The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books






January 2010

Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!


Nov.-Dec. 09

Sept.-Oct. 09

July-Aug. 09

Apr.-June 09

Jan.-Mar. 09

Dec. 08

Feb.-Nov. 08

january 08

autumn 07

september 07

29 January 10

Recent Reading

— Patti Smith. Just Kids . Ecco, [2010]. Intimate, compelling memoir of Smith’s life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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Hard Times

from the forthcoming Hard Times , from the collection of Michael Zinman (Annals of Collecting  : 2)

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25 January 10

How de we know ?

— Partick [Henry] Pearse. Short Stories . Translated from the original Irish by Joseph Campbell. Edited and introduced by Anne Markey. (University College Dublin Press, [2009], distributed in the U.S. by Dufour Editions).

This new edition of Patrick Henry Pearse’s short stories collects two small but exceedingly influential books by one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. Pearse’s political activism and his prominence in the events of April 1916 have overshadowed his literary work. Pearse began learning Irish Gaelic in the 1890s and was an energetic member of the Gaelic League, and editor of its periodical, An Claidheamnh Soluis  (The Sword of Light), from 1906 to 1909. The ten stories in this collection were written in Irish between 1905 and 1916, and are the fictional counterpart of Pearse’s critical advocacy of modern literary technique. Citing a 1906 essay, editor Anne Markey notes that “ Pearse’s insistence that twentieth-century Irish-language literature should engage with ‘ the mind of contemporary Europe ” and should be modern in ‘ texture, tone, and outlook ’ reflects his conviction that ‘a living modern literature cannot  (and if it could, should not) be built up on the folktale ’. ”

These stories are rooted in the speech of Irish village life — as Joyce’s stories are rooted in carefully observed urban life — and any tendency toward excessive cuteness is dispelled, sometimes deftly, sometimes brutally, by the constant presence of death and suffering. The kindness of children in “ The Thief ” may be touching, but “ The Dearg-Daol ”, narrated by a “ walking man ”, describes a trajectory of domestic misery as relentless and devastating as what Eugène Marais described as the “ pessimistic conviction, apparently borne out by every fact observed, that the oscillations of the pendulum are gradually lessening round the deadpoint. ”

There wasn’t any luck on me or on my household from that day out. My wife died a month after that, and she in childbirth. The child didn’t live. There fell a murrain on my cattle the winter following. The landlord put me out of my holding. I am a walking man, and the roads of Connacht before me, from that day to this.

“ Barbara ” is a story of a small girl and her two dolls. Brideen neglects Barbara, her treasured first doll after she is given Niamh Goldy-Head, but it is Barbara who falls from a dresser and alerts the child’s mother of imminent danger. A simple tale ; but the attentive reader cannot mistake the following passage :

My answer to anybody who’d speak like this to me would be : — How do we know ?  How do you or I know that dolls, and wooden toys, and the tree, and the hill, and the river, and the waterfall, and the little blossoms of the field, and the little stones of the strand haven’t their own feeling, and mind, and understanding, and guidance ? — aye, and the hundred other things we see about us ? I don’t say they have ; but ’twould be daring for me or anybody else to say they haven’t.

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“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

These words by Patrick H. Pearse, in the proclamation of the Irish Republic, have undoubtedly gained a wider currency than the small clutch of short stories he wrote in the decade leading up to the events of the Easter Rising.

When Pearse, with Connolly at his side, came to the front door of the GPO and formally read the document which proclaimed the Irish Republic a sovereign, independent state, it was for them an intense and defining moment, the realisation of dreams and the fruit of much careful, secret planning. For those passers by who stopped to observe the scene on a pleasant bank holiday afternoon, the experience was less compelling and they listened with a largely bemused indifference. Once read, Pearse arranged for copies of the Proclamation to be posted up around the city . . . .

[from the essay by Stephen Ferguson for the An Post facsimile (2007) of the 1916 Proclamation, The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland, signed by Thomas J. Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, P.H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett.]

The Rising, “ fruit of much careful, secret planning ”, had deep roots and derived its power from awareness of years of injustice. Pearse’s revolutionary impulse is inseparable from the modernist literary agenda and the preoccupation with death and sorrow that are at the dark, wonderful core of these stories. If “ Eioneen of the Birds ” is an Irish miniature of George Mac Donald’s At the Back of the North Wind , Pearse’s last story, “ The Keening Woman ”, a layered narrative, rich in nuance, was published in January 1916. It is an explicit picture of the terrible weight of English rule :

‘ Who’s to be put out ? ’ says one of us.
‘ Old Thomas O’Drinan from the Glen, — I’m told the poor fellow’s dying, but it’s on the roadside he’ll die, if God hasn’t him already ; a man of the O’Conaire‘s that lives in a cabin on this side of Loch Shindilla ; Manning from Snamh Bo ; two in Annamaghmaan ; a woam at the head of the Island ; and Anthony O’Greelis from Lower Camus. ’ [. . .]
‘It’s easy to talk, ’ said Cuimin ‘ but what way can we stop the bodach ? ’
‘ Murder him this night, ’says a voice behind me. Everybody started. I myself turned round. It was Coilin Muirne that spoke.

Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie were executed by the English on 3 May 1916.

Pearse’s stories were swiftly translated into English by various hands, but several editions omitted notable stories. This translation of the stories, by Joseph Campbell of Belfast, was first published in 1917. Campbell’s direct links with Ezra Pound and the modernist movement ensured that this translator was in sympathy with Pearse’s literary aims. These tales, especially “The Keening Woman ” and “ The Dearg-Daol ”, demonstrate complexities of Pearse’s life and aspirations in ways that the biographical narrative cannot ; and the passage from “ Barbara ” noted above is something I am glad to have encountered. The editor’s introduction is richly informative ; the comentary on the text and notes on the geography of the stories are useful.

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The example of the 1916 Proclamation in the General Post Office, Dublin

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Children’s Fantasy
XKCD (courtesy of Graham Sleight)

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22 January 10

Seaweed of Japan

From Room 26, Beinecke Library, an image from a book of 121 mounted seaweed specimens from the Sea of Japan [collected, possibly by Lauriston B. Hardin, on the Perry Japan Expedition, 1853-55].

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Detectives and Dreams

“ a splendid novel . . .  a fun, flexible dance of a book ”

The Endless Bookshelf has received word from Penguin Books that the paperback edition of The Manual of Detection is to be published on Tuesday 26 January, and that author Jedediah Berry will be in Brooklyn on that date to celebrate publication, at the Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin Street in Brooklyn, at 7:30 p.m.

details, et.c, at :

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Current Reading

— Léo Malet. Nestor Burma. Derni²res enqu°tes . Edition établie et présentée par Nadia Dhoukor. (Bouquins. Robert Laffont, 2007). Paris noir by the master, the ancien surréaliste et poète  Léo Malet (1909-1996). Collection of Nestor Burma novels and miscellaneous fragments and documents. I had read lots of Malet a decade ago, most of his early novels and the Nouveaux mystères de Paris  series featuring Nestor Burma, and when this came into my hands I dove right in, to the exclusion of all other books. Malet never quite rises to the level of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953), but the word-play — and rain and darkness (and sudden gunshots and sultry glances) —  is deft and satisfying and tense. It might be impossible to translate the Nestor Burma novels — why should one translate Paris ? It is worth learning French to read them.

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The Real Reason

The real reason that Temporary Culture opted out of the proposed Google settlement and what it implies for digital books : I produce book objects to be held in the hand and read. [HWW]

For a more detailed response, see Tom Purdom’s note, cited by Michael Swanwick, here :

A salient point : “ It seems to me Google is making a Grab, to use one of Damon [Knight]’s terms. ” — Tom Purdom

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The Future of the Book

At the symposium “ Current Challenges to Fine Printing and Book Design ” in the twenty-first century at the Grolier Club on 13 January, publisher David R. Godine sounded an optimistic note on the endurance and future of the printed book :

“ in 40 years, no one has called with questions about how to operate a book ”

Designer and printer Luke Ives Pontifell expressed a useful metaphor for the book with printed pages that one holds in the hands : as the violin is an instrument to play composer’s music, the book is an instrument to perform (experience) author’s words.

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Between August 2009 and January 2010, the Endless Bookshelf had more than 600 visitors from 57 countries, and more than 1,600 page views, and blah blah blah. Is that a good thing ? It is not statistics that are meaningful — but your responses.

As the Endless Bookshelf aspires to be a collective enterprise, readers, your communications are needed. And as the website begins its fourth year, the invitation to contribute is renewed : pictures, words, links.

Your correspondent has been working on several publishing projects, details of which — with pictures — will be announced in the near future.

Your correspondent will be exhibiting at the annual California Antiquarian Book Fair, 12-14 February, in Los Angeles this year. See you there. [HWW]

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12 January 10

Hope Mirrlees a Farewell (of sorts)

Lady Ottoline Morrell with friends, possibly by Philip Edward Morrell, late 1930

With the entire print run of Hope-in-the-Mist  by Michael Swanwick dispersed, and the aims of the project complete, it is pleasing to know that the predicted convergence of interest in Mirrlees from the fantasy and literary communities has come to pass. (Now if we could just get a decent edition of Lud-in-the-Mist  in print in the U.S.) The torch has been passed : Sandeep Parmar, a Cambridge scholar, is at work on a full-scale biography ; and the stylish and detailed web resource on Hope Mirrlees curated by Erin Kissane at is fully active.

The photograph above, from the National Portrait Gallery, “ Lady Ottoline Morrell with friends, possibly by Philip Edward Morrell, late 1930 ” (NPG Ax143288), is quite a literary garden party : the sitters are identified as Georges Cattaui, Walter D’Arcy Cresswell, Jim Ede, Leila Faithful, Hope Mirrlees, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Lytton Strachey, Arthur Waley, and William Butler Yeats. NPG Ax143313 has a certain charm, too :

Standing : Lytton Strachey, Georges Cattaui. Seated : Arthur Waley, Hope Mirrlees.

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Recent reading

— William Gibson. Spook Country  (2007 ; Berkley Books paperback, 2008). A very satisfying collision of narrative arcs with some beautifully phrased, savage political commentary on trends in the U.S. I thought this was one of the funniest exchanges :

“ See-bear-espace, ” Odile pronounced, gnomically, “ it is everting. ”
“ ‘Everything ’ ? What is ? ”
“ See-bear-espace, ” Odile reaffirmed, “ everts. ”

—  Michael Dibdin. End Games (2007).

“ We’re playing hide-and-seek in the library of Alexandria. ”

Read this on an airplane, where not long after I noticed the following in the Korean Air duty free catalogue : “ Gwen Stefani Harajuku Lovers Snow Bunnies Eau de toilette. ” Which I will take as Q.E.D.

— Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City. Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003).

The frontier may indeed have closed, as Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed in his history-making speech at the fair, but for that moment it stood there glittering in the sun like the track of a spent tear.

— Michael Connelly. The Last Coyote  (1995 ; Grand Central Publishing paperback, 2005). Temper, temper, Harry Bosch. Connelly’s rejoinder to James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia  (1987).

— Cory Dctorow. Makers  (Tor, 2009). Dense with information, wildly satirical, with some very funny notions. Not so engaging a narrative as Little Brother  and with a couple of conceptual gaps — the rides ; and the ecological impact of the endless extrusions of plastic — that had me picking at the metaphor a few times. The glee of madcap inventors/makers Lester and Perry, however, and the journalist SuzanneÍs re-invention of herself, were compelling and rewarding.

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Ed Sanders, Book-freak

Bancroft Library, BANC MSS 92/788

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The New Yorker  for 18 January has a substantial and wide-ranging survey of works by modern Arab novelists, Found in Translation. The contemporary Arabic novel by Claudia Roth Pierpont. “ ‘ Politics and the novel are an indivisible case, ’ the Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani wrote. ” I want to look for a copy of I‘jaam  by Sinan Antoon, described as “ alert to the uses of language, in a closed political society, for both indoctrination and rebellion. ” These works seem to be dispatches from a zone where the consequences of words are potent, perilous, esteemed.
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The Story Prize
Received from Larry Dark, the list of finalists for this year’s Story Prize.

Now in its sixth year, The Story Prize, an annual award for books of short fiction, is pleased to honor three outstanding short story collections chosen from an exceptional group published in 2009. The three finalists — all debut collections — are :
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (W.W. Norton)
Drift by Victoria Patterson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The prize winner will be announced on 3 March at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City. More information at

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Wander in the Archives

The Archives of the Endless Bookshelf have been swept and tidied and a guide has been prepared to assist wanderers. Index would be too strong a term : the headwords tend to be suggestive rather than directive. Start here. Have fun.

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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating photos or comments and interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HWW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2007-2010 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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