The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





July - October 2018

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


10 October 2018

Who put the Gothic in Goth ? Frankenstein at 200

— Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger. It’s Alive ! A Visual History of Frankenstein. The Morgan Library & Museum in association with D Giles, 2018.

I had a preview of the new exhibition at the Morgan Library It’s Alive ! Frankenstein at 200 today during setup, and it is spectacular. The life and writings and Mary Shelley take center stage, with leaves from the autograph manuscript of Frankenstein, portraits, relics, books, books, prints, and objects. These are amazing, and nothing like it has been seen in New York since the 2012 Shelley’s Ghost exhibition at the N.Y.P.L. combining treasures from the Bodleian Library and the Pforzheimer Collection. That show was powerful and moving and in a tiny space. At the Morgan, there is room for the literary and artistic contexts in which Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, with Fuseli’s The Nightmare (from the Detroit Institute of Arts) and a drawing of a public dissection by William Hogarth among the highlights, and the books that the monster read (including the copy of Paradise Lost given by Percy Shelley to Mary Godwin).
Not many writers are able to create a modern myth of protean energy. Frankenstein, Tarzan, maybe a handful of others.
The second portion of the exhibition is a beautiful and often astounding examination of what happened after the monster stepped from Shelley’s work into the public imagination. It happened quickly: the novel was published in 1818, and a new edition in 1823 identified Mary Shelley as the author. Her tale of the scientist and his creation was adapted for the stage as Presumption and was performed in London and Paris. There was already a children’s magazine version of the story by 1825, and the play was popular throughout the nineteenth century. A fan with an illustration of a key scene, given away to ladies holding tickets to the 1861 Paris production at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique, marks the beginning of Frankenstein merchandising. Of course it is with the motion picture that Frankenstein reaches a worldwide audience. The giant six-sheet poster for the 1931 film (with Boris Karloff as the monster) occupies an entire wall.
Elizabeth C. Denlinger, curator of the Pforzheimer Collection at the N.Y.P.L. and guest curator of this exhibition, wrote the text for the superbly produced and fully illustrated catalogue  — a lock of Mary’s hair, fragments of Percy’s skull from the funeral pyre, The Last Man (1826) in boards, and original comic artwork from the 1940s onwards  — and she also wrote the exhibition labels, which are nimble and wide-ranging. The label below accompanies a still from the 1931 film, where the image comes straight from The Nightmare. With wit and a keen sense of composition, a photoplay edition of the novel and a 1950s paperback are on view to show how this image persists and changes.

I thank curator John Bidwell for walking me though the exhibition today while work was still very much in progress. Excessive candor time: I have known Elizabeth Denlinger for years and we have been discussing Frankenstein and the progress of the exhibition (often with John Bidwell) for more than a year. I simply happened to finish my Conversation for an earlier deadline. You must go see this exhibition. I will be going back to take another look.

It’s Alive ! Frankenstein at 200 is on view at the Morgan Library Friday 12 October through 27 January 2019, 225 Madison Avenue (between 36th and 37th streets), New York, NY 10016.

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current reading

— Lavie Tidhar. Central Station. Tachyon Publications, [2016]. Israeli author Lavie Tidhar, whose Central Station won the 2017 John W. Campbell award, was the guest at a party at the Cummins shop on 6 October, where a gathering that included friends and notable science fiction editors and writers welcomed him on his first visit to New York City. There was a small display of a century of science fiction, from After London (1885) to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979): dystopia, transtemporal, interplanetary romance, farce. I look forward to reading Unholy Land, forthcoming from Tachyon.

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recent reading

— Liam O’Flaherty. A Tourist’s Guide to Ireland. Mandrake Press, [1929]. Portrait of Irish types (priests, publicans, politicians, peasants, &c.), so profoundly hostile as to be unpleasant reading, until the final paragraphs turn the whole work and give the reader a new perspective:

And it is through the fiery eyes of these rebels that the Irish peasant must really be seen and not through his dirt, his hunger, his apathy and the helpless hands that he waves despairingly at the sky in which he sees no heaven of the blest. These voices crying from the depths of hell shall bring up great forces of revolt, armed with the great wisdom of the damned, and they shall spread over the land and inhabit it with free men and women, free from usurers and soothsayers.

— Kate Atkinson. Transcription. Doubleday, [2018].

— Sarah Perry. Melmoth. Serpent’s Tail, [2018].

— Tana French. The Trespasser. Hachette Books Ireland, [2016].

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11 July 2018

current reading

— Tom La Farge. Humans by Lamplight. Book three of The Enchantments. Spuyten Duyvil, [2018].

— Simon Sellars. Applied Ballardianism. Memoir from a Parallel Universe. Urbanomic, [2018].

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just published

Chance Meeting. Avram Davidson & Philip K. Dick. [Upper Montclair, New Jersey:] The Nutmeg Point District Mail, [9 July] 2018. Publications of the Avram Davidson Society, number five.

Chance Meeting prints two uncollected pieces by Avram Davidson on Philip K. Dick : Davidson’s perceptive review of The Man in the High Castle from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for June 1963 and his memoir of PKD from Locus 256, vol. 15, no. 5, for May 1982. The publication also includes a letter from Grania Davis from the same issue of Locus; with a short essay by Henry Wessells. Marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Avram Davidson.

Edition of 150 unnumbered copies, stitched in Hahnemühle wrappers (blue, burgundy, or grey) with a letterpress label printed by Jerry Kelly from the rare foundry metal Centaur type on Ingres paper. Details here.

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recent reading

— [Don G. Mitchell]. Pictures of Edgewood in a series of photographs, by Rockwood, and Illustrative Text, by the Author of “My Farm of Edgewood.” Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1869.

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— Maria Dahvana Headley. The Mere Wife. MCD Farrar, Straus & Giroux, [forthcoming 17 July 2018].
Make it new: this is a re-invention of an old story and an assault on literary tradition.
I was very happy to have had an early look at this transgressive book: the prose sings itself to the reader and Headley’s mastery of the collective voice is nothing less than spectacular.
And then I went and read Heaney, in a parallel text edition (see below), which increased my appreciation for the way The Mere Wife reworks story while remaining rooted in the language.

—  Seamus Heaney. Beowulf. A New Verse Translation [2000]. Norton paperback.
“away into some unpartitioned linguistic country”: to read Beowulf makes plain that Tolkien’s vast endeavor was to create mythology and pre-history that would have been dimly remembered by the Beowulf poet’s ancestral culture; even Bilbo Baggins’ visit to Smaug is contained therein. This statement is not reductionist or dismissive: Tolkien derived entire lost civilization(s) on linguistic principles.

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— Julia Briggs. A Woman of Passion. The Life of E. Nesbit (1858-1924) [1987]. Penguin Books paperback, [after 1989]. With a gift inscription, For Virginia, from Julia, 1993 on inside cover.

— A. S. Byatt. The Children’s Book. A Novel [2009]. Vintage paperback.

— S. T. Joshi. What Is Anything? Memoirs of a Life in Lovecraft. Hippocampus, 2018.

— Michael Swanwick. Report of the American Martini Institute. The Evolution of the Martini. Dragonstairs, [21 May] 2018. Edition of 60 copies.

— Peter Lovesey. The False Inspector Dew. Pantheon Books paperback, [3/83 : March 1983]

— Robert Sheckley. Is THAT What People Do? Short Stories. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, [1984]. This copy inscribed to agent Kirby McCauley. [Gift of DS] [Re-read]

— Peter Lovesey. The House Sitter. Soho paperback, [2003]

— Tom Disch. Endzone. Letzte Gedichte Zweisprachige Ausgabe übersetzt von Christopher Ecker [Vorwort John Crowley]. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2018

— A.J.A. Symons. The Quest for Corvo. An Experiment in Biography [1934]. [Introduction by Mark Valentine]. Tartarus Press, 2018.

— Mark Valentine. The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things. Zagava, 2018. Hand bound issue, marbled boards, edges black. Fabulous!

We don’t live a story, any of us, only a sentence. — Mark Valentine, “Vain Shadows Flee”

— Darach Ó Séaghdha. Motherfoclóir. Dispatches from a not so dead language. Head of Zeus, [2017]

— Jacqueline de Romilly. Le Trésor des savoirs oubliés [1998]. Éditions de Fallois, [2017]

— Hunter S. Thompson, The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Edited and with an introduction by David Streitfeld. Melville House, [2018].

— John Crowley. “Spring Break”, in: New Haven Noir. Edited by Amy Bloom. Akashic Books, [2017]. Crowley’s story won the Edgar award.

— The Scarlet Soul. Stories for Dorian Gray. Edited by Mark Valentine. Swan River Press, 2018

— Michael Swanwick. Blue Moon. [Dragonstairs, 31 March 2018]. Edition of 69 copies. 5 moon stories

— Holstein & Marais. Biliografia da ficção científica e fantasia portuguesa. Portuguese Science Fiction and Fantasy Bibliography. Second edition, 1993

— M. John Harrison. You Should Come with Me Now. Stories of Ghosts. [Comma, 2017.]

— Mark Valentine & Brian Lavelle. Psammomancy. [Photographs by Jo Valentine]. Seacliff Press, 2018.

— James Joyce. The Holy Office. [Pola, 1904].

         Bringing to tavern & to brothel,
         The mind of witty Aristotle

— Megan Abbott. You Will Know Me. A Novel [2016]. Back Bay pbk., 2017

— Rachel Ingalls. Mrs. Caliban [1983]. With an introduction by Rivka Galchen. New Directions, [2017].

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Readercon Schedule

Your correspondent will be at Readercon in Qunicy, Massachusetts on Thursday evening and Friday 12-13 July. Come say hello. The following events are all on Friday afternoon and evening, 13 July:

In Memoriam: Gardner Dozois 2:00 p.m. Salon C
Scott Edelman, Gregory Feeley, Shawna McCarthy, Michael Swanwick, Henry Wessells, Sheila Williams

Kaffeeklatsch 6:00 p.m. Seven Masts
Henry Wessells will talk about A Conversation larger than the Universe (Grolier Club, 2018), Tom Disch, Avram Davidson, Robert Sheckley, &c. There will be copies of Chance Meeting, A Conversation, etc.

The Works of E. Nesbit (1858–1924) 7:00 p.m. Salon C
Greer Gilman, Barbara Krasnoff, John Langan, Henry Wessells, Joey Zone

Reading : Henry Wessells 8:00 p.m. Salon A
Reading new material from work in progress (The Windhill Bequest)

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In Memoriam : William Reese

In Memoriam : Bill Reese, a great bookseller and a friend

[At the New York book fair 2004]

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Writing the Futures

On Friday 6 April, I gave a brief keynote address, Writing the Futures: A Short History, for the Near Future Fictions reading at the New School organized by Virtual Futures. Readers included Tim Maughan, Joanne McNeil, Brendan C. Byrne, and Jennifer Marie Brissett. I covered more than two hundred years of science fiction thinking about the future, from Volney to Christopher Brown. The bibliography and reading list is here:

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A Conversation larger than the Universe

A Conversation larger than the Universe. Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic 1762-2017.
By Henry Wessells
Illustrated collection of essays on science fiction and the fantastic, and the catalogue of the 2018 Grolier Club exhibition.
Copies of the hand bound issue, signed by the authors, are still available from Temporary Culture. The issue in paper covers is distributed by Oak Knoll. Single copies are available from the author.

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The Private Life of Books

The Private Life of Books, poems by H. Wessells, duotone photographs by Paul Schütze.
Copies still available from Temporary Culture.

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Hope & Wreckage

New editions of Michael Swanwick’s legendary monographs Hope-in-the Mist.  The Extraordinary Career & Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees (2009) and What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage  (2007) are available in all the usual e-booke formats through Weightless Books.

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 © 2007-2018 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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