Friday, October 31, 2014

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From Classics Revisited, by Kenneth Rexroth


"So Gertrude Stein on her deathbed: 'What is the answer?' and after a few minutes, 'What is the question?' -- a very French death."

From Essays (Montaigne)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Greed: A Confession, by D. R. Goodman


"It's when memory collapses
that human machinery
is most bared."

From Breakdown

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Friends, Talismans and Spells

“Books are not seldom talismans and spells.”-- William Cowper

One of the most remarkable features of William Cowper's biography is the number and devotion of his friends.  Think of it.  A shy man, often ill, sometimes to the point of insensibility, living by choice if not necessity in rustic isolation, a poet little read and less known until he was nearly sixty, and yet... and yet.  His surviving correspondence fills four, fat volumes!  Everywhere in it, and in the poems, he addressed "My Dear Friend," and "My Dear Cousin," "My Dear Sir," and he meant it.

When I do a reading, I like to have my books about me.  I'm not selling these, you understand; these are my books.  I don't use them on the occasion, having long-since made a clear copy of the text I will read.  Most are still punctuated with paper-slips, notes and markers, from the research I've long-since done.  Why bring them out then and display them on the table?  In Cowper's phrase, I fear, they are but "talismans and spells."  I believe they represents the absent poet, as I do not, even when I read aloud.  I feel, as silly as it sounds, that having William Cowper's books, his biographers, his letters and his friends around me makes a magic circle of a sort and consecrates the space to the memory of the author; call it an invitation to the spirits.

Now I know that sounds rather a lot of gassy nonsense, specially from someone not much invested in the invisible, but I do still like the idea that there may be, somewhere, somehow something of Cowper, of Mrs. Unwin, Lady Austen and Lady Hesketh in the atmosphere and that whatever that may be might find it's way of evening to the bookstore.  I like to think Cowper among friends again.

As was I, tonight while I read him.  One friend, too long apart, came the furthest and made me happy in being present, as some of what I read I could not help but direct to him. Being a poet himself, I knew he would understand, as Cowper says:

"There is a pleasure in poetic pains
Which only poets know."

 I was glad to have him there for Cowper then, and of course for me.  Indeed, I was surrounded tonight at the bookstore -- despite the final game of the World Series -- by friends myself, and that made all the difference.  I can only hope I did some small justice to the memory of the poet, William Cowper.  I hope more that I might have made him some new friends as well.  He had the gift of friends.  That may well be the one grace we have in common.  It is for friends I know I am most grateful tonight, and always.

Daily Dose

From The Correspondence of William Cowper: Arranged in Chronological Order, with Annotations, Volume 4, by Thomas Wright


"Dear Sir, -- I would willingly send you cheerful tidings if I could, but have none such."

From a letter to Samuel Teedon, dated just "Thursday"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

At One's Readings

Daily Dose

From Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James


"No career, no name, no position, no fortune, no past, no future, no anything.  Oh yes, he paints, if you please -- paints in water-colours; like me, only better than I.  His painting's pretty bad; on the whole I'm rather glad of that."

From Chapter 19

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Truth and Fiction: Relating to My Life, The Autobiography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by John Oxenford


"Every bird has its decoy, and every man is led and misled in a way peculiar to himself."

From Fifth Book

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Field Trip

Just some casual snaps from my most recent border-crossing.  My friends tend to be biblio-maniacs not unlike myself -- not sure why that is.  Anyway, this means that when I want to make our visitors happy, the easiest way is to pack the car with shopping bags and overnight bags, book a room at the always reliable -- and recently, beautifully renovated -- Mark Spencer Hotel, Portland, and head South for a day or two of budget-busting book buying fun.

Powell's has likewise recently renovated their landmark, "Burnside" location.  The results are both beautiful and in no way a diminution of either the the stock or the floor-space devoted to great used books.  No easy achievement, that.

For me this meant coming home with nearly a shelf of Samuel Butler books I'd never seen before, none of which cost more than fifteen dollars apiece, a Marchette Chute duel biography of George Herbert and Robert Herrick, "etc., etc.," as Yul Brynner used to sing/say.

Nothing makes me happier than that moment when, having collected up a heap of treasure, I retire with a friend to the cafe and review the day's loot!  The idea is always to put back a few things (in my case, one Defoe I already owned,) which makes one feel terribly judicious and well-budgeted, even as the orgy of book fondling and mutual admiration of purchases goes on through the afternoon.  Heaven.

Bless you Powell's, and all that sail in her!  You make entertaining so simple!

Daily Dose

From The Golden Bowl, by Henry James


"James was not a moralist, although he had a special interest in morality as a kind of poetics.  He relished what right and wrong looked like and sounded like; he became a connoisseur of these concepts for their shape, their aura.  And of course he loved what he could do with them."

From the introduction by Colm Toibin to the Folio Society edition

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig, translated by Thomas Colchie


"Aren't you tired of reading yet?
-- No.  How do you feel?
-- I think I'm becoming horribly depressed."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Breakfast at the Bookstore #8

Daily Dose

From Villette, by Charlotte Bronte


"I wish I could have spoken with calm and dignity, or I wish my sense had sufficed to make me hold my tongue; that traitor tongue tripped, faltered."

From Chapter XXXV Fraternity

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Caricature

Back on the Stroll

So I'm puttin' it out there again, hustlin', like you do.  The Usedbuyer2.0 2015 Calendar of Literary Caricature is for sale.  That's me on the front again this year, in yet another act of shameless self-promotion and unpaid modelling.

Inside there should be a few familiar faces and, hopefully, a couple of surprises.

Some I thought a pretty fair likeness.

Others, I at least found funny, still.  Anyway, here we are, and there they sit, waiting for buyers.  Not many made this year, so if one's wanted, better say so quick before they're either gone or off to the clearance bins come January.

Daily Dose

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain


"How many of my readers would have the industry and application to memorize two thousand verses, even for a DorĂ© Bible?  And yet Mary had acquired two Bibles in this way -- it was the patient work of two years -- and a boy of German parentage had won four or five.  He once recited three thousand verses without stopping; but the strain upon his mental faculties was too great, and he was little better than an idiot from that day forth..."

From Chapter 4

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The One in the Middle

I'm the one in the middle.  That's the simplest explanation when people ask what it means to be an officiant.  There's a little more to it than that, of course.

I'm not a priest, not a preacher, not a minister in any sense save insofar as I am required to be as a registered officiant, legally empowered by the Internet and the state of Washington to conduct weddings.  Thirty bucks, online, registered, done.

Before it was legal for two men to get married in the state of Washington, I just did it anyway, unofficially, at the invitation of friends.   Then, when it became legal, I did it again, for the same friends, only now with a license and paperwork and the aforesaid approval of the state.  Since then, I've done it for two women, and now, for the first time, I married a husband and wife.  Everyone I've married -- so far -- has been a friend.  Friends of friends asked me once, but then thought better of it when I mentioned I haven't much to do with God so, if they wanted him invited, they'd have to do that themselves.  They went another way, as they say.  No offence taken, either way.

I have an old friend who is a proper minister; robes, degree, congregation, the lot.  He's Presbyterian, very much of the old school (think Walter Scott's Old Mortality, or better yet, the later novels of Marilynne Robinson,) and from him, no doubt, you get the authentic, traditional, God-and-all service.  I haven't watched him do it, but I'd bet you, he's pretty good at it by now.  With me, I'm afraid, it's new every time.  From me, depending, you get maybe poetry, or maybe Aristotle on "the good."

I try to be thoughtful, concise, and quick.  Quick is more important than you might think.  I've been to my fair share of weddings, commitment ceremonies, and the like.  Believe me -- even my friend, the Reverend might agree -- nobody's there for the sermon.  I may be the one in the middle, but the it's about the people either side of me.  I try to remember that.

I've been lucky so far.  I know all the people for whom I've officiated.  More importantly, I've liked all the people for whom I've officiated.  (Actually, I've loved them all, which is what has made doing this such a privilege.   Liking them all, though, brides, grooms, the lot, that has been what's made it such a pleasure.)

Somebody recently asked another friend of mine to be an officiant.  My friend asked me a couple of questions, now that I'm such an ol' hand at it, so I'll answer.

Yes, I do still get very nervous.  Even though I'm reading from a prepared text, even though I've rehearsed what I'm going to say, even though I've done it before, my legs shake every time.  Every time I make eye-contact with the people getting married, I have to try not to either cry or grin like a monkey.  Yeah, it's not easy.

This last wedding was hard because these are two of the sweetest people I know.  I know their story.  I know how right it was that they should marry, how long it took to get there.  I was so excited for them, so happy I could hardly stand it.  So beautiful!  Such good people.

Two more reasons for reviewing all this here.  First, because I had a poem picked out for this last wedding, just in case, but then I didn't get to stick around long enough to read it to them.  (Probably just as well.  Poems make for rather long toasts and long toasts keep people from drinking the champagne before the bubbles die and that's not good.  Avoid the long poems, people.)  Anyway, here's the poem, by Sir Philip Sydney, of Arcadia fame:

My true-love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides.
His heart his wound received from my sight;
My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;
For as from me on him his hurt did light,
So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:
Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,
My true love hath my heart and I have his.

   That is so much better than anything I actually said, I blush to recall it.  Wouldn't have quite worked, me saying that in the ceremony, I realize, or even at the reception, but I just keep running those words through my head.  And I can't think of a couple for whom those words might better have been written than for my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Damon and Kelsey Vanhee.  (Their vows, by the way, were beautiful.)

   The other reason I thought I might write something about my role in this wedding and the others I've done is just to remind any who might find their way here that there is no one way to do this; no one ceremony or service, no one text or tradition, no one wedding that needs be the only kind of wedding we know.  Times and traditions change.  You may think that a bad thing, but it's true and it always has been.  Humans are an eminently changeable, adaptable species.  Any but the most narrowly sectarian reading of history supports that truth.

   To marry is to be part of something larger than ourselves alone, to lay claim to family, community and citizenship in  a way uniquely recognized in our society as both selfless and celebratory.  It is a good thing for everyone who does it with a sincere intention and a true love, and it can be, as it clearly was last Saturday when I got to help it happen again, a joy.

    For me, it's been an honor, every time I've been asked to help.  If I never do it again, I will always be proud I was asked to do it at all.  I can only hope, as seems increasingly likely nowadays, everyone who wants to has the opportunity to marry whom they wish, in the way that best suits them, before, as it were, The Law.

    So if you get asked, my friend, do it.  Listen.  Say what they want you to.  Say what you feel, and then get out of the way.  It's not the one in the middle that matters, but it's niced to be asked to be there.

Daily Dose

From Hardian the Seventh, by Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo)


"He was sitting alone, thinking, and carefully unravelling a woollen antimacassar."

From Chapter 9

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes


"I saw it in his face.  It's not often that's true, is it?  At least, not for me.  We listen to what people say, we read what they write -- that's our evidence, that's our corroboration.  But if the face contradicts the speaker's words, we interrogate the face."

From page 150

Monday, October 20, 2014

More Bookstore Invertebrates

Daily Dose

From We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson


"'She should not have been doing the cooking,' said Mrs. Wright strongly.
'Well, of course, there is the root of our trouble.  Certainly she should not have been doing the cooking if her intention was to destroy all of us with poison; we would have been blindly unselfish to encourage her to cook under such circumstances.  But she was acquitted."

From Chapter 2

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bookstore Invertebrates

Daily Dose

From Witch Grass, by Raymond Queneau, translated by Barbara Wright


"And I too have my secret, my secrets.  I have several thousand.  One a day.  Ever since I was born.  I'm exaggerating a little, of course.  But still, let's say since I was two, a secret every other day."

From page 227, this edition

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Prose Selections, by John Milton


"In those vernal seasons of the year when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake of her rejoicing with heaven and earth."

From Of Education

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Poems, by Ralph Waldo Emerson


A moody child and wildly wise
Pursued the game with joyful eyes,
Which chose, like meteors, their way,
And rived the dark with private ray:
They overleapt the horizon’s edge,
Searched with Apollo’s privilege;
Through man, and woman, and sea, and star,
Saw the dance of nature forward far;
Through worlds, and races, and terms, and times,
Saw musical order, and pairing rhymes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breakfast at the Bookstore # 7

Our first Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick to feature a guest, the always informative and worldly wise, George Carroll. As George is a publishers' representative particularly devoted to books in translation, that's the main focus of our conversation. (We were rudely interrupted by a technical failure midway, but we recovered and sailed on, so thanks to George, specially for hanging in there.)

Daily Dose

From The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse


"Indeed, he sometimes felt as if he were tightening his ties to those who had gone before; and for that reason, whenever he pictured the young Wittgenstein bent over the design of a variable combustion chamber, or test-flying a kite of his own construction on the Derbyshire moors, he was aware of a sense of brotherhood that reached far back beyond his own lifetime or even the years immediately before it."

From Max Ferber

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Exceptional Stray

"We love books for their wisdom, their beauty, the pleasures they afford, and the comfort they give: they open doors to the only freedom we may know.  Let us collect them for those reasons and no other." --  Paul Jordan-Smith.

The quote above is taken from "An Unexplanatory Introduction" to For the Love of Books, published by Oxford University Press, 1934, of which the accompanying photos depict a first edition.  Paul Jordan-Smith (April 19, 1885 – June 17, 1971) was a Unitarian minister, a writer and editor. Academically, he is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on the 17th-century British author and scholar Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy.  He also wrote most delightfully on the subject of collecting books, as here.

My inclination, having just acquired this copy, is to quote the entire introduction, if not reproduce the whole book, in bits, to wit, from "Collecting Americans":

"If the book that lays hold on its own generation have not some word too big for its decade, it will prove too little for even it's own century."

Or this, again from his introduction:

"The personal pronoun has been vulgarly conspicuous throughout these essays.  But I have been voicing my own enthusiasms, explaining my prejudices, and making a tour of my own library; therefore I make no apology."

I'll stop.  Find yourself a nice used copy.  It's full of good things.

Jordan-Smith would seem then a kindred spirit: bookish, earnest but charming, eccentric yet with an accessible style, curious, eager, and by his own repeated admission, "impecunious."  My kind of dead guy.  As to his poverty, keep in mind the year of this book's publication, 1934.  Seems he did quite well for himself nonetheless. (Though some of the prices quoted -- a Stephen Crane first purchased for a dime --  can still be quite startling.)

So why would I not already know this fellow or own this book?

When I was talking with Nancy Pearl for the television a couple of months back, she posited an antithesis between collector and reader, an argument I did my best to dispel.  As Nancy mentioned at the time, I am both, so I felt some obligation to defend the honor of my tribe.  Really, I was eager to deny the opposition because I think it unhelpful, if not unfounded.  In my experience, book collectors are all but invariably devoted readers, at least of the authors they collect.  Conceding the exception of the rich who can afford to pick up a First Folio Shakespeare here or a Gutenberg Bible there -- because books do furnish a room -- most of the collectors I've met have been interested in the body of the book, as it were, because they already loved the soul.  (Go on, roll your eyes, ye hoy polloi of the lending-library, ye ascetics content in your caves reading on "devices.")  Among readers, I insist, we collectors are the true romantics, the sensualists, in love with the word, yes, but also with the past, with every dimple and rib of our darlings -- you know, the way celebrity-stalkers are kind of like fans, but without what I understand are called, "appropriate boundaries."

Which brings me to the bookstore category of "Books on Books,"and why, as a rule, I don't collect them. To start, your obsessions are not as mine.  Even here, with a charming old thing like For the Love of Books,the author's fascination with Burton and all things 16th Century and older is not my really my bailiwick.  For me, Thomas Browne, yes, Robert Burton not so much.  I can appreciate Paul Jordan-Smith's enthusiasm without sharing it, but only so far.  Books about books tend to be about the other guy's obsession, and that can get a bit tired if not shared.  (As regular readers here could testify.)  The other, major drawback to books about books as a category of reading is that collectors of this kind tend to rattle like grandpa's pockets; too much noise of the coin, too many tired stories and stale treats about the ol' days, when a bargain was a bargain, a cup of coffee cost a nickel and that time George Jean Nathan found the missing scroll of Aristotle in a Gladstone-bag on the Orient Express.

That last I made up.  Still, it points to the kind of discomfort with collecting at which Nancy was hinting in our conversation, I think.  Reading about how much or how little a book may have cost, if carried on too long rather misses the point of books altogether.  Books about books are notoriously peripheral to serious criticism and even to literature, most of 'em.

Like all such sweeping conclusions though, at least from the likes of me, there are always delightful exceptions, special finds and rare pleasures.  So here I am richly enjoying a classic example of the book-about-books, and no apologies.  I'm not saying I never, am I?

“If you like not my writing, go read something else.” -- Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Daily Dose

From Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac


"'I allow that the man is a fit subject for scientific investigation,' Bianchon said, 'and if he would let me, I would like to dissect him.'"

From Chapter 3

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks, by Dick Cavett


"Groucho was a well-read, well-educated man (the 'self-' method) and the only ninth-grade dropout I ever met who had read all of Iris Murdoch's novels.  I think he was quietly delighted when I, with my (envied) Yale degree, had to confess to having read not one."

From Groucho Lives! (In Two Places)

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Portable Dorothy Parker


"Sedulous agony has become just as monotonous as sedulous sunshine."

From The Short Story, through a Couple of Ages

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, by L. Frank Baum


"'That's all right,' said the Scarecrow. 'You are quite welcome to take my head off, as long as it will be a better one when you put it on again.'"

From Chapter 16

Saturday, October 11, 2014

This Year's Gleaning

It is that time again, or rather, it's past time, but here we are.  I'm always meaning to do things.  This is a thing I actually enjoy, so one might think I'd do it in a more timely fashion than not, but no. Well, just today it's done.   I've dropped off the pictures at Ave. Copy to have my annual calendar made, and I've approved the prototype, so now there's naught to do but wait for the printing, and the bill.

In the same spirit of belated industry, I finally went downstairs in the bookstore where I work and bought myself a proper "archival box" in which to store my caricatures.  Something I've meant to do for ages.  Heretofore all my pictures and doodles and assorted whatnot have all ended up in great messy piles, in and out of manila-envelopes and folders, all over my desk at home.  I've never made the least effort to organize the stuff; keeping them in no order at all, never separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were, losing some, no doubt, and letting others mingle indiscriminately with unpaid bills and forgotten notes about movies we should rent and phone-numbers I should put in my address-book.

So, the other night, I sat on the floor of my office at home, a great heap of unsorted paper in my lap, and began sifting pictures into my new, black box.  There were some very old pictures indeed, near the bottom of the haymow, but most were indeed drawings I've done for this blog.  I sorted by size -- putting the doodles on scrap-paper to one side, and putting the caricatures into the box.  (And handful of these were indeed so unsuccessful, and so painful to see again that I made a third pile for the shredder.  Most liberating.)  Still quite a tidy collection, by the time I'd finished.

I even found a caricature of the great Temple Grandin that I'd particularly liked, a picture I had intended to include in my calendar last year or the year before, but had been unable to locate.  Most satisfy to able to put it in this year's edition.

(As it turns out, I will need to buy a second box, just for the doodles, which tend to be on much smaller squares that would unbalance a larger, more uniform stack of typing paper-- my preferred medium for the fine work.  Ahem.  Seems I've used up a lot of scratch paper, indeed so a new box for the doodles too.)

In the process of sorting I arrived at perhaps two dozen pictures to consider for my calendar this year, not counting the Temple Grandin.  Of these, I decided to exclude anyone so obscure as to require more explanation than would be possible in a wall-calendar (Holbrook Jackson, Sadakichi Hartmann,) and anyone appearing under a pseudonym ("Robert Galbraith," "Oolon Culluphid.")  A couple of last minute substitutions for more balance between the sexes, and I'd found the mix I liked.

This year's cover will feature the traditional self-portrait, though this one seems a bit darker than usual, but then it was taken from a photograph illustrating the ill-effects of a long head-cold.  (Shown to a coworker, she remarked that I looked "more dignified than usual," which was both flattering in  one way and cutting in another, no?)

Anyway, it's done.

I've decided to reduce both the print-run and the number I intend to mail out to friends and family this year.  I can always have more made, should the demand demand.  There will be fewer for sale at the bookstore so as to avoid last year's embarrassment of seeing myself marked down in bulk come January and a few last remnants of glory left to circulate hopelessly in a discount bin marked "90% Off!  Last Chance!" until I bought them myself, just to see them gone.  Humbling indeed.  As for my own copies, I'm afraid I went a bit mad last year and papered the far corners of the Earth with unasked-for calendars, spending more on shipping ultimately than I had in making the damned things.  (I love everyone, honest, but enough already.)  Let's just see how the sales go in December, shall we?

Meanwhile, my archive if you will, begins to look a serious and most sober business with everything stowed in waxed-cardboard and ready for the scholarship of future generations (or the same incinerator into which my heirs are instructed already to pitch my earthly remains.)  I can't imagine anyone making much of a fuss over my pictures when I'm gone, but meanwhile it will be nice to finally have everything in some kind of order rather than heaped under the day-bed.

Perhaps I will someday invite some comely undergraduate back to my den to show him my "etchings."  "Have some madeira, my dear, I have a small cask of it here..."

And at least this year's collection has come to something already, if just another calendar, you know, like I gave you last year.