Wednesday, May 30, 2007

D was for Digressive Thoughts Unsubdued

There is a saying in Tilvanica: "Whatever you do, don't discuss physics with mourning doves." Or so I was told. This reminds me of the day when an old friend Tristy Ramshand found himself on the street where Chumley and Pepys Used Books once existed, bricks and mortar that is; I was placing the sandwich sign out one morning, when who strolled by with pipe and avuncular smile but old Trist, and in he walked and proceeded to expound on the nature of coincidence (quoting a writer whose name I have forgotten: "coincidence traced back far enough leads to inevitability") and began to trace the veritable trajectories of his life and how they came to intersect with mine on the sidewalk outside old Chumley and Pepys. He rarely looked at me, fearing no doubt a vacuously rapt expression which might interrupt his thoughts with present reality. (He was rather like having the radio on, except one couldn't turn it off.) Within twenty minutes he had moved on to a discussion of theoretical physics which led him to reminisce about growing up in a small town in Outer Manitoba, called Tilvanica. (For years I have been meaning to see if such a place exists, but his digressions always left me exhausted, and therefore, once he had gone, I was ever reluctant to revisit these memories--does Outer Manitoba even have mourning doves?) Trist was a talking machine capable of holding multiple conversations on diverse topics, a true top lister at any dinner party or get together; and yet, though his digressions had digressions, he somehow managed to round off each conversation with what I like to call a cornerstone remark, which would leave everyone thinking to themselves "hmm, yes. . . .the man is brilliant, but thank god I don't have to live with him and pity the person that does."

Thankfully closing time came round and I went out to get the sandwich board leaving Trist talking to a cornered customer. Upon returning, I interrupted old Trist by giving him a copy of Sterne's Tristram Shandy so the customer could breakaway and make a quiet and quick exit. He said he had numerous copies--though he would like this one--and began to tell me about finding a singular copy translated into Spanish which he found in a book stall in the small town of Upper Sneezewood, and how the name on the flyleaf just happened to be that of a distant, and most eccentric, uncle of his. . . .
But that is another story.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

C was for Corso a Book Scout Pursued

When it was released in 1999, The Ninth Gate really didn't do well at the till, nor did it give critics much of a thrill, but I, like many who enjoyed reading Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas (originally published Madrid: Alfaguara Hispanica,1993), ventured out to see this film with a visibly evanescent hope that it might capture something of the novel's flair.

Dealing with books as it does, I had thought that there would at least be qualities of production design that would be of interest to the eye, and here it didn't disappoint; and with Roman Polanski and Johnny Depp one could be assured of something dramatically skewed, ever so slightly, like a cocked spine on an old Chandler first. The screenplay(s), however, dropped much of the book's material which was par for the cinematic course. Film is film.

Having not seen the film since its initial outing, I look forward to the recent DVD release and hope it has extras of interest. Perhaps it would be good to reread the book, though it can be a dicey affair to try and recapture that dizzily reserved feeling of a first reading. But one can try.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"B" Was for Blogger Who Went For a Walk

Walking thought No. 1:
I--like the majority of bloggers I imagine--have never submitted written work other than university papers for the eyes of Professors--or their assistants. I have always written though: journals, unfinished short stories, reviews and exercises in non-fiction, light verse and of course, ponderously derivative poetry written during my teen years, which, thankfully, still basks in the shadows of the unread--or is it the shadows of the unreadable? But though I have never submitted written work, I find I am still able to express myself, and weblogs are wonderful tools for self-expression. I envy the youth of today who are at the starting gate for they will be able to create an archive, an extended memory if you will, so upon reaching my graying age, they can, one hopes, with whatever technology exists in thirty years or so, bring up a review from their early university days and either nod or groan over what they had written.

Walking thought No. 2: The persistent discussions over the book review table of late have centered on whether reviews written by bloggers have any real merit. All I know is that I enjoy reviews written by bloggers as well as by professional reviewers and published authors. With blogs one doesn't know what diction to expect because there are no set parameters. With the New York Review of Books, or the Times Literary Supplement, one has certain expectations. But blogs vociferously run the gamut. The diversity of views, and their likewise diverse use of language and style, can stimulate thought and promote the exchange of ideas. Perhaps it comes down to, like most things, tribalism, territorial defence and change.

Walking thought No. 3: Like most people too, I feel more comfortable with a few books on the go; I am not, however, one for building stacks beside the bed which threaten vulnerable toes in the night. No, a manageable pile is required. One that doesn't overwhelm. One that can sit upon the bedside table without undue stress. (Perhaps the older one gets, the greater the need to moderate and balance the weight of so many words, so many pages, so many books. Then again, it might just be me--I get vertigo, and perhaps a hint of envy, looking at all those book stack pictures on people's blogs!) Having a few books on the go, however, brings up, as many readers know, companion readings, or tandem narratives which are unplanned, at least consciously. How these narratives weave their way through the brain and affect my dreams I don't know, but it is sometimes quixotic how the narratives of different books mingle and exchange thoughts seemingly of their own accord, forcing themselves into my consciousness; at times it is dispassionately subtle and at other times emphatically obvious. This is generally the point where I reach for the pen and notebook, nodding as if to placate the intrusive nature of that other narrative as I jot down a few words and hopefully delineate my thoughts from the mingled narrative strategies.

Addendum: Perhaps in my dreams Paul Auster, Matthew Pearl and Cees Nooteboom are exchanging narrative secrets while I pour the wine and keep the fictional characters away from the expensive cheeses. Or maybe it is the fictional characters in control, and I find myself looking over the shoulders of the authors as we all try to catch a peek through the window--that point of view of the house of fiction--and try to catch glimpses of the cavorting characters.

Tables do furnish a room

On the official letterhead of the Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan, this extremely thin blue paper was creased and folded inside a book on, what else, a history of western furniture.

This letter offers much to the imagination.

The history of the royal family of Jaipur can be found here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

After Dark with Murakami

Our viewpoint is from above, like a camera, our vision pans down to the rectangular structure lying upon the highly polished veneered tabletop, the subtly coloured dustwrapper of the book intrigues our eyes as the light from the window glints off the lettering, H a r u k i M u r a k a m i. Our left hand--or our right--reaches out and lifts the book closer to our vision and we see the title of the book is called: a f t e r d a r k; these letters are artificially superimposed on an image of thin vertical blinds over a photograph of what appears to be an urban night scene. We turn it over and scan the blurbs of acclaim for the author's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories, and our eyes rest upon the bottom edge of the dustwrapper where the image of colourful Japanese drink bottles nestle against one another, like bottles nestling against one other. We open the rear board and the photograph of the author instills us with a sense of anxiety, his expression is one of distant perplexity. We look down and see that Chip Kidd was responsible for the jacket photography and design. We nod. Our eyes notice the small print near the author's photo and we zoom in to see that it is not Jerry Bauer but Elena Siebert, photographer. We nod again.

Slipping the dustwrapper off the hardcover, our eyes widen with the colours displayed: pink on the spine, purple on the boards, with special ribbed paper for both. Spine title in gilt stamp. Our vision blurs as our hands feel the tactile qualities of the ribbed paper covered boards, the ribs echoing the vertical blinds of the cover image in a nuanced dance of sight and touch.

Opening the book to the title page our vision takes in the typeface used for the title and author, something modern, something different; a resemblance to a stamped name, a stamped title. Then, a fleeting image in our imaginations comes up, of a vast floor of workers, each sitting at a desk, each stamping books on title pages, the sound, a loud musical counterpoint to the unheard rhythms of their hearts. . . .

We turn to the first page and observe a stylised image of a clock showing just before midnight. We hear an old Pet Shop Boys song on the radio, in the distance. Our eyes scan down and we begin to read:

"Eyes mark the shape of the city. . . ."

-for a review of Murakami's After Dark, millions has an interesting one, or perhaps this review at Christian Science Monitor or here at the L. A. newspaper.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

From Awnings To Steinways

I must say that I am not a collector of ephemera or bookmarks. There are professional dealers in ephemera but I have never purchased anything, though I have browsed shows devoted to ephemera. Having been involved with books for so many years, I have merely accumulated items which I have found in books, certainly a modest collection. I am an accumulator if you will. And a preserver. I find them quite fascinating. There is much to be learned from them.

This business card which I found in a book on American history is attractive. Before air-conditioning, awnings and canopies did the trick. On the back of this card is written in pencil with a flourish: "$2.00 a window." Certainly sounds like a bargain today. I imagine many booksellers relied on awnings and canopies to keep the fading and sunning to a minimum in their display windows. There is certainly something stylish with those old awnings and canopies.

I am not familiar with Astoria and I didn't know of Steinway & Sons connection with the borough. Fascinating to find this out. The homepage for Steinway can be found here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pepys' Letters

My alter ego, or doppleganger, Mr. Pepys, (so quiet here at Chumley and Pepys on Books, never a peep out of old Pepys I always say) has started a weblog devoted to Letters. A daily selection of letters for the delectation of readers. A commonplace book shared.

Good luck, Mr. Pepys!

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Fridge Magnet Childe Roland

The profligate juggernaut scion
through arid vicissitude
by fusillade steed
and subterfuge
trod full
and brazen
herculean pedagogue
festoon him
with unctuous
pithy droll.

{A handfull of fridge magnet words brought this out and they seemed to bring up, in my mind, old Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came--even if the young knight was afoot and not on a horse-- or am I thinking of some other Browning bit? (Although, to be precise, the magnets were on the dryer, and, as I waited for the laundry to dry. . . idle hands.) With apologies to Robert Browning}

Bookmark of the Week: No. 14

For a change from the standard rectangular card stock bookmark we all know, this little leather corner marker is rather quaint. It measures 2" along the sides. This one has the name of the original owner on the reverse stamped in gilt. The short quotation on this side: "Books are Keys," my wife informs me is from a verse by Emilie Poulsson.

Not a bookmark for the busy commuter's paperback, or that thriller on the beach, but rather one made for the family bible or the book beside the bed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Leopoldt, Holt, Schuyler, and Dewey

As books and their bibliographies can lead one to other books, so a seemingly insignificant piece of card stock ephemera like this, can lead one to new discoveries. I had never heard of Frederick Leopoldt and in doing light research, I also came across Eugene Schuyler, another person new to me. Although Henry Holt's name lives on as an imprint, the names of Leypoldt and Schuyler seem forgotten except by scholars and specialists in certain fields.

Of the many publisher's devices, the owl used by Leopoldt & Holt, and then Henry Holt & Co., is one of the more recognizable ones along with Alfred A. Knopf's borzoi and Allen Lane's penguin. I don't have many Henry Holt books but one can find the images online here and there. It is interesting to come across the different versions of the owl. The card to the left was issued by the firm, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, this one from the Canadian office in Toronto, and the card was placed in complimentary copies sent out to, one hopes, fortunate recipients.

Baltimore born Henry Holt (1840-1926) joined the company of Frederick Leypoldt in 1866 whereby it became Leypoldt & Holt. One of their publications in 1867 was Edmund About's The Man With the Broken Ear translated from the French by Henry Holt. Two years before they joined together in business, Holt had offered this translation to Leopoldt who had graciously declined. Holt dedicated the translation to Leopoldt in an amusing paragraphe concerning this. You can find the translation and the dedication at Project Gutenberg. More importantly, in 1867, the company published the first English translation of Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons: a Novel, number 3 in their Leisure Hours Series. The translation was made from the original Russian with the approval of the author by Eugene Schuyler(1840-1890)the extraordinarily accomplished diplomat, author and traveller. Schuyler was one of the first recipients of an earned Ph.D. degree from an American University: Yale, 1861. The firm became Holt & Williams in 1872, and then Henry Holt & Co. in 1873 and continued to publish translations of Turgenev's works. Holt's memoirs entitled Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor came out in 1923. (I can't think of another book with 'garrulities' in the title, although there may be other examples.)

Frederick Leopoldt (1835-1884), originally from Stuttgart, Germany, arrived in America in 1855. He was interested in creating better bibliographic records which would make the bookselling and publishing business more efficient. His Annual American Catalogue came out in 1870, his Publisher's Weekly came out in 1872, and Publishers' Trade List Annual in 1873. He was a busy man. Richard R. Bowker was Leopoldt's associate editor and he later took over the business. R. R. Bowker is a name that has survived into our day, as any one involved in libraries or publishing will know. They are also the official U. S. ISBN agency. Poor Leopoldt, his name continually dipped into obscurity, and yet he was the catalyst for so much. He was, in fact, instrumental in the start of the American Library Association.

In the month of May 1876, Melville Dewey had dropped by Publisher's Weekly in New York to tell Leopoldt about his idea for a library journal. Leopoldt was interested in the idea very much. Leopoldt in turn, told Dewey that in a forthcoming Publisher's Weekly editorial, he had suggested that librarians get together to meet in Philadelphia for the centennial celebrations: a conference to discuss and share information. This eventually happened, and the American Library Association was formed. Leopoldt liked the idea of a library journal and wanted to own and publish one. He asked Dewey to become the editor, and Library Journal came out in 1876.

Frederick Leopoldt, responsible for so much, yet, never achieved that lasting impression of a trade name like a Holt, or a Bowker. I only hope there is a bust of Leopoldt in the foyer of Publisher's Weekly, or an engraving of him at the home of the Library Journal.

For those with time on their hands, there is in an interesting interview with a Publisher's Weekly editor at this link.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bookmark of the Week: No. 13

This is a small bookmarker (6.5cm x 3.5cm) with an uneven top edge and a cut out flap to mark your place. After spending two hours weeding and cutting the lawns, I could have used a nice cool New Yorker Lager. Not being a beer drinker except after cutting lawns or after a round of golf -which I haven't played for twenty years-I don't usually keep any in stock. Canada Dry Ginger Ale had to do.

This would be a good bookmark for books by Hammett or Chandler or even those west coast hardboiled favourites of mine by Ross Macdonald. Ah, I see some of my summer reading taking shape already.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gielgud's MacBeth

In honour of Scotland's election day, I looked for something related to the country in my ephemera and came up with this 1942 programme for John Gielgud's production of MacBeth for a two week run at the King's Theatre, Glasglow, during the month of February 1942.
The air raid warning notice above, centre, and the advertisement for Kelvin Court flats listing it has air raid shelters certainly provides a context to these performances.
It was Gielgud's 1942 production that saw three actors die and the suicide of a costume designer. The curse was much on the minds of the theatre company to be sure.
At the bottom is the announcement of the production to follow: More 1066 And All That, presented by Emile Littler.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Harper & Brothers

Ephemera for the month of May seems appropriate.

This is a Harper & Brothers Form No. 802 which was placed in each box of books packed for shipment. Printed on the reverse are lines for the initials of the individuals who packed the box and checked the box after packing. Their quality control of the day.

If you are visiting New York you may want to check out the exhibit at Columbia University: Caterers General to the Literary World: The House of Harper (Chang Octagon, RBML, Butler 6th Floor East, 535 West 114th Street) March 28 through June 30, 2007. It was mounted to coincide with the Bibliographical Society of America’s conference: Birth of the Bestseller: The 19th Century Book in Britain, France, and Beyond which ran from March 29th to the 31st.