Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thrilling Tales! The Schedule

Thrilling Tales! David Wright: Not to Be Missed

In the course of our October reading series, Creepy Tales!, we had one rather special evening, made so by the participation of a visitor from that other backwater of bookish souls, the public library. He was wonderful, as I knew he would be. I confess, I'd never actually seen him read before. I knew his reputation, and I've listened to him on the radio many times. I was thrilled when he consented to read for us. We had a Bradbury story from him, perfect for the occasion, read by a man who really knows how to do this sort of thing, and does it all the time. Made me want more.

There is a slight problem though, entirely to do with me, nothing to do with him.

He's a librarian. This means that he does most of his reading aloud at the public library. I hate public libraries.

Now, some of my best friends are librarians. I'm obliged to say that because my personal dislike of the institution is well established, and my experience of public libraries nearly all bad. I always vote "yes" for funding, on principle, and I regularly encourage customers to go to the library when the bookstore in which I work is unable to meet their needs. Hell, I've even urged bright young people to consider pursuing degrees in what is called -- for reasons that can never adequately be explained to me -- "library science." There are so many reasons to support our public libraries that I need hardly review them here. Libraries are great. Public libraries are necessary to a healthy democracy. Librarians, at least the ones I know, are all marvelous individuals; dedicated professionals, champions of literature and literacy, devoted public servants.

The library our guest-reader works and reads in is an architectural jewel, one of the beauty spots in Seattle. Honestly, it is a pleasure just to walk around inside that building. I've insisted that visitors here go check it out. If you're ever in Seattle, or if you live here and have never been, you owe it to yourself to go. You won't be disappointed.

As for me, I can't think of a reason I would ever go there again, unless it was to hear David Wright read aloud. That's the problem.

The Seattle Public Library system is a national model. Their website is a marvelous thing; well made, accessible, cross-referenced to a fair-thee-well. Use it all the time. Check it out. I've met and liked at least a dozen people that work at the library, and I wasn't just making a joke when I described not a few as being friends. True, my local branch library is an empty shell of a thing and just too sad to think about let alone ever visit again, but the inter-library-loan system in Seattle is excellent, as I understand it, and any number of my coworkers are regular patrons of their closest branches, as well as the central library, and have nothing but praise to sing for the institution. (I know people who work in bookstores all over the city who read most, if not all of their books, by preference, from the library. I know even more people, mostly with small children, but by no means all, who wouldn't have seen a movie in years if it weren't for the DVD selection available from the library.)

If then there is anything bad to say about the Seattle Public Library, I'm hardly the person with any right to say it. I don't go there. Just can't.

For me, as a used bookseller and a bibliophile, there are few things sadder and less appealing than an ex-library book. I own a few myself, discarded years ago from obscure institutions in remote places, books so neglected by readers for so long as to be hardly library books at all; perhaps a discreet, and rather charming old pocket and card -- nearly blank with disinterest -- a stamp or two inside, perhaps a hand-painted code discreetly, even elegantly numbered on the spine. Most former library books are such broken, battered, tatty old things as to make a book-collector cringe, if not weep. Most books with library markings that come across the Used Books buying desk go straight back into the box from which they came. Unsaleable wrecks. Even seeing certain books on a public library shelf can still break my heart. I can still remember, years ago, being in a public library -- a gorgeous place by the way, built with real money and taste, on beautifully maintained and expansive grounds in Southern California -- and coming across not one, but a dozen first British editions of Iris Murdoch, still in their original dustjackets. At the time, I was still busily reading my way through Murdoch for the first time, and as there were at least three of the titles in the library that I'd yet to find used, anywhere, in any edition or printing, at a price I could afford, I determined to borrow at least one from the library to read. It was Murdoch's second novel, The Flight from the Enchanter, 1956. The book looked like hell: stickers and bar-codes and stamps, inside and out, and no record of anyone having checked it out in a decade or more when I took it from the shelf. Still, I very much wanted to read that novel. Ten pages in -- half a page covered in ink underlining. Even this didn't completely discourage me. The three missing pages further in? That did it.


That's the kind of thing that drove me from public libraries forever. That, and finding only three hideous copies of the same Austen title on the shelf at one local branch, not my own, mind, already maligned here, and nothing else. Or seeing the collected works of Maeve Binchy, in hardcover in another area library that boasted only two novels by Charles Dickens on the shelf. What else? Well, seeing a private library of exquisite nineteenth and early twentieth century art and music books dumped out with the trash on a loading dock of a public library. I had encouraged the lovely old lady who owned these to donate to them to that same library, just down the road from a bookstore where I was working at the time. While these books were not necessarily valuable books from a commercial standpoint, they were certainly of historical interest, and fabulously, privately bound, and in astonishingly great condition. If nothing else, I'd told the owner, they could go into a library book sale and find new readers to appreciate them. The owner stopped back in at the bookstore on her way home, beaming, to tell me she had handed the books personally to someone at the desk in the library, and they'd seemed quite pleased. (I road a bike to work in those days, so it took me three trips back and forth to rescue the books that weren't already ruined by coffee grounds, etc. These I eventually gave to a coworker, astonished at her good luck.)

I won't even mention all the fine bindings I've seen defaced on public library shelves, the rare books discarded, the inaccessible stacks, the shocking taste, the space wasted on gimcracks and conference rooms and junk...

Obviously, I am not meant for public libraries. I'm fine with that. I'm sure the nation's libraries, should they ever have reason to notice my absence, would be fine with it too. I can't bear to go into the joints anymore? Well, right back at ya, bub, no doubt. Who needs some chubby aesthete swanning through the stacks, moaning, and bitching sotto voce at the computer terminal because the only copy in the system of Augustine Birrell's second series of Obiter Dicta is marked "lost"? I don't want to be that public crank. Lord knows, the public library doesn't need another muttering up the place.

It's better so.

I have my own copies of Birrell now.

So now I'm in a fix. I want more of David Wright. In his reading series for the Seattle Public Library, Thrilling Tales, There are so many things I'd love to hear him read; old familiars, and things I know not at all, which is almost more exciting. It isn't just the selections on offer though, but the possibility of hearing this reader read again that tempts and torments me now. This guy is the man. He really is.

David has offered a brilliant explanation of reading aloud to grown-ups. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in giving reading aloud a try, in public, or even just for family and friends. He knows whereof he speaks, people.

More than that though, listening to him is a pure pleasure. I feel an idiot for not having been to hear him at the library before now. If you have the opportunity, you should. Trust me.

As for me and my ridiculous phobias and crochets, pay me no mind. Honestly, ignore all this. I only bring my problem with public libraries up again as an excuse, and because I owe Mr. Wright an apology for never having been to see him in his crib, specially after he was so generous with his time and talent in coming to ours. I hope he can forgive me.

I'll have to just try to be adult about all this nonsense. Just put my head down some fine Fall Monday, and just go.

I haven't been inside the Seattle Central Library for years now, I'm ashamed to say, and I've never been in the Microsoft Auditorium where David reads. I bet I could just walk right in and never even see a book until David takes one out to read from.

I can do this.

Daily Dose

From Mademoiselle de Maupin: A Romance of Love and Passion, by Théophile Gautier


"To think one thing and write another happens every day, especially in the case of virtuous people."

From the Preface

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Letters to Dead Authors, by Andrew Lang


"Yours, Sir, in the best sense of the word is a popular success, a popular reputation. For example, I know that, in a remote and even Pictish part of this kingdom, a rural household, humble and under the shadow of sorrow inevitably approaching, has found in David Copperfield oblivion of winter, of sorrow, and of sickness."

From To Charles Dickens

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dangerous Reading

An anthology is a dangerous thing, for the insatiable reader. That's what I like to think I am; greedy rather than just self-indulgent or incapable of deeper study. I read so widely as I do then not because I can not concentrate long enough to finish half of what I start, but because I can not wait until I've finished the books I've started before picking up first one other, then another, and another, for fear I suppose of not having time -- or patience -- to read all that I would. Johnson of course offers me many a defense for this, but just here let me say only that I read nowadays mostly according to my "immediate inclination," and I am content to do just that. As for reading every book through, Johnson again:

"This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?"

And there's the end of it.

Anthologies then offer a reader such as myself a perfect excuse, not only to read only those pieces of particular appeal, but to read from the selection to other books. Now, if the anthology is an old one, as most of mine are, then this can take some doing. Reading an anthology dated 1909 of the great English essayists, I am prepared to say that there will be few surprises that can not be met with further reading from my own shelves. One of the chief pleasures of such a little book comes in meeting old friends. Even here though, there can be something unfamiliar. In the best such books, there is always the chance of the editor having picked something unfamiliar from even the most well-trodden ground. There are also authors in any such collection one will not have read, unless one is a scholar as I am not, and reading even one such unknown with any enjoyment may inspire a whole new horizon of possibilities. There are always authors one has read more references to than read. I may or may not ever take up Richard Baxter, 1615 - 1691, based on his contribution here of "The Saints' Rest." I should think Baxter just the kind of fellow so beloved of my own dear old Charles Lamb, but neither Lamb nor this selection will have persuaded me yet to hunt up more of the man than this one pretty thing I've now read. Might do, someday. More than this though, there is always the chance of reading someone heretofore unknown, but of such an immediate sympathy as to inspire quick action.

Elsewhere I recently read something quite charming by Andrew Lang, an author otherwise known to me, as to most people I should think nowadays, only as the maker of the "Coloured" Fairy Books: the twelve volumes, never out of print, from The Blue Fairy Book to the Violet, Lilac, et al. A collector of folk tales and fables, from his native Scotland and elsewhere, Andrew Lang was actually much more than this of course. A poet as well as an anthropologist, a novelist and critic, Lang, more to my taste, was also a charming occasional essayist. His essay on Dumas, an excellent thing, made me want more. When I read that Lang had a whole little book titled Letters to Dead Authors -- a variation on the letter essay that was once a mildly popular form, practiced among others by Maurice Hewlett and, after his fashion, by Landor, among others -- I was interested enough to have this and the other volume of Lang's essays printed up for me on the bookstore's EBM, Homer. Writing to dead authors as English as Dickens and Austen, as well as more ancient writers, allowed Lang to rather sweetly imitate the style appropriate to each. Not perhaps always a happy thing, but I am glad I got it. (The Dumas essay, in Lang's Essays in Little, I can recommend as one of the best and brightest things I've ever read on the great novelist.)

From the old anthology I've mentioned, I found not Lang, but another Victorian gent of letters, completely unknown to me, author of a selection titled "My Copy of Keats." This being a charming defense of a much read and hence much the worse for wear old book, I warmed to the writer and his subject immediately. Even at the time of the anthology's publication, the editors could describe Richard Dowling as "neglected." I could find next to nothing about him, even on the Internet. When I turned to the bookstore's EBM, however, I was delighted to find both his Indolent Essays and Ignorant Essays, in which his piece on Keats may be found, and had both printed immediately, at only eight bucks apiece!

(This is what I always tell myself, when spending money I don't have on books I don't need. Best not to examine such things too closely, I find.)

My one regret resulting from this latest flurry of reprints being that another of Dowling's books was not available. Alas. The title is just so good, On Babies and Ladders, that I'm pretty sure I will have to someday own that one as well. So the search is on.

All of this is just idle entertainment, of course, and perhaps not the best use of my time, but who better to judge that than me?

"One of the amusements of idleness is reading without the fatigue of close attention; and the world therefore swarms with writers whose wish is not to be studied, but to be read."

-- Johnson again, naturally. Impossible not bring him back into something like this. Try.

You see the danger, don't you? I certainly don't lack for books to read already, and good ones too. With at least three new books I'd already been excited to finally see just started and on my nightstand, and a pile still to be read for my committee work, the last thing I needed to catch my eye was something called The Great English Essayists, yet how could it not, given my taste and habits? Picking that up in preference to the others and taking it to lunch just the one day and home that night, I now have at least four other books, printed up just for me, and no one to blame but myself if the whole pile should fall on my head some night soon and crush me to death in my sleep.

Books can be dangerous in more ways than one, you know.

Daily Dose

From Ignorant Essays, by Richard Dowling


"We have a few poets who are continually trying to find out who or what the deuce they are, and what they meant by being born, and so on; but then these men are for the eclectic, and not the herd of sensible people."

From Decay of the Sublime

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Twain Project

Well now, here it is at last. Part of it, anyway, the first part of three. The official hoopla started a couple of months ago, with magazine covers and the like, but for those of us in the book business, this thing has been coming on for a very long time indeed. Looks like it won't be complete anytime soon, either.

We decided to mark the occasion, both of the centenary of the death of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and the publication of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One, with a reading. Come November 16th, a couple of the usual suspects and myself will be reading from The Diaries of Adam and Eve: Translated by Mark Twain, as well as other material, some of it from this new book. Should be a grand affair, on a modest scale, but just grand, none the less.

I only saw the new book for the first time at the PNBA convention in Portland, earlier this month. I'd anticipated something very like the book as is: big, impressively, not to say exhaustively annotated, well made, if almost impossibly clumsy to handle. At 10.3 x 7.4 x 2.6 inches, and weighing in at four pounds, the thing looks and feels like the kind of scholarly job typical of both the University of California Press, and The Mark Twain Project, admirable academic institutions, the pair of 'em. By such lights, this volume must represent not only years, if not decades of painstaking scholarship, by many hands, but also something of an editorial triumph, getting the thing down to just this first massive volume. One shudders to think what the eventual set of three will require by way of careful engineering, just to move it all from shelf to desk without aid of pulleys, levers and hired labor. Nonetheless, the price, at only $34.95, comes as a pleasant shock.

I was determined to read the thing without actually buying a copy, and failing that, without lugging the thing around for more than a day or two, but that resolution has already collapsed. I could justify the purchase by again mentioning the quite reasonable price, and the need to read up in preparation for our November event, but truth be told, I must always have known that I would sooner rather than later feel the need to own a copy. If the format has proved to be everything I dread in academic publishing, the book, once complete, promises still to be everything that Twain intended. The versions I've read already suffered mightily from fussing; first by Twain's family, then his estate, and his posthumous editors, etc., all of whom were really only following something like the author's own instructions, one way and another. It was, after all, Twain himself who instructed that the book be put in a drawer and kept there for one hundred years after his death. Still feel sure this book will prove to be worth the wait, if not the weight.

Those who've worked up the present edition have every reason to be proud of the restoration they've done. Considering both the state in which the editors found the original material, and what has been made of it heretofore, they've done a remarkable job. Such a reconstruction no doubt requires explanation, textual support and the like, and believe me, it's all here. In other words, the whole intellectual apparatus that, in this first volume at least, represents a full two thirds of the actual book, is necessary, and even has a certain fascination of it's own. This edition, clearly, is a story unto itself. Now if, as Twain famously advised a young writer, " Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph" then this book may well represent the limitations of academic style as well as the best of contemporary critical understanding of the subject. There is no way to avoid the obvious drawbacks of unwrapping all this matter just to get at the Twain in the middle. This is not a genial publication. My hope had been that the editors might follow the example of Michael Holroyd's multi volume biography of G. B. Shaw, and put all the additional matter; notes and abstracts, and bibliographic materials and the rest, into a separate and concluding volume, and thus allow for readers to trust them unless and until moved by curiosity or necessity to consult that separate volume. (As a bookseller, I can vouch for a high percentage of the readers of Holroyd's masterly biography having purchased that last volume, even if it was never much read thereafter, except as it was meant to be, as a key to what came before. I used it just that way myself.) Had the editors of the Twain done such a thing, they might also have spared all of us the need to carry seven hundred odd pages around in order to read just the two hundred and fifty or so actually written by Twain. My hope now is that the editors of Twain, presumably after the third and final volume is printed, will someday offer the full text of the autobiography in an edition abridged of much if not most of the surrounding stuff, the idea being to allow for readers less interested in reading around and into the book and more interested in just reading the damned thing itself.

But until that does or does not happen, we have the book we get. Bellyaching aside, I am most glad to have it. If I can't bring myself to carry it in my bag each day, I've already found that it will not take me more than a day or two to read what I most want of it right here in my own house, where I can trust the table on which I've propped it. And yes, I'm already reading into some of the accompanying matter. Just tonight, I've been reading nothing but. I feel a bit like the baby who ignores the present to play with the box and the tissue it came in. Still, I think I might choose to prolong this much anticipated experience even if all I had was the autobiography itself. I've already had recourse, twice, since starting this book, to the edition of Twain's letters I already own.

My only real impatience at this point is with the sluggardly publication schedule for the rest of this project. I'm sure, by academic standards, the next two volumes are just racing to the bookstores. As a reader though, the idea that I won't see this thing through for years yet is maddening. I should, I suppose, be grateful for what I've got, and I am, truly.

I just wish I had more... and less, of course.

Daily Dose

From Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith


"In my early manhood, and in middle-life, I used to vex myself with reforms, every now and then. And I never had occasion to regret these divergencies, for whether the resulting deprivations were long or short, the rewarding pleasure which I got out of the vice when I returned to it, always paid me for all that it cost."

From Tuesday, February 13, 1906.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Doodles from a Signing Line

I love a crowd that doesn't move for a good long while. So many great faces, interesting looks, hairdos. Politicians draw some of the most fascinating people. Wanna know how I would know that the good people in this line were likely Democrats, even if I hadn't known who the man was they were all waiting for? Republicans might bring in as many fabulous hairdos, but not so many T-shirts. Gotta love democracy.

Daily Dose

From The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith


"He was the loveliest creature in the world -- except his aged sister, who was just like him."

From Monday, February 5, 1906, Page 330

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

“My hat and wig will soon be here, / They are upon the road.”

It can be a dangerous thing, wishing. Literature since Aladdin tells us so, and yet we do it anyway. And even when our wishes are granted, we may not be worthy of them. I've had one fall on my head just now, and I blush to think what it cost, though it has made me very happy.

Shameless baggage that I am.

One of the byproducts of the bookstore's Espresso Book Machine are the "trims" that get cut off to make each book comport with the size requirements of the text and original design. Most of the little 19th Century books I've had printed, for example, would be made quite ridiculous if simply printed on the large uniform stock used for both pages and covers. The text would look like postage stamps on such big sheets, and all the charm of a small book would be lost if left the size of an annual agricultural report. It is actually my favorite part of the process: watching the mechanical armature manipulate the all-but-finished book into the proper alignment, at which point the heavy blade is slowly deployed to prune the edge. There's a lovely, tearing thunk with each cut. Always three, obviously. The book is turned ever so gracefully for each successive clipping. After the last, the book is turned one last time and dropped down the shoot, a finished article. Each cut produces a blank, fully bound, paper-pad -- narrow or wide, short or long --which then drops into a plastic bin bellow. These "trims" are eventually collected up and left out in a decorative bucket, at least in the bookstore where I work, for any that might find a use for them, like so much butcher's offal, or kindling, more like.

These things make wonderful flip-books, among other obvious uses like scratch-pads and the like.

A coworker of mine, with an eye for otherwise unanticipated fascination, has taken to folding the pages of these things into ever more elaborate shapes and variations. Everyone might have seen old coverless books put to similar use: the pages folded into the spine in alternating patters until the whole is made to resemble a complete column or ornaments of various patterns and sizes: some like old fashioned tops, or crude spheres, lightless Japanese lanterns or old fashioned Christmas trees.

Well, what this amazing young woman I work with has done with these "trims" surpasses anything one is likely to have seen done with bound paper before. Simple or complex, large and small, she has made so many intricate forms as to stagger lesser imaginations like mine. There's a marvelous mobile hanging now in the Mail Order Office that she made of these previously unseen flowers and stars and zygotes and looping, twisting wonders. Great Ziggurats has she built, and bouquets and silos. Whole cities in miniature, of the most unlikely and startling impracticality, and beauty, might be constructed from the products of her busy fingers. And all this, just to pass the time, while waiting for customers at the Information Desk!

Off-handedly one day, having more than once held one of her dainties behind an ear like a Camellia, or set it at a rakish angle atop my big bald head, I pointed out how like a great wig these curls might look massed. We giggled and fantasized elaborate variations and she said she'd make us both proper, paper wigs, come Halloween. She meant it, at least for me. She sent away to her mother for real old wigs, and clipped them down to the netting. She showed me one and had me try it on. Comfortable enough, if not specially flattering. I was excited, but could not imagine she would ever go through with such a project, specially as she is now a dame enceinte, doubtless with much, and more important matters on her mind.

Wonder of wonders! Here you see the evidence of my wish granted! Inspired not only by the great wigs of those English Whigs we first discussed, but also, at my instigation, by the glorious and bizarre headdress affected by Elizabeth Taylor in the otherwise painfully unmemorable movie "Boom!", this artisan of the wastepaper-basket, this recycler of apparelled refinement, this craftswoman and sculptor, has added wigmaker to her accomplishments! And for me!!!

Look at it. It is a marvel, is it not? Beautiful. Amazing. Mine.

"I'll never do it again... for free." was her quite sensible comment on the whole undertaking. Quite right, too. I will have to find some means to thank her. No idea how to approach expressing my astonishment and gratitude in any real terms. Imagine the hours, the care, the skill involved. I stand before the thing in awe.

Perhaps the best present I've ever had from a lady's hand.

Now on me of course, the effect is more Pasha than posh, more dolt than dandy, but I will do my best to carry the thing off in something like style. (It's quite airy and light on the head, by the way, another wonder.) Meanwhile, all I can do is gaze at it blissfully and wonder no one thought of this before.

When I was parading around the store with it on, I made a point of stopping by the office of our Executive Supremo. "See," I said, "we waste nothing in the bookstore."

(Except perhaps talent.)

Bless you, dear friend, for my present. I'm ashamed now that I let you. It is too marvelous. I wish I was worthy of so magnificent a wig. I shall have to read Dryden to you when I put it on.

Daily Dose

From Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse


"The magazine I'd been leafing through had had a photograph of Sal Mineo in it. Which reminded me of the night I'd gone to see Rebel Without a Cause a few years back... and come home unable to think about anything except wanting to hold James Dean's dark-eyed friend in my arms and comfort him."

From Chapter 13

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Dread and Delight: A Century of Children's Ghost Stories, edited by Philippa Pearce


"Johnny's trouble was a very odd one, and for some time his relations didn't think much about it. It began by his telling long stories about where he had been and what he had seen, all the most wonderful things that he hadn't seen and couldn't have seen."

From Arthur Machen's Johnny Double

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dogged Devotion

As we wind down the month of Creepy Tales! readings, and begin to prepare for our November reading of Twain, dear P. and I are already thinking ahead. These October readings have been, by any estimation, a great experience. I got to read two Saki favorites that went over pretty well, and a story from the very talented work husband, that I hope was a surprise. (He and his charming boyfriend -- who was in on the secret -- seemed pleased, as did the audience. Good story.) My co-conspiritor and regular reading partner, P., read the hilarious Hell out of her ghost story, to the delight of everyone present. Got to listen to a story read expertly by Seattle Public Library's own David Wright, as our Very Special Guest Star. And our half dozen or more first-time-readers have all been uniformly great, as have been our small but loyal audiences. One more evening of Creep Tales! yet to go, and no reason not to think we will be ending things on a high note. It's been a scream, beginning to end. Safe to say, we want more.

Getting some of our fellow booksellers up and on their feet and reading aloud has been, for me, the best part of the whole experience. I've witnessed a few rehearsal readings, been surprised by others the-night-of, and been genuinely impressed by the selection and quality of the readings and eagerness of the readers throughout. Takes a lot of work to do this sort of thing well. Everyone involved has spent a great deal of their own time, energy and talent on reading, editing and performing these stories. I would be willing to bet that everyone who read enjoyed the experience. I know our audiences have. They've said so, and listening to everyone else read, I know I have. So it has been an admirable experiment in expanding and extending an opportunity that comes all too infrequently to the lovers of books; to hear and read our literature aloud, together, for just the pure pleasure of the thing. More people need to experience this.

Dear P. and I had been chattering about this between ourselves for quite a time before we finally undertook this series of supernatural stories for Halloween. We are both ol' hams, you see, and know just what fun it can be, reading aloud for an audience of family and friends, and yes, even a stranger or two. After we'd done a couple of these readings together, we were determined to do more, and we will. More than that though, the idea of opening up this business to others, to our coworkers specifically, seemed a natural extension of something we've both come to see as one of the most satisfying experiences available to us as booksellers. It may seem an unlikely avenue, but I'm convinced that the staffs of independent bookstores are full of book lovers who may never have considered expressing their enthusiasm, specially for the classics, in just this way. (Ask.) After all, almost every independent bookstore, of whatever size, features someone on staff doing this sort of thing regularly, for children's books. Accepted practice, and one of the remaining charms of independent stores. But we've lost the tradition though of reading aloud to our contemporaries, to our families and friends, to our neighbors and our customers of whatever age, of reading more complex and even difficult literature aloud. That's a damned shame. So much of our heritage in books is and ought to be shared, and one of the best ways to communicate what is best in our books is to read them aloud, in whole or in part, in poetry and prose, to anyone who will listen. Sometimes a secret power in story, in words, is only released when we loose them from the page; the community of readers needs the opportunity to experience this again, as adults, in community, and booksellers and librarians have a unique set of skills to bring to this kind of event; we know these books, and love them, as much or more than anyone in the world. Consider: using just such readings as a regular feature of their schedules, with a minimum of training and expense, independent bookstores present a unique opportunity to reach out to readers, to our customers and our communities, in celebration of the very best of what we love. Not an original idea, certainly, reading aloud -- actually, it is in it's way perhaps among the oldest of shared human artistic experiences -- but one my own experience at the bookstore where I work, and elsewhere, has convinced me is well worth taking up again. What have we got to lose?

Just when I was beginning to wonder what might be next, after Twain, and after my annual Christmas readings, Everyman's Library, bless 'em, may well have provided us with a perfect opportunity for another go. I've written here before about my enthusiasm for their recent series of short story anthologies, published for a very affordable price, in handsomely designed uniform editions, in small Pocket Classics format. My favorites in the series have all been edited by the remarkably astute and often surprising Diana Secker Tesdell, and now she's added another to the series, Dog Stories.

Who doesn't love dogs?

Now, dear P., herself the owner of two rather hilariously individual cats, though no enemy of the canine, protested before I could so much as get the suggestion out that we ought not to limit ourselves to reading stories only to do with dogs. "Animal stories," she suggested might allow for a more inclusive reading. I balked, not to say barked, at that. We certainly should give our feline friends their due, and I think an evening of cat stories would work just as well. Certainly, there would be no shortage of material. However, to date, Ms. Secker Tesdell has yet to produce such a volume, and in deference to the widely held suspicion of cats among the dogs of my acquaintance, I think we would do well to take up these tales, not so much in order of preference, as in turn. Dogs, I think, first, as we've been provided with a perfect excuse, and then cats. Nothing against the cats, you understand, nothing personal certainly. I've known both. I own neither presently, and so may safely express myself neutral in any debate.

I do trust to Ms. Secker Tesdell. Already I've read Bret Harte's and O. Henry's respective yellow dogs and think either might be great fun to read aloud. Thurber and Twain and Lethem are all here likewise well represented. As it stands right now, I think I should best enjoy reading either the Wodehouse selection, or more surprisingly, the perfect Rudyard Kipling story, "Garm." Excellent piece aloud, I'd bet. Anyway, there are lots of grand things from which to choose. Not like we don't have time to work all this out. When and what, after all, are all up to us.

It occurs to me that we might also incoperate some selections from the Pocket Poets volume, Doggerel from the same source as well.

We shall have to see about the cats. (I might do Saki's "Tobermory," after all, mightn't I?)

Meanwhile, I believe we may well have started something good for the bookstore, the booksellers, and the books, with all these readings. I hope we have the opportunity to keep going. I see the chance of something. Hope we don't lose it.

Daily Dose

From Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works


[Giving her a dead child's body] Here, take this unbaptised brat.
Boil it well, preserve the fat:
You know 'tis precious to transfer
Our 'nointed flesh into the air
In moonlight nights [o'er] steeple tops,
Mountains and pine trees, that like pricks or stops
Seem to our height; high towers and roofs of princes
Like wrinkles in the earth: whole provinces
Appear to our sight then ev'n leek
A russet mole upon some lady's cheek.
When hundred leagues in air, we feast, and sing.
Dance, kiss, and coll, use everything.
What young man can we wish to pleasure us
But we enjoy him in an incubus?

From The Witch, Act I., Scene ii., [Hecate's Cave]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nights Are Long

As Noel Coward's Amanda famously said, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is."

I've had the house entirely to myself for a few days. The husband was off visiting cousins in California. About my only scheduled airing in his absence was to be Wednesday at the GLBTQ Book Club. A bit of car trouble convinced me to skip book club however and head straight to the mechanic. All I need to see is the oil-light on, and I immediately imagine myself stranded, at night, in some other neighborhood and with no one at home to call and come rescue me. (I've always rather fancied the idea of being rescued by some handsome lug sent out in a tow-truck by AAA, but my experience has proved that particular fantasy something of a disappointment.) I drove to the repair shop. Two hundred and fifty dollars later, I was home, alone. When I stepped out of the empty house just to get the mail, a disputatious neighbor decided to discuss, yet again, a tree-trimming error that has yet to be resolved. I hate such confrontations. I usually leave talking to the neighbors to dear A. When I was finally able to escape that awkward conversation, I turned to find yet another pile of mailers full of books, mostly kid's books, that I'm meant to read in the next week or so, for my committee work. I gathered up the whole mess, with the newspaper and the mail, and made my clumsy retreat inside. The house was so cold when I came in, I left my shoes on. No one home before me to turn the heat on.

Hard to imagine an evening of less promise.

Felt quite sorry for myself, just then. However, the rest of my bachelor's evening was already mapped out. I would invariably talk on the phone to dear A. at some point. We still can't manage to not, even when one or the other is far from home. (Friends and family either say they find this touching, or, if they're actually forced to listen at either end, a little sickening; we tend to be fiercely sentiment on the phone.) I did have two scheduled television shows to which I'd been looking forward, neither of which my husband would have watched with me, or enjoyed had he been forced to do so. This solitary pleasure was to be augmented with leftovers, eaten in the middle of the bed, with puddin' for dessert. Once I'd put on my nightshirt and settled in with my dinner, the giant new TV blazing away, things ought to have looked up a bit. Didn't quite happen. (Though the pudding was good. When is pudding not, I ask you?) As for my much anticipated television programs, what I thought was going to be a documentary of Piaf turned out to only be... something like a documentary, and only something like Piaf. Oh, there was documentary footage, and some charming new stuff. There was a dinner reunion of composers' widows, self-proclaimed protégé, and various elderly hangers-on. Sweet, really. And I got to see some dear queen's apartment "museum" in Paris, packed to the ceiling with posters, art and glorious flotsam like Edith's purse & compact with the last precious dust of her face-powder, carefully preserved. But really, the program was mostly the filmed performance of a tribute singer. She was admirable. She was not Piaf. Every little archival glimpse of The Sparrow just reminded me how not Piaf this woman, or really anyone other than Piaf is or will ever be. (Not that this sort of biographical tribute can't be grand. Cheered when Marion Cotillard won her Oscar. And I'll never forget Jane Lapotaire. Still one of the greatest performances I ever saw. But I was expecting Edith, at least to hear her anyway. Un désappointement terrible! )

My other show just made me sad. Not that the show was bad -- there were probably a dozen really talented performers featured -- but the evening was spoiled for me when one of the greatest musical comedy performers of a certain age performed perhaps the greatest musical comedy number ever written for ladies of a certain age, about being a certain age, and she muffed it. It wasn't a disaster. She was wonderfully game, and loud, and she got a standing ovation at the end. (At this stage of the game, she should get a standing ovation every time she shows up.) Honestly though, last night's performance was... painful. She was compensating madly throughout for lost lyrics and missed cues, missed notes. Hard to watch. When she finally came off, I didn't watch the rest of the show.

To round out the disappointing evening, and my bitching about it here, I spent the waning hours of the evening at my desk, doing drawings that, all but one, did not work. Very frustrating.

Resolved to make something better happen before bed, I thought I might just listen to a little music before bed. Piaf of course. That didn't happen either, but that was okay, honestly.

Unexpectedly, already in the record player - and yes, I'm allowed to still call it that -- was a recording of my beloved Rosemary Clooney. I hit "play." Not my favorite of her albums with Concord, "My Buddy" was a collaboration with Woody Herman & His Orchestra from 1990. Rosie was always game to take on contemporary pop or near contemporary pop, and with the right orchestration, the results can be surprisingly bright and fresh. Not so much here, with the far too familiar James Taylor tune, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," not at all well arranged for a jazz band; dated, tinkling, and tin-eared, despite Rosie's reading of the very nice lyric. Another such adaptation on this album of quite the wrong sort of material for Woody & company was the truly bizarre selection from Blood Sweat & Tears, "You Made Me So Very Happy." Again, Rosie's not bad, specially on the happy chorus, but rather the whole enterprise was just strange. There isn't enough music in the thing for the band to really play with; too much squawking brass, too little melody, and the lyrics are just beyond banal -- the rhymes would shame a composer of clerihews. Rosemary invests the thing with as much joy as she can muster, which is often considerably more than the song deserves, but I admit, I skipped this one too.

Interesting to contrast what Clooney manages to do on the same record with something almost equally trite from the Songbook. Few songs from Tin Pan Alley, few from Gus Kahn anyway, have less to recommend them than the title track, "My Buddy." Just not much there, there. I don't know that I've ever heard the Jolson recording, but I can easily imagine the maudlin drip of his rendition. I must own six or seven versions of the thing from various performers, including Sinatra. Only Rosie's sounds real to me. A man, for whom the song sounds very much to have been written, makes that phrase, "My Buddy," sound drunk, no matter how talented the singer, and I've never much cared for drinking ballads. Even young Sinatra, singing at his smoothest, sounds a bit woozy on this one, and not in a good way. Sleep it off, pal. But Clooney? There's a kind of easy joke in a woman using such a masculine endearment, a wistful little laugh in her voice, even as Clooney sings the thing with perfect sincerity. That alone lifts the tune off the bar-room floor. And then there is the special magic that Rosemary Clooney brings to just this kind of material; a seriousness, emotional and musical, that does not depend on the sophistication of the setting to convey a kind of honesty all too unlikely in a performer of her generation who had, after all, started in just such a setting as the Herman orchestra, as a self described "girl singer." By the time Rosie made this record, she'd been through pretty much everything, and her voice shows the mileage, but not in a rough way. The sound has mellowed, and yes, aged, so that her phrases aren't always as bright and big as they might have been in her first glory, but there's none of the tragedy of late Billie, or the growl of a late Carmen McRae. With Clooney, after the comeback as a contemporary jazz singer rather than just the pop star she'd once been, there's a very adult understand of how to be blunt in even a silly, sentimental song, without being indulgent. In a song like "My Buddy," Clooney is singing to somebody, and you believe her. That first night alone in the house, I thought she was singing to me.

I was wrong about that. I didn't realize it until later, but I played that song in memory of a friend of a friend. I know just the one fellow who, when he calls me "buddy," convinces me of the special favor of his friendship. My friend says, "Thanks, buddy" and I know he means it. Just a natural part of his vocabulary. Some twelve years back, when he found that the stray tomcat that kept staring in at his kitchen window intended not only to come in out of the rain, but to stay, it was understandable then that my friend should name his new companion, "Buddy." They were inseparable ever after. It was a good name for that cat.

When I'd visit my friend's apartment, I was eyed with a certain suspicion by the cat, even after he'd gotten to know and tolerate me. When my friend was quite ill a year or two back, Buddy was most solicitous, seldom leaving his lap, even when my friend slept. When I visited, and possibly stayed a little long for my friend's strength, Buddy walked across the table to me, and politely but insistently head-butted me in a not altogether friendly way, as if to tell me, "visiting hours are over." Quite right, too.

My friend did everything he could to keep that cat going, too. Finally, just this past week, my friend sat with his best friend, Buddy, for the last long hours and saw him out of this life.

Embarrassing to think how lonely and disappointed I let myself feel that same night, just because I was sitting temporarily in an otherwise empty house. It was my friend who had a right to feel bereft. Can't imagine.

I'm playing that record again tonight, this time for all the right reasons.

Here's to you, Nick, and specially to your best friend, Buddy. He'll be missed.

"your buddy misses you."

Daily Dose

From Portraits in Miniature: Essays, by Lytton Strachey


"The point of his achievement lay precisely in the extreme improbability of it."

From Gibbon

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Bookstore Doodle

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Donne: Complete Verse and Selected Prose, edited by John Hayward


"He speakes just what his bookes or last company said unto him, and without varying one whit, and very seldom understands himselfe."

From The True Character of a Dunce

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Caricature for Halloween

Daily Dose

From Letters to Dead Authors, by Andrew Lang


"Than yours there has been no greater nor more kindly and beneficent force in modern letters."

From XII, To Alexandre Dumas

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Bookstore Doodle

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Indolent Essays, by Richard Dowling


"David Hume tells us he was born with the happy disposition which makes a man look at the bright side of the picture, and that he accounts such a disposition better than a fortune of 'ten thousand pound.' If he means the first ten thousand pounds -- the ten thousand pounds between him and struggle, penury, the workhouse -- I do not know that I agree with him."

From The Minimum Fortune

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Emily Dickinson Poem

Daily Dose

From Ignorant Essays, by Richard Dowling


"This paragraph is assuming the aspect of a riddle. Being in a mild and passionless way a lover of my species, I am a loather of riddles."

From The Best Two Books

Monday, October 18, 2010

Robert Graves Poem

Daily Dose

From Essays in Little, by Andrew Lang


"Alexandre Dumas is a writer, and his life is a topic, of which his devotees never weary."

From Alexandre Dumas

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Role Models, by John Waters

"I love to read about anger. A 'feel bad' book always makes me feel good. And no other novel in the history of literature is more depressing than Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children."

From Bookworm

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Phantom Wooer: A Poem for Halloween

A first, thin slice of ham, for Halloween.

Daily Dose

From The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe


"Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Gala Night

Holidays provide a marvelous excuse for this sort of thing. Mark your calendars. Even something as fundamentally silly as Halloween can be put to use in just this way; a comfortable chair, a strong light in an otherwise dark room, and a book of poetry or two, and I can justify reading right out loud poem after poem, about death, for instance. Now, I know that death isn't quite the word usually paired with holiday, but come October and the furnace kicks on and the nights get long, what could be more appropriate than a deathless line -- or twenty -- on the one end to which everything comes? What could be more deliciously indulgent, less adult, better fun?

When I was a boy of nine, I dearly loved mumbling my way through Poe; imaging a raven just above my bedroom door, a ghost rising to rattle the sash at the window, until I had to sneak down the stairs and reassure myself there were still real people down there, just watching the television, or dozing on the sofa, but very much alive, everyday and quite real. In imitation of Vincent Price, I might recite a bit of "The Conqueror Worm" as I walked home alone along the dark and light-less road from the Grange, knowing I'd run the last stretch across the moonlit grass, to the safe circle of porch-light I could see through the trees. If the moon was slight and the wind was loud in the brush and the frost made the path crackle underfoot, the poem might come, faster and faster, in nervous little puffs, but by the time I ran, I would already know safety just ahead of me and then giggle at at my escape.

There's not an occasion for which there may not be a line of poetry with which to mark it. I wish that I had the kind of mind and memory that could call up what I've read, as needed. I've known people with that power. I'll always envy them. But as Lamb says, "... I cannot sit and think. Books think for me." Another, the best reason to have books of one's own, always to hand, if but for a bit of hunting, is to pull out something better minds might know. Halloween rises and I want the company of ghosts? Here they are. Some tempting wraith from Thomas Lovell Beddoes, a brief conversation between the dead, as overheard by Emily Dickinson, anything that whispers of the grave, I've only to look among the tombstones on my shelves, and open a book to release the very things. I've only to turn the lights a little lower and say the lines aloud to fill my otherwise cheerful study with a chill and make a shadowy gloom, appropriate for disembodied voices, a haunt for sighs and spooks and settlings that might happily unsettle a hour -- before I set the lights blazing the whole way to bed and the comforting sound of a snoring husband, already abed.

How many forgetful sentimentalists have lamented down the years the loss of childhood and innocence, of things felt intensely and then abandoned as a child might? It's nonsense. Childhood is in us. Innocence is as simple as opening a book. It's the quiet we forget. If I open a book of Bradbury's stories and the house is silent around me and the chair is snug, and the blanket warm and the light just bright enough to read, where am I if not the very place I would remember? Who am I by the second page if not the boy I was when I first read of the monster that answered the lighthouse? It's the quiet, and the dark, that makes the world small enough that we might fit in it just as we did, occupy the same narrow space, forget our present selves; so loud and bulky and constantly aware of every external to a story.

And if I read a poem by Poe tonight, and do it in the all but dark? Read it out loud and let my voice hiss in a whisper and growl and moan with just that same abandon I indulged at nine, without any attempt at being fine, or thought to my supposed dignity -- that posture adopted for fear of sounding as silly and giddy as I know I must or fear I might should there be anyone hear me? What child of nine doesn't trust his dignity to survive any freak that he might feel the sudden need of? Who doesn't occasionally shriek for no better reason that to be scared first? Imagine bones rattling in a box of matches? Die a thousand hideous deaths for the sheer joy of dying bravely, or badly, and really not at all, as there might still be half a sandwich somewhere in the refrigerator? If I can't imagine murder, then I'm very old indeed. If I can't open a book and let ghosts fly out, I must be too near to being dead to bother. So, Poe it is. And aloud. And now, with just the one lamp, and not anyone the wiser, save you of course, whoever you might happen to be. Where am I, if not exactly where I want to be, with a cold night tonight to read in, and Halloween coming?

"Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres... "

Daily Dose

From The Poems of Thomas Lovell Beddoes


"If there were dreams to sell,
Merry and sad to tell,
And the crier rang the bell,
What would you buy?"

From Dream-Pedlary

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Bookstore Doodle

And another.

A Bookstore Doodle

One of Tucker's fans.

Daily Dose

From Confessions of a Young Man, by George Moore


"A young man in a house full of women must be almost supernaturally unpleasant if he does not occupy a great deal of their attention."

From Chapter XII

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Caricature

The thing about popular frat boys? Dissipation isn't all that funny in, say, another fifteen years. Good luck with that, Tuck.