June 2009 Archives

In a recent column, I discussed deflation coming to the rare book world, with particular emphasis on the auction houses.

In my mailbox this morning comes news that Bloomsbury, the auction house that has been leading the market to realistic reserves, has now made it official with their first No Reserve Bibliophile Sale.

The sale features property from Heritage Book Shop, Colonial Williamsburg and
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and will occur this Tuesday, June 30, at 2PM in New York.

Here’s their blow-out the competition deal: Minimum bid is [drumroll] $25. Twenty-five dollars.

This is major. While Bloomsbury is clearly trying to move the goods, the goods ain’t bad.

“The Bibliophile Sale includes historic, modern and contemporary works in addition to an manuscript letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and signed to Elizabeth Craig Clarkson written the day after he was accepted at Princeton (15 September 1913) with the original mailing envelope. ‘I am in a particularly despondent and dissipated mood. Outside the sun is shining but I am perfectly positive it is only doing it out of spite...So I sign myself your humble Servant Francis Scott Fitzgerald.’ It was a humorous and playful letter which was to influence much of his life ($3000-$5000.)

“Also included in the 20th Century grouping is a 22 volume illustrated set of Mark Twain’s Works (1923). Bound for Brentano’s in contemporary red levant half morocco over red cloth boards, spines tooled and lettered in gilt ($3000-$4000.) A rare large paper copy of Rousseau’s complete works in contemporary full tree calf binding is contained in 38 volumes, Paris (1788-1793) Engraved frontispieces, Nouvelle Édition, ($5000-$7000.) Other titles include: The Works, Jonathan Swift 1755. 6 volumes, $1200-$1800, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain (1885.) A first American edition, early issue. $1000-1500. Babbitt Sinclair Lewis (1922) First edition $1000-$1500 and Tractatus de corde(1669) Amsterdam Richard Lower $1500-$2500.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Bloomsbury is opening the market to bidders who may not have ever dreamed it possible to get this close to desired material. Eyes will be fixed on the percentage of lots sold and what the sale prices were. The market is  finally beginning to correct itself to new realities.

View the full catalogue to the Bloomsbury No Reserve Bibliophile Sale here.

It is 1 meter tall and weighs in at 25 kilograms, it is the brainchild of Kitakyushu National College of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

He “reads by training its camera eyes on printed materials placed on a special book stand. Character recognition software installed on a computer in the robot’s backpack translates the text into spoken words, which are produced by a voice synthesizer”

Here it is reading some fairy tales:

After a little more tweaking “the robot will be ready to read books to children and the elderly for a living”

Now that is one glorified audiobook. Shouldn’t it be reading from a Kindle?

More at Pink Tentacle
Story at Daily Yomiuri (in Japanese)

Thanks to American Libraries Direct for the lead
The University of Virginia announced last week the appointment of Michael F. Suarez, S. J. as the new director of Rare Book School, succeeding Terry Belanger, the founder this indispensable bibliographic institution in 1983, and its guiding spirit ever since. Established at Columbia University--the lion in the RBS logo is a holdover from those days--Belanger moved the entire operation to Charlottesville in 1993, bringing along with him twenty-two tons of equipment--book  material that he has described as a “bibliographical laborartory.”

Never one to leave much room for chance, Belanger--who is easily one of the most thoroughly organized people I have ever met, inside the book world or out--is retiring this summer, taking his leave now, as he has publicly said, in order to assure a smooth and seamless transition of the program into the future under fresh leadership.

RBS.jpgA former Marshall scholar and a published poet to boot, Suarez, 49, currently holds a joint appointment as a professor of English at Fordham University and as Fellow and Tutor in English at Campion Hall, Oxford University. He has written extensively on book history (check his credits out here), and is a perfect choice to lead RBS into its second quarter-century. Bravo to the search committee for sifting through what had to be a daunting short list of worthy prospects for this important position, and for coming up with such an inspired choice. Suarez will assume his new duties in September, and, like Belanger, will hold the position of University Professor, a senior rank that allows its holders wide latitude to both teach and conduct research.

Though he is retiring from active leadership of Rare Book School, Belanger, a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, remains one of the legitimate giants of the book world, and is certain to remain active in many productive ways. While his physical presence will surely be missed in Charlottesville, he is turning over a brilliantly conceived operation that has top people in place, and a mandate of purpose clearly defined for his successor.

Rare Book School is an experience I hope every serious book person is able to experience at least once in a lifetime; I took my first course three two years ago--a History of Paper section taught jointly by Tim Barrett and John Bidwell--and look forward to going back at some point in the near future when time allows. I wrote a column about the experience for the September/October 2007 issue of Fine Books & Collections, and was pleased to quote one of my classmates, Mike Knies--a regular RBS pilgrim (he had participated in fourteen programs to that point), who likened his annual forays there to attending a “summer camp for book geeks.”

Belanger once told me in jest that “we don’t read books down here, they do that upstairs in the library.” He was kidding of course, what he was saying is that what students do at Rare Book School is “look at the containers,” and by that me meant every conceivable aspect of the book. Those interested in learning more, should definitely check out the variety of courses taught, and the caliber of the people who teach them. All in all, an indispensable institution.

What follows is a quick(ish) overview of our first trip to the annual “Preconference” event held by the Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the American Library Association (ALA). It was a very interesting week. The event was extremely well run, especially given the numbers involved (368 attendees, 450 total with speakers and booksellers).

I drove down Saturday with Thing 1 and 2, leveraging the drive with some educational bonus stops. We spent Sunday in Philly, visiting Declaration House, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s printing press and, best of all, a good long tour of The Rosenbach Museum. We left Philly and headed down to Annapolis for a night with my in-laws.
Monday found us in Washington, DC. I met with a client early in the morning (and sold the entire box I brought down for review) and then we were off to the museums. The boys had a great time at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. We did a bit of vehicular site seeing on the way out of town and headed to Charlottesville to settle in for the week.

Tuesday started with a wonderful seminar by Dan Gregory and sponsored by the Southeast Chapter of the ABAA. He tried very hard to instill in attendees the usefulness and value of taking pictures of books and how to do so with a minimum of errors. Lorne Bair co-ordinated this seminar and the following tour of the Small Special Collections. Set-up for the next day’s “Bookseller Showcase” began at 4pm and before we knew it, we were done and ready for the main event.

We decided some time ago to stay on UVA campus. With the four of us (Suzanne flew in Thursday morning), the dorms offered a rather nice, very inexpensive (and air-conditioned) option. We had an entire quad to ourselves, everyone their own bed and a private bath. One of the great surprises was the water pressure in the Peters building...stunningly good. All UVA based events were only a building or two away. It turned out to be a very nice choice and we were all very pleased with it.

The Bookseller’s Showcase ran from 9am to 730pm...a very long day. The boys were remarkable all day. T1 was very pleased with himself. He picked out a wonderful “Bloomsday” tshirt at the Rosenbach with a sketch of Joyce on the front and “Read” “Joyce” in his glasses. It looked very good under his blazer. T2 was, if possible, even more pleased with himself, as this was the first time he was able to wear his “real” bowtie (black with skull and cross bones)...even his older brother admitted that he looked very cool. They spent the day at the edge of the booth playing with their DSs and politely answering questions posted by bemused librarians.

This was a great event for us. We sold some good things, which was nice...but really it was all about meeting and learning about Special Collections librarians. We are still young and foolish enough that we know far less than we should and this was a great way to meet a lot of great librarians in one convenient (and lovely) site. I had signed up for the entire seminar, in part as there were some interesting seminar/speaker/events and in part as it offered a longer time with this interesting group of bibliophiles.

There were some really fun/interesting moments. Marvin Taylor (NYU’s Fales Library) was so pleased to discover I had a copy of Your House is Mine that he held not one but two impromptu walkthroughs of each print, offering context and background on the pieces and the artist(s). He uses the book in courses at NYU. I love the book...Marvin loves it even more and it was such a treat to turn the pages and listen.

Also at the Showcase, a person entered and very politely told me that they were really just looking, as they were only seeking early Italian travel books and I wouldn’t have anything for her. When I told her I had a nice copy of the very scarce “The Italian Sketchbook”, her first response was “no you don’t”. This was and especially fun sale because, in addition to putting a scarce book in the hands of the “right” owner, the *only* reason I had brought the book (of exceedingly narrow appeal) is that it had “fit” a void in one of my cases and had been added for that specific purpose. Sometimes things just work out as they should.

The Preconference itself was very interesting and well run (details here). Of particular interest was an afternoon session of 3 seminars, each with three very young Spec. Coll. librarians presenting papers. As one who spends a lot of time thinking about and working with young collectors, it was great having an opportunity to listen to a few such professionals.

Another highlight, personally, was listening to Sarah Thomas wrap up the event. She is, for those who might not know, is the American Spec. Coll. librarian (last of Cornell) who is now the head of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, a double first (first American, first woman to head the Library). She was brilliant and funny and it was a great end to the formal Preconference.

Saturday night capped the week with a wonderful, if somber, event: Terry Belanger’s Farewell event. Terry founded the Rare Book School (based at UVA) and, after 26 years as Director, is stepping down. There was a tribute, where many who know and love Terry spoke followed by a very nice reception. The tribute was wrapped up by RBS’s newly anointed Director, Michael Suarez (ex of Fordham and Oxford). It was one of the best written, best presented and funniest toasts I have heard in a long time. I regret I did not record it (Jesuits are just better at such things than most *g*). RBS is, it appears, in very good hands. This is good, as both Suzanne and I will be back in C’ville soon for RBS classes and we look forward to taking many more in years to come.

We drove back in a more more direct fashion. We had planned to take two days, but after getting up to Philly early and touring Independence Hall and the exceptional Mutter Museum, we found that we were really ready to sleep in our own bed and made it home just before midnight on Sunday. It was a very long, intense and very interesting week. The boys were wonderful. We met a lot of great people and really look forward to next year.
I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to learn more about collecting and selling ephemera. While my primary focus is books, I’m also interested in the way ephemera can be used to complement a book collection or can form its own stand-alone collection. I wrote an earlier post about beginning to collect ephemera here.

Ephemera is fun to collect, and as with collecting books, one can pursue almost any interest. The Library of Congress, for example, has a 28,000 item collection of ephemera relating to America. The formats collected include “broadsides, proclamations, advertisements, blank forms, programs, election tickets, catalogs, clippings, timetables, and menus. They capture the everyday activities of ordinary people who participated in the events of nation-building and experienced the growth of the nation from the American Revolution through the Industrial Revolution up to present day.” I sense that, as with book collecting, the challenge to collecting ephemera is knowing how to set limits for the scope of what one is collecting. Here’s a useful guide to organizing an ephemera collection, which includes a glossary of ephemera terminology.

One of my specialties as a bookseller is books by or about American women, so when I started to look for ephemera, I decided to start with what I know -- I began to look for broadsides, advertisements, pamphlets, etc. written by or about or printed by women. I decided that I would not, for now, buy other ephemera unless I found it unusual or extremely appealing. (I should just learn never to add the “unless” clause. More to come on that later this week.)

My first purchase was an 1890s board game, “Round the World with Nellie Bly”, which is possibly the first board game to feature an American woman as its theme. Though I’ve located a couple of good books about American board games, I’ve been unable to substantiate this fact thus far. I still need to check some other resources.

Most recently, I came across this advertising pamphlet for Mum Deodorant, manufactured by Bristol-Myers Company and printed in 1952.

Entitled, “The Girl for the Job?”, it’s a six-page, accordion-folded pamphlet with grooming advice for working girls, including a daily and weekly checklist of good hygiene and grooming. Read it for yourself. I’ve added some commentary in between the images about what appealed to me when I purchased it.

I love this cover, from the retro-looking working girl to the types of jobs advertised in the classified ads that appear in the background. It gives us a sense of the jobs a woman might expect to find in America in 1952: secretary, typist, clerk, stenographer, etc. Where are all the ads for woman booksellers? ;)

The graphics and type on this pamphlet just seem iconic 1950s -- from the bold red and black colors to hat, handbag, and gloves worn by the woman in the picture.




I’m all for checklists, but, really, if you need to be reminded to brush your teeth and put on clean underwear, you might not be the right person for the job in any case! ;)

I suppose someone looking at the pamphlet from a feminist point-of-view might make note of the fact that all of the things the “girl” (as opposed to a full-fledged woman) needs for the job are “daintiness” and “good grooming”. There’s no mention of the need for ambition, drive, education, and experience, though I’m not sure that would have been appropriate for a deodorant advertisement (which relates to grooming) anyway. In any case, the pamphlet is an interesting snapshot of advice for the working girl in early 1950s America.

I might place this pamphlet next to this book, both face out, on a shelf at a book fair. That’s one way ephemera can complement a book:

See you in the stacks!

nora-roberts.jpgRomance novelist Nora Roberts has written 182 novels, in addition to short stories and novellas.

Writes futuristic police procedurals under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.

Was born Eleanor Marie Robertson in 1950.

Publishes five new Noras, two installments for a paperback original trilogy, two J.D. Robb books, and a summer “Big Nora” stand alone hardcover, annually.

Twenty-seven Nora Roberts books are sold every minute.

There are enough copies of Nora Roberts books in print to fill Giants Stadium in New York four thousand times.

Wrote three of the ten best selling mass-market paperbacks in 2008.

Her publisher, Penguin, shipped 600,000 copies of her summer 2008 “Big Nora” hardcover.

Penguin shipped a total of eight million copies of her books in 2008.

Roberts sold five and a half million copies of backlist titles last year.

As J.D. Robb, Roberts sold four and a half million books in 2008.

Grossed $60 million in 2004, according to Forbes.

Roberts has spent more than seven hundred weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

She has been reviewed by the New York Times only once.

Nora Roberts’ one key commandment of writing: “Ass in the chair.”

Writes 6-8 hours a day.

It has been calculated that she completes a new novel every forty-five days.

Roberts is not a hugger or a crier.

Roberts has a dirty mouth, a smoker’s voice, and a closet full of Armani.

Shopping is her main form of self-indulgence.

She once bought a Land Rover over a cell phone when her regular car stalled in the snow.

Has a sense of humor (see below).

Her ambition: “I hope to write the first romantic suspense time-travel paranormal thriller set in Mongolia dealing with Siamese twins who tragically fall in love with the same woman who may or may not be Annie Oakley.”

Owns a small boutique hotel, called Inn BoonsBoro, in Booneboro, Maryland, near Keedysville where she has lived in the same home since 1972, long before her success. The hotel has seven themed rooms, each dedicated to pairs of literary lovers, i.e. Jane and Rochester, including a pair from one of her books.

Roberts has won nineteen RITA awards from the Romance Writers of America (RWA) since the award’s inception in 1981.

Roberts has been inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame three times.

She inspires awe and envy amongst her peers. My cousin, the award-winning romance novelist and current president of the Romance Writers of America, Diane Pershing, says of Roberts, “You know that movie ‘Amadeus,’ where Salieri was jealous because Mozart seemed to be talking to God?”

Those expecting snarky commentary here on romance novels will be disappointed. While it is a genre that I never read nor plan to, it cannot be ignored: of people who read books, one in five read a romance novel. According to the RWA, romance novels generated $1.4 billion in sales in 2007, more than science-fiction and fantasy ($700 million), mystery ($650 million), and literary fiction ($466 million) combined.

According to the VJ Books website, “Having spent her life surrounded by men has given Ms. Roberts a fairly good view of the workings of the male mind, which is a constant delight to her readers. It was, she’s been quoted as saying, ‘a choice between figuring men out or running away screaming.’”

Since we men, for the obvious reason, rule out running away screaming from women except in the most extreme cases (knife-wielding, heat-packin’ psychos), where is the male novelist who will devote his writing career to helping male slobs figure women out? (Sorry, Norman Mailer, it ain’t you).

Is Nora Roberts a hack. Yes. Does she have talent? Her storytelling ability and knack for instantly engaging her readers are legendary. She creates characters that her readers understand and recognize. “Character is plot,” she asserts. She’s right; too many authors get it backwards. She’s apparently broken many of the rules of the romance novel, provides snappy, witty dialogue, and plots that don’t depend on the ripping of bodices. She changed the game and is the best romance novelist working in the genre today. She is not writing literary fiction, does not pretend to, and is justifiably proud of her accomplishments and huge audience for a genre that gets little respect.

All genre writing is critically dismissed until an author of such breaks through and all of a sudden the genre gains respectability as literature. Until Dashiell Hammett came along detective-murder mysteries were disdained by tastemakers. Same with Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and science-fiction. “Pauline Reage” aka Dominique Aury neé Ann Declos, The Story of O, and erotica (The Story of O the ultimate romance novel - with welts), etc.

Nora Roberts will never be confused with Jane Austen. She is as unpretentious as her readers who, contrary to popular belief, are not looking to escape but to identify with the female protagonist in romances. In this, the numbers demonstrate beyond doubt that Roberts has tapped into universals that resonate with her readers. Considering that that is the aim of all novelists and the reason that novels become lasting classics, hers is no mean achievement.

It is highly unlikely that any of Nora Roberts’ novels will ever earn classic status, the fate of most popular authors. E.P. Roe, the best-selling American novelist of his generation (he outsold Twain), is now largely forgotten, despite his eighteen best-selling novels (including the first full-length American novel to feature drug use, Without A Home [1881]).

Her books, however, have become highly collectible, with paperback copies of her books, in merely good condition, fetching up to one hundred dollars.

Universities worldwide are now recognizing popular culture as a legitimate and worthy subject of inquiry. Some university libraries are devoting special collections to its study. Comic books, science-fiction, mystery and crime, and pulp literature in all it’s forms - save one: the modern romance novel.

This should be rectified. The first romance novel in English is considered to be Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740). Austen and Brontë follow. Even Tarzan of the Apes (1914) is, at heart, a romance novel with Jane trying to figure the big lug out and settle her dilemma: return to civilization, its stultifying roles for women, and boring, passionless men, or renounce her sterile but comfortable life to be literally carried off into the trees by a primitive bo-hunk and live a life of simplicity and hot, jungle sex. Want to understand what’s going on in the heads of contemporary Western Civ women in general and American women in particular? Look no farther than the modern romance novel.

Pornographer Samuel Roth, the most prosecuted publisher in American history, once told his lawyer, Charles Rembar, that reading is itself a great good and that any kind of reading is better than no reading at all.*

It is better to read romance novels than not read at all, and any writer who can park “ass in the chair,” apply themselves with iron discipline, and finish the exhaustive process of completing a book has my respect if not my dollar. While her success is surely depressing to writers with artistic aspirations, it is not reason for suicidal ideation in and of itself. Literary writing has always had a rough go of it in the popular marketplace but publishing is not a zero-sum game; there is room for all kinds of fiction, all kinds of books on bookstore shelves, and the success of one does not steal readers from another. Indeed, most novels that become classics never appear on best-selling lists.

No, if you want to slit your wrists because Nora Roberts is insanely popular while you continue to slave on the Great American Novel in your vermin-infested one-room walk-up or fulminate because Roberts sells better than [fill in your favorite non-mainstream writer] and life jus’ ain’t fair, do it because her only indulgence in her fame and fortune, beyond her affection for Armani, is a chartered private jet for traveling to her many appearances across the country. Yet, on her writing desk Nora Roberts has a bobble-head doll of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a pop-up nun.

Private jet mitigated by cool. irreverent, hip attitude.
Unless the earth shifts on its axis or I am offered a chartered private jet to take me to work and back (L.A. freeways growing too awful to bear) to do so, I will likely never read one of Nora Roberts’ books. That may be my loss. The more I learn about this writer, the more I like her.

“For years,” the New Yorker reports, “people have been telling her to hire a cook. She has no assistant or research aide.

“‘Why would you want people in your house?’ she said. ‘Then you have to talk to them.’”

Nora Roberts, the Larry David of romance novelists.


*Rembar, Charles, Tropic of Cancer on Trial, p. 45.

Stats on Nora Roberts from Real Romance by Lauren Collins in the June 22, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.

 Those who, like me, are beginning to see the faint outlines of Thanatos on the far horizon may remember a malodorous movie from 1960, The Scent of Mystery, a film notable only for its inclusion of Smell-O-Vision, a process that would emit key scents at particular plot points, when certain characters appeared, or when the producers just wanted to exploit the gimmick for all it was worth (not much). Ads for the film proclaimed: “First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!” Oh, brother did that movie stink.

Aromarama preceded Smell-O-Vision by a year. It, too, stunk out theaters. Later, John Waters would use Odorama for his film, Polyester.

Sense enhancement for movies died the death it deserves.

But sense enhancement for books? The smell of literature?

smellofbooks.jpegIntroducing Smell of Books, a new aerosol spray from those wonderful folks at DuroSport Electronics.

“The DuroSport Electronics Company was founded by Oleg Tarlev of Moldova in 1962. An inventor by trade, Tarlev was an early pioneer in the use of steam to power home appliances. Tarlev hoped to apply his engineering expertise to develop a line of steam-powered consumer electronics.

“After a failed experiment with a steam powered television convinced Tarlev that steam and vacuum tubes do not mix, he quickly abandoned the idea and began developing more conventional electronic devices.”

Tarlev is a visionary. Seeking a solution to the problem of the increasing cost of consumer electronics, he had a breakthrough insight: the smaller a consumer electronics product, the higher the cost, so, naturally, he reasoned that the reverse should be true. Hence the closet-sized DuroSport digital audio player, loaded with everything except a washer and dryer.

But I digress.

I love the smell of plastic in the morning. It smells like victory. But the good folks at DuroSport don’t share my love of polymer chains and have come up with a product to meet the needs of today’s reader who may love books but not books themselves, has a Kindle but misses the aroma of a freshly opened new book, old book, or rare book. They understand that a book is more than the text and the sum of its parts; reading is a gestalt activity. The product is designed to enhance the ebook reading experience.

I do think, however, that they’ve missed the essential here. Though Smell of Books is available in Classic Musty, Scent of Sensibility, Eau You Have Cats, New Book Smell, and Crunchy Bacon can-bacon.jpeg(for those, I suppose, who are crazy for books but not whole hog for ‘em), it really needs to take its cue from Smell-O-Vision.

Imagine reading Wuthering Heights and your head fills with the aroma of soil, heath, and rain in the atmosphere. Or, you’re reading Gone With The Wind and every time Scarlet O’Hara appears, the sweet, heady perfume of magnolias fills your nostrils. The possibilities are endless.

Yet there are certain books where it would be far better to read about the scent within a scene and imagine it rather than actually smell it. I’m thinking A Confederacy of Dunces. Protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, who revels in his own flatulence, is not someone I actually want to hang out with, much less smell. There are probably many characters in fiction who have bad breath, body order or smelly feet but their authors determined that demerits for poor personal hygiene would not serve the theme and plot. Few are aware, for instance, that Jay Gatsby smells like dead fish. Fitzgerald was wise to ignore it; it would have thrown the entire novel off balance. Authors constantly have to make creative decisions like this, what to leave out as important as what to include.

(The redolence of a decaying big mouth bass would be perfect, however, for the scene in The Godfather when Luca Brasi symbolically returns to the Corleone estate after his ill-fated meeting with Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo and Bruno Tattaglia).

Smell of Books is destined for failure. In fact, due to sharp protest from the Author’s Guild and reports that the Chinese company supplying the aerosol cans to DuroSport sold them cans recycled from Smell of Cars, Smell of Books has been recalled.

But surely there are off-label uses. Though Smell of Books discourages it, it can be used as an underarm deodorant. A quick oral spritz before that first kiss? The romance of literature! Throw a little SPF in there and it’s perfect for reading at the beach while acquiring a nice bronze burnish to the skin.

These are all fine uses and can be a real boon to those who, like me, aspire to be a Total Book Person. And provide a force field of pheromones to discourage non-readers from approaching and disturbing us.

I’m thinking Incredible Incunabula, the scent of books so old, rare and expensive that non-book people recoil in horror and run at first whiff. Put enough of us together in a room and we’ll smell like the inner sanctum  of the Bodleian Library. Or the inside of Dracula’s castle.

“The book is the life, Mr. Renfield.”

A pen-salute to Jeanne Jarzombek, The Book Prowler, for putting me on the scent.

A concept I find absolutely fascinating is the social history of books--learning something about through whose hands a volume may have passed, and the various lives it has touched--not just the details of its content, scarcity, or rarity, as the case may be, but its travels as an artifact.

A perfect example of this phenomenon emerged in an email I got last week from John D. Cofield, a person I’ve never met, but one who I have admired for some time for the insightful reviews he writes on Amazon.com of books that interest him. By way of back story, I had emailed Cofield some months ago to thank him for what I thought had been a very perceptive review he wrote of “Every Book Its Reader.” We exchanged a few pleasantries on our mutual passion for books, and that was that.
Then, last week, Cofield wrote me with details of an anecdote he thought I’d enjoy, and he was right. I liked it so much, in fact, I asked if he minded my sharing it with my readers here. (This is what a blog is all about, right?) Anyway, he’s fine with that, so here’s the story, entirely in his words:

“Back in 1981 I bought a book at a library sale in Chattanooga, Tennessee, called ‘My Life Here And There.’ Published [by Scribner’s] in 1921, it was the memoirs of a granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant who married a Russian prince [her married name was Princess Julia Cantacuzene] and lived in St. Petersburg until after the Revolution. It wasn’t all that great of a book, but I liked it because she was the granddaughter of a President.  Anyway, I was sorting through some old books of mine last week and looked at ‘My Life Here And There’ more closely.  It had always had a ladies’ visiting card slitted into the front page with a handwritten message on it saying something about ‘I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope when you can read again this will give you some distraction.’

“Obviously the book had been given by a lady to another lady who had just suffered a bereavement.  Now I looked more closely at the card and saw it was engraved ‘Mrs. Benet.’  The little message written on it was signed ‘Frances Rose Benet’  I wondered if there could be a connection to Stephen Vincent Benet so I typed her name into Google and lo and behold, Frances Rose Benet was Stephen Vincent’s mother!
“So that excited me since I had always loved “The Devil and Daniel Webster.’  I looked for more information on the Benets and found the email address of a professor, Lincoln Konkle, at The College of New Jersey who had written a biography of Stephen Vincent Benet, and emailed him to tell him about my book.  He was interested and suggested I contact the Beinecke Library where Stephen Vincent Benet’s papers are housed. I did, and their head curator, Nancy Kuhl, responded that they would be very pleased to have the book. I mailed the book to them late last week.  I’m so surprised that a book I paid something like 50 cents for could have such a history behind it, and I’m so proud that I’m able to donate something to so eminent an institution as the Beinecke.  I just wish there had been some indication of who the recipient of the book was, but there was no name or address in the book at all.”

A terrific book story, and like all terrific book stories, this one has kept a few secrets to itself. Cofield, by the way, teaches social studies in a Georgia High School, and is obviously a great believer in the power that books have to stir the world. Many thanks to him for passing this along.

In was sometime in the late 1980’s when Tom Congalton, the proprietor of Between the Covers Rare Books, and cartoonist, book collector Tom Bloom struck a deal. They agreed to swap books for art. Now, some 20 years later, Tom Bloom’s illustrations have graced the covers of over 100 catalogs for BTC. His work has also appeared on numerous lists issued by BTC and is a seminal element of their website.

Bloom’s work has also regularly appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and The Village Voice. His cartoon illustrations have also appeared numerous times on the front page of The New York Times.

Bloom’s work has become as much a part of the BTC brand as the Modern First Editions they specialize in. The relationship is reminiscent of the one Edward Gorey developed with the Gotham Book Mart.

Dan Gregory has begun to document this relationship with a series of galleries featuring Bloom’s work for BTC. In addition to the images for each catalog he provides a brief history of the catalog itself. He also notes that many of the catalogs did not have names until after Bloom’s illustrations arrived.

Here’s to the next 20 years of this amazing collaboration!

Previously on Book Patrol:
The Return of the Bookseller Catalog
The title of Americana Exchange’s latest analysis of the book auction market succinctly sums up what those in the trade have been feeling for quite some time - A Market Under Pressure. It is the next logical step in the democratization of the rare book business that began with the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s: deflation, here stubbornly held at bay at auction only by the resistance of sellers to lower their expectations and allow reserves to be in harmony with what the market will bear.

According to AE’s supplementary Trends in Book Auction Prices, declining lot prices and percentage of lots sold have hit a wall and splatted against the recession. Median prices, which had risen from $410 in October of 2006 to $485 n January of 2008 have dropped back and below to $400 “with no evidence to suggest the correction is over. Not so many decades ago auctions regularly sold 90% or more of lots offered. Over the last five years auctions have struggled to complete even 80% as the percentage of lots sold fell from 78% to 70%.”

Consignors are not getting the message from buyers, who, for the first time in the history of the rare book trade, are now firmly in the driver’s seat and are not appreciating back-seat driving from dealers and sellers. A business that has traditionally been top-down, determining what is important, what collectors should buy and at what price, has now officially become - as every other trade has had to become to survive - a bottom-up business with collectors calling the shots, the books, and prices they are willing to pay.

What Americana Exchange’s data shows is that, while 45% of auctions houses are showing sell-through rates of 80%, 55% continue to encourage high reserves as a strategy to attract consignments. It is a strategy that is out of whack with the realities of the marketplace and until those auction houses (the bigger ones) and consignors allow prices to find themselves through unhindered bidding the market will continue to be distorted, “clearly interfering with the market’s ability to reprice material appropriately.”

Bloomsbury reports that their two most recent big sales achieved 80% and 89% lot sell-though; they have, apparently, accepted Jesus as their savior, bowed their heads, lowered their reserves, and have had their prayers answered; the kingdom of God is at hand. Other houses are encouraged to look to the skies, observe the shaft of sunlight cleaving dark clouds, and forgo pagan price structures. Right now, the best advice is to have no other gods before thee but the Rare Book Big Kahuna. who demands that sacrifice be made now to ensure fertile fields in the future.

The recession is, in my view, not the cause of this downward pressure but rather the most recent (and dramatic) catalyst for change to a business that has been struggling with change for the last fifteen years since the Internet’s transparent, free-market blessing to the collector became a curse for sellers. The low and middle range of the business was thrown upside down and effectively taken out of the control of sellers. Now, the chickens have come home to roost on dealer’s shelves and have left droppings that when divined by copromancers reveal that it’s time for the mid to high-end material to meet their market-maker, the public. The “trickle-up” recession is now leaving lint in the deep pockets of high-end buyers who will likely never see the bubble heights of the go-go years in their portfolios again within their lifetimes. Prices, once adjusted downward, will not be bouncing back any time soon. As stock market holdings have declined to pre-bubble prices, so, too (and has, to 2003 levels, according to AE), will the equity in rare books.

Dealers have felt the same pressures as auction houses. At the 2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, posted prices remained high even as many dealers offered deep discounts. The general mood was gloomy; some dealers who had dramatically discounted their big books still could not sell them. Reports from the recent 2009 Olympia Book Fair in London were similar with high prices sous le manteau discounted (lest they be seen and heard) to just above cost and still no takers. A close colleague with over forty years in the trade and one of the more colorful personalities in a business bursting with them, concisely - if indelicately - described the mental state of most dealers at Olympia as “Shitting.”

No dealer is yet willing to be the bad guy and be the first to lower posted prices. But some brave soul will. The trade will yell and scream, hang the dealer in effigy, invoke black magic, and stick pins in a voodoo doll.

That courageous dealer will likely experience cash flow increased to healthy while his/her colleagues’ cash flow continues to suffocate. At some point, however, conniption fits will subside and sane minds prevail. The followers will follow, the fed-up will find other work or retire, the market will settle, and who’s ever left will reap the benefits as buyers and sellers begin reading from the same page in the same book.

It may be time for the rare book trade to embrace the verity that rules the building of physical strength and endurance:

No pain, no gain. Orally dosed liniment in the form of ardent spirits may be indicated to ease the ache; only the ardent spirits in the trade will make it to the finish line.

It’s been weeding time around here the last couple of weeks, an exercise I undertake every year or so to see which books I once felt were mine forever--and a number of them have been around long enough so they certainly feel that way--but are now prime candidates for deaccession. Space of course is the principal consideration, but you also reach a certain point in life where you begin to think of collecting books not just in terms of addition, but of subtraction as well. Everyone of a certain age knows whereof I speak. (For more on this particular dynamic, take a look at the very first paragraph of Chapter 1 in “A Gentle Madness.”)

NABLIBE1.jpgThe motivation this time around has been an attempt to prepare a descriptive bibliography of the inscribed books I have acquired over the past thirty years, some 600 or so volumes that were signed for me in the “line of duty,” as it were, by authors I interviewed for the literary column I wrote week after week from 1978 to 2000. I’ve written a bit about this exercise in my book, “Among the Gently Mad,” and talked about it at some length in the television special CPSAN ran a couple of months ago on BookTV that featured a tour of my home library. I have to say that flipping through a couple of those titles on camera brought back a lot of pleasant memories--nice personal inscriptions from David McCullough, Tom Wolfe, Buzz Aldrin, Chuck Yeager, Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco and the like--and it occurred to me that it was high time I did something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time, and that is to compile a comprehensive list of just what exactly it is I have on my shelves.

How all of this morphed its way into a weeding frenzy was basically a circumstance of one thing leading to another. All of the inscribed books, you see, have not been kept in one place, but in thematic categories instead. Oh, I certainly had the dazzlers up there on the shelves over the fireplace--Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller, Isaac Asimov, Barry Moser, Paul Theroux, David Halberstam, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, John Updike, Mario Puzo, Kurt Vonnegut--but there were many, many more everywhere else, and so began the task of going through every volume in the house, pulling out books that I had kept in every imaginable nook and cranny, pretty much by subject. A fine work on the development of naval warfare by John Keegan, for instance, was kept in a section set aside for military history, photographic retrospectives by Ansel Adams, Yousuf Karsh, and Eve Arnold with photography, Julia Child with food, Maurice Sendak, David Macaulay, Michael Hague, and Chris Van Allsburg with children’s books, fine biographies of George Bernard Shaw by Michael Holroyd and Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee in an extensive section I maintain on literary biography, William Kennedy and E. L. Doctorow among novelists--you get the idea.

Once I got immersed in this--and I spent a full week at the task--I seized the opportunity to do some grooming. All told, I found about a hundred books that will now make their way up to Clark University for an annual sale put on to benefit the Friends of the Goddard Library, an event I have enjoyed supporting for the better part of twenty-five years. I will miss some of them, to be sure--they have been worthy companions over many years--but I am pleased to know they will find new lives among kindred spirits.

As for the odyssey through the inscribed books, this was a romp unique to my experience. Since each book contains a personal message of one sort or another, reading all of them individually allowed me to relive the circumstances of every interview, and to recall how pleasant it was to spend time with some of the people I admire most in the world--which is book people. It was a real hoot to run across an inscription by Roy Blount Jr, written on November 19, 1982, on the occasion of a discussion about his very funny collection of “satire, invective, foolery, criticism, reporting, reflection and verse,” titled “One Fell Soup.” On the front endsheet, he wrote, “Thanks for the cigar and the literary conversation. It’s nice to be able to discuss the concept of raunchiness with you just before you get to Annie Dillard.”

It was not uncommon back in the day for me to schedule several interviews with authors on one day, and after I finished with Blount, I did indeed meet with Annie Dillard, a wonderful essayist and poet who had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” A truly good sport as well, she had a hearty laugh when I showed her the Blount comment, prompting her to write this in “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” the book we had gotten together to discuss: “For Nick Basbanes, with all best wishes after a jolly old time at the Ritz-Carlton on the day of his talk with a slightly-more-raunchy Roy Blount Jr.”

Were those the good old days, or what?

New Books Stack Up Fine Against iPod’s Creepy Cousin, the “Cooler”

By Nicole Pasulka

In New York’s Jacob J. Javits Center during this year’s Book Expo America (May 28-31), a senior editor waved her hand across nearby publishers’ booths. “All this is a stage,” she explained. “It may look like someone’s over there cooking dinner, but it’s a set, it’s not real. Most business at BEA happens just by hanging out with your friends when they stop by your booth to chat, and at the parties.” My first time at BEA, and I was desperate for a role.

In the Javits Center lobby, people with something to do and somewhere to go darted toward escalators and clustered near the press table. By contrast, I ambled along a massive grid of stalls and brightly colored poster-board, and before long had surrendered to snap judgments and superficiality. James Patterson: ubiquitous; Danielle Steele: coiffed; Wordsworth Classics edition of Rob Roy: worth every penny of its $4.99 cover price. I chatted aimlessly with librarians and marketing directors. But did I really need to know the “pub date” of James Elroy’s new novel? Publishing insiders do not ask questions like a bored journalist. This wasn’t going well.

Isn’t book publishing becoming less about actual books and more about digital technologies? Here was conflict and an angle: I’d ingratiate myself by sympathizing with booksellers and producers and vilifying technologies that threaten their profits. “What’s up with this Kindle thing?” I asked an unoccupied associate publisher. Her eyes lit up: “Ooh, have you used one? I think there’s a display here. I’ve been dying to try it.”

The publisher and I set off for the Amazon booth, though it wasn’t clear whether we were looking to size up the competition or research Christmas gifts. In the literary technology section, we passed a Borders TV studio, were corralled into taking a touch-screen survey on why we were here, and then stumbled across two women serving piña coladas in perilously low-cut bathing suits. Turns out the beachwear and booze were a marketing Hail Mary for an e-reader called “The Cooler.” A sales rep gave us a demonstration next to a kiddie pool full of sand. The Cooler looked like an iPod’s creepy cousin and scrolled with the ease and readability of a stone tablet. No amount of rum was going to make this thing user-friendly.

The Cooler reps didn’t seem like publishing insiders, and they didn’t have much of a product, but they were having a good time. If I didn’t have a part to play, I might as well enjoy being in the audience. Nearby, a small crowd gathered around a dark-haired boy of about thirteen. His eyes were glued to a monitor while his fingers flew across an approximation of an electric guitar. It was Danny Johnson, the Guinness World Record holder for Guitar Hero--a video game in which players follow along with pop songs on a plastic guitar. The booth’s posters claimed Johnson would be trying for a different record, but his dad explained that “he already broke all the records,” and was “just playing around now.” Danny Johnson didn’t crack a smile while he destroyed his competitions. Watching someone else playing video games is slightly more entertaining than watching my dog nap, so I moved on.

Guitar Hero and drinking before 2 p.m. are technically fun, but in a convention center recreation can feel a little too staged. The Independent Publishers Consortium (Consortium Book Sales), in a far corner of the fair, was loaded with small publishing houses handing out DVD catalogues, stickers and, at the Feral Books table, packets of opium seeds to help you “harvest your own pain medication.” And it was here that I found the real headliners at BEA--the books, scads of them. And a chorus of representatives from participating independent publishers was more than happy to explain the plotline of a graphic novel by Mario Van Peebles or pass along a copy of Marilyn French’s posthumously published novel The Love Children.

I’m not sure whether publishing is changing, or dying, or thriving (I’d seen plenty of evidence to support all three conclusions) but books are definitely myriad and exciting and people still write them, read them, and make them look good in a convention booth. I left with more than I could carry.
One day in 1939, Frances Kroll Ring, a 22-year old with typing and dictation skills, was interviewed by Rusty’s Employment Agency on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

“At the agency,” she recalls in an excellent article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, “they asked if I knew Scott Fitzgerald and I said I wasn’t really sure. I hadn’t read Fitzgerald then. I’d read Hemingway, who was the big muck-a-muck.”

200px-Francis_Scott_Fitzgerald_1937_June_4_(1)_(photo_by_Carl_van_Vechten).jpgIt was Frances Kroll Ring who was at Fitzgerald’s side when he began work on The Love of the Last Tycoon, his unfinished swan song, released posthumously as The Last Tycoon (1941). In addition to typing and dictation, she wound up being his confidant. At the time of his death, it was she who settled his affairs and made the funeral arrangements; Fitzgerald’s lover, newspaper columnist Sheila Graham, who would write of their affair in Beloved Infidel (1958), was bereft and unable to function. It is through Frances Kroll Ring that we know the daily details of the last eighteen months of Fitzgerald’s life.

Ms. Ring’s interview appeared just a few days after I wrote and posted Help Wanted: Professional Reader, within which I mentioned that I had been a story analyst (“reader”) for a major TV and film production company (Lorimar). I worked as reader/assistant to Eleanor Breese, the Executive Story Editor, one of the most fascinating women I have ever known, who began her career, as Frances Kroll Ring did, by being sent by an employment agency for a job, one that turned out to be in the center of New York’s  - and by extension, America’s - literary universe: she joined the steno pool of 180px-Maxwell_Perkins_NYWTS.jpglegendary Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins.

It was the mid-1930s, she was in her mid-20s, Perkins was in his early 50s, and her assignment, Thomas Wolfe, was in his mid-30s.

Before sending her out to Brooklyn, where Wolfe lived, Perkins gave her the following warning: “No matter what, if you can’t decipher his writing, don’t interrupt him; we’ll figure it out later.”

Eleanor showed up at Wolfe’s pad. It was late morning; Wolfe was still in his pajamas and needed a coffee IV-drip. Few words were exchanged. She set up her typewriter on the kitchen table, he began to write.

Upright. He couldn’t sit still at a desk. A tall man, Wolfe used the top of the refrigerator as writing desk.

200px-Thomas_Wolfe_1937_1.jpgAnd, according to Eleanor, this was his writing method: he wrote longhand on yellow legal pads, his penmanship small and on the lines. He would quite literally toss completed manuscript pages over his shoulder to her; she would grab them, sometimes in mid-air, and type them up. As he became more enraptured with the writing, his nervous energy would increase and his penmanship would slowly enlarge and deteriorate to the  point where, beginning with twenty-eight standard lines with neat words stretching across the pad of paper, by the end of his work day he was furiously writing a frenzied 4-5 giant words per page, if that many. The man needed a lot of writing paper real estate when he wrote, and somewhere there’s a large scar in a forest dedicated to Wolfe, who suffered from the opposite of writer’s block, writer’s blabber; there was no stopping him: he stepped on the ink, raced off into wordland and left an endless, thick plume of 300 horsepower verbal exhaust in his wake.

That book, October Fair, a massive work, was beaten into shape by Perkins and published as Of Time and the River (1935).

Eleanor, 65 when we met but very young at heart with a libido to match and a datebook to prove it, enjoyed being surrounded by bright young men. (She preferred, however, the intimate company of contemporaries. Her fave was ID’d only as “Numero Uno,” who she suspected of being with the CIA because of his peripatetic international travels, always on a moment’s notice). She, thankfully, lowered her standards and I was extremely proud then, and remain so today, to become one of “Eleanor’s Boys,” as her circle of young male friends and/or employees was known.

against current.gifFrances Kroll Ring wrote a short memoir of her time with Fitzgerald, Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald (1985).

Eleanor Breese, born in 1912, died in 1999. She is survived by a son, daughter, granddaughter, and at least five men I know out of countless others who, because of her early, crucial support and encouragement, established themselves as writers. She was, and will always remain, “Numero Uno” to us.


If you have not already read it, I highly recommend A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978). He was, in addition to Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and other literary luminaries, Hemingway’s editor.

Much to my surprise, the book world is thriving in the twitterverse. Indy bookstores of all sorts are post, review and ramble about new works, agents and writers commiserate, librarians exchange adventures and ideas. Book collectors and bibliophiles share loves and loathes. Shakespeare and Ben Franklin are both tweeting. Sites like Twibes and WeFollow have biblio-centric groups.  It is, frankly, a vibrant and quite interesting stream of data. 

There are a number from the rare book world postings as well, including three of your humble bloggers: LuxMentis; BookPatrol; BrianCassidy. Post your profiles below...the more the more interesting.
From Brian Busby, writer, reporter on the Canadian literary scene, Our Man In The Attic, and author of the highly anticipated biography of Canadian poet, novelist, literary rogue and hoaxster, John Glassco:

“Bad news concerning the Glassco biography. A couple of weeks ago I was told that Knopf Canada is dropping the book. Nothing wrong with the manuscript - they’re even giving me the acceptance fee in full - they say that the market is to blame.”

The publishing world is, apparently, now focusing on producing sure-fire hits and nothing but.

Brian continues, “Apparently, ‘serious’ non-fiction, literary biography included, just isn’t selling these days. Though no names have been mentioned, I’m told that I’m far from being alone in being dumped. While my agent is confident that the biography will soon find a home elsewhere, she cautions that the other big branch plants (Penguin, HarperCollins et al) are of like mind concerning the current state of bookselling.”

The Guardian recently covered the phenomenon at length.

Neil Belton, an editor at Faber is not sanguine about prospects: “The book trade and publishing industry has embraced its inner philistine. The bigger book chains have semi-withdrawn from interest in serious books. The number of publishers that are committed to trying to bring these books to an audience is smaller. When they are interested in serious authors, the big publishing conglomerates are often chasing only the very big names, people established in their fields.”

Literary agent Peter Straus is also concerned: “It is more and more difficult to place good books. Retail’s changed. Advances have come down in the last two years. So many books haven’t sold. There are too many books published. The harsh realities of the market will impinge on certain writers, certain publishers, certain agents.”

” There used to be a lot of noise around these books. They were books made for great reviews. But people didn’t want to buy them,” says Scott Pack, head buyer at Waterstone’s, Britain’s top book chain.

Brians ends on a more positive note, though the good news depends upon bad news becoming yesterday’s story: “Vehicule Press, Montreal’s largest remaining Anglo publisher have asked me to put together a collection of Glassco’s letters. This is going ahead, but publication will likely be delayed until the bio is published.”

This is personally distressing to me as I have knowledge about some of what Brian has uncovered about this most interesting literary provacateur that is very exciting but I am sworn to secrecy. Those secrets are growing like a tumor-cluster in my brain and, without relief, threaten to burst their boundaries and spill out of my mouth like a bunch of sweet, ripe grapes.

Call me self-centered but the whole financial crisis comes down to this: I am prevented from reading what I what I would very much like to read.

All politics is local.

Guy Laramée, Pétra (2007). Sandblasted encyclopedias, pigments
13 x 11.25 x 8.5 in. Courtesy Gallerie Orange, Montreal and the artist
Photo: Guy L’Heureux © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SODRAC, Montreal.

Wondering what to do with those old encyclopedia’s or those obsolete white pages that keep landing in your driveway? Perhaps a trip to the Bellevue Art Museum might help.

The Book Borrowers: Contemporary Artists Transforming the Book“is the latest installment in
the Bellevue Art Museum’s (BAM) ongoing Material Evidence series.

The show features work by some of today’s leading artists working with books including pieces by Brian Dettmer, James Allen, Noriko Ambe, Long-Bin Chen, Jacqueline Rush Lee and Georgia Russell among others.

“The works in this exhibition reveal new and unexpected layers of meaning that go beyond the book as a source of information and offer a fresh look at its place in an increasingly digitally oriented world. The Book Borrowers is both a nostalgic homage to the book and a reflection on our current progression beyond it.”

Alan Corkery Hahn. Dictionary. Courtesy Gallery IMA Seattle

This is the second stellar book-related museum exhibit in the Seattle area within the last 2 years; The Seattle Asian Art Museum hosted the seminal exhibit Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art in 2007.

Long-Bin Chen. Guan Ying with Flower Crown (Ming Dynasty), 2007
Manhattan white pages phone books. 22 x 12 x 13 in.
Courtesy of the Artist and Frederieke Taylor Gallery, NYC

Here’s a video of Casey Curran’s “The Whale” which is also featured in the exhibit.

The future looks bright for book infused art.

See also:  Jonathan Shipley’s piece on the exhibit, Running With Scissors, in the March issue of Fine Books & Collections

Previously on Book Patrol:
The Book Gods of Contemporary Chinese Art

Have you seen those blue book donation boxes that seem to be popping up everywhere? Ever wonder what the deal is?

Well, here’s how it works:

The boxes are are owned and operated by Thrift Recycling Managment (TRM), a for-profit company. This alone should bring into question the ‘Books For Charity’ mantra emblazoned on the front and sides of each box.

To date, about 15,000 boxes have been placed around the country.

51% of books donated end up being pulped. Think revenue stream.

25% go to non-profit organizations committed to various literacy and book-related causes with only a tiny fraction of those books ever making it back to the community they came from.

TRM keeps the remaining books to sell. They claim to be “the largest seller of used books on the Internet,” In that process, they have become one of the most prolific penny-sellers in the online marketplace. Part of their mission is “to reduce the cycle of poverty by providing access to books to those in need.” Unfortunately, they are also increasing the cycle of poverty for many traditional booksellers by sucking the value out of much their inventory.

And it is not only the booksellers that are suffering from this new disruptive model.

Derek Sheppard’s piece in the Kitsap Sun, Donated Books Becoming a Sought-After Commodity -- Perhaps Too Much So?, looks at how these boxes have also been affecting the Friends of the Library book sale in Poulsbo, WA.

Maybe the boxes should be painted red.
BaltBibFront.JPGOne of America’s distinguished bibliophilic societies is celebrating its golden anniversary these days between the hard covers of a fabulous book that proves the old maxim that really good things are worth waiting for. The Baltimore Bibliophiles, you see, actually observed their fiftieth birthday in 2004; but a comprehensive book recalling the first half-century of the group--with numerous essays and pertinent illustrations, all of it put together splendidly--has just been issued in a lovely hardcover edition, “The Baltimore Bibliophiles at Fifty: 1954-2004. Edited by Donald Farren and August A. Imholtz Jr., it features a marvelous local history of children’s literature by Linda E. Lapides, a former librarian of the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore, and with her husband, Julian L. Lapides, a major collector of children’s books over many years. The edition is limited to 300 copies; a limited number  is available from Oak Knoll Press, $55 each (see link above to order.)

The frontispiece--above right--reproduces an illustration of Baltimore’s Washington Monument that appears on the cover of a copybook published in the early 1840s in Baltimore. In her essay, titled “For Amusement and Instruction: Children’s Books in Bygone Baltimore,” Lapides offers a detailed history of children’s books in the United States, and includes a fully annotated descriptive catalog of 135 books from her collection. In a testimonial to her effort, Leonard S. Marcus, a noted historian and critic of children’s books, writes that this “pioneering work of bibliographical scholarship harvests knowledge and insights gleaned from a lifetime of collecting the children’s books published in Baltimore from the colonial times forward.”

BaltBibTit.JPGThe later sections of the book recall the history of the society itself; an interesting detail is that unlike so many other bibliophilic organization in the world which began pretty much as all-male social clubs, the Baltimore Bibliophiles have always welcomed women among their ranks, a circumstance underscored by the fact that the first two presidents were female. On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the group in 1959, the founding members recalled in a commemorative booklet the circumstances of their getting together. As organizers, it was recalled, they had “all agreed that what Baltimore needed was a booklovers’ club--a club to gather together the rare souls who find pleasure not only in the reading but especially in the handling of books, people who enjoy as amateurs or professionals the arts that go into the designing and the illustrating, printing and covering of a fine book, whether made today or five hundred years ago.”

Happily, some things never change.
Auction Guide