Category Archives: General Madness

“I can do only two things in this world: love and read.” –book thief Guglielmo Libri to François Guizot, 1845


Special Collections Cataloging at Penn

Recently in the rare book cataloging department at the University of Pennsylvania, a not-very-exciting-looking red two-volume set appeared at the top of my stack of books to catalog in the French Culture Class Collection.  From a cursory look at the volumes, I could see it was a collection of items in various formats–published pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and manuscript letters–bound together and all on one topic.  Both volumes had a manuscript table of contents at the front.  At the start, we didn’t know what the subject of the collection was, who compiled it, or where and when the library acquired the collection.  In rare book cataloging at Penn, we’ve begun to create finding aids to describe some of the more unusual items in our collections that warrant further description than we can fit into a traditional catalog record. This set seemed like a perfect candidate to be described in a finding…

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Maximo and Bartola and the myth of Iximaya


Special Collections Cataloging at Penn

While cataloging a volume of nineteenth century anthropologic and ethnographic pamphlets on the Indians of North America, this pamphlet jumped out with its typographically festive message of cultural imperialism and racialization:FrontwrapperVelasquez, Pedro.   Memoir of an eventful expedition in Central America : resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region, and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children, descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste (now nearly extinct) of the ancient Aztec founders of the ruined temples of that country / described by John L. Stevens, Esq., and other travellers ; translated from the Spanish of Pedro Velasquez, of San Salvador.

New York : E.F. Applegate …, 1850. 35, [1] p. : ill. ; 22 cm.

Cataloging this pamphlet turned up an extremely sad history involving the kidnapping of two children from El Salvador, nineteenth century conceptions of race and disability in America and…

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Bright Young Librarians


I used to share this series on the excellent Fine Books Magazine website all the time, mostly because it’s nice to share other people’s appreciation of those you legitimately adore. Clearly this particular addition signals a return to this blog keeping an eye on those who are going to make a difference to what we do. Ladies and gents, Diane Dias DeFazio:

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Librarian by day…by night Ringmaster of Brand Brothers and Graumholtz’s Nomadic Cavalcade of Wonders and Illusion…probably.


Weird Tales & Peculiar Crimes Part 5


For those of you that haven’t been following my series of pocket catalogues dealing with weird fiction, crime and all round peculiarity…this is probably not terribly interesting. For the five of you that have…here is the latest instalment:

 


“The world’s the same, there’s just less in it.”


“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

 

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Martin Stone; patron saint of lost books and booksellers. (photographer unknown, but it’s a great jacket)

Martin Stone has moved on. The tip-tapping man of many pockets, drainpipe legs and dangling Gauloises has succumbed to a grim and irresistible disease. The flea markets of Paris and the stalls of Portobello should, by rights, be islands of silence.

Not for too long though, Martin wouldn’t like that, just a minute or two of quiet, slightly damp, reflection followed by a shrug and a return to bustling commerce.

His kind of memorial would involve a knowing nod and the production of some specially secreted oddity from under a stall; a sly grin and a “I thought you might come by. Take a look at this.”

Stop all the clocks, shut the bloody dog up, all that stuff. He dealt enough poets to know that understanding words and understanding books are very different things.

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Portrait of The Artist as a Young Rockstar

Everything about Martin was a good story.

I was in one of those Parisian flea markets with him quite recently, the bugger made me get up really early and meet him in a cafe somewhere in the dimmer aura of Paris, full of sullen, smoking men in wet woollen coats drinking coffee strong enough to take the silver off a mirror.

“This place is great!” He enthused, giving a credible impression of a mer cat in a tight Paul Smith suit. “Stick close though, some of these bastards can be a bit touchy.”

I wasn’t sure whether he meant the occupants of the cafe or the promised flea market nestled nearby beneath an underpass, he probably meant both.

I walked around with him, or in fact trailed after him, for an hour or two, trying to keep up with the rapid French, the knowing laughter, people shouting his name across makeshift aisles and endless boxes of dodgy Gallimards that he would sift through in the time it took me to figure out there were actually books on a stall that looked at first glance like someone had upended a skip full of 19th century brothel furniture onto a table.

He’d have moved on before I could get five books in. You knew incontrovertibly that once Martin Stone had moved on, there was nothing good left. He smiled at everybody, carried away very little.

On one stand near the roadside he shook hands with a lanky bloke who looked like he should be in a documentary about the Resistance. I bought a piece of schoolboy smut written by George Sands’ nephew, while Martin solemnly unwrapped something wrapped in layered plastic bags produced from an ancient suitcase. It was one of those typically French artist’s books, all pochoir and glassine, and the two of them leaned over it to protect it from the drizzle while Martin leafed delicately through it.

“Give me a minute.” He said to me and hurried off with his phone pressed to his ear.

The hero of the resistance looked me up and down and gestured after Martin.

“Is he well?” He asked.

“No.” I shrugged. He shook his head mournfully, and stamped his feet.

Less than five minutes later Martin returned, they nodded at each other, Martin took possession of the book in its wrappings and we headed off.

“Anything good?” The book had disappeared into yet another bag.

“Oh yes! Lovely thing, really scarce, only ever seen one before.”

“Shouldn’t be hard to shift then.”

“Oh, already sold it. Four and a half.”

That’s pretty much how it went on. Later in his flat in Versailles we ate cake and talked about Michael Moorcock. In retrospect every minute I was lucky enough to spend with Martin over the last 20 years was an education in knowledge, charm and enthusiasm, and there weren’t anywhere near enough of them.

When I was in my 20’s he gave me the keys for his then apartment in the Rue Cels in Montparnasse and said I could flat-sit while he was in the US. I spent a week drinking wine and eating cheese, reading Sebald and wandering through the Jardin de Luxembourg. Bill Wyman phoned his answering machine. I listened to zydeco. He could tell I needed a break, he knew the signs, and he generously provided it.

In return, when stuck on one of his overburdened forays to London, he’d occasionally come and sleep on my couch in Waterloo. We’d smoke too much and drink too much, before he climbed the huge, terrifying mountain of learning not to, and I would wake up the next morning feeling simultaneously close to death, and privileged.

We talked about books. He knew more, stored and treasured and preserved and embodied more about books than anyone I have ever met or heard of. Despite his vast knowledge, amazing memory, and almost magical ability to track and locate gems of bibliophilic rarity, he was always quietly offhand about it.

He taught me the priceless lesson that just because something isn’t worth much, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I always felt that his mere existence gave me a kind of permission to write four hundred word descriptions of books worth fifty quid; this was not a qualification that necessarily appealed to any of my subsequent employers. There are books in my office right now that bear his small, neat pencil annotations, there are probably similar books in the offices of every major book-dealer in the world.

He got around.

I was supposed to go and see him this week, he died the day before I was going to catch my train. I won’t regret the books I never bought, or the ones I really shouldn’t have; but I will regret that. Without him I might have been a bookseller, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and be a good one. That’s still a work in progress, but if I ever make it, it’ll be down to him.

We weren’t close, but I loved him. I didn’t know him well enough, but I am very grateful to him. The world, such as it is, has lost something important, and is a lesser place because of it.


Book of The Week, or the Fair…whatever.


In keeping with the general manic panic prevalent amongst bookdealers who aren’t Simon Beattie at this time of year, I’ve been screeching my way through whatever stock I have available in an effort to put on a good show at this year’s Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s never simple or straightforward, and the process is usually accompanied by the highs of thinking “This is a great thing! People will love this thing!” and the lows of “I am a terrible bookseller, these are terrible books, why am I doing this to myself? I should stop this and go live in the woods.” So with that in mind here’s a list of some nice things I am probably showing, in no particular order, please feel free to peruse:

Boston List

And here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my favourite thing, and certainly my book of the week:

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Either it goes, or I do…

 

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper.  Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1901. Second Edition. 12mo. 55pp. Publisher’s yellow decorated glazed paper covered boards titled in a rather bilious orangey red. Rubbing to extremities, moderate wear, a very good copy indeed. Internally clean and fresh. Inscribed to front flyleaf by the great lady herself:

“To Mrs. Beatrice Forbes Robertson Swinburne Hale! With Love of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 1910”

Copies of this book are rare, nice copies of the first edition that preceded it by just over a year are even rarer, and copies signed or inscribed enter a whole new realm of rare which verges on purely theoretical; three inscribed copies of the first two editions, including this one, show up in over 30 years. For a story so polarising and influential, it’s pretty thin on the ground in signed or inscribed form. The story, a keystone piece of early American feminism displayed through the prism of deftly executed and unsettlingly poetic supernatural fiction, is quite simply one of the best cases for ostensibly sensationalist literature changing the world. Part eulogy for female mental health, part captivity narrative and part autobiographical depression journal. One of its many themes (it’s basically all underlying theme, it’s the feminist iceberg of fin de siecle writing) is the androcentric socio-medical belief that women need rest when they should be active, enclosure when they desire freedom and lack of stimulation when they quite definitely desire more. Ms. Gilman was, to put it mildly, rather of the belief that these theories of “care” were wrong and more directed at keeping unruly women (whether for medical or other reasons) out of sight and out of mind…trapped as it were, behind everything else. Critically the story is noted for having provided an in text guide to feminist interpretation, as her protagonist struggles to arrange the “galloping pattern” of the wallpaper into something comprehensible, Gilman is suggesting that this is what women have to do on a daily basis to try and navigate a world that actively denies them the means to do so…that it ends in a descent into madness is neither surprising nor a fault in the interpreter. So, the good news is you have an early copy of the perfect storm of feminist weird tale inscribed by the late 19th century’s High Priestess of Feminism.

The really good news is that it’s inscribed with love to Beatrice Forbes-Robertson on what I believe to be the occasion of her New York marriage to Swinburne Hale, society lawyer.

Beatrice was the transatlantic issue of the mighty London house of Forbes-Robertson, theatrical super family, friends of Oscar Wilde in all possible ways, revolutionisers of the stage, she was mates with royalty, blood brethren of the rich and famous from Bernhardt, to Irving, Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, Gilbert and Sullivan and the great and powerful on both sides of the pond. Actress, activist, public speaker on Women’s Suffrage, Vice President of The Actress’s Franchise League (yup, a women’s trade union in pre First World War America), President of The British War Relief Organisation, author of “What Women Want” and, along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself, a prominent member of Heterodoxy (which is an incredible name on so many delicious levels); the prominent and occasionally notorious and radical feminist debating group based in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. A hotbed of unorthodox feminist opinion and a haven for New York’s lesbian and bisexual women, other members apart from Gilman and Forbes Robertson included Inez Haynes Irwin, Ida Rauh (another actress and female trade unionist, running mate of Eugene O’Neill), Susan Glaspell (the greatest woman playwright no-one has heard of), Fola La Follete (Quote of the week: “A good husband is not an adequate substitute for the ballot.”) and Zona Gale, first female Pulitzer winner. I can only imagine that their meeting rooms didn’t need gas or electricity, it probably just glowed out of sheer rage and intelligence, they referred to their struggle for recognition as “breaking into the human race.”

One of the greatest and most significant weird tales of the late 19th century, (a story “not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…”) inscribed by its ground-breaking feminist author to a friend and fellow fighter for women’s suffrage on the occasion of her marriage. Beat that.

I’ll be at stand 308, sandwiched between the twin glories of Lux Mentis and Brian Cassidy, please feel free to wander along and have a chat.


Cavendish’s Daughters: Speculative Fiction and Women’s History — JHIBlog


by guest contributor Jonathan Kearns in collaboration with Brooke Palmieri

Nor is the empire of the imagination less bounded in its own proper creations, than in those which were bestowed on it by the poor blind eyes of our ancestors. What has become of enchantresses with their palaces of crystal and dungeons of palpable darkness? […]

via Cavendish’s Daughters: Speculative Fiction and Women’s History — JHIBlog


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