Monday, April 30, 2012

Backpack Doodle

Backpack Doodle

Daily Dose

From Wise Words & Quaint Counsels of Thomas Fuller, selected and arranged by Augustus Jessopp


"Those enterprises need a strong hand, which are thrown against the bias of people's hearts and consciences."

From Holy State, B. iv. C. xiv.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Wise Words & Quaint Counsels of Thomas Fuller, selected and arranged by Augustus Jessopp


"A pin is a blind needle, a needle a pin with an eye."

From Worthies; London, Manufactures.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gothic Clerihew


If Gothic's the dish for you,
Then, let Sheridan Le Fanu,
Serve the
Green Tea.

Quick Review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is beautiful edition: gracefully printed and with charming line illustrations from Marsh.

Rereading the novel for the first time in years, I was startled by the ruthless cool; twelve children by six different men, poverty, rape, incest, exile, and throughout, an almost hypnotic sangfroid, even as Moll says all the expected things about sin and suffering and Hell. I remember as a younger man finding the distance between the tone and the events off-putting, now I think it what makes the book so satisfying for the modern reader; Moll as Brechtian narrator, feminist ironist, or whatever critical construct you like. For me, the experience was, this time, just beer and skittles, and most interestingly, quite moving.

Bless Moll and the memory of good Daniel Defoe!

Quick Review

I'm done. I only undertook this because my favorite critic, Michael Dirda, insisted Vance is the great "stylist" of this genre. Oh. I suppose this pastiche of equal parts Malory, theosophy & Moonbeam McSwine might add up to something baroque and exotic -- if one were to never wander too far from the shelf off of which it came. But, how anybody over the age of ten, with a library-card and any curiosity, could find this glutenous, lumpy mess anything but indigestible is a mystery to me.

I still trust Michael Dirda in most things, but here I can not go.

Quick Review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Just about my favorite kind of good, ghost-written, celebrity slickeroo: chuck full o' anecdotes, many a clearly cleaned-up joke, and a much more professional narrative than any the Last of the Red Hot Mamas must ever have lived, but no less satisfying a light little read for all that. An entertainment, rather than any kind of real, Rousseauian confession, this little book is very much of it's more decorous day, which is a little ironic, considering much of whatever lingering fame the "legendary" Miss Tucker retains is for her risqué humor rather than her remarkable chops as a torch-singer. Still, there's good fun to be had here, as everyone involved was a thorough pro, so just enjoy the broadcast.

Quick Review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My nine-year-old-self's idea of a perfect book. Tons of glorious, glossy photos of movie monsters; stills, posters, stars... I read the whole thing, interviews with the likes of John Carpenter & Ray Harryhausen included, on a lunch-break. Perfect Christmas morning for just the right horror fan, believe me.

Daily Dose

From Jack Holmes & His Friends, by Edmund White


"'I know you Americans can be alarmist about communism, but it's really very chic, especially if people are of the intelligentsia and chic.'

'What complete bullshit, Pia,' I said."

From Chapter 5

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Meant to Do My Work Today

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane


"He seemed to be awaiting the moment when he should pitch headlong."

From Chapter VIII

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne


"The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment."

From Chapter XVII, The Pastor and His Parishioner

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Road-Side Dog, by Czeslaw Milosz


"The difference between the kind of poetry in which an 'I' tells about itself and a poetry which 'sings of gods and heroes' is not great, since in both cases the object of description is mythologized. And yet..."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sending Boz Away

I bought mine, new, when I was working at Stacey's in San Francisco. In those far-off days, this was the sort of thing bookstores, the larger ones anyway, kept in stock. I remember mine was in a dusty white box when I bought it. Someone fetched it down for me from some dangerously narrow overstock-shelf, high off the sales floor. (I suppose there was some discreet little sign on the actual shelf in fiction, mentioning the Oxford Illustrated Dickens, complete in 21 volumes, "above.") I don't remember the price I paid. This would have been in the late Eighties, I should think, so I can't imagine the set cost me more than one hundred dollars, though it may have been at least that, at least had I paid full retail, without my employee discount. I don't remember if I asked for a ride home with the whole set, as I didn't drive back then, or if I took the books home, on the M Car, in bags, or one or two at a time, rather than fetching the whole thing home at once. Never was much for holding off, so I probably had to at least open the box and roll around in them as soon as I'd paid for them. Of that, I'm quite sure.

My dearest friend, R., collects the set in an earlier and more attractive iteration from the 1960s, I think. The dustjackets aren't that rather awful wine color, mixed with orange and green and so on. His are brighter and more variously colored. The boards on his books, as I remember them, are better too, less plain and homely. Still, my own set has served me very well, ugly as it is. True, the same squarish, squat format that makes these books so sturdy and portable also jostles the illustrations out of place; so that the scene in prose on page 138 may be illustrated three pages previous to that or ten pages after. There are other obvious imperfections in the reproduction of both pictures and type. Doesn't much matter. For the money, new or used, these are well made books. They will last.

To my knowledge, we never carried the set "new" in my time at the bookstore where I now work -- maybe, before my time, probably, in fact, but not since. I don't know that the set was even still available as late as 2003, when I moved to Seattle. I do know that by then some dealers were already asking silly prices for it used. The price seems to have settled, at least online, at around two hundred dollars in the passing decade or so, which seems high to me, but not unreasonably so. I've sold it for that. In fact, we've bought and sold the set, used, at the bookstore more than once, to customers other than me, I mean. I've bought it used, so to say, twice. When a coworker retired a few years ago, after some decades' service, the Dickens seemed just the thing. Man doesn't own a television, or a computer. Doesn't even keep a phone. A full compliment of Dickens constitutes, in its way, a home entertainment center, admittedly of a rather Victorian kind, but then the gentleman in question was a rather Victorian gent. The set was sitting right there at the Used Books desk -- too big to go upstairs into Fiction. Perfect. I marked the thing down to cost, basically, we all chipped in and bought it for the fellow's parting gift. He seemed pleased. After that, I remember selling the set to someone no older than I must have been when I bought mine. I remember giving the young fellow a banker's box with that set, so that he could get them home. Him, I didn't give a discount. and then most recently, sold this last set to come in to date -- the set in these pictures -- to myself, again, roughly at cost, back around October of last year. The idea was to buy the books, box them and send them off to replace the shockingly shabby collection of odd Dickens volumes on the shelf in my hometown public library.

When I was back there in September, I went into the library regularly, to check my email, etc. on the library's computers. Now and then, I would have to wait for a terminal to become available. Then I'd wander a little through the stacks, such as they were. It is a small town, my hometown, and far from well off, mostly. When I was a child, the library was housed in a very old building, with bare wooden floors that groaned under even the smallest step, and shelves, being of at least equal antiquity, were likewise swayed with years, if never really with any notable weight of books. The library now is new, brightly lit where the old was dim, clean when the old was dirty. Everything about the new library is essentially better. Everything, that is, but the books. The books are still bad; either bad in the sense of being not very good books, or in bad condition, or both. None in such bad shape, may I say, at least to my eyes, as the few sorry copies present of just a few books by Charles Dickens.

There's nothing in my experience of public libraries in recent years, libraries from Seattle to Southern California, and from Wisconsin to Wyoming, to suggest that this disgraceful state of things was in any way unique to my hometown. In a beautiful new library building very near where we live, I found just one or two books by Austen on the shelf, and those were sorry things; nothing by Gaskell, nothing by Eliot but Middlemarch in multiple grubby copies, and so on. Our own local branch is a charming old building, handsomely restored, with nothing in it. When I inquired there a few days after it reopened after repairs, I found that the answer to everything missing was that other books, good books, even great books were available mostly via "interlibrary loan." If the browser, like me, was not entirely clear on that concept, this is not unlike being issued a "voucher" for an overbooked flight, or offered a coupon for one's canceled entrée.

We could order you a copy of Great Expectations from elsewhere, perhaps one without detached covers...

... OR, would madame rather have one of these lovely -- available -- titles by the ever-popular LaVyrle Spencer?

Anyway, feeling most uncharacteristically civic-minded last September, I approached the desk in my hometown public library and offered to replace their disgraceful hodgepodge with a set of actual, readable Dickens. (No, really, I was nice, I swear.) Dickens bicentennial birthday was February of this year. I wanted there to be a set of his complete works in that library where someone might find them, someone like my younger self, perhaps a first time reader, or someone like my present self but without the means of having a set of his or her own. A good idea, did everyone agree? The answer was, yes, please. Smiles, skeptical smiles, but smiles all 'round.

True to my word, I came back to Seattle, and sent the set of Boz. The books I sent were unread, pristine copies all. I put each dustjacket in a new mylar-cover I bought. I packed them carefully and included a letter reminding the librarian of our conversation.

Well, some months later, having had nothing in the way of acknowledgement of my gift, yes, I finally could stand it no longer and I called to see if the books had arrived. They had. Thanks. Oh. Well, were they on the shelf in time for Boz's birthday? No. Not yet. Oh.

And that, my darlings, was that. I'm ashamed to say how often I've been to the hometown library's rather primitive website, in search of any listing for the books I sent. If the books are on the shelf now, I can't tell. They may be in the library's inventory by now, they may not. They may never have made it out of the box into which I packed 'em. They may, those lovely books, have been put out on the stoop for the mice to nest in. From the little I know of unsolicited library donations, even or perhaps specially those already discussed with a smiling staff, that set of the Oxford Illustrated Dickens may have been busted up, or put out for a yardsale.

Whatever their fate, it is long since out of my hands. I won't ask after them again. I can only hope those books, one way or another, have found new readers somewhere out there in the wide world.

"'Hope, you see, Wal'r,' said the Captain, sagely, 'Hope. It's that as animates you.'" Who am I to argue the wisdom of dear Captain Cuttle? Hope it was that animated me. Hope I still have, and librarians be damned.

Daily Dose

From The Siren and the Seashell and Other Essays on Poets and Poetry, by Octavio Paz


"Modern society can not forgive poetry its nature. To modern man poetry seems sacrilegious."

From Poetry of Solitude and Poetry of Communion

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Bestseller Doodle

Daily Dose

From Moral Discourses, by Epictetus, translated by Elizabeth Carter


"Again, the very faculty of elocution, and that which ornaments discourse, if there be any such peculiar faculty, what doth it more than merely ornament and arrange expressions, as curlers do the hair?"

From A Right Choice

Saturday, April 21, 2012

True Sympathy or Prevention of Cruelty to Teachers

Quick Review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A grand attempt, this book. Reconstructing a great dance is quite impossible enough, but recapturing a lost star? No. Still, Riley does a a remarkable job; excavating -- so far as I can tell -- every notice and mention the Astaires even got as a team. It's all charming, and really quite interesting, if in the end, never quite satisfying as either biography or art.

My only real disappointment however is that the author does nothing with Adele's second act, in which she knows everybody still, goes everywhere and is still a riot. (She just popped up, for instance, teaching Jack Kennedy to dance in, of all places, Frank Langella's new memoir.) Had I my druthers, I'd as soon Riley had tried writing a more straight forward biography of the siblings, rather than this cultural history of... fizz.

Quick Review

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Exactly the kind of subject -- and handsome publishing -- that sucks me right in, and, unfortunately, exactly the kind of academic writing that undoes me. Nothing wrong with it, you understand, and no doubt full of fascination for the scholar, but narrative prose so dull as to still smell of the lecture hall, dusty slides, and peer-review. Bless him, but no, not for the lay reader.

Daily Dose

From As I Was Saying... A Chesterton Reader, edited by Robert Knille


"Being a nation means standing up to your equals, whereas being an empire only means kicking your inferiors."

From Short Quotations

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chesterton on Marriage

Daily Dose

From Wise Words & Quaint Counsels of Thomas Fuller, edited and introduced by Augustus Jessopp


"There are books that must die and be forgotten though they be written by the greatest and most gifted."

From the Preface

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had never read Buchan, and would never have thought to start with an historical novel, but Witch Wood proved to be an excellent experience. Think Sir Walter Scott with an ever so much lighter touch. Indeed, the setting here, though not the story, is the same as Scott's Montrose. (And, yes, the great general does make a rather splashy cameo in Buchan's book.) But where Scott's older Tory sensibility saw only heroics and tragedy, John Buchan's 20th Century telling sees the religious civil wars in Scotland as an unremitting disaster for all parties, and uses a small mystery from a chronicle of the period, to describe the conflict from many angles. Buchan nonetheless is a latter day Romantic still, and the master evidently of ripping yarns, so there's great good fun, adventure, swordplay, and whatnot as well. The Scots vocabulary can be a bit daunting -- the edition I read from the mid 1970s weirdly translates about every sixteenth word or so -- but this same language can also be delightful; as in "fernietickles" for freckles.

I'd happily read this one again. A good sign, that. Means I'll be looking out more of Mr. Buchan, hereafter.

Quick Review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of my happiest reading experiences in early adolescence. Try as I might, however, at 48 I could not get past the conventional SF jargon; the not quite familiar names of people, places, objects, the near-beer of history, anthropology, etc. I don't doubt these are still great books, but for me they were better left as a golden memory.

Something More

Here's yet another way I've decided to record my time as a bookseller: a photo tumblr, called Around Books.

The idea could not be simpler: just casual snapshots in the bookstore, in my own library, in other shops; sometimes of books straightforwardly, other times, and perhaps more interestingly, photographs taken"behind the scenes": at my desk, or the Information counter, nooks, crannies, cubbies...

This then will be what a bookseller's life actually looks like, most days, a brief visual record, up close.

Daily Dose

From Thurber Country, by James Thurber


"Publishers all occupy skyscraper penthouses, or 'random houses,' and although I was never actually in one of them, I can see them as clearly as if I had been."

From The American Literary Scene

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chesterton on the French Revolution

Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


"Ah, how skillful grows the hand
That obeyeth Love's command!"

From The Building of the Ship

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hunger Gays #1

Hunger Gays #2

Daily Dose

From The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, by Beatrix Potter


"Mr. Jeremy crossed his legs up shorter, out of reach, and went on eating his sandwich."

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Witch Wood, by John Buchan


"Yon was him in the kirk the day, yon body with the fernietickles and the bleary een."

From Chapter XVI, The Witch Hunt

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Uncle's Hat, from a letter of William Cowper

Daily Dose

From Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Geoffrey Wall


"It was the first time that Emma had ever heard such things said to her; and her vanity, like a body unclenching in a steam-bath, melted open, softly, and fully, at the warm touch of his words."

From Part Two, Chapter 9

Saturday, April 14, 2012

From a Letter from William Cowper to the Rev. William Unwin

Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems of John Keats


"Brown has gone to bed -- and I am tired of rhyming..."

From An Extempore: From a Letter to George Keats and His Wife, Canto the xiii

Friday, April 13, 2012

Quick Review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another delightful, and edifying addition to the ongoing treasure of the Pocket Poets series. This may be among my favorites of the little anthologies; following others on form, like Sonnets and Love Letters, as well as many wonderful books organized by subjects from Birds to Dance.

For selection, affordability, design, and price, I can't recommend these books enough.

Quick Review

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

On the plus side: charming detectives, clever description, good humored and serious writing. As for the mystery proper? The plot turns on an embarrassingly dated bit of faux relevance -- a disaffected "gang" of privileged white radicals -- and a revelation of concealed insanity that would have embarrassed Earl Stanley Gardner on his laziest day.

A Bookstore Doodle

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Witch Wood, by John Buchan


"Daft Gibbie, too, had become a partisan. He would dog David's footsteps, and when spoken to would only reply with friendly pawings and incoherent gabble. He would swing his stick as if it were a flail. 'Sned them, sir,' he would cry, 'sned them like thristles.'"

From Chapter XV, Hallowmass

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Read by Moonlight, by Thomas Hardy

Welcome Home, by Thomas Hardy

Daily Dose

From Candide, by Voltaire, translated by Tobias Smollet


"Candide, amazed, terrified, confounded, astonished, all bloody, and trembling from head to foot, said to himself, 'If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?'"

From Chapter 6, How the Portuguese Made a Superb Auto-Da-Fe to Prevent Any Future Earthquakes, and How Candide Underwent Public Flagellation

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Was Not He, by Thomas Hardy

Daily Dose

From My Struggle, Book One, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett


"The only thing I have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing."

From Pg. 41, this edition

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

A Bookstore Doodle

Quick Review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most of these letters consisting of little more than a note sent home to say he wouldn't be home for supper. Few are longer than a paragraph or two. Reading straight through the lot, a few things become obvious: 1) Steele was a bit of a rogue and a rover, 2) Mrs. Steele was absurdly patient, as, after the good woman's death, was her eldest surviving daughter, and finally, 3) Steele loved his wife. Taken as a whole, these classic letters provide a remarkable portrait of devotion, foolishness and charm.