Last week I received the news that my bookselling alma mater, Borders, was finally shuddering to a halt. Ironically, I heard the news the same day that I finally was offered a new job. I'll be developing content for eBay-style book auctions for Goodwill of South Central Wisconsin. Look for the auctions in the future at shopgoodwillmadison.com or you can see some auctions now at the national Goodwill auction site at shopgoodwill.com. I had a little time before my start date, so I took advantage of the time to make my semi-annual pilgrimage to my home town to see my parents. Before getting started, I stopped by the remaining Madison location Borders store for one last hurrah. Offering a ten percent discount on books never brought anyone into a Borders before. But, add some bright yellow and red "Liquidation!" signs, and the general public just pours in. The parking lot uncharacteristically was jammed full and I had to park at the next business over. The discounts were not much of a draw, and the melee inside was discouraging. I empathized deeply for the employees having to deal with the sudden chaos. So, I grabbed some last souvenirs and ended my visit quickly. If I may put in a few plugs, I can say I picked up David McCullough's new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon & Schuster), James Morton's The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq: Criminal, Spy and Private Eye (Overlook), and The Sinner's Grand Tour: A Journey through the Historical Underbelly of Europe (Broadway) by Tony Perrottet. All are terrific, entertaining reads.
I usually choose a route south that takes me through Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. It's ideal in that it is about half-way, making it a good rest stop, and that it has good bookshops for browsing. I was sad to learn that About Books (blogged about here) had closed it doors for the last time at the end of last year. On a positive note, Connie, the proprietor was not forced out of business, but had made the decision to simply retire. I'll miss stopping at what was a wonderful store. (Anyone interested in seeing more can still view the About Books blog here. Babbits in Urbana, which I spoke of briefly here, is still going strong, I'm happy to say. And where a store disappears, sometimes another pops up, which has happened in this case. In the neighborhood of downtown Bloomington has appeared a new shop named Bobzbay. At the time of my visit, I found a fair amount of DVDs and music in addition to books. The book stock was pretty thin. Being a new store, I can only expect that the stock will expand, as it tends to do. The most interesting books were unsorted and unpriced and shelved in a kind of side bay. I expect these are probably going to be listed for sale somewhere online. Having not begun drawing a paycheck yet, I limited myself to a single purchase of Samantha at the World's Fair, written coyly by "Josiah Allen's Wife." The title page explicates this to be Marietta Holley. It's narrated in a, shall we say, dialectical English with phrasing such as " I wuz a-making preperations (sic) to go to the World's Fair." It is profusely illustrated throughout and features an illustrated binding in silver and gold stamping on a cobalt blue cloth with a silver ferris wheel on the spine. Priced at $12.00, I thought this was a fun, affordable buy. This shop will prove, I think, to be a worthwhile stop in the future.
Further down the road in Champaign, Illinois, I dropped in to the Jane Addams Book Shop. Most of the small shops that used to dot the University of Illinois campus are now gone, but the Jane Addams, in downtown Champaign, trods on. This store is full of great books. An excellent Americana section greets the customer in the entrance room. On the back side of it, I spied four shelves of Lakeside Classics, where a collection of Modern Library books once resided. Collectors of Juvenile series will find a very large selection in the next room. While the selection is excellent, be prepared to spend some money at this shop. I've never found a bargain here. I've always found that prices are generally $5 to $10 more than I expect to pay elsewhere. The trade off here is that you will find books that you want.
On my way home, I was looking forward to a stop in Lebanon, Indiana at a shop I had only recently discovered, named Mason's. I arrived only to find that this shop, too, had closed its doors. This was disappointing. I had visited before with very little time, and although I could not look it over carefully, I could see that this shop was full of sleepers. Alas, it will forever now be the fish that got away.
I have a confession to make. I have found a large stock of men's magazines in an antique mall in central Wisconsin. Every time I am in the vicinity of this mall, I stop and buy a stack of these magazines. I will not divulge the location of this mall until the entire stack is in my possession. I have become somewhat obsessed with these magazines, spending large, disproportionate amounts of time with these magazines. Some of the copies date to the early fifties, but most are from the first five years of the sixties.
Most were published, I believe, to compete with the popular True: The Man's Magazine, each issue of which contained a mix of true adventure stories, military history and other topics that appeal to men, like true crime and cars and gambling and girls. In fact, a number of the magazines in my secret pile are issues of True. I am particularly fond of an issue I have before me from February, 1960, which contains an abridgment of Errol Flynn's memoir My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Other titles in my pile include Sir!, Expose, Bluebook, Saga, and any number of appellations with forms of the word man in the title, such as Man's, Man's Illustrated, Men and Men in Adventure. All of the magazines seem to contain the same formula of content, more or less, but each of the magazines tended to emphasize a particular part of its market. Bluebook, for instance, emphasized military adventure tales, while Sir! emphasized girls. This emphasis usually shows up on the cover and in the order of the articles. True is glossier and more sophisticated in its editing. The rest, though, are all pretty much the same in content. I don't know a lot about these magazines yet, but I suspect that several may have been published by the same house.
Recently, while combing through the April, 1954 issue of Real: The Exciting Magazine for Men, I came across something I had never seen before--an ad for Popular Library paperbacks. All vintage paperback collectors have their own favorite publisher's lines from the golden age of paperback cover illustration. Many prefer the Signet line with superb illustrations and perhaps the best quality of writers. Others prefer the more lurid end, such as those published by Beacon, which had the sleaziest content. I've always preferred Bantam best, which somehow mixes both worlds in their early line of paperbacks. No matter what one's preference is, though, all collectors will probably agree that Popular Library always contained the most consistently alluring cover art of any line. Many featured the work of the now legendary former pulp artists Rudolph Belarski and Earle Bergey. In the advertisement, notice that the pulp story lines receive all of the emphasis, while the authors names are not mentioned at all. This is a good representation of what Popular Library offered at the time--compelling, though sensational story lines without little literary merit and packaged with alluring covers. This is almost the same formula as the men's magazines, now that I think about it.
Advertisements for books in periodicals is not very common, although not unheard of. Most book publishers advertised on their own products, such as listings and announcements for other titles in the backs of their publications. Later, with the popularizing of the dust jacket, the back flap often became a prime spot for alerting customers to new titles. Sometimes, the reverse of the jacket provided ample space for listing whole publishers' lines. The Library of America, I believe, does this currently with their trade copy jackets. Typically, publishers limited their advertisements elsewhere to just single titles with enormous sales potential, current or probable best sellers. (Readers interested in the topic should see Dwight Garner's Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements, published in 2009 by Ecco Press.) This still occurs occasionally outside of the literary reviews, but not often. I've even seen and heard radio and TV advertisements occasionally for publishing powerhouse James Patterson. It was quite rare, though, for advertisements to appear from a paperback house for general listings. Though, many paperbacks sold in the tens of thousands, their 25 cent price limited the possibility of huge profits from a single title, especially when compared to the profit potential of, say, a new Hemingway release. It is hard to gauge the return on the dollar that Popular Library anticipated from this kind of advertising. Popular Library was created by a former periodical and pulp publisher by the name of Pines Publications. It's possible that the publisher of Real, Literary Enterprises Inc., is somehow related to Popular Library and Pines, and the advertisement is a proprietary venture among related holdings. Who knows? After finding the Popular Library ad, I have since found another ad in a men's magazine for Pyramid books, an all print affair--no illustrations. I can't help but wonder if publisher branding makes much difference in choosing which paperbacks one takes off the rack for reading. Pyramid was also created by a magazine publisher, in this case Almat Magazine Publishers. As with Popular Library and Literary Enterprises, I cannot find a direct relationship with Pyramid Books and the publisher of the magazine. There may have not been any proprietary relationship in either case. It may have just been a case of shared readership between men's magazines and popular novels of the time.
Cool New Book in Bookstores Now: Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron and published by Scribner--a portrait of the author's father, William Styron, and his battle with depression.
I was recently combing through some storage boxes of poetry and literature and turned up a handful of New Directions' New Classic Series. James Laughlin, one of my heroes of publishing, began the series in 1948 as a way to reintroduce recent books, books that should be classics, that amazingly had gone out of print. It is difficult to believe now that Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and any works, even relatively minor works, by James Joyce fit the bill at one time here in the states. Laughlin began as early as 1936, while he was still in college. He focused on modernist and experimental writing, publishing primarily poets in small issues and annual anthologies. The early poetry issues are quite scarce now. Later Laughlin expanded to all forms of writing, but still concentrated on modern writing. When he began his line of New Classics, he brought on a modernist graphic designer named Alvin Lustig to design the books. Lustig's modern style matched the content of the new line. Lustig finished, by my count, thirty-six covers for the New Classics series and quite a number of covers, both hard and softcover, outside of the series. All of the New Classics are conveniently numbered on the spine (see below). I've never tried to obtain all of the volumes before as a collection, but I do have a good start and may give it a try in future. In my experience, you can expect to pay $10 to $50 for most of the volumes (in jacket, of course). If you wish to try to obtain all of Lustig's covers for New Directions, you eventually will have to contend for a copy of the first issue of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Expect prices for copies to begin around $800. Lustig died very young at just 40 years old, so the record of his output is sizable but not enormous. I've posted a few scans of his covers below, but if you like what you see, I strongly encourage you to visit alvinlustig.com. Vibrant scans of all of his book covers for New Directions are there, as well as his work for other publishers in addition to photos of his work in packaging, fabrics, interiors, etc.
Cool New Book in Book Stores Now: Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris by Robert Darnton and published by Harvard University Press. Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, among other things, is my favorite contemporary author of books about books. This volume looks at a police crackdown on poetry recitals in Paris in 1749. Look also for Darnton's The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon, published last year by University of Pennsylvania Press, and The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, published by PublicAffairs and now available in paperback.
A ship in full sail announces a new departure for the Grosset & Dunlap publishing company-- a new line of reprinted editions intended to "appeal to that growing body of critical and discerning readers who want the best"--all retailing for just one American dollar. Perhaps the most successful line of cheap reprints before the advent of the 25 cent paperback, the Grosset & Dunlap line filled shelves in bookstores across America, selling successfully and keeping booksellers in business even in the depths of the great depression. Once the saviour of booksellers, these volumes later became the bane of rare booksellers before settling comfortably into antique mall booths across America. The volumes listed on the verso of this bookmark date for the most part between 1923 and 1926, which means this bookmark dates from about the same time. "[O]nly books which have won the highest commendation will be included in this list," says the text. I'm accustomed to passing over these when I encounter them, but I have to admit that I have owned some of these titles, and I wouldn't mind procuring the Ford Madox Ford titles on this list. I don't have either.
Cool New Book in Bookstores Now: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde and published by Penguin--the latest Thursday Next installment in which an all out Genre War threatens the Book World. Features a great cover by Thomas Allen.
While I was shuffling my library this past week, two copies of the Game of Authors popped out. The two copies had never been in close proximity before, so I decided to pull out both for a close comparison. If you don't know the Game of Authors, it is a Go Fish-like game, only without the draw pile. A deck represents a number of authors, and each author is represented, usually, by four of his titles, creating a set called a "book." For instance, one of my sets features J. M. Barrie. His set contains a card each for A Window in Thrums, The Little Minister, Peter Pan, and Peter and Wendy. The total number of authors represented seems to vary from deck to deck. The goal of the game is to complete the most sets. All cards are dealt and a player begins by asking another player if he has a particular title, or card, from a desired "book." If the inquiring player is successful, he may ask a player for another card, and so on until he misses. The next player continues in the same way until he misses. If a player completes a "book," he lays it on the table, removing those cards from play. The game continues until all "books" are completed. The player with the most "books" wins. Yes, I'll say it again. The player with the most books wins!
A Wikipedia article claims that the game was invented in the states by Anne Abbott, an editor of a young people's literary journal, who also gets credit for inventing one of the earliest American board games. The first Authors deck was published in 1961 by G. M. Whipple and A. A. Smith of Salem, Massachusetts. The famous Parker Brothers, also of Salem, later published their first version of the deck in 1897. The game's concept is also known in Britain, where an early version, circa 1851, called Happy Families "centered on family members and their occupations," according to a brief article on BoardGameGeek.com.
In Germany, it is known as Quartet or Kwartet. Authors do not have an exclusive on the game's concept. Over the years, the concept has been used with everything from cars to baseball players, Disney characters and even Super Mario Bros.
There appears to be any number of Authors decks published in the states between the first deck and that of the Parker Brothers. Ebay recently listed an auction for a deck from 1873 by Porter and Coates of Philadelphia, and currectly lists an auction for a deck dated 1887 from McLoughlin Bros. of New York in a wooden box (most come in a cardboard box) and named The Game of Star Authors. You can buy it now, by the way, for a mere $450.00. This suggests that the game indeed caught on in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Sets appear to have continued to proliferate in the twentieth century. Ebay, again, has several listings currently and probably does at any given time.
The Wikipedia article claims that a standard deck consists of thirteen authors, each with four titles to a book, for a total of 52 cards to a deck. However, there appears to be quite a wide variance in the deck size. The McLoughlin Bros. deck on ebay claims it has an expanded deck of 72 cards. My Parker Brothers set has only seven authors and each book is made up of only three titles each, which is a 21 card deck, if you're counting. The three card book is not unique, either. Yet another ebay listing from Milton Bradley lists a three card book. I have another deck from the Russell Manufacturing company of Leicester, Massachusetts that uses the four card book, but has eight authors, which adds up to a 32 card deck. I am unsure how these variances affect the play of the game. I would assume the smaller-sized 3-card book would tend to speed things up.
Neither of my sets are dated. I can only estimate their age by the type of printing used and whatever history I can dig up about their manufacturers. The lack of dating is a little frustrating, because more fun than playing the game is surmising which authors were so famous during an era that they made it into the game. My Russell deck, which probably dates to the late '30s or early '40s, contains eight authors, three Americans and five from across the pond, including Stevenson, Conrad, Dickens, Kipling and Barrie. No surprises from the British Isles, but the Americans are Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Booth Tarkington. Take Tarkington as an example. He was a best-selling author of his time and still rather respected, but who would choose him for the set now? The same is probably true now of Holmes, too. Despite being a monster bestseller in his day, his work is barely in print anymore. My Parker Brothers set contains five Americans--Holmes and Longfellow again, along with Cooper, Hawthorne and Howells. Melville's reputation hadn't grown yet, I suppose, and the arguably quintessential American writer, Mark Twain, doesn't appear, though I have seen him in other sets (see below). The two representative Brits in this collection, by the way, are Scott and Tennyson.
The most unusual set I've uncovered is a repackaged Parker Brothers set sold by Union Games of Brooklyn, New York. It contains eight authors--Tarkington again, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, being the best known today. Also incuded are Ernest Seton Thompson, the early Scouts pioneer and author of innumerable animal stories, Winston Churchill, not the British PM, but the author of Richard Carvel, a book familiar to anyone who has stepped foot in any antique mall in North America, and three others that I had to look up--Cyrus Townsend Brady, James Bryce and Sam Walter Foss. If these latter were the equivalent of trading cards, I suspect they would be, though rarer, the least traded cards out there.
Most decks appear to contain just novelists and poets. But, the Proctor and Coates set (mentioned above) appears to be a variant in that it contains two historians, Edward Gibbons and Willaim Prescott. Potential collectors are now too late to snap this one up, as the auction appears to have ended yesterday.
Cool New Book in Bookstores Now: The Pale King by David Foster Wallace and published by Little, Brown--Wallace's last, unfinished novel about agents at the Internal Revenue Service.
The last of winter's ice in front of my home melted last weekend, which surely must mean that spring has arrived. The roads are clear again and turns my mind again to book hunting. A great deal has happened in my professional life since my post last November. Christmas at the bookstore was more hectic than ever, as my bankrupt company could not afford to staff the store properly. Since then, my company has entered into actual Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and decided to close my store along with another 234 other locations across the country. I have been assisting in the liquidation of my store's merchandise for the last two months. It will finally close in about a week. So, as I look to the prospect of book hunting season, I expect, in my unemployment, to have more time than ever for scouring the local countryside for under appreciated printed matter. However, it will be more poorly funded than ever.
Should I find employment soon, I expect I'll continue to feature regional stores, as usual. If not, I'm unsure of what the nature of future posts may be. I may continue in the same vein, only on a shoestring, as the Lonely Planet people like to say. Locally, gasoline is nearly $4.00 per gallon now, so I may find it monetarily necessary to stay close to home. My range may be limited to what I can reach with my bicycle. The "Cool New Book in Bookstores Now" feature certainly will disappear. More than anything about working in a new books bookstore, I will miss seeing all the new releases. I'm looking for another idea to replace it in the blog. I may very well find another approach to my posts, perhaps talking more about books already in my library. With some time on my hands, I may give my library a good shuffle and see what rises to the top. In any case, look for a fresh new post within a week or so.
Lead was discovered in a part of southwest Wisconsin known as the "driftless area" early in the nineteenth century. The area was missed by the massive glaciers that once flattened the great plains, resulting in rolling hills with minerals still near the surface. The discovery of lead created the first mineral rush in this country. Miners came from all over, but in particular came miners from Cornwall, who brought advanced techniques for the type of surface mining the terrain demanded. Early miners built crude shelters known as "badger holes," a term that eventually led to the state becoming known as the Badger State. By the 1830s, when the Cornish miners arrived at the center of the industry, a settlement named Mineral Point was formed and the Cornish miners began building more substantive shelters in limestone and sandstone. In 1830, the population of Mineral Point was larger than that of Milwaukee and Chicago combined. Like all boom towns, the population subsided when the minerals ran out. But Mineral Point did not become a ghost town. A century later, local residents began efforts to preserve the town's heritage. Many buildings dating back to the first half of the nineteenth century are still standing and are open to visitors. Artists and craftspeople began immigrating to the town in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the combination of the old, preserved buildings and the local artisans make the town a draw for tourists from all over the country.
Wisconsin Books Room
At the bottom of downtown in an old foundry building is Foundry Books, which has been operating continually in this location since 1995. The original proprietor stocked the store with old local materials, like surveys, territorial reports, maps, etc. Some of his old stock is still in the store. Later it was purchased and run by a couple for two years or so, circa 2002 to 2004. I particularly remember that they had some very nice Virginia Woolf editions from her Hogarth Press that I could not afford at the time. Since then, it has been owned and operated by Gayle Bull, who tells me that most of her books are still elsewhere, away from the salesfloor, until she is ready to sell them. At the time of my most recent visit, she had placed her books about books up for sale. They stand on four full cases, by far the largest subject now in the shop, and probably the largest such collection of books about books in the region. Being a devotee of such reading matter, I found that I had much of the material already, yet I made an astounding find. Tucked among the A. Edward Newtons and the Holbrook Jacksons was The Book-Collector: A General Survey of the Pursuit and of those who have engaged in it at Home and Abroad from the Earliest Period to the Present Time by W. Carew Hazlitt, grandson of the famous English critic and noteable bibliographer in his own right. Given the obviousness of its title, I'm not sure how this book eluded me for thirty years, but I had never heard of it. This one was a first from George Redway in 1904. I haven't finished reading it yet, but it seems to be a very broad look at all issues in book collecting of the period, with careful comments on particulars and indicative of a bibliographer's discernment. I expect this volume to become a favorite for the next couple of months. This book would have never showed up in a shop in a larger town like Madison, Milwaukee or Chicago, or at least not for long. What marvelous serendipity lies in these out of the way bookshops!
The frontispiece of The Book-Collector
Though the mining industry has long ended in Mineral Point, one industry continues to live on--the production of Cornish pasties, the meat and potato pies enclosed in bakery shells that miners once carried with them for their lunch. Locally, they are more likely to contain some rhubarb, rather than the more traditional turnips. It is tradition to stop and have a pasty when visiting Mineral Point. I recommend the Red Rooster Cafe on High Street. If you don't have time for a hot one, you can pick them up in the local convenience stores. In fact, I buy them regularly from the grocery stores in Madison.
Four Racks of Books About Books
Cool New Book in Book Stores Now: The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 by Mark Twain and published by the University of California. Finally in print after just 100 years. Get your copy early, the print run of this Twain first is quite small. Prices should quickly rise.