Tuesday, December 30, 2008

article in NY Times

I was read some articles from the New York Times online when I clicked onto this piece by David Streitfeld. It seems to dovetail with this blog a bit. I am not at all saying that people should only buy books online. I believe that a book scout or collector can only really do their job by physically handling their "prey", if you will.

But I also understand why someone sitting at home with a computer and internet access can click a few times and have a book in their mailbox a few days later. It depends on what the customer needs and wants. If he/she wants to go to a bookstore, they will. If they want a specific book at the cheapest possible price, then that's what they will do as well. The age of the general bookstore might be over. A bookstore needs to specialize. The internet has changed the rules, all the rules, of commerce in a bit less than a decade. It's the reality of the situation.

We ought not wring our hands in woe but figure out how to use technology to enhance not only our book buying endeavors but also the logic behind publishing (for those of us who are more than book collectors, but also PUBLISHERS)

There's a glut of stuff out there now. Anyone with a computer and the proper software and a printer can make their own book......the question then becomes, 'but should they?'

There are infinitely more books than time to read them all. Most people spend more time in front of their flat screen TVs or in front of their computers than reading a book anymore and yet each year there are more and more titles coming out. GLUT!

Who can read them all? Who can afford to buy them all? People can't. They buy what interests them. Each person has a niche of interests that booksellers can't possibly know so they shotgun blast us with a bit of everything when we don't necessarily want a bit of everything. If I primarily read poetry and postmodern fiction, for example, don't bother telling me about the new biography of a former President of the United States - because I DON'T CARE. I didn't decide to publish that thing, you (mr. publisher) did, so you have to figure out how to promote and sell it to a society overwhelmed with information and entertainment options. Maybe publishers should have cut back on the number of titles they released each year a long time ago, but as a publisher I understand the logic involved in more and more books being published every year. It's just that the bell curve of books in print and the bell curve of reduced attention span have collided somewhere along the Information Superhighway and no one is calling for the paramedics.

Monday, December 22, 2008

a little hurrah

Part of the reason I write this blog and share my "booking adventures" is to connect with others who are equally involved in the various and wide net called THE BOOK TRADE. If one were willing to put name on it. Part of the gasm here is the pursuit. The find. Another part is the sale, for those who are more book scout than collector. I am a bit of both. I find to sell, and I find to collect. When I found the first edition of Dawn Powell's Turn, Magic Wheel I was terribly excited to find the book but after researching it, decided to post it for sale since it was also fairly rare. It netted me $300.00 - I would say it was worth it.

Within the last few weeks I found these two books and decided to post them for sale as well and they both sold. Hurrah, but as with any explorer, telling of the find is as exciting as reaping the rewards of the sale. I found both in second hand stores, not "Good Will" stores but in good will stores (my generic name for non-used bookstores). Stores associated with non-profit, community based missions. Stores where the person who deals with books isn't terribly knowledgeable about the "what" that they are dealing with. Of course, there's a lot of crap being donated to these places as there are at used bookstores. But the hunt is what draws me to these places and that's where the action is (at least in Northern VA where I am currently living)

I went into the first in Alexandria, VA a few weeks ago while waiting for a bookstore to open and found a number of interesting books as well as the booklet by L I Brezhnev I earlier wrote about. I am not a fan of Rod McKuen, I want to make that perfectly clear, but as I was down on all fours looking at the bottom shelf of bookcases in the corner of the largest of the rooms in this store, I found a first edition of Listen to the Warm by McKuen......signed by the poet on the inside front of the book. I hesitated about a half second and then put in the middle of the stack of books that I was buying. I ended up paying 81 cents for the book. It sold for almost $30.00!

A few days later, I was in a different store in Fairfax and got only two hardbound first editions (hey I was keeping my kids busy and only had a buck with me) and one of those books was Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator by Robert Crassweller. It was in perfect condition. Quirky. Odd subject matter. Hadn't thought about these islands in any political way. Then I remembered Poppa Doc/Baby Doc...oh yeah, there have been dictators in paradise. This book sold for $15.00

a little pre-Christmas present I won't bother dropping in my 401k (falling, falling into the abyss of Wall Street like down a rabbit hole with Alice)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I deal in books, ink is in my veins

I deal in books.

Hundreds, no thousands – no, tens of thousands have past through my hands in this life so far. As a kid, I would ride down a staircase on our family Encyclopedias. In Junior High, for a year, I was a library assistant. I grew a library in my room at home, then as I moved from apartment to apartment across the country that library would grow and shrink, as though moving with the tides of being American, and living on the run.

Later still I tore hardbound books apart, pulping the contents and tossing the covers into a cardbound crusher while working at a recycling center. It felt like tearing the heads of live animals. In some ways, it was even worse.

I also am a writer, a publisher, a collage artist and book artist which generally means that I alter existing books or reconfigure text and make new books – I have been involved in the life cycle of books needing only to buy a share of stock in a forestry company to produces timber to be made into paper, and then to invest in at least one machine which pulps ruined books and material on the other end, leading to recycled paper and yet another life.

I have collected books, sold them online, found them in odd and ordinary locations and donated them to libraries. I have, so I am told, scribbled in them – cut them apart – underlined them, highlighted them and written marginalia in some. Both as a child and currently.

I smell them. One can detect the books that lingered in used bookstores or attics or were housed in rooms where people smoked.

There is nothing more exciting than finding not only a rare book but a book that had been owned by a famous person, with notes by that person in the book. Perhaps none of this is unique in and of itself; after all there are bookstore owners and scouts, and collectors and hobbyists, and dealers and printers, and artists and sculptors who use books in any manner of appearance and reason. But often these individuals are keenly interested in on aspect of books above others. Whereas, I am interested in all of it.

The dimensions of a book printed by a long forgotten company of a novel by an author who only had two books out, and none are in print any longer, and the cover was letter pressed and the cover artist is now famous for his magazine work – or as in the case of ( Frank Cugat who did original cover of Great Gatsby) did only that one cover.

And paper, of course one needs to know about paper. Thickness, how the pages have yellowed or browned or been splotched with coffee or used to calculate a math problem, or anything – no, everything. Everything one can imagine has been done with them; the book, the binding, the cover, the pages, the spine, the gutters, the margins; the works.

Bookstores seen as communist fronts, as bedlams of corruption, or promoters of revolutions. Writers as wizards of language or demons using ink. Leading throughout human history to the eventual and periodic burning of books, or humans, or both since ideas are powerful and books tend to contain mass quantities of ideas.

“The Mason Room was peaceful, as it always is at midnight. In a few
minutes I heard the books’ voices: a low, steady, unsuppressible hum.
I’d heard it many time before. I’ve always had a finely tuned ear for
a library’s accumulations of echo and desire. Libraries are anything
but hushed”.
The Archivist
Martha Cooley

Monday, December 15, 2008

a little booklet from the propaganda wars

I was out last weekend and "trowling" about for books, going to my various spots in search of the unusual, the rare - why else do people like me go booking? I found some older books and found this piece of pristine propaganda, a 1978 booklet filled with excerpts from L I Brezhnev, the supreme leader of the Soviet Union. I paid 50 cents for it.

It was published by Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, USSR. One of the "mouthpieces" of Soviet propaganda as our own Radio Free Europe was/is. The excerpts are on the subjects of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of disarmament. This was 1978, as talks were continuing on the Nuclear Disarmament Treaty that would be signed a few years later. The cover art suggests an homage to El Lissitzky. However by 1978 I don't believe that the Soviet Union was embracing the art of Russian Constructivism. Everything had to be "social realism", how boring was that? 1978.....punk music had erupted by then. No trace of that in this booklet. Carter was in the White House. Weird times (aren't they all?)

54 pages. Text in English, publication information in Russian.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Books of obsolete knowledge

Recently I have been finding a number of books about the Arab world, Middle East, Islamic culture, etc. in used bookstores. I have been gathering them as I feel that there is interest in the subjects and that Americans need to do a bit of research in order to form a better world-view. The book that I found most ironic was the one published in 2000 with the title "Iraq: Old Land, New Nation in Conflict" by William Spencer, published by Twenty-First Century Books (a division of the Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CONN.)

Looking through this book is like reading a book on typewriters published in the late 1990's, as that technology was being phased out. There are no American companies making typewriters. I believe that the last company on the planet to make a typewriter was an Italian firm and they stopped making them near the millennium step-over. Looking through this book had that feel for me of holding obsolete knowledge. The country described in this book is not the country that exists today, and yet the history of the nation of Iraq is a valuable read to anyone interested in how it was that a Saddam Hussein could rise to power in the first place.

In that sense, this is a completely worthwhile book. I am reminded of a book I found several years ago on the subject of the Spanish American world, written in 1899, full of American propaganda and feel-good fluffed egos. I remember as I found that book and held it in my hands that Gore Vidal has said that we had lost our way as soon as we became an Empire, and that we Americans don't like to think of ourselves as having an Empire and that this Empire of ours began with the Spanish American war and the taking of Cuba, Philippines, and the rest. THAT book represented the end of our innocence and the beginning of our self-denial.

Reading Spencer's book also has that feel of "divine intervention" and the blessing of what is about to follow. America was right and justified....blah blah blah. Poor Iraq, if only they could be like us. That sort of nonsense. The fact that the British carved Persia into two unequal pieces after the first World War, the fact that the CIA overthrew neighboring Iran's government in a 1953 coup, the fact that Europe has been meddling in the affairs of these "tribal peoples" for HUNDREDS of years seems to be glossed over, airbrushed out, forgotten - buried under the last sandstorm....except to the people who live in Iraq and Iran and across the Middle East. To them we are the great hypocrite. Promoting democracy in name only while securing our control over their natural resources (OIL)

In THAT sense this book is almost an embarrassment. Almost. Of course, the Bush-Cheney years has brought a naked ignorance/arrogance to the Middle East that will take years to undo. I am sort of interested to read a book written in late 2008 about the West's dealings with Iraq and Iran sometime in, say, 2015 or so when that book will either be accurate or woefully wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

booking for its own sake

Last weekend I got a reprieve from my wife and was allowed out into the world without my kids for a few hours. I went "booking". I unloaded some books, exchanged a few others, and picked up some more using store credit from one of the used bookstores that I frequent.

Among my "finds" was a 7 page poetry pamphlet published in 1985 by Orchises Press (Washington DC) of two poems by W H Auden, "The Platonic Blow and My Epitaph".

I find that second-hand shops are in some ways better than used bookstores to find unusual material since the folks at second hand shops are less knowledgeable than bookstore owners, typically, and their incentives are different.

I am reminded of the book Booking Pleasure by Jack Matthews and the explanations he had for some of the items he found and some of the reasons he collected what he had. It's a book that I will be re-investing in sometime soon. But for now, I am trying to ween myself a bit of my own stacks of books. And weeding through my own layers of printed material.

I have read many of the books by Tony Hillerman but since his death I have decided to try and finish reading the series featuring Joe Leaphorn. I have been collecting books by Zora Neale Hurston as well, with the intention of reading. Reading and collecting can go hand and hand, but not necessarily. Some people collect book as a form of investment. Reading the books are, often, an afterthought.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kerouac as an innovator?

Okay, I need to confess....I had a copy of this book when it first came out and it was when I was a lot younger and the idea of having tape recorded transcripts as part of a book was not something that I was "having" at the time. I was maybe 19 when the book came out and I had read a bit about Kerouac enough to know that this was a book that had not yet been published but was an underground hit. But I thought it was boring as hell so I gave it to someone along the trail of my life. It's been an interesting and long path now, and I happened across another copy of this book.

I have since read the "cut-up" novels by William Burroughs and the tape recorded "novels" transcribed by Paul Bowles. The main reason I am bringing this up is that Visions of Cody was written in 1951-52 and a bit over 15 years later Andy Warhol became known as a "novelist" for his A which was a book that was entirely composed of recorded conversations.

1952 was before Brion Gysin's "accidental" discovery of cut-ups by about 5 years as well. Nowadays, no one would think twice of using technology to create fiction. I am aware of a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose "alter ego" is a computer-generated 'poet' and this person's poetry is being published in journals - unaware of the hoax, if that's what it is - yet for me at THAT time, I didn't think much of his experimentations. Hopefully I have grown since then.

Monday, November 3, 2008

an update from Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan

from an email translated and sent to me late last week....some information removed to protect the poet and his friends.

"Dear Steven

first thank you very much for your concern. My trail will be on the coming Thursday. The judge will hear from those who accused me and some members from the Jordanian writers association who will present a creative reading on my poetry book.

Still I am receiving threats from islamists and the Friday prayers in some places in Amman described me as infidel what annoy me the mosque close to my house in xxxxxxxx convicted me and urged people to stand against infidels people like me.

Also, people who are close to the government advocate people to attack me.

I think running away is the safest solution.

With best wishes

Islam samhan
Amman Jordan"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

where the books are

I was thinking about Willie Sutton and his famous response to the question of why he robbed banks, "because that's where the money is" as I have been reading the extremely well researched and incredibly well written (albeit terribly depressing) A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq. The cautionary tale of a 27 year old Jordanian poet facing prison for something he wrote is important to work around in your head as you consider how many generations have, in fact, done a whole lot worse things than imprison authors and purge their books. In addition to book burnings, people themselves were put to the flame. It's one thing to want to kill an idea - it's quite another to rub out a people. An identity. A history.

There are no books that have survived the destruction of Carthage, nor Troy. The winners routinely destroy the written documents of the losers. The Nazis attempted to do it while in the midst of a war as did the Serbs, as did the Vandals.....the history of our human race is one of periodic self inflicted darkness as we snuff out the light of knowledge for the comfort of ignorance. But, really, is ignorance really comfortable? No, yet we humans have done it all the same. There are in this great country of ours, the United States of America, people who fervently believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth as recently as 4,000 years ago. How is that possible? Self-blinding to avoid self-doubt. And that is the great fear of a person like myself, that ignorant people will attempt to thrust us into a new dark age for their own delusional reasons. The followers of bin Laden and the followers of Sarah Palin. Extremism in the defense of one's fantasy is still WRONG.

It doesn't surprise me that there are occasion book burnings in the United States. How many books are challenged each year by citizens who want to control what others read in local libraries or at local schools? In a country that publishes thousands of books every year, how can we delude ourselves that we can - or even should control what our neighbor reads? If one wants to control what THEY read, that's find. There are ostriches among us, and that's fine. But when these ostriches try to prevent ME from reading something, they have crossed a line....and I will push back.

There are certain world-views that are unacceptable to me. One is being flaunted right now by the Vice Presidential candidate from the state of Alaska; a rather simplistic view. A wrongheaded view. A dangerously wrongheaded view in many respects since she could be an elbow away from nuclear codes and doomsday scenarios. Thinking people need to speak out against this simple minded 'black-and-white' view for the love of our country and for the well-being of our planet.

Books often contain something called "concepts" and concepts matter. Thought matters. That's how we became the race we have become. There are jihadists in this country as well, people determined to "fulfill God's plan" even if that means destroying the entire planet by their own hand to achieve this 'cause'. And time and again humans have shown themselves to be of weak minds often enough to burn down vast stores of books and knowledge. It needs to be remembered that Christians killed Hypatia, the last librarian of the priceless Alexandria library, and it was Christians who torched the library itself. Within a hundred years of the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, it was Christians who burned other Christians at the stake in Europe as well as copies of offensive books. It wasn't THAT long ago, despite how "enlightened" we imagine ourselves today.

Which meanders back to the the whole "where the books are" statement at the beginning of the this posting......libraries are targeted by combatants during wartime. Bookstores are also targets of violence. Booksellers are killed for what appears in their shops. In these curious times, we need to protect the right to read everything. To light one's mind against the forces of darkness and repression.

Friday, October 24, 2008

updates on the case of Islam Samhan

I have been informed that he has been released - until his trial next Thursday in Amman. If convicted, he could spend two years in prison..... for writing verses "against the Koran". I am hoping to get a copy of this collection of poems myself and will let you know what I learn of his "offense".

This is not to say that America has a clean record when it comes to censorship and the press, because we suffer ourselves from swings to the extreme right and left. The extreme right most offended by comments like those of William Burroughs when he wrote that "everything is permitted". The extreme right does not believe that, nor do they want to allow others to practice that. Censorship is as old as the first told tales and is unfortunately still very much with us. In the West and in the "developing world."

The Press is never free. It is never without obstacles or roadblocks. Death threats and government suppression. This has been part of what authors and printers, and publishers have dealt with since Gutenberg's first press. It is necessary, therefore, that publishers rally around the cause of others and that authors likewise speak up for those targeted for violence and confinement. Or death. It is not unheard of - in ANY country - that writers are marked for death. Salmon Rushdie is not even the most recent case of this. Fortunately, he lives. But others have not fared as well. Men are killed for what comes off their pens. Men kill to cease the words from flowing. Fear drives this, and fear prevails far too often to count.

We must continue to speak and continue to allow thoughts to be revealed, if we agree with the speaker or not. In fact, moreso if we disagree. As a race we will not move forward toward an enlightened state as long as we destroy men and books we oppose. The freedom of expression needs to be dear to all of us. Everywhere. All the time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

more on the arrest of a Jordanian poet

Activists protest indictment of poet

By Mohammad Ghazal

AMMAN - The Jordanian Writers Association (JWA) strongly criticised on Tuesday the indictment of poet Islam Samhan for allegedly insulting Islam after incorporating verses from the Holy Koran into his love poetry.

The writer was referred to the court by the Press and Publications Department (PPD) early this week for violating articles in the Press and Publications Law after he published his first poem collection “Grace Like a Shadow”.

“The prosecutor general of a magistrate’s court in Amman charged Islam Samhan with insulting Islam and the Koran as well as violating the Press and Publications Law,” Zeina Karadsheh, his lawyer, told Agence France- Presse.

But 27-year-old Samhan, who was arrested and detained on Sunday, denied the charges, saying that he did not mean to insult Islam or the holy book, according to the lawyer.

If convicted, Samhan faces up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of JD20,000, according to the news agency.

JWA President Soud Qbeilat voiced disappointment over the indictment of the young poet, who also works as a journalist at Al Arab Al Yawm newspaper.

“This is a strange decision and is a serious development. Such a measure is likely to suppress freedom and creativity,” the head of the some 650-member association told The Jordan Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

He noted that the language poets use is “metaphoric and has its unique characteristics. It is not like the ordinary Arabic that is used by ordinary people”.

“When there is no freedom, there is no creativity,” he said.

Qbeilat also protested a fatwa issued by the Kingdom’s mufti, the top religious authority, labelling Samhan as an infidel and describing the incorporation of Koranic verses in his poem collection as an act of blasphemy.

“They cannot charge Samhan on the basis on an opinion of a religious authority that is not specialised in poetry and literature. They should have consulted experts from the same domain. It is the first time that a religious authority interferes in interpreting the meanings of poetry. This will tarnish the image of Jordan,” Qbeilat added.

The JWA president said: “Our solidarity with Samhan is not that we agree or disagree with him. It is all about the freedom of expression.”

The Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists also issued a statement Tuesday calling for the immediate release of Samhan.

Nabil Momani, director general of the PPD, said there was more than one reason behind the referral of Samhan to the prosecutor’s office.

The book was printed by an unlicensed press and thus the writer violated Article 35 of the Press and Publications Law, which stipulates that the writer or publisher of any book that is printed or published in the Kingdom should submit an advanced copy to the PPD, Momani said.

He added the case was referred to the legal authorities following a thorough examination by experts and specialists, who agreed there was a violation to Article 38 of the said law.

Article 38 stipulates that it is prohibited to publish any material that entails libel, slander or insult to any religion, in line with the Constitution.

The PPD chief said that the judiciary has the exclusive authority of imposing a ban or confiscating books under the 2006 Press and Publications Law, adding: “Our job is not to suppress freedoms, but when there is an infringement to the law, it is our duty to refer the case to the judiciary. We support Jordanian writers.”

“The issue is in the hands of the judiciary and we accept whatever ruling the court issues,” said Momani.

from the Jordan Times
Oct. 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

censorship rears its head

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - The Jordanian prosecution says police
have arrested a local writer for incorporating verses from
the Quran, the Muslim holy book, into his love poetry.

A judicial official says that poet Islam Samhan published
his collection of poems, "Grace like a Shadow," which
allegedly insults the holy book, without the approval of
the Jordanian government.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he
was not authorized to speak to the media.

Samhan was charged Tuesday with harming the Islamic faith
and violating the press and publication law for combining
the sacred words of the Quran with sexual themes.

If convicted the poet could face up to three years in

so, where can I get a copy of this book? I more than a little curious to know how a poet can go to jail for writing something about Islam. Islam does not seem to be open to interpretation or alternative views, or criticism. Death to anyone who questions Allah? Um, okay that's very 11th century. But we are living in the 21st century now. If this religion is 'the true one' can it not be examined or explored? If not, why not?

and how can I get a copy of this book? Who published it? Have any copies made it out of Jordan? I am more than a little curious to know.

Friday, October 17, 2008

every cover tells a story

I have never seen this cover for Burroughs' Junky before. It is from a copy that was available in Japan. It's the best cover for this book that I have ever seen. So, why are some cover images acceptable in the Far East (for example) but not in the good old US of A? Self-censorship, of course. Our old Puritan background averting our eyes and shuttering the thought. But does it, really? Does self-censorship work? Has the burning of the library in Alexandria by Christians retarded our evolutionary development? (It has, actually done that) But it hasn't ended our native curiosity.

Nor will it. Our race was thrown out of Eden for being curious. For questioning authority. For thinking for ourselves.

Every cover tells a story. Of course some publishers abuse the privilege of putting tits and ass on covers that have little to nothing to do with the content inside. That's a given, regrettably. Still, I would prefer to have this copy of Junky than the candy-ass safe covers that sold in the US and Britain. Unless maybe this is the British version.

Such prudes we are, sheesh.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

reviving Dawn Powell

Sometime back I was reading one of Michael Dirda's wonderful books on books and reading and found a passage about a neglected "genius" (his words, not mine) named Dawn Powell. Never heard of her work. But as it happened, I read about her a few years after the publishing company, Steerforth Press, released many of her novels. I got a number of her books through Amazon and ebay. I also found a wikipedia entry on her.

Time past, I went to a second-hand store I frequent in Alexandria, VA where I found some forgotten on the top of a tall bookcase. One was Dawn Powell's Turn, Magic Wheel published in 1936. It had a bookstore label inside from a bookstore in Paris, France. I wondered if that store withstood WWII. I wondered about things, grand or small often. My wife calls them "pot thoughts".

Anyway, her work is today considered to be as witty as Dorothy Parker's. It might interest you to track down some of her books and read them for yourself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Over the weekend I was out "booking" for a few hours without my little "helpers" (Julia & William) and I went into a used bookstore that I frequent and there on an end-cap were a number of books in this particular 'genre'. The genre is relatively recently named : bibiliomystery.

I was waiting for this, actually. I was waiting for someone to come up with this named genre. Whether it sticks or not is something else, of course.

As I reflect upon the origins of this "genre", It seems to my non-scientific mind that it started with The Name of the Rose. Certainly that book boosted the genre as shortly thereafter came The Club Dumas, The Dante Club, The Shadow of the Wind, People of the Book and the entire Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning.

Unfortunately, as with any other genre, there are the occasional charlatans, Larry Beinhart's The Librarian for example. The book misuses the title to suggest that there would be something in it about being an actual librarian....perhaps supposing actual research methods and discovery. Instead, it's a Clark Kent becoming Superman within a political thriller set-up novel. It's terrible. Misnamed garbage. Ugh.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Francis Cugat

do you know the name Francis Cugat? Probably not, yet you know at least one piece of art that he created. The same way you know the Nike swoosh - but not the graphic art student who came up with the symbol for a grand total of $25.00!

Cugart's name could be a Trivial Pursuit question. His name is known to illustrators and people who do covers for books, but not the general public and quite likely not anyone who has read The Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

a few words about 'hobo arona'

A few years ago, Plan B Press was invited to participate in the 215 festival that takes place in the autumn of each year in Philadelphia. We presented some poets who read their work, and in subsequent years we were invited to participate in the festival's book fair. While considering their invitation this year, I looked at the event link from last year (the book fair is called "Lovingly Bound" and has more than small publishers there) whereupon I saw one small concern there called hobo arona who take old discarded books and remakes them as notebooks, address books, or photo albums.

A couple of years ago my wife and I put together a book exactly like what hobo arona does as a journal for ourselves using as our cover an old math textbook. I was pleasantly surprised to see someone doing the same thing as a business. I applauded their effort and checked out their website, and then bought a couple of books. They arrived yesterday.

Awesome! The craftsmanship involved is exceptional. The books are hand-(re)made and each one is unique. Each also comes with a note on the history of the book and a little blurb about the construction process in the back. Definitely the sort of gift to give someone who has "everything".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book arts / book artists

over the past few years I have been exposed to, and become fans of "book artists". Tom Phillips really set the tone for this type of work with his groundbreaking book A Humument. His book came twenty some years after concrete poets began to reconfigure the page and the words on the page, and to reconsider the "canvas" that a book is in its physical nature. Phillips was responding to the experiments of William Burroughs and his "cut-up" techniques, taking them into a completely different visual direction.

I have never held in my hands a sculpted book by Stella Waitzkin, but I admire what she did - using the book as an object. In my own work I have created what I call a 'Liquid Library' which consists of books that have been altered or spray-painted, or sunk to the bottom of a fish tank. I have been working on the notion of "book as object: text as other". The concept that what we accept as "a book" need not be the only definition of that constitutes "a book".

Back in 2001, when the artist Katy Jean was discussing what I might do with the physical dimensions of my as of yet unpublished chapbook Spontaneous Chili one of the ideas was to put the table of contents in the center of the book in the form of a menu. The theme of a menu, rather, the presentation of the book as a form of a menu still hasn't been fully realized but it was an idea that lead in part to the cover image, and to the lay-out of the book in meal category listings, etc.

In 2003, Katy Jean came up with the idea of using vellum for the cover to our 'the Eternal NOW!' poetry series anthology and incorporating the image into the cover and end-pages so that the complete cover was two layers deep and could be changed by flipping open the cover.

But here I stop short to say that these steps were quite small compared to the work of Alisa Goldman and countless others who are doing much more in the way of appearance and presentation of a book. The Canadian artist Michael Snow has also done something remarkable, in my humble opinion, with his book Cover to Cover.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Books that need to be turned into films

Tim Sandlin's first novel, Sex & Sunsets ought be made into a movie. It's better than the three books of his that have been turned into films. Yes, it's quirky but come on, in the Post-Twin Peaks world we live in, quirky is GOOD.

Hey filmmakers, get on the stick! Turn this book into a film already. Katie Holmes as Colette. Come on people, use your imagination! This book is dying to become a film!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

books are like cigarettes in a prison

Went "booking" yesterday and came back with a small load of stuff. Some interesting finds, like the 1930 The Collected Tales of Pierre Louys, illustrated by John Austen - a brilliantly done book published by Argus Books of Chicago. As well as The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson (greatly influenced by the books of Nick Bantock) which was published by Chronicle Books in 1995. A fantastically visual book.

But the title of this entry has to do with the glut that is also out there. The glut of books. In the universe of publishing and booksellers, there is a principle of scarcity that is in play when a book is published. One wants to sell as many copies of a book as they can, of course, as that is part of the deal with printing to begin with. However, after a certain point in time, the book becomes something other : something else. It becomes a commodity. They become cigarettes in a prison, an item of exchange. The words means less that the "thing" of it. Books are traded, swapped out at coffeehouses or the like. Used bookstores exchange store credit for brought in books, and occasionally actual cash is exchanged in the transaction.

Book scouts make their living finding books that sellers want to have on their shelves for customers who request or demand them. The rarer the book, the greater the value. The more prized the find. However, quite often, there are some within this chain who are literally counting books as items in a bulk lot rather carefully examining individual books. To these persons, a book is nothing more than a "unit", they look at books the way bean-counters at the multinational corporations that primarily OWN the publishing industry at the present time do.

And there we come back to the glut. The publishers who, for whatever reason, overreached and printed THOUSANDS more copies than would ever sell. (like the Conrad Hilton book above) For example there are 543 copies of Be My Guest on Amazon alone. Multiple that number by the number of places in America where books might be found; used bookstores, libraries, thrift shops, the street.....and you quickly can appreciate the problem. The greater the number of books, the less valuable it is, the less its worth, the cheaper it is to get ahold of.

As a book seeker, I like books selling for $ .50 but as a publisher I want the books that I publish to retain their worth. It's a dilemma not easily resolved. Especially when say, an Oprah blesses a book that turns out to be a fraud, for example.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the political attack book

I was rummaging through the boxes of books in a local thrift store and found a 1964 book entitled A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power by J. Evertts Haley published by a press I never heard of before, The Palo Duro Press of Canyon, Texas. Well, this instantly smacked of presidential political attacks - it was published in an election year, coincidence? No chance!

and I am wondering what the earliest example of this sort of 'expose' during a campaign is. John Adams? Does anyone have a clue?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nicholas Basbanes

I was already a full-blown book junky when I was slowly going through the stacks at George Mason University library where I was doing "work/study" and I pulled off the shelf a copy of Among the Gently Mad by Nicholas Basbanes. Well, I went on to devour all his books. Some were a bit tedious but for the most part, these books were instantly digestible.

I got a lot out of the books, and realized that I was more than a mild collector of books. It was something of an obsession. Not that I would give my lunch money for an old book, nor throw out my kids toys to make room for more shelving but I definitely had a hankering for books. And I was learning as I went.

My trips to used bookstores goes back at least 20 years, to my time at Temple University. Even before, but it became more serious then. I would check out the books in the discount bin of "the-corporate-bookstore-in-the-mall". I remember seeing the film "Henry & June" and leaving the theater and marching right over the such a bookstore in the mall and grabbing a copy of the book, which was discounted 75%.

I began with a small shelf in my bedroom at my parent's house and then, once on my own, the cinder block and 2 x 4 shelving units. Only when moving to Philadelphia in 2002 with Katy Jean did I begin to become more serious about my mass of books. Of course, we moved into an apartment with bookshelves built into what had been closets throughout the place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the conflict is as old as the hills

I touched on this briefly in my first entry, and it will come up over and again through the course of this blog, the "conflict" between the written word and the use of image. It has been suggested that one reason why the ancient document which we call 'The Bible' begins as it does is that the period of Egyptian captivity led the Israelis more stridently to "the word" as opposed to the images that are the visual-base language we call hieroglyphics. It was a reaction against image as much as anything.

I won't wade too far into the academic merits of the arguments either way, other than to say that all letters in all alphabets have symbolic representational equivalence far older than the "letter" themselves. Far older and much more laden with meaning. We have forgotten a great deal in our current disposal society about the weight of the word, the importance of the Gutenberg press of moveable type. The importance of have metal type. Something solid.

"Reading" an image telling of a story is quite different from reading the words of a story. This requires a different set of skills, of abilities, and finds expression in our society in the phrase "auditory learner" and "visual learner".

Monday, September 15, 2008

beginning as one must

........................as opposed to the other several blogs that I begun and fluttered away from, this one will be constantly updated as it is my one true obsession, BOOKS.

Through Plan B Press, I publish them.
Through Maybooks, I bring them in and sell them online. It also feeds my collection which in some ways differs from my library.

Unlike the Hebrew, I feel that image is more powerful than "the word". Children's books tend to have too many words in them. Tell your story without pesky words. Keep the word count at a minimum, as though you are writing haiku. There aren't enough picture books for adults. Nor pop-up books.

Books should never be found in landfills. Pulp them, if you must, but keep them out of landfills.

True to my current form, here is a picture of my daughter, Julia, mimicking dear old Dad's obsession. She reading a Curious George book. Never got into that series.

Not to be outdone, my youngest son, William, shows his prowess with the Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? book. Eric Carle's books are a big hit around our house.