The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





May - June 2013

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


29 June 2013

A new instalment of the Endless Bookshelf, with enough pictures to entertain or edify, and perhaps to make up for the long interval. Your correspondent has been busy with other writing and reading projects (as well as the usual matters). The next update will be in August. Please send in news of what you are reading this summer.

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— Mark Valentine. Rain Instruments. [Valentine & Valentine, 2013]. Hand bound, [48] pp. Found poetry from ‘ British Rainfall ’, 1910 (Fiftieth Annual Volume).

An abnormally wet,
and sunless

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Readercon 2013

Your correspondent will be attending Readercon in Burlington, Mass., and will be found at the usual places, or at these scheduled events :

Friday 12 July
21:00 Avram Davidson, 1923-1993. Eileen Gunn, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Swanwick, Howard Waldrop, Henry Wessells (leader). Twenty years have passed since the death of Avram Davidson, and much of his writing has recently been brought back into print. This panel will assess the writer and his work.[N.B. : copies of The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead by Avram Davidson will be available.]

Saturday July 13
10:00 Intellectually Rigorous Fictional Data : Making Up Facts That Are True. Debra Doyle, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Margaret Ronald, Ken Schneyer, Harold Vedeler, Henry Wessells (leader). How do you make up convincing fictional primary sources ? No, not for purposes of seeking political office, but because you need to know the facts and how they underpin the world of your fiction and the lives of your characters. Imaginary books and letters are just the beginning, even if they never appear in the narrative. Which fictional data sources matter ? How much is enough to make a narrative feel resilient and whole ?

19:00 Reading : Henry Wessells will read “ The Beast Unknown to Heraldry ”, a new short story, and from “ The Windhill Bequest ”, a work in progress.

Sunday July 14
09:00 Reading the Fantastic. Henry Wessells will talk about reading and writing with reference to obscure but canonical texts in the literature of the fantastic.

And if you see me elsewhere during the Readercon weekend, come say hello.

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concerning the anatomy & diet of the centaur [Stradanus, ca. 1580]

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The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead by Avram Davidson

Presentation copies of The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead on publication day

On 8 May, the Avram Davidson Society held its fifteenth annual luncheon meeting (since 1998 in one vegetarian restaurant or another), to mark the twentieth anniversary of the death of Avram Davidson and to celebrate the publication of The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead.

Reprinted from The Nutmeg Point District Mail vol. XV, no. 1 :

Today’s version of the Avram Davidson Society luncheon was the best ever, with new members and old friends braving a spring downpour to meet at the new iteration of Zen Palate Union Square (earlier gatherings had been in the restaurant when the dining room overlooked the square, and at Hangawi). Guests included Maria Dahvana Headley, Gregory Feeley, Michael Swanwick, and the director of the M. C. Porter Endowment for the Arts.
This was the fifteen anniversary of the establishment of the society to “ support critical and biographical research and other activities contributing to greater awareness of Davidson's writings and his place in the history of American literature and the fantasy and science fiction genres”.
Gregory Feeley recalled his first Nebula Convention, where he met Davidson and where Davidson was the announcer of the short fiction award — the year no award was given (1971). He also told of a visit to Bremerton, where Davidson lived during his last years: the country of manufacture of the rental car was queried before Davidson would accept a ride. Michael Swanwick observed that Avram Davidson reminded his friends and correspondents that it was not his choice to remember the Holocaust every day. Swanwick also said, I never met Davidson but I got him a job, when my faculty advisor Dr. D.C. Jenkins proposed bringing a science fiction writer to William & Mary writer in residence program but wanted to get a “ quality” writer. It was Dr. Jenkins who also published the first chapbook of Davidson’s work, Polly Charms, The Sleeping Woman (1977).

It really was was the best ever : thanks, friends.

I re-read a few stories by Davidson that day, including “ And Don’t Forget the One Red Rose ”, “ The Slovo Stove ”, and “ Naples ”. More recently, in view of the discussion of extra-constitutional powers, I pulled out my copy of The Best of Avram Davidson (1979) to re-read “ The Unknown Law ” (F&SF, January 1964). And as the zombie plague shows no sign of abating, it is well to remember that in 1980 Avram Davidson wrote a very complex tale, “ There Beneath the Silky-Tree and Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs Than Me ”, collected in Limekiller (2003).

In related news, published on 23 April, Avram Davidson’s birthday (and readby your correspndent with much pleasure) :

— Unnatural Creatures. Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman with Maria Dahvana Headley. Illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. A number of stories featuring Unnatural Creatures along with several other creatures who are either unlikely, impossible, or do not exist at all. [At head of title:] The Museum of Unnatural History Presents. Harper, [2013]. An excellent anthology of new and old fantasy stories, including “ Or All the Sea with Oysters ” by Avram Davidson (an old favorite) ; “ The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees ” by E. Lily Yu, quite simply brilliant ; and co-editor Headley’s excellent “ Moveable Beast ”.

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Who now knows his name ?

Mathew Brady, half plate daguerreotype of Henry William Herbert (Library of Congress)

H. W. Herbert (1807-1858), “ Frank Forester ”, the pioneer of American outdoor and sporting writing —  without him no Hemingway or Rick Bass or . . . 
With The Warwick Woodlands, or Things as They Were There, Ten Years Ago (1845), Herbert started an American sporting genre. Despite being a prolific novelist he fell into poverty —  his letters make devastating reading — and in the spring of 1858 he was troubled by the failure of his marriage. He died in New York, a suicide. Herbert and his writings were not forgotten, and eighteen years after his death a group of admirers gathered in Newark to mark his death. While preparing The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead for publication, I was thinking about Herbert, and about how dead authors are remembered, because the author’s own copy of the book produced to commemorate the event passed across my desk : Geo. B. Halsted. The Newark Herbert Association to “ Frank Forester. ” In Memoriam, May 19, 1876.
In the 1920s and 1930s, there was something of a Herbert revival, but that was long ago. His work has not yet been given the Library of America treatment. Hmmm, maybe it is time.

Ralph Boyer. Watercolor portait of H. W. Herbert, ca. 1931


— J.L. Borges. El Idioma de los Argentinos [1928], with watercolor decorations by Xul Solar. In the exhibition Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges : The Art of Friendship, through 20 July at the Americas Society. The original manuscript of Borges’ La lotería en Babilonia is on view (from the NYPL). The image below is a detail of a board game Solar invented.

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— Raymond John Howgego. Encyclopedia of Exploration. Invented and Apocryphal Narratives of Travel. A comprehehsive guide to invented, imaginary, apocrypha and plagiarized narratives of travel by land, sea and air from earliest timesto the twentieth century.. Hordern House, [2013]. xi, 543 pp. Newly received, to be reviewed.

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Mailbag Roulette (mid-June) :

lace, lingerie, yarn, tulle, cats, dogs, goat (!), & Woof at the Door

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Recent reading

— Lauren Beukes. The Shining Girls. Mulholland Books, [2013]. Inscribed by the author in a Brooklyn thunderstorm.

— Dorothy L. Sayers. Strong Poison (1930) & Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) & Gaudy Night (1936) & Nine Tailors (1934). Re-read these four (for the first time in many years), in succession as encountered (the first title while stranded in an airport). Sayers was a very good writer, and the observation of interwar English society is sharper than I remembers. Sayers was at her best in the elaborate courtship dance of two intellectual equals : with Harriet Vane around, Wimsey became a much moreinteresting character than in (for example) The Five Red Herrings (1931). And reading in the Oxford DNB, I learned that Sayers, during her years in advertising, coined the slogan “ My goodness, my Guinness ! ” Gaudy Night was an utter joy.

— Kingsley Amis. The Green Man [1969]. Introduction by Michael Dirda. New York Review Books, [2013]. Warning ! unreliable narrator. Well-invented primary source material and a good imaginary book, a genuinely English creepy monster, and a thoroughly vile, irresistible narrator, this was an unexpected pleasure. Am still surprised that I had never read this before. The Green Man reminded me of the harvest festivals in an exhibition at the Barbican in 2005, Folk Archive, curated by Jeremy Deller and Allan Kane, such as the Straw Bear (below) and the Burry Man. Somewhere I have a really low-grade cell phone picture of an item of the Burry Man’s anatomy that is not reproduced in the exhibition catalogue.

— Jeremy Deller and Allan Kane. Folk Archive. Contemporary Popular Art from the UK. [Book Works, 2005].

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— Guy Davenport. The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art. Couterpoint, [1996]. I have been reading in this at odd intervals and always with fresh amazement, as for example, “ Civilization and Its Opposite in the 1940s ”, the short note on “ O. Henry ”, the memoir of Thomas Merton and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (“ Tom and Gene ”), or these two sentences from “ Late Gertrude ” :

If Gertrude and Ludwig had ever met, apparently they could have talked for hours about the sixth Act IV of An Exercise in Analysis (1917). The act in its entirety is “ Now I understand. ”

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— Patrick Leigh Fermor. A Time of Gifts. Harper & Row, [1977] and Between the Woods to the Water. On foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland. The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates. Viking, [1986]. A retrospective narration walks a very tricky line between direct experience and analysis. In A Time of Gifts, walking through Germany in 1934, Fermor succeeds rather dangerously in conveying his utter naïveté, but the second volume is a little too carfully constructed. I read the second volume first (as one does when borrowing books from the library). This passage, early on, just after Fermor has entered Hungary from the Czechoslovakia at the end of winter, illustrates what gave me pause :

The writing is rich and luscious and ever so nostalgic for the lost trappings of aristocracy ; and just a little contrived. Where I come from, water-lilies do not bloom during snow-melt.

— Margaret Yorke. Dangerous to Know (1993) & Almost the Truth (1994), presentation copies, inscribed by the author ; A Case to Answer (2001), from the library. Darker than Julian Symons, very sharp observations of contemporary British society by a prolific author whose work was previously uknown to me.

— Karen Joy Fowler. What I Didn’t See and Other Stories. Small Beer Press, [2013].

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seen along the way

— Ernest Hemingway. in our time. Paris, 1924.

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— Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. London, 1891. Large paper copy, signed. All art is quite useless.

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— Henry David Thoreau. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Boston, 1849.

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Next up :

— Joyce Carol Oates. The Accursed. Ecco, [2013]. This is next up when I finish a project with a looming deadline. I looked at the first page of the preface, noted with pleasure two imaginary books —  Q.T. Hollinger’s The Unsolved Enigma of the Crosswicks Curse : A Fresh Inquiry (1949) and The Vampire Murders of Old Princeton (1939) —  and turned to note the signatory of the “ Author’s Note ” (and its playful allusions to the established history of the world), then returned it to the holding shelf. I have not even looked at reviews.

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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

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