Thursday, December 17, 2009

too long between time

not that I haven't acquired any books, nor sold any, but I haven't written anything. Sorry, have been a terrible blogster.

I recently found a copy of Modern Book Collecting by Robert Wilson. Published in 1980, this book has been considered an informed resource in the world of book collecting. While I found some information in the book worthwhile, overall it was very dated. The well respected Wilson had no inkling of the world that collectors in the 21st century would be facing. His forty years of experience in the "way it was" doesn't really help those of us in the cyberland of the way things ARE.

Wilson was a dealer as well as a collector and bibliographer. His perspective is different from one who collects, and doesn't own a respected downtown book salon (Wilson owned the Phoenix Book Shop in New York City). Some of his tales are comparable to those of John Baxter and others - being in the right place at the right time, having relationships with certain authors that are rewarded handsomely down the road, knowing the value of a particular author's work or the possible value in the future (yadda yadda), but his methodology has been compromised by the Internet - by Amazon - by ABE. Auctions are not the preferred way to option books, unless one is well heeled and well connected to a world of elitist collectors and international jet sets most of us would not ever get entrance into to begin with.

Wilson dismisses flea markets, library sales, used bookstores, etc. as meritless pursues for items that are merely "fools gold", yet to counter this claim, I just found a SIGNED copy of Throat Sprockets (a book that I greatly admire even though it's disturbing) by Tim Lucas in a used bookstore for a buck. In perfect condition!

I also found my biggest find to date, the 1936 Dawn Powell first edition Turn, Magic Wheel at a secondhand shop for a dollar as well. My guess is that the intended "vicitms" of his book are beginners, who the books was written to help anyway. I am somewhere between rookie and expert. I have had the luck too, which any collector has, for again "being in the right place at the right time." I will agree with Robert Wilson that it's important to collect things that interest you. That much we can agree on.

Booking Pleasures by Jack Matthews, published by Ohio University Press in 1996 is a companion to the Wilson book but views things from the author/collector's perspective as an academic as well as a collector of regional material. His stories are more telling as they are more homespun, more regional in nature, and the author's inclination to gather material for its own sake rather than Wilson's dealer mentality. Matthews never mentions turning a profit nor even selling his finds. That's at least half of Wilson's game. Booking Pleasure is a good read. They both are, really.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

it's hard to not be obsessed about it

Books, I mean. Not "reading devises", I will never own one of those. But books themselves. Ink on paper. Leading in many directions of thought at the same time. Acquiring, preserving, handling, caring. The whole thing. Not only that but following arguments and discussions in print.

For example, what was Annie Dillard's problem with Alain Robbe-Grillet? In her 1982 book Living By Fiction she rails about Robbe-Grillet and his "novels". She does not find anything redeeming about his work. This is well before her own first novel was to appear, her 1992 book The Living. I read her 1989 book The Writing Life in which she is discussing things and writing fiction.....she is preparing for her novel. It's interesting to see this all being worked out on paper in various books. And yet, she really had a distinct dislike for the books by Robbe-Grillet which I don't get. Had she ever met Alain Robbe-Grillet? Was it personal or professional dislike?

That one might not be solved anytime soon. I can't give it too much attention as my family is preparing to move out of our 2 bedroom apt. into a 2 bedroom house with a little tree-filled back yard. Everything is being packed up - and by everything I mean our meager furniture and kitchen items and our 4,000 books.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thomas Jefferson's library

There was a link I tried to place here for a piece from the Smithsonian website concerning a project to research and locate copies of all the books that had been in the library of President Thomas Jefferson that was sold to the Congress, and perished in the library fire of 1851. However, that link disappeared and so - oops.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

a frugal experiment

so, I am writing here primarily for myself and whoever else happens to click through but all the same I wanted to record somewhere my new frugal experiment as it pertains to book acquiring. For the next block of time - undefined - I am refraining from sending any cash on books. That doesn't mean that I am not acquiring them, nor am I stealing them. I am just not buying them.

this started about a week ago - I just wanted to see how it would go. How, you may ask, can you get books for FREE? Well, the local library actually has several milk cartons near the elevator in the front lobby where books are left FREE for the taking, and I am often surprised by the books donated to the library that they don't want or are left by patrons. I have taken home and sold at least $200.00 worth of such books in the year that we have lived here. It's pretty startling.

I also take advantage of book exchanges at coffeehouses. For instance, I exchanged some dull paperbacks yesterday for a 1938 coffee table book called "Adventures of America : 1857-1900" from the archives of the Harper's Weekly, a "hardbound" (although it feels pretty soft to me) The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson in One Volume, plus two British paperbacks of novels that I was not familiar with either the title or the author. For me, a successful trip to get cookies for my kids and a refill of coffee for myself.

Then there is Bookmooch and PaperbackSwap. Yes, anyone who has been to these sites can respond that I have to pay for postage if someone wants to "mooch" a book from me, true. But I can also request books from others that they pay postage for as well, and some of those I have also sold for a profit online. Or bulked up my own collection. In fact, I have added twenty books over the past week without paying any cash. While at the same time donating or selling off another twenty-three books for a net LOSS of three books (always a consideration when your spouse counts the books as often as mine does) - okay, I am half kidding.

and so it goes....

Sunday, July 26, 2009

interesting book

went into Alexandria, VA late last week with my kidlets and went into a second-hand shop that I used to frequent, and found a number of books that I thought were pretty cool and one that was (for me at least) downright interesting. It was a hardbound first edition of Peter Gay's Weimar Culture: the outsider as insider.

The copy appears to have been signed by the author but it is also so underlined and annotated that it's really difficult to see through the notations, but - I have always been interested in Bauhaus and the Weimar Republic so, I got the book and it is extremely informative and well written and I will be keeping the copy after finishing just because.

the previous owner, I have to say, was a boob - but....

Friday, July 24, 2009

talk about being "book obsessed"...

no, i am a little bad about books but this guy has 35,000 books in his house and he doesn't have a bookstore or a cyber store. HE is obsessed. I am merely consumed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hard enough to keep up with oneself

life is busy, complicated (when one has kids), and stressful (when looking for new diggs)

so, I forget what all I have going on - like the number of blogs I am polluting the internet with. Here's one that has been overlooked lately. This is not to suggest that I have not lessened my obsession with books. Hardly that. It's been remarkable how many books find their way into my clutches.

chapbooks, older books, odd material.

let me plunge back into my horde and give you some examples:

Friday, June 5, 2009

altering books

here is a classic book altering environment - note the wall of books behind this lady? I certainly have.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

it isn't just the "finding"

For me, at least, the journey goes well beyond locating a book. It's also the condition, the binding, the flyleaf (if the book is of a certain age), the publisher information, points, marginalia, autographs, etc. It's the totality of the thing that is a book. The "thing" of it that no e-book could hope to duplicate. Case in point, here as evidence....who really thinks about the binding of a book? Well, bookbinders, certainly and collectors. But the average buyer or reader is only interested in whether the binding is good - or not. Our legacy, our civilization in fact, has everything to do with preservation of that which came before. So, exhibit A : bookbinding : a craft that must not disappear:

I applaud those who do this work, it's often thankless and it's definitely time-consuming YET it's essential that the craft be handed down from master to student, for as long as we make and read books (pray that be forever!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the backstory

you go into a used bookstore or a second hand shop, or a Goodwill location, and you poke about for books and you find some, lets say, and then you begin to ask yourself:

why were these books brought in?
why were they abandoned? whose books were they?
what's the history of them?

I have done this many times, found small volumes of poetry by the same publisher, or with the same name inside each, or the same first name and a different last name...a woman who started gathering books before she married, and then continued after with her new last name. Of course, I have to create the backstory. Other than an owner's name or publisher info, there is often nothing coherent to tie the books together. No marginalia. No underlining (that makes sense to the casual observer)

Recently, the poet Ann Michael sent me a packet of books that she had in her house. Mostly chapbooks, in fact. Most from a publishing concern she was involved with in the mid-1980's LiMbo bar&grill books which was then headquartered in Melrose Park, PA. The packet included some of the earliest bar&grill books as well as others by co-founder David Dunn of Brooklyn, NY who died 1999.

Fortunately for me, there was a letter from Ann that explained a good deal of "the backstory" so I didn't have to create my own. All the same, it's also nice to speculate how the books might have been connected and how.

The chapbooks themselves become artifacts as well as memorials. Not only did David Dunn pass in 1999 but the publisher of the 2001 chapbook of some of David's poems, Songs to be Hummed While Sleeping, Paul Dilsaver of The Academic & Arts Press also has since died. I had never heard of his Press until now, and now they are as dust in the wind.

There was one book that was not a chapbook, the 2006 collection of David Dunn's work called the lock of the land which was published by Kings Estate Press of St. Augustine, FL. It's a fine book with proceeds of each sale going to the American Diabetes Association. It was illustrated by Wayne Hogan.

Friday, April 17, 2009

bloody wonderful

I was about to say that I was NOT swayed by others when it comes to books, but that isn't true. I have read many of Michael Dirda's books in the hope of discovering someone I had never heard of before, nor read. Through Dirda I found Dawn Powell and countless others. But I was surprised to hear R L Stine on the radio recently talk about the author Sebastian Barry's book A Long Long Way.

My grandfather had served in World War I, and while I never met him (he died seven years before I was born), his memory and his service in France is part of the family lore. So, I promptly got a copy of Barry's book on Amazon for $1.99 and have been slowly reading it since. It's a beautifully written and simply awful book. "Simply awful" in the vivid descriptions of the horrors of the trenches and the brutality of war. It's a stunning book. I absolutely recommend it. But it's not a fast read, it's too painful for that. If you absorb it, you can't help but put it down and wince at the imagery and senselessness of it all.

Fantastic book.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Went to a quite successful used bookstore in Manassas, VA over the weekend and took in their great operation and wonderful selection. I won't name the bookstore as I have an issue with the method by which they have chosen to affix the price to their book. The sticker they affix to the front cover of the books comes off with pieces of the paperback front cover. This is not good. The pricing sticker is fine on hardbound books but on paperbacks? Not so much. Either bits of the cover disappear with the removal or a sticky residue remain on the cover, needing additional cleaning.


but as I said, the selection was good and if one were to google "used bookstores" and "Manassas", they might quickly conclude that I am writing about McKay's.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A stop in Brooklyn, and more

Last weekend I drove my family to Brooklyn to visit the Godparents of our children, and while we were there I stopped into Atlantic Book Shop on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn. I wasn't there long, but long enough to find some extremely interesting and rare items.

Chief among the finds was a 1970 Unicorn Press chapbook by Robert Hershon, which according to the man behind the cash register (who may also have been the owner) was a book by his father. The chapbook is entitled "Atlantic Avenue" and the store is now located on Atlantic Avenue although it seems to have moved there recently from Greenwich Village.

Not that I know that, never been into the store before. It's a great space. Of course, I was looking for specific things and found a number of them. I also found an inscribed & signed copy of Jim Bishop's 1975 book of poetry published by Contraband Books, Mother Tongue. As well as The High Tower by frances horovitz, printed in Great Britain by New Departures; High Wire Man by Julian Long, published by the University of North Texas Press poetry series (my 3rd chapbook in their series); a mass market edition of Anne Dillard's 1975 Tickets for a Prayer Wheel; Reed Whittemore's 1959 The Self-Made Man. Overall, I was quite pleased with my stop there. Of course I had to run down several blocks afterwards to catch up with my family as they had walked to see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor.

Then a few days later, on Jack Kerouac's birthday in fact, I received from Finland a wonderful copy of Kerouac's Lonesome Traveller printed in Great Britain by Mayflower Books Ltd. (1968)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

poetry books arriving in the mail

Since Christmas I have received 4 poetry books of note in the mail. I usually frown on getting books online since you don't know, really, what you are getting until it arrives and you open the packaging. So, it's either perpetually Christmas time or it's another sad April Fool's joke that I have paid for.

In these cases, I have been lucky to have received 4 additional Christmas presents inside of practical jokes. The first is Left Hand by Margaret Cesa. This book appears to have been self-published in 1974, with illustrations throughout by Nancie Gunkleman. The copy I got was signed by Margaret Cesa in 1974. There is no publication history nor name of Press, nor contact info listed anywhere in the book. Its pages are unnumbered. Nice clean copy.

I got this book as well as the next two through ebay, which as many people know, is on a downward spiral. I "won" an early Copper Canyon letterpress chapbook, signed, by Richard Shelton. 12" X 5 1/2". Beautifully made Tree Swenson. I had another early Copper Canyon book - Soie Sauvage by Olga Broumas - which was published in 1979. It looks more "professional" than the Shelton chapbook published three years later. Odd, that.....

I got A Kind of Glory published in 1982. It reminds me of chapbooks created by Toothpaste Press and the Perishable Press Limited. Handmade paper, letterpress text. Uniquely made books. However, this little story had a strange twist in it; the seller initially sent me the wrong book. I was sent James Laughlin (with Vanessa Jackson) book The House of Light, published by The Grenfell Press, New York, in 1986. This book is astounding in its production. I had not heard of Grenfell Press before but this is an incredible book that I was only too happy to receive, even by accident. I was able to keep this book in addition to receiving the Shelton chapbook. Fantastic.

But one can not expect too many "happy accidents" to come. Indeed, shortly afterwards I "won" a signed Theodore Weiss collection of poetry which was returned to the seller in an mangled condition by the USPS. While I was refunded fully, I wonder what the rate increases actually PAY FOR since improved service is not evident. And postal employees are generally an unhappy bunch. Just grinds my socks that they increase rates while volume declines and service fails. If the USPS was a stand-alone company, it would likely be forced under.

The final book I received was Pieces of Sissy Lee by Kathryn Burkett. This coffee-table sized self-published book is a hodge podge of art book styles and broken poetics. Glossy cover. Unnumbered pages. Visually interesting.

Monday, February 9, 2009

out and about

I went out this past Saturday and did some booking, unloading more than I came home with (which is, in fact, the idea) and I was able to find Clotheslines, a nice Harry Abrams produced HB with DJ, fine first edition, edited by Stan Tymorek. It's a collection of poetry & art dealing with the subject of clothing. Very good indeed.

Then on the CBS Sunday Morning program, they had a piece about books in the city of Paris and spoke with John Baxter who is, among other things, author of A Pound of Paper. I really like this book and the writing style of Mr. Baxter. I looked for the piece online and it isn't anywhere, yet. The reporter, stationed in Paris, was discussing the nature of the printed word in the city of lights and featured a gentleman who is more than a bit of a bibliomaniac. His apartment in Paris was floor to ceiling books, I can't imagine he is lucky with the ladies - there wouldn't be room for them in his apartment.

The piece also showed a book scout in action in Paris and mentioned the number of used book experts who have shops in Paris, I am thinking of moving to Paris (okay, maybe just visit)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

catching up with myself

My wife and I went to Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia right after Christmas 2008. We did so to gather up our chapbooks from their shelves as they are closing as a bookstore after 73 years and also to see what treasures we might find lingering as the bookstore winds down and discounts deepen along the way. My wife, Katy, found "a thin sliver of nothing" as I call them, a tiny chapbook, actually a booklet (all of 4 pages). It had been in the basement (catacombs) of Robins since the late 1970's. "Playing the Game" was printed at Moore College in Philadelphia back in 1976. It was a single poet by John De Witt and was designed by Keith Newhouse. The publisher is listed as Cold Chair Books.

As it happened, I decided to write about this booklet on one of my other blogs, chap*books, and before doing so I wanted to do a bit of research on this "thin sliver". I asked around and discovered that John De Witt could be teaching at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which I checked and can confirm, and that De Witt had been working with a Bill Walton (not the basketball player) at Moore College as Cold Chair Books. De Witt listed the handful of chapbooks that Cold Chair had produced including a chapbook that I discovered on a bookshelf at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Alexandra Grilikhes' City Poems. I must say that I was tempted to steal the chapbook. I was a good citizen though and returned it before it's due date.

Among the other treasures we found that day were a Git Ott chapbook, a piece of short fiction published by Meridian Writers Coop, a story by Francis Davis who has gone on to write several books on jazz, as well as chapbooks that may not have seen the light of day in 3 decades. Bookstores can be large Xs on the treasure map of discovery for book collectors, and scouts (of course). Bookstores have their basements the way old movie theaters had their vaults, their secret films - their own unknown treasures. So, maybe there is an upside to Robins ending it's long run as a functioning bookstore in Philadelphia. The material in their basement will bubble up to the surface again.

At the same time, I feel for Larry Robin who had to make the painful decision to change course and bring things to closure. I worked with Larry earlier this decade and I know the struggles he endured to keep his independent bookstore afloat in a city where the corporate bookstores had muscled their way in. In the end, it was Amazon and online booksellers that did him in. A cautionary tale for the times.