September 2017 Archives

Sylvia Plath Symposium at Grolier Club

Letters_of_Sylvia_Plath_Harpers_2017.JPGOn October 12 the Grolier Club in Manhattan will host a symposium dedicated to Sylvia Plath. Moderated by collector Judith Raymo, the panel will consist of various Plath experts: Smith College Associate Director of Special Collections Karen V. Kukil; The Letters of Sylvia Plath co-editor Peter K. Steinberg; and CUNY Graduate Center Fellow Heather Clark, who will discuss, in part, the joys and challenges of editing Sylvia Plath’s letters. The two-hour talk coincides with the Grolier Club’s “‘This is the light of the mind’: Selections from the Sylvia Plath collection of Judith Raymo” exhibition currently on display through November 4.

A catalogue of the Raymo collection, published by Oak Knoll, will also be available for purchase. The current issue of Fine Books includes a feature on Plath by Steinberg.

The event is free, but reservations are requested. Non-members may RSVP to Maev Brennan at (212) 838-6690 or

                                                                                                                                                                                           Image courtesy of HarperCollins

The Woodcuts of Viva Talbot

One of my first purchases as a new rare book dealer was a curious portfolio of 15 woodcuts entitled Steel Making: Woodcuts by Viva Talbot, a woman I had never heard of. I bought it for several hundred British pounds, and rather surprisingly, it became one of my first sales at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair two weeks ago. I sold it for what I now realize is a reasonable sum to a research library at a university in the United States with a deep interest in the history of steel making.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   The portfolio contained 15 woodcut prints of scenes depicting the iron mining, smelting, and extraction processes. Talbot was the daughter of Benjamin Talbot, managing director of both the Cargo Fleet Iron Company and the South Durham Steel and Iron Company. She made the prints in the 1930s as an untrained but clearly talented artist who had special access to her father’s industry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Viva_Talbot.jpgA quick Internet search proved that Viva Talbot was a forgotten and underacknowledged artist until recently, when Dr. Joan Heggie rediscovered her in 2006 and determined to do everything she could to bring her work to light. As a project manager for the British Steel Archive Project, Dr. Heggie launched an exhibition at the Dorman Musuem in Middlesborough in 2010.

                                                                                                                                                                                   The edition of prints I purchased was black and white and unsigned except for a printed signature, and folded in a sheet of paper with a string. It was a simple and unassuming package containing incredible work by a woman who had little-to-no acknowledgement for her documentary art until recently. As a bookseller interested in bringing women’s work to light, it was validation of exactly why I have entered the trade. Not all books or work I sell will end up in a university, but when they do, it feels less like a business transaction and more like a preservation of history.

                                                                                                                                                                                               Image of Viva Talbot via Wikimedia

Surveyor DVD front cover 300.jpgThis is undoubtedly the year of Thoreau, and to that end, filmmaker Huey Coleman has released Surveyor of the Soul, a 114-minute documentary about the Walden author. Thirteen years in the making, Huey amassed dozens of interviews with scholars, activists, students, and tourists, all passionate to discuss “Thoreau, his legacy, and the impact his writings have on our time.” Featured therein are authors Laura Dassow Walls, Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Robert Sullivan, Megan Marshall, and many more. Huey has made a number of films on art and nature, including another Thoreau-themed documentary, Wilderness and Spirit: A Mountain Called Katahdin.

Surveyor of the Soul premiered at the Maine International Film Festival this past July, just days after the official bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth, and it has since been screened at the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering and the Morgan Library, among other venues. Upcoming screenings include:

-October 11 at 7:00 p.m., IMRC Center, Room 104, University of Maine, Orono, ME
-October 16 at 5:30 p.m, University of New England, Biddeford, ME
-October 22 at 2:00 p.m., 51 Walden Theater, Concord, MA, sponsored by Concord Museum
-October 26 at 7:00 p.m., Talbot Hall, Luther Bonney Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
-November 2, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho

The DVD is available for $29.95 on the Maine-based filmmaker’s website. Check out the trailer embedded below.

Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, TRAILER (3 minutes), A Film by Huey, 2017, from Films by Huey on Vimeo.

Image courtesy of Films By Huey


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Paris remains a beacon of culture and sophistication and a week spent promenading along the city’s quais and quaint streets was balm for the soul. Among the many familiar sights were the bouquinistes, those riverside booksellers whose forest green stalls have been a fixture by the Seine since at least the 18th century. The tradition of traveling bookselling in Paris goes back even further; known as “libraries forain,” wandering booksellers plied their trade as early as the 1550s when they were accused of distributing Protestant propaganda during the Wars of Religion. Open-air bookstalls were banned in 1649, and meandering booksellers were chased out of the city by Louis V during the 1720s. The ill-fated Louis XVI tolerated their return in the 1750s, and by the time Napoleon I took power, the bouquinistes had reestablished their territory along the riverbank, where they’ve remained a fixture ever since.

Today, bouquinistes must follow regulations regarding stall size and pay an annual fee to sell books, and, until recently, business has been brisk; collectively, over 240 bouquinistes cram 300,000 books into 900 stalls along nearly two miles of Seine waterfront, creating the largest open-air bookstore in the world. UNESCO even named the Seine riverbank a world heritage site in 2011.

Yet, the bouquinistes as we know them are in danger of turning into little more than trinket shops with matching roofs. According to an article published this summer by La Depeche, bouquinistes are increasingly feeling the pressure to sell cheap souvenirs rather than rare books. “We can’t count on books anymore,” said one bookseller in the article, whose stall overflowed with keychains, bottle openers, and postcards. Bouquinistes aren’t prohibited from selling trinkets; current regulations permit one out of every four stalls to sell items other than books. Indeed, many of the stalls on my recent visit overflowed with plastic curios, while books were hidden from sight.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Some sellers feel this is a bad omen, that souvenir sellers are diminishing the long and storied history associated with the trade. 

“We are calling on those who love Paris across the globe, those who love to stroll along the Seine, who want to preserve this unique cultural patrimony which we hold dear,” said David Noesk, a bouquiniste who recently started a petition aimed at doubling down on souvenir peddlers. “These souvenir merchants distort the objective which is at the very origin of our creation and the charm of our Parisian quays,” Noesk wrote on the petition website. So far, 12,000 people have signed the petition, 3,000 shy of the 15,000 goal, at which time the petition will be delivered to the mayor of Paris, Anne Hildago. Stay tuned for what happens next to the booksellers of the Seine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo credit: Paris, Bouquinistes sur le quai de Tournelle, by E. Galien Laloue. Public Domain. 

Last week, New York’s Honey & Wax Booksellers announced the winners of its inaugural book collecting prize for young women. The new award was launched earlier this year by Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney in hopes of encouraging collecting among women under 30. In all, 48 submissions arrived from all corners of the country. One winner and five honorees were chosen. Said the booksellers, “It took us some time to read all those essays and bibliographies, but it was well worth it.”

JessPage1.jpgAnd this year’s winner is... 29-year-old Jessica Kahan (pictured at left), a public librarian in Ohio, for her 300-volume collection “Romance Novels of the Jazz Age and Depression Eras.” Kahan said she heard about the Honey & Wax prize through her 2012 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest sponsor, Martha O’Hara Conway, director of the special collections library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who knew Kahan was developing a terrific collection of American romance novels, c. 1920s and 30s in their original dust jackets, and encouraged her to apply. Kahan’s collection impressed the Honey & Wax judges for its “breadth and depth ... Kahan’s refusal to condescend to her subject helps us see how a genre famous for its rigid conventions bends to reflect the changing lives of American women.”

KahanSpines2.jpgKahan, whose mother and grandmother were both librarians, has “always loved books” she told us. “I grew up surrounded by books and a strong love of reading and literature. Sometimes I joke that my romance novels collection is my rebellious reaction to being encouraged to read high-quality literature. My collection started in 2010, the year after I took an eye-opening History of the Book class as an undergraduate.”

With her $1,000 prize, Kahan said she intends to “donate part of the prize to a local food bank and to the Rachel P. Kahan Memorial Scholarship Fund at Michigan State University.” Then, she continued, “I plan to purchase a ‘celebration’ book. I’m not sure which book yet, but I have a few ideas. The rest of the prize will be used towards savings and funding my next rare book adventures.”

You can learn more about Kahan’s collection on her blog, thegoodbadbook.

The submission deadline for next year’s Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize is June 1.

Images via Honey & Wax

Paperbacks from Hell

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                  Image courtesy of Quirk Books

Collecting Dr. Johnson


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

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

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

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


Collecting Johnson runs through October 14.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Image credit: A.N. Devers

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of Douglas Stockdale


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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo via Boston Public Library

Yes, those Beechers.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Image credit: A.N. Devers

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

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

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

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

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

Pint-Sized Bookstore Takes Up Residence in LA


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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are some underappreciated women writers to spot at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend.

1001688.jpgHoney & Wax Booksellers will bring the self-taught linguist Elizabeth Smith’s translation of the Book of Job (1810), the first complete English translation of the Book of Job by a woman, along with her miscellaneous writings. “Smith is kind of fascinating: rather than studying ancient languages in school or with a tutor, she taught herself, using the dictionaries and grammars newly available to everyday readers in the late eighteenth century,” said Heather O’Donnell. ($750)

1305 copy.jpgElizabeth Young (lizzyoung bookseller) will showcase Sister Age by M.F.K. Fisher, “A collection of fifteen stories on the OTHER subject M.F.K. Fisher was intrigued by: the art of aging and living and dying,” said Young, adding, “I believe she was pigeonholed into food writing because she was a woman. She was appreciated, but underappreciated as a pure writer.” ($225)

oragranaredactors.jpgRachel Furnari of Graph Books will exhibit a complete run of Or y Grana, a weekly magazine written and edited by women, and published in Barcelona in 1906-1907. Containing political essays, poetry, fiction, reviews, and illustrations, it is “often identified as the first ‘feminist’ Catalan publication,” and is quite scarce. ($2,250)

IMG_0343 copy.jpgA.N. Devers at The Second Shelf will feature Joanna Triall, Spinster by Annie E. Holdsworth, a paperback first edition published in London in 1894. This early feminist novel contains sparkling dialogue:

“Oh! that is absurd. Marriage with me simply meant earning my living in the easiest way. I was twenty and penniless; under such circumstances one naturally falls in love. It is a different thing when one has an income and an establishment, and no need to marry at all.”

                                                                                                                                                                                 “You forget the affections, Sarah.”

“The affections? The fiddlesticks!”

Holdsworth was an Anglo-Caribbean novelist, born in Jamaica. ($400)

                                                                                                                                                                                     Images courtesy of the booksellers


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist Joan Miró (1893-1983) is perhaps best known for his Surrealist sculptures and activity with the anarchic Dada art movement. After his first major museum retrospective at New York’s MOMA in 1941, Miró was catapulted into the art world stratosphere, ending up on many contemporary art collectors’ wishlists. In the past decade, Miro’s art has consistently broken new ground at auction, as evidenced by the $37 million paid for his 1927 “Peinture (Etoile Bleue)” at Sotheby’s in London in 2012. As of 2015, more than seventeen Miró artworks had sold for more than $10 million each at auction.                                                                                                                                                                                 
In 1958, the artist spoke to Parisian critic Yvon Taillandier about his life and work, and that conversation was published in a French limited edition of seventy-five copies in 1964. Now, Princeton Architectural Press is releasing a new English translation of the book on October 10. The updated volume includes Taillander’s original introduction and a new preface by Miró scholar and NYU professor Robert Lubar. The appendix contains the full original French text.  

The English text reads smoothly, if some sections of Miró’s musings are hard to follow for those unfamiliar with Surrealism: “ become truly a man, it’s necessary to become detached from one’s false self. In my case, I must stop being Miró, that is, a Spanish painter belonging to a society limited by frontiers, by social and bureaucratic conventions. In other words, we must move toward anonymity.” The sections where Miró talks about inspiration and his work process, however, are fascinating and insightful.
                                                                                                                                       Complete with ten color illustrations, this eighty-page volume is a tiny treasure trove of firsthand insight into Miró’s process and provides a tantalizing window into the experience and purpose of creating art.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Joan Miró: I Work Like a Gardener, by Joan Miró, Yvon Taillandier, Robert Lubar; Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95, 80 pages, available October 10, 2017. 

A couple years ago, I was sitting at my desk in a rented space of the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space, edited by former Paris Review editor Brigid Hughes, where I had once worked as an assistant editor, but had since become a tenant as a freelance writer in need of a desk, when I overheard plans for their forthcoming issue focused on forgotten writers who happened to be women. I became intrigued by one of Hughes’s rediscovered authors, her memoir plucked on the $1 bookshelf at Housing Works in New York City, a woman named Bette Howland, who had published a memoir and two collections of stories, won a MacArthur Genius grant, was a friend and part-time lover of Saul Bellow, and wondered, like Hughes did, why I had never heard of her. I ended up writing a short piece for Lit Hub about A Public Space’s efforts to find and published work by her--and I ended up buying all her first editions online, most for only a few dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                         This is a far too regular a rhetorical question I end up asking silently about women writers who produced serious and accomplished work during their lives, before fading quite quickly from the spotlight, from cultural conversation. And it is a similar problem in rare books, something I saw simultaneously as I started writing for Fine Books and attending rare book fairs, at one of which I bought a first edition Joan Didion for no more than $20, and then checked the price of her neighbor on the bookshelf, Cormac McCarthy, and couldn’t believe it was over five or six hundred. It didn’t bother me that the McCarthy was so expensive. It bothered me that Didion was so cheap. I also observed that the majority of book buyers were men, and majority of sellers were men, and started to realize that that is a part of the problem in terms of getting women the proper respect in their distinguished lives and afterlives if it is primarily men deciding the market and the value.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Since around this time I started to dream up a business focused on books by women, and am now dipping my toe in the rare book trade for the first time with a small selection of books by and about women. The business is called The Second Shelf, after an excellent essay by Meg Wolitzer in the New York Times Book Review--I wrote to her and she gave me permission to use the title for my small venture. I hope to encourage women to buy more first editions and rare books, and also to help find and give occassion to celebrate the best women writers, and the forgotten women writers, including the Bette Howlands who should not be written out of literary history so easily.

                                                                                                                                                                                           It is common knowledge in the publishing world that women buy and read more books. It’s also common knowledge that men don’t tend to read books by women. The market for books by women must include far more women collectors, in order for their books and legacies to share space on the top shelf.

                                                                                                                                                                                 I’ll be sharing some offerings from booksellers exhibiting at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair tomorrow highlighting some underappreciated and important women writers in the spirit of The Second Shelf. 

Out here in Central Oregon, we’ve been inundated this year with wildfires. It was, therefore, strikingly appropriate that I also came across the video game Firewatch, which I played over the course of a couple sittings last week while we were trapped inside hiding out from the all of the smoke.

The innovative, beautifully crafted game takes place in 1989 when you, as the protagonist, take a job as a fire lookout at a remote post in the Wyoming wilderness, a refuge from your complicated life. As the game unfolds, strange events are afoot in the woods, and your only connection to the outside world is the voice of Delilah, your supervisor, who checks in periodically over a handheld radio.

The game, which is a success on multiple levels, does a particularly excellent job of re-creating period details to make the gamer feel like he or she is really there, transported back to the late 1980s. One of the period details that particularly stood out to me, as a bibliophile, was the integration of paperback novels. Scattered around in your fire lookout, as well as at various caches you come across through gameplay, are a variety of paperback novels perfectly designed to resemble the kinds of books you would have found in a grocery store aisle circa 1985. (And therefore would have been likely candidates for stashing in a backpack and bringing out into the wilderness with you).

For example, throughout the game you can build your Richard Sturgeon collection. Sturgeon, a made-up author in the pulp mystery vein, in the Firewatch world wrote a series of novels dubbed “Crime by the Numbers.” (As you find the novels throughout the game, the dedicated bibliophile gamer can go even go so far as to drag the books back to your fire lookout and to build your collection on your resident bookcase. This particular gamer won’t reveal whether he actually took the time to perform this task. *cough*).

The Richard Sturgeon Collection in all its pulpy glory (with screenshots gratefully sourced from

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And here are the other, non-Richard Sturgeon books that you can find scattered around throughout the game:

1) Glory by Magmanus

2) The Birds of Wyoming by George Sinclair

3) The Patriots by Donald Anderson

4) The Singular Mind by Dr Jonas Allard

5) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

6) The Accidental Savior by Terrence L. Greenbriar

7) The Black Band (comic book)

8) Wizards & Wyverns (role playing book)

9) Steven’s Room by Howard Crowther

10) Lucien’s Gambit by Timothy Howell

The rich creation of such period details is only one of many rewarding elements of playing Firewatch. The game offers an immensely satisfying gaming experience enhanced in particular by its vivid, true-to-life characterizations. Firewatch is available for PCs and Macs, as well as for PlayStation 4 and xBox One.

[Images from gamepedia]

Politics and Politeness in Early America

Does it seem like everyone in politics has forgotten the Golden Rule? You know, treat others the way you’d like to be treated? The lack of decorum hasn’t gone unnoticed, and to that end, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, is hosting author Steven C. Bullock on September 26 to discuss how early American leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin believed in the importance of maintaining civility in public discourse, and why it seems so challenging for today’s politicians to embrace a similar position. Entitled Politeness and Public Life in Early America and Today, Bullock’s talk will draw on material gathered for his book on the same topic, Tea Sets and Tyranny (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), in which he suggests that self-moderation and refinement were critical in the fight to overthrow British rule.                                                                                                                                                                                           


                                                                                                                                                                               Bullock is a history professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and author of two previous books on early American politics. Copies of Tea Sets and Tyranny will be available during Bullock’s talk for purchase.
                                                                                                                                                                              Politeness and Public Life in Early America and Today takes place on Tuesday, September 26 at 7 p.m. at the American Antiquarian Society at Antiquarian Hall on 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester, MA. The talk is open to the public. For more information, contact the AAS at 508-755-5221.

JB1_1976 copy.jpgThe results are in for the 37th annual Baltimore Art, Antique & Jewelry Show, held just last weekend. According to a press release issued by the Palm Beach Show Group, “The show attracted robust crowds of knowledgeable collectors and respected dealers from around the world who came to purchase from the extensive array of merchandise offered by more than 325 prominent exhibitors. Over the show’s two-day set-up and four-day tenure, the Baltimore Convention Center welcomed more than 25,000 collectors.”

Nestled within the larger show was the Baltimore Antiquarian Book Fair. B&B Rare Books of New York City reported the sale of a rare edition of Galileo’s Systema Cosmicum valued at over $12,000 as well as a set of the four Winnie-the-Pooh books valued at over $10,000.

Image courtesy of the Palm Beach Show Group

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