, because it’s true: there is no greater satisfaction than the knowledge that something you have written has found an appreciative readership, and if you’re really lucky, to have touched a person’s life in some tangible way. Writers are inspired to soldier along and spend years on dreams and ideas that they hope ultimately will find their way between hard covers, and then cross their fingers, waiting for the response.

Reviews from critics, of course, are one of the key vital signs of the business--and it would be disingenuous of me in the extreme to suggest that I don’t await their appearance with keen anticipation--but what matters the most, by far, is what readers “out there” feel about your work. Letters, emails, people you meet at public events, comments that have been posted on  blogs--all provide a means for dialogue. But I have to tell you about an event I attended last week at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) just outside of Cleveland that has left me weak in the knees.

BasbanesProject.jpgAbout a year ago, I was contacted by Kevin Hoskinson (at right, with yours truly), a professor of English at the college, with news that one of my books, “Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World,” had inspired the formation of a student essay program, to be called “The Books That Stir Us: The Basbanes Project.” If something like that doesn’t get your attention, nothing does. Using the stories related in EBIR as a model, Hoskinson had invited submission of thousand-word essays centered on a basic premise: “What one book has contributed most to the story of your current life.” Hoskinson secured funding for the project, and was able to offer $500 prizes for three winning entries, selected on a blind submission basis by a panel of judges.

Basbaneswinners.JPGA total of fifty-seven essays were turned in, with books ranging from “Who Moved My Cheese?” and “The Diary of Ann Frank” to “The Lord of the Flies,” “The Road Less Traveled,” and the Bible.  I had the singular pleasure to be present last week at the awards ceremony, called a “celebration of books, learning, and of students.” The winners--pictured here with NAB--were Sara Davidson, for “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn; Tristan Rader, for “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper; and Benjamin Willets, for “The One Straw Revolution,” by Masanobu Fukuoka.

The names of all the participants, and their books, are posted on the project website, along with links to the texts of their essays, which I hope you all take some time to check out. They’re wonderful, and I agree with Kevin, I wish we could have given cash awards to everyone. The festivities included the showing of a fabulous video produced by the college’s marketing and broadast media coordinator, Ron Jantz, which I hope will be available for general viewing soon.  A very special day, all around--one made all the more memorable by an evening a few of us spent the night before at Progressive Field for a Red Sox-Indians game (won in the 10th inning by Boston on a Jonathan Van Every home run.)
The reason that Charles Dickens’s books are so long is because he was paid by the word.

Contrary to popular belief, Dickens was not paid by the word for his books. He was, rather, paid per installment.

All but five of Dickens’ novels were originally published in twenty 32-page installments in nineteen issues (the last a double installment) that sold for one shilling each, though some, i.e. Oliver Twist, were issued in ten installments.

Copperfieldwrap.jpgThis formula allowed Dickens, like a modern-day soap opera writer, to whet his readers’ interest in each episode and stoke their hunger to find out what would happen next. He never wrote too far in advance of the next episode, which allowed him to incorporate feedback from his readers as to how the story should unfold, or ignore his rabid fanbase: Despite desperate pleas he allowed the Grim Reaper to prematurely claim Little Nell, from The Old Curiosity Shop, as his own. (Later, Oscar Wilde, who had no patience for sentimentality, would invert it and dryly tell a friend: “It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell”)

More to the point, at one shilling each, the installments were so inexpensive that just about anyone could afford them: At the time, books cost an average of thirty-one shillings, six pence (£1, 11s, 6p), a lot of money for the average British citizen of the era. The average weekly wage then was one pound; a standard book cost over a week’s salary.

TOTCwraps.jpgThus Dickens reached a much broader audience than if the novels had been originally issued in book form. Sketches By Boz and Oliver Twist, originally serialized in the weekly magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, were later issued in separate book form yet were subsequently issued in monthly parts: Once again, the cost of books was prohibitive for many of Dickens’s readers and by reissuing the books in parts the publishers hoped to increase their financial return through volume sales of installments.

While I have yet to discover how much Dickens was paid later in his career, in 1836 he earned £20 for each monthly episode of The Pickwick Papers, an extremely handsome salary.

Yet it was not enough. For most of his career Dickens also edited and wrote for magazines. He was part owner of Household Words, which he also edited. For this, he received an annual salary of £500; with income from his contributions to the magazine his annual income was £1,163-£1,652, well over $350,000 in today’s money.

HouseholdWords.jpgYet Dickens enjoyed the fruits of fame to the extent that he was frequently in debt due to his lavish lifestyle. By early winter, 1843, for example, sales of Martin Chuzzlewit, whose first installment had been issued in January 1843, were poor and his publisher, Chapman & Hall, threatened to reduce his salary. He owed money, his wife was pregnant...

dickens6.jpegAi caramba! Bestseller needed, pronto, ASAP, PDQ, NOW...

And so Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, and at warp speed, completing it in six weeks on top of all the other writing and editing he was simultaneously engaged with. Originally issued on December 17, 1843, it sold 6,000 copies within five days. Another 2,000 copies were printed and sold out by January 6, 1844. It was a smash success.

XmasCarol1.jpgBut a financial disaster. Priced at five shillings to stimulate holiday gift sales, the elaborate production that Dickens, with contractual rights, insisted upon - John Leech was commissioned to produce eight illustrations, four to be hand-colored steel engravings, the others as woodcuts; expensive green end- papers were used, and then replaced with others of similar quality but yellow; the titlepage, originally printed in blue and red was re-printed in green and red; all edges gilt -  was such that the book was unable to earn a profit. Dickens blamed Chapman and Hall and broke with them.

XmasCaroltitle_v_1 copy.jpgMost of the thirty-two page installments were forty-nine lines to the page; total words for each installment approx. 18,800 words; times twenty installments equals 376,320 total words per book. At £20 per installment, Dickens earned £400 per book. Many believe that Dickens earned a penny a word. It was less than that. He earned a farthing per word. A farthing is a quarter of a British penny. But a farthing went a lot farther in those days. That £400 in 1836 equals approximately $238,000 in today’s money.

And, remember, that was for his first novel, Pickwick Papers. Nowadays, a first-time novelist needs a super-agent to get a deal like that.

The pay scale for writers has declined dramatically over the last 170 years. A farthing is beginning to look pretty good to me: “Please Sir, may I have some more?”



Hatton & Cleaver. Bibliography of the Periodical Works of Charles Dickens.

Smith, Walter. Charles Dickens in the Original Cloth.

Allingham, Philip. A Review of Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins & Victorian Authorship.

The Dickens Project, University of California, Santa Cruz

University of Glasgow, Book of the Month, December 1999. Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.

The Complete Works of Charles Dickens at

Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde. (1988).

A tip o’ the hat to David Brass for providing images, and for explaining the mysteries of the British monetary system to me; I couldn’t fathom farthings.

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