The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books






February 2010

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


january 10

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

26 February 10 — Snowed In

Cleaning Up New York : ‘ Dirt will always win in the end ’

— Bob Rosenthal. Cleaning Up New York . Cover by Rochelle Kraut. Angel Hair Books, [1976]. This is one of the great neglected books of the 1970s, a classic short essay that has long been a favorite of the Endless Bookshelf. Since before its inception, in fact, when the Anonymous Other worked in Allen Ginsberg’s office with the genial Rosenthal, who was then the poet’s secretary and is now director of the Allen Ginsberg Estate. It’s brilliant and playful ; and chapter 9, ‘ Hints ’, is eminently practical, too. Until the book is brought back into print, the original edition is an artefact worth seeking.

The house is just cleaned, it stands in its full kinetic potential [. . .] the moment is blinding and all of its aspects are glowing. The clean house is exciting. [. . .] The clean house is a jumping off point.

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Snow 3 : Silence, in an open field


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Shelves ; or, Michael Swanwick’s Snow Day

Detail of the free shelves at Walk A Crooked Mile Books, located in an old train station in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, from a photograph by Michael Swanwick.

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Recent Reading

— Nona Caspers. Heavier than Air . University of Massachusetts Press, 2006. Collection of eleven stories, two original to the book. This is a book that stuck with me, a gathering of distinct voices, ranging from childhood to senility and each deftly brought to dance upon the page. The stories move from the upper midwest to the Bay area in their geography, but the core concerns are dark, agricultural childhoods of the midwest and an impulse toward the city. “ Country Girls ” and “ Mr Hellerman’s Vacation ” are especially memorable. When reading Heavier than Air , which articulates the mute and dreadful terrors that well up in small town adolescence and threaten to drown innate talents, I thought more than once of Walter Kirn’s first collection of stories, My Hard Bargain , and, simultaneously, the rural Catholic strictness of the first portion of Tom Disch’s novel, On Wings of Song. For Caspers, childhood is dangerous, literally, and the tragedy of “ Wide Like an Eagle’s Wings ” is real and horrifying and addressed directly and unflinchingly. Heavier than Air  was published as winner of the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction. A paperback edition was issued in 2008. Caspers is also author of Little Book of Days  (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2009).

— Ernest Hilbert. Aim Your Arrows at the Sun . LATR Editions, [2009]. Collection of 16 recent poems, including the unsettling and ambiguous ‘ Gettysburg ’. One of the poem’s questions :

What does it feel like : so many deaths,
Knowing you killers are your friends ?

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19 February 10


— Avram Davidson. The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy . Philadelphia : Owlswick Press, [1990]. The precursor of this collection, The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy  (1975) is what got me started reading Davidson, and everything that ensued. That paperback has long fallen to pieces. Every once in a while I will pull the Owlswick edition from the shelf, and the taste the magic of his sentences and paragraphs.

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‘ zurück zum Buch ’

“ ich will zurück gehen, ich will zurück zum Buch ”


Nick Currie interviewed on style and culture, “ Japan : Kamingespräch mit Momus ” in de:bug

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Recent reading :

— Fredric Brown. ETAOIN SHRDLU. Edition of 40 copies, cast, printed, and bound by Ivy Derderian at Wolfe Editions, 2009. Brown’s classic story of typographical errors, “ giving pseudolife to inanimate objects ”, and the resourcefulness of a hard-drinking retired small-town typesetter. There are additional layers of irony now that the computer has displaced the linotype machine and the handpress, particularly the insistence on setting from “ perfect copy, carefully edited ”.
A fun and well-made object, a book that feels great in the hand and is adorned with suitable pulp-magazine ads and engravings from The Linotype Bulletin , 1923. The printer notes in the colophon, : “ Casting was done on a recalcitrant Type 2 Intertype Model C which learned absolutely nothing from this project. ”

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Shreds ; or, Miscellaneous Topics :

“ The Truth about giving Readers Free Access to the Books in a Public Lending Library ” at the Princeton rare books blog (picture above), details here.

“ A Pencil or a Meat Cleaver : Raymond Carver and His Editors ” is the title of a talk to be given by Carver biographer Carol Sklenicka at the Lilly Library on 31 March, details here.

Hard Times , a selection of begging placards from the collection of Michael Zinman, and the second in his ‘Annals of Collecting ’(designed by your correspondent), is now in press.

George Steiner reviews a compendium of the letters of Céline in the TLS  that reached the Endless Bookshelf yesterday (usually about a week behind, thanks). One sentence of the reviewer struck me : “ Céline’s comments are like reasoned hallucinations. ” And one passage from Céline himself explicates all : “ Je n’oublie rien. Mon délire part de là. ”

Mandrakes, medieval cosmographies, medical texts, and world maps are on view in Migrations of the Mind, an exhibition at the Getty of manuscripts from the Schoenberg Collection.


“ Aber Hände sind schon ein komplizierter Organismus, ein Delta, in dem viel fernherkommendes Leben zusammenfließt, um sich in den großen Strom der Tat zu ergiežen. ”

— Rilke, p. 33, Auguste Rodin . Insel-Verlag, 1924

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Incunabula publisher Ron Drummond has posted an update on the eagerly subscription edition of Little, Big  by John Crowley, with a preview of the title page (above) and the frontispiece by Peter Milton, here.

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11 February 10

“ It is not a question of things, but of time ”

— Washington Matthews. “ Some Sacred Objects of the Navajo Rites ”, Archives of the International Folklore Association  I (1898) : 227-247 ; p. 234, Washington Matthews. Studies of Navajo Culture, 1880-1894  (University of New Mexico Press, 1997).

Someone has said that a first-class museum would consist of a series of satisfactory labels with specimens attached. This saying might be rendered : “ The label is more important than the specimen. ” When I have finished reading this paper, you may admit that this is true in the case of the little museum which I have here to show : a basket, a fascicle of plant fibres, a few rudely painted sticks, some beads and feathers put together as if by children in their meaningless play, form the totality of the collection. You would scarcely pick these trifles up if you saw them lying in the gutter, yet when I have told you all I have to tell about them, I trust they may seem of greater importance, and that some among you would be as glad to possess them as I am. I might have added largely to this collection had I time to discourse about them, for I possess many more of their kind. It is not a question of things, but of time. I shall do scant justice to this little pile within an hour. An hour it will be to you, and a tiresome hour, no doubt, but you may pass it with greater patience when you learn that this hour’s monologue represents to me twelve years of hard and oft-baffled investigation. Such dry facts as I have to relate are not to be obtained by rushing up to the first Indian you meet, notebook in hand. But I have no time for further preliminary remarks, and must proceed at once to my descriptions.

This is a vivid definition of scholarship ; this passage has long been in my file of citations, now remembered. I am certain that I disagree with the notion of labels more important than specimens, but the description of the time and study required to elicit meaning is valid. “ The Beads of the Bavenda ” by Eugène Marais (noted in January 2007) is also relevant for a discussion of unglamorous things that carry great significance.

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Rétrofuturs paperback covers

from a series by Stéphane Massa-Bidal

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— Frans Masereel. Das Werk  (Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928). The 58th of a series of 60 woodcuts (below). Also of note are the woodcuts prefiguring the fascination of King Kong with Faye Wray.

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4 February 10

Imaginary books and libraries

Obvious, when one sees it : of course there must be a subject category for Imaginary books and libraries, and prime inhabitants of this country include A Perfect Vacuum  by Stanislaw Lem, translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel (1979) ; the four elegant volumes of the Tragara Press edition of Frederick Rolfe’s “ Reviews of Unwritten Books ”  edited and with notes by Donald Weeks (1985-8) ; and the Catalogue d’une très-riche mais peu nombreuse collection de livres provenant de la bibliothèque de feu Mr. le comte J.-N.-A. de Fortsas. Dont la vente se fera à Binche, le 10 août 1840, à onze heures du matin, en l’étude et par le ministère de Me. Mourlon, notaire, rue de l’Église, no. 9  (1840), catalogue of a collection of unique books, with a brief biographical sketch of the late owner, Jean Nepomucène Auguste Pichauld, comte de Fortsas, otherwise known as the Fortsas catalogue, a bibliographic prank of the first order —  boooks and owner being entirely imaginary ! I shall look for a copy of Imaginary Books and Libraries. An essay in lighter vein  by John Webster Spargo, published by the Caxton Club in 1952, and work my way among other titles in this field.

Your correspondent has no trace of jealousy and asks only, why is Another green world  (2003) excluded from this select club ? (This question is directed toward librarians. Please note that the cognate classification, Literary forgeries and mystifications, holds no such appeal.)

This is a good time to remind readers of the Endless Bookshelf of the following elements of a successful library search :

“ Author, title, and the jewelly festival number — ”

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners  (Small Beer Press, 2005), p. 227

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Your correspondent will be travelling to California, to catch the tail end of the February Weedwalk organized by A. Wessells and M. Swaine (not last year’s walk mentioned on the website) ; to attend to some personal matters ; and then to exhibit at the 43rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Los Angeles, booth 313, 12 through 14 February.
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The Man with the Knives  by Ellen Kushner

Forthcoming on 3 May 2010 from Temporary Culture :

First publication of an original short story by Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint. A Melodrama of Manners  (1987) and The Privilege of the Sword  (2006). The book will include an original frontispiece illustration and decorations by World Fantasy Award winning artist Thomas Canty. Details and ordering information here. The cover sketch above includes a detail of an anatomical plate from the 1579 Plantin Valverde-Vesalius.

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Read with Horror and Enjoyment

— Lee Israel. Can You Ever Forgive Me ? Memoirs of a Literary Forger  (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Appalling and congenial account of how biographer Israel turned to forgery, producing bogus letters by Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and others, and then proceeded to steal from libraries before the deceit was uncovered. Gift of [GF] who predicted correctly that I would read it with horror, and also, perhaps, enjoyment.

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— Jedediah Berry. The Manual of Detection  (Penguin paperback, 2010). Great cover that alludes to the key role of bicycles in this excellent detective novel, reviewed on the Endless Bookshelf on 4 Aug. 09.

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— Virginia F. Townsend. Only Girls  (Lee and Shepard, 1876).

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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 comments or 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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