The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





July to December 2015

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


31 December 2015

The Best Books of 2015

— [Name Redacted]. [Title Redacted]. Unpublished typescript, [XXX] pp. Hands down the best book I read in 2015 : dark, nimble, hilarious, deeply alarming, truly American.

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— Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum. Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest. MIT Press, [2015]. Information asymmetry and artificial scarcity : things as they are. A profoundly upsetting book, simple and clear and frightening. Highly recommended.

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— China Miéville. Three Moments of an Explosion. Stories. Del Rey, [2015]. Best published book I read this year, stories that defy our preconceptions and assumptions at every turn. Brilliant, should win an award, will probably pass unnoticed.

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— Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. Illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, [1911]. Scribners, 1925. A perfect book, as delightful to this reader on the nth re-reading, forty-three years after it first astonished him (I still have the copy I first read). Reader : he probably took it without asking.

An interesting year, with many good books seen, and a few titles from noted authors who really just phoned it in. In place of the customary Best Book of the Year, I offer the three titles above, truly worth reading or re-reading. And when I can speak about that unnamed book, I will.

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a small and beautiful book

— Henry Wessells. Extended Range ; or, The Accession Label. With two original aquatint etchings by Judith Clute. [Temporary Culture, 17 December] 2015. Printed on Jim Canary’s Himalayan paper, text printed by David Wolfe and the etchings printed by the artist. Stitched and bound in Bhutanese paper over boards, with pastepaper spine. Edition of 26 copies, lettered A to Z, with 5 copies numbered 1 to 5, and 2 copies hors série, signed by the author, with etchings signed by the artist. There were also 8 author’s copies, text only, stitched in plain Bhutanese paper wrapper, for presentation (at top). Fully subscribed before publication. Institutional copies at Lilly Library, Morgan Library (PML 196208), Yale, Roosevelt Wild Life Collection at SUNY ESF (Syracuse).

Three pictures from the bindery :

The sheets in preparation for sewing

Bhutanese paper over millimeter boards (internal view).

Detail of pastepaper spine and Bhutanese paper over boards.

Nice Kitty

Extended Range is a book about a snow leopard.

[Note (2016) : the text was reprinted in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 35.]

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Commonplace book :

‘ My work is my autobiography, which those may read who care to do so. ’ — George Gissing, 1903

‘ Those who seek for some deep, cosmic, all embracing, teleologically arguable libretto or god are, believe me, pathetically mistaken ’ — Isaiah Berlin (from the TLS review of Isaiah Berlin. Affirming. Letters 1975-1997. Edited by Henry Hardy & Mark Pottle. Chatto & Windus)

“ As a means of espionage [. . .] general warrants are but puny instruments of tyranny and oppression when compared with wire-tapping ” : from the dissent by Justice Brandeis in Olmstead v. U.S. (1928)  / file under : he recognized metadata before its existence was known.

‘ A dog needs a tail for self-expression and to steer by and for a dozen other reasons we know nothing about ’ — Lord Dunsany

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collating the Encyclopaedia : halfway in

The first American edition of the Encyclopaedia was published in Philadelphia, 1790-8.

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Art, Sex, Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll, Science Fiction

View of the joint James Cummins Bookseller / Maggs Counterculture booth C15 at the New York Art Book Fair, MoMA PS1, 17-20 September. The preview of the Archive of Paul Williams (see below), and the last U.S. appearance of Maggs Counterculture. A great collaboration !

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Other readings during the interval :

— Moncure Biddle. A Christmas Letter. Some Flower Books and Their Makers. Philadelphia, 1945 [i.e., 1946]. Merry Christmas.

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— Michael Swanwick. Solstice Spirits. Four Midwinter Tales. Dragonstairs Press, 2015. Whimsy, mischief, delight.

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— Waltercio Caldas. Ficção nas Coisas Fiction in Things. Galeria Raquel Arnaud, [2015]. “ Qualquer coisa um segundo antes do nome. [Anything a second before its name.] ” 

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— Michael Zinman. I Like My Job. [Cover title : Lust]. Annals of Collecting 7. Illustrated.[80] pp. [Privately printed, in New Jersey,] 2015. Edition of 300 copies, with an original London tart card tipped in. Printed note from the author loosely inserted. (Detail of cover above).

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— Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton. Memorious Earth. A Longitudinal Study. Illustrated. 124,[4] pp. Corbel Stone Press, [2015]. Compendium of works by the artists, 2010 to 2015, words, music, images, onomastics, and botanical list poems, including their 2010 work Wolf Notes, mentioned here. Poetry in exploration of the history and ecology of Cumbrian hill country. Where language dances and opens the specificity of place to the vast sky above us all. A remarkable book.

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— Twelve Tomorrows. Bruce Sterling, ed. MIT Technology Review SF Annual 2016 [i.e., 2015]. Advanced stories, retro art : curious.

— Tom Phillips. Readers. Vintage People on Photo Postcards. Bodleian Library, [2010]. “ By the riverbank, in the classroom, up a tree, across from one’s spouse, sitting in a car or on a holiday beach ” : selections of images of people reading, from the collection of 50,000 original photographic postcards collected by artist Tom Phillips and donated by him to the Bodleian Library.

— Isaac Bashevis Singer. Stories for Children. Farrar Straus Giroux, [1984]. Signed copy.

— Rex Stout. A Nero Wolfe Novel. Death of a Doxy [1966]. Bantam pbk., [7th ptg., 1972].
— — A Nero Wolfe Threesome. Homicide Trinity [1962]. Bantam pbk., [8th ptg., 1983].

— Thomas Leland. Longsword, Earl of Salisbury. An Historical Romance (1762). Edited and introduced by Albert Powers. Swan River Press, 2012.

— Paul Dickson. Contraband Cocktails. How America Drank when It Wasn’t Supposed to. Melville House, [2015]. Eye-openers & wire tap.

— Quincy R. Lehr. Heimat : a Poem. 2014. Barefoot Muse, [2015]. Intense, compelling language, song of American history and life.

— “ White Fang Goes Dingo ” in : The Early Science Fiction Stories of Thomas M. Disch. Gregg Press, 1977.

— Patti Smith. M Train. Knopf, 2015. “ They are all stories now. ”

— George Koppelman & Daniel Wechsler. Shakespeare’s Beehive. An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light. Second Edition, Revised & Expanded. Axletree Books, 2015. The new edition includes substantial additions ; a compelling and fascinating book.

— Erika Jarnik. Apple. A Global History. Reaktion Books, [2011].

— Lawrence Block. Eight Million Ways to Die. A Matthew Scudder Mystery [1982]. Avon pbk., [9th ptg., n.d.]

— Alice Lascelles. Ten Cocktails. The Art of Convivial Drinking. Salt Yard, [2015]

— M.T. Anderson. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing [&c.] Volume I. The Pox Party. Candlewick Press, MMVI [but 2008].

— Andrea Wulf. The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Knopf, 2015.

— Paul Williams. The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits. A “ Top-40 ” List. Forge, [2000].

— Ernest Hilbert. Caligulan. Poems. Measure Press, [2015]. “ a sense that something is very, very wrong ”.

— Philip K. Dick. The Man in the High Castle (1962), pbk.

— Ross Macdonald. Blue City [1947 ; Bantam pbk., 7th ptg., ca. 1976]. With 2-page holograph letter from Larry to Gloria : “ I bet you guessed that I don’t catch normal diseases. I think my loose life has caught up with me ”, dated June 22, 1976

— Georges Simenon. L’homme qui regardait passer les trains (1938), pbk.

— Mark Valentine. “ One Day of the Great Lost Days ” : T.E. Lawrence and Ernest Dowson. [Valentine & Valentine : 2015].

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RT @meetar : To be honest I've never heard of half of these Asimov novels

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— At the silk library (via Dan Visel) :

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not so far from the fields we know to Elsewhere :

Aelfdene (from an undisclosed location, Essex county, New Jersey).

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300 years of American fiction :

— The History of the Kingdom of Basaruah : the first American work of fiction, an allegory written in New Jersey, published 1715.

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Your correspondent has established an instagram account for The Archive of Paul Williams, onlyapparentlyreal, to provide annotations and additional images as a supplement to the printed catalogue. Here, for example, is the handbill by Peter Max for the Central Park Be In, March 1967, organized by Paul Williams :

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Yes, loyal readers, it has been a long time since your correspondent updated the Endless Bookshelf. The year 2016 will see commissioned essays, reflections on familiar books, a re-reading of Moby-Dick (in the 1983 University of California paperback edition with the Barry Moser illustrations), and a few other surprises. There is a book to be written, a few things to edit and produce, and the unexpected diversions and procrastinations to which I am subject. Support the Endless Bookshelf by buying The Private Life of Books, or something from this list. Send me your news. [HWW]

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31 August 2015

Extended Range : in the bindery

The sheets of Extended Range ; or, The Accession Label have been printed and the book is now becoming : making its way through the bindery, slowly. It will be a beautiful book. More news by the end of September.

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‘ the reader is the artist ’

— Tom Phillips. [“ the reader is the artist ” or Humument Fragment : Readers]. Watercolor on book page, [2010?]. Published as the back cover illustration to : Tom Phillips. Readers. Vintage People on Photo Postcards. Bodleian Library, [2010]. Collection of Temporary Culture. Image courtesy of the Flowers Gallery.

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rock ’n’ roll & science fiction

During the N.Y. Art Book Fair, to be held at MoMA PS1 17-20 September, in booth C15, your correspondent will be exhibiting highlights of the Archive of Paul Williams, founder of Crawdaddy! and author of many books, including Right to Pass and Other True Stories (1977) and Only Apparently Real (1986), on the life and writings of Philip K. Dick. An illustrated catalogue will be available (further details here). Come say hello.

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current reading

— Richard Garnett. The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales. T. Fisher Unwin, 1888. A scruffy, worn copy ; but the stories are fresh.

— Maria Dahvana Headley. Magonia. Harper, [2015].

— China Miéville. Three Moments of an Explosion. Stories. Del Rey, [2015].

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recent reading

— Margery Allingham. The Tiger in the Smoke [1952]. Carroll & Graf paperback, [2001]

— Robert Sheckley. Uncanny Tales. Waterville, Maine : Five Star, [2003]. Collection of 16 stories, 1986-2002 : prime Sheckley.

— Sophia Kingshill. Mermaids. Little Toller Monograph [04]. [Little Toller, 2015 ; distributed in U.S. by Dufour]. A feminist archaeology of the idea (and image) of the mermaid, working backwards from recent film, art, & graffiti.

— Michael Swanwick. Chasing the Phoenix. Tor, [2015]. Hilarious, post-apocalyptic picaresque chinoiserie and military soap opera (this is a good thing), en fin, bref : science fiction. With the best new use of Haroun al-Rashid in centuries / file under : techniques.

— Graham Greene. The Honorary Consul. The Bodley Head, [1973].

— John Howard. Leaves of Ash. [Valentine & Valentine, 2015]. Miniature book and matchbox case, a tale of Romania.

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31 July 2015

blue moon, paper moon : current reading

— Lothar Müller. White Magic. The Age of Paper [Weiße Magie, 2012]. Translated by Jessica Spengler. Polity, [2014].

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— Ariane Charton. Alain-Fournier. Gallimard, [2014]. Prix Roland de Jouvenel de l’Académie Française.

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big day

— Geeta Dayal. Brian Eno’s Another Green World, [2009]. Bloomsbury paperback, [2014]. Fascinating, layered study of the music and musical content of the 1975 album, best appreciated in conjunction with the Eno album playing LOUD. Since your correspondent first encountered these sounds, this work has exercised an influence as powerful and persistent as the influence of an earlier green world of the fields and forests of childhood ; and so it was utter delight to encounter such a rich and playful treatment of the recording. Dayal’s chapter on the Oblique Strategies adduces the precursors of the cards (her essay “ It’s in the Cards ” in Cabinet 45 [2012], is also worth seeking out ; it adds lots on Satie that is relevant). Dayal deftly sketches the musical scene of 1975 (pop, avant-garde, and electronic) to demonstrate just how new the record was and remains. I have not yet examined a first printing of the book : unaccountably, I discovered this book only recently.

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other recent reading

— Roger Dobson. The Library of the Lost. In Search of Forgotten Authors. Edited and with an introduction by Mark Valentine. Carmaen Books. Tartarus Press, 2015. A “ tribute to Roger Dobson (1954-2013), who had a keen eye for the strangest outposts of literature ”.

— Tom Carson. Twisted Kicks. Entwhistle Books, [1981].

— George Gissing. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, [1903].

— Corn Close. A Cottage in Dentdale. Photographs by Reuben Cox. Essays by Thomas Meyer and Anne Midgette. Green Shade, [2015]. Jargon 116. Lavishly illustrated, superbly produced glimpse of Corn Close, Jonathan Williams’ cottage in Cumbria, with reminiscences by friends, and a detailed chronology of Williams as poet and publisher. “ J.B. Ackerly, Denton Welch, Mervyn Peake, Adrienne Rich, H.D., Parson Woodforde, Peter Straub . . . Have you read all of those authors ? . . . to needle purported highbrow tastes with exposure to something earthier and realer ” (from the essay by Anne Midgette).

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Extended Range in the bindery

The sheets of the next book from Temporary Culture, Extended Range, or The Accession Label, have arrived from the printer and the book will soon be in the bindery. Delivery is expected in mid-September (subscribers will be informed as the book nears completion).

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7-8 July 2015

current reading

— Adrien Goetz. La nouvelle vie d’Arsène Lupin. Retour, aventures, ruses, amours, masques et exploits du gentleman-cambrioleur. Roman. Bernard Grasset, [2015]. Seems to be a critical fiction of the Arsène Lupin novels by Maurice Leblanc, in a thoroughly mediated twenty-first century world. One thing remains constant : a mockery of Herlock Sholmès, the “ ridicule détective ” and BBC star. I have a small stack of the Lupin books in Livre de poche paperbacks from my teenage years in case I need to refresh my memory of the originals (Arsène Lupin gentleman-cambrioleur, etc.).

— Philippe Dumas. Carnet de croquis illustrant le thème de la flânerie dans le musée Hermès. Actes Sud\Hermès, [mai, 2015]. Illustrated throughout, pictorial endsheets. [52 pp.]. History of the “ flâneur, dilettante qui se respecte ”, from the eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century roots, anchored in beautiful objects deftly sketched in this little oblong book.

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here and there

Your correspondent recently traversed the capital cities of three nations, Edinburgh, London, and Paris. In each place I found interesting books, so that as I prepared to leave Paris, I had more books in my backpack than I saw on the shelves in the apartment where we stayed  (a century ago, Romain Rolland lived in the immeuble ; he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915). Seeing the new biography of Sandy Denny stopped me in my tracks in the Hampstead Waterstone’s, but without doubt the most interesting new book shop visited is Les Cahiers de Colette, 23-25 rue Rambuteau, Paris 4e, a shop jammed full with the widest variety of classic and newly published works of literature. I arrived a day too late to attend an evening with M. Goetz, alas. On the Nouveautés table for American literature, I saw translations of books by two contemporaries from the Terrace Club of long ago and far away, Senseless by Stona Fitch and Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn. I also visited two spectacular private libraries, in one of which I saw a succession of association copies, each volume more astonishing than the next — books as evidence of intimate and meaningful friendships and literary connections. Books whose existence one could hardly imagine : until one opens the page and sees the inscription. Something out of the pages of Borges, in fact.

Unheralded but presiding over the rooftop terrasse café of the Musée Picasso is an astonishing seventeenth-century French sphinx (one of a pair) :

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I will be attending Readercon 26 this weekend. I have two new stories, “ The Beast Unknown to Heraldry ” and “ Extended Range ”, that I will be reading on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. Please come and find me at the reading or during the conference.

The publication of Extended Range (forthcoming from Temporary Culture) has been delayed as the book is still being seen through the press. Expected delivery in late August or early September. A few copies remain if you are interested in subscribing.

This edition of the ’shelf is prompted by a request from reader [TW] who is part way through the new Pickwick fantasia, Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, and asked what I have been reading. Thank you.

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off list : a note

— H.R.F. Keating. Crime & Mystery. The 100 Best Books. [Foreword by Patricia Highsmith]. Xanadu, [1987].

It is always a pleasure to read lists : as poems, as elements of plot, as variations upon a theme, and as signposts of a train of thought. And when the list is one of books, such as Science Fiction. The 100 Best Novels (1985), Modern Fantasy. The Hundred Best Novels (1988), or Eighty Nine Good Novels of the Sea (1966) ; or the Grolier Club exhibitions of One Hundred Books Famous in . . . English literature (1902), American Literature (1946), science (1956), medicine (1994), children’s literature (2015), the pleasure is amplified, for the list is also an Argument. Collectively, the books define the thinking at work, and each book justifies its place on the list, or raises questions about the Argument.

At the Lilly Library website, the text of the Lilly exhibition recreating the first Grolier 100 records the history of the trope: “ The first influential list of ‘ One Hundred Books ’ was compiled by Sir John Lubbock (later Right Hon. Lord Avebury, P.C.) as Chapter IV, ‘ The Choice of Books ’, in his charming series of essays, The Pleasures of Life (London, 1887), . . . was first delivered as a lecture to the London Working Men’s College, started a trend. ” The Grolier 100 list runs from the Caxton Chaucer to Darwin, Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat, and Whittier.

And yet.

Almost invariably, some of the most rewarding avenues of inquiry are found when one goes off list, finding a topic where little or no work has been done, where no list exists, or sometimes picking up the book next to the book one was seeking. Not long ago, I worked through a newly published subject bibliography with a customer and friend, finding many interesting books (common but overlooked, or genuinely rare). And yet the great delight was to find an unrecorded book, printed two years before the rare work cited in the subject bibliography, and to see that a copy had been languishing neglected (and slightly miscatalogued) on a shelf in the warehouse for years —  and that another bookseller had a copy (neglected, miscatalogued, and under-appreciated), so that each of us now has an example of a book known in only four copies.

The best prescriptive lists often encourage this process of going off list, chiefly by alluding to other books and authors within the annotations, as for example H.R.F. Keating’s Crime & Mystery. The 100 Best Books, where he concedes the arbitrary nature of the numerical selection and refers to other titles throughout. Suggestions of books and authors are always welcome : they stretch the imagination and the intellect. The review columns in the journal Wormwood are very good for this. Similarly, I look forward to reading the newly released book from Tartarus Press, The Library of the Lost. In Search of Forgotten Authors, by Roger Dobson, edited and with an introduction by Mark Valentine.

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recent reading

— Gilles Schlesser. Sale époque. Parigramme, [2015]. A murder investigation brings a class-conscious young commissaire into decadent society ; the novel is also a secret history of the death of Zola.

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—  [J.J.] Sempé. Un peu de Paris. Gallimard, [2001 ; 2015 pbk.] A lively and beautiful book ; if the scale of the reproductions is almost too small to be effective, Sempé’s Paris encompasses roller-blading and the revival of the trottinette or scooter as well as the continuity of life in the cafés.

— Alain Passard. The Art of Cooking with Vegetables [Collages & Recettes, translated by Alex Cartier]. Frances Lincoln, [2012].

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— Claude d’Anthenaise. Le Cabinet de Diane au Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. Citadelles & Mazenod, [2007]. The visual record of a beautiful and compelling museum. I especially enjoyed the series of cabinets devoted to wolf, stag, sanglier, falconry ; the ceiling installation entitled La Nuit de Diane ; and the Cabinet de la Licorne [Unicorn Room], complete with Fumée de licorne (2006) by Sophie Lecomte.

— Michael Swanwick. Moon Dogs. Edited by Ann A. Broomhead & Timothy Szczesuil. NESFA Press, 2000. [the title story].

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— Charles Williams. La mare aux diams. [Scorpion Reef]. Traduit de l’américain par Henri Robillot. Gallimard, [1970].

— [James Ward]. Adventures in Stationery. A Journey through Your Pencil Case. Profile Books, [2014 ; 2015 pbk.]. Fun, slightly tedious. And yes, the transcription is accurate, the name of the author is omitted from the title page, though it appears on the cover and on the copyright page. I can scan the title page if needed.

— Mick Houghton. I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn. The Biography of Sandy Denny. Faber & Faber, [2015]. Essential, much needed, and well sourced : a much needed account of the short life of the talented signer and songwriter. Go listen to her sing Tam Lin or Farewell, Farewell. Or, Who Knows Where the Time Goes. It is a sad story.

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— Hugh Buchanan Paints the John Murray Archive. John Martin Gallery, 2015. Exhibition catalogue, on view at the National Library of Scotland through 6 September. Your correspondent wandered in and bought the first copy on sale. This link is good for now but will likely rot :

— Mrs. J.H. Riddell. The Haunted River & Three Other Ghostly Novellas. Edited & Introduced by Richard Dalby. Sarob Press, 2001.

— Robert Aickman. The Strangers and Other Writings. Tartarus Press, [2015]. The title story of this new Tartarus collection, is brilliant, unsettling.

— Ronald Firbank. Complete Short Stories. Edited by Steven Moore. Dalkey Archive Press, [1990].

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commonplace book

“ failure is what redeems a copy. . . . Failure can be something tentative, hesitant, unique, and cautiously new ”

from Notes on Copying by Nick Currie, in Mousse #49

read this : Samuel R. Delany. “ Racism and Science Fiction ”, from NYRSF 120 (v.10, no.12, August 1998)

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the answer

You may not have reckoned just how urgently you need to know the answer to this question : what is the offspring of a dragon and a she-wolf ?
Read “ The Beast Unknown to Heraldry ” by Henry Wessells, in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (aka LCRW) 32 from Small Beer Press :

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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 © 2007-2015 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

Produced by Temporary Culture, P.O.B. 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 USA.