The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books










September 2007

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

1 October 07

What Can be Saved from the Wreckage ?
It's 4:30 a.m. on Monday 1 October, the special copies of Michael Swanwick’s new book What Can be Saved from the Wreckage ? are all bound ; the presentation copies will be sent out today and subscribers will receive their copies in the next several days.
In designing the binding, I interpreted the title literally and so each of the 17 copies includes a bifolium leaf signed by Cabell, with a binding of salvaged boards and (where possible) endsheets of the original Storisende edition.


I will be away from regular e-mail for the next while, so there will be no new entries : read a book or walk in the woods instead . . . 
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3 September 07
From yesterday’s New York Times  :

A Perennial Bind : So Many Books, So Few Shelves
BOOKS are everywhere in my house, in every room. Most of the time, I ignore the bulk of them, but even then they catch my eye and I register their names.
Some of them have secured a permanent appointment on a shelf in the living room or in my office. Exuding the confidence of having survived dozens of cullings, they are lined up neatly in sensible categories, their spines straight and proud.
Others are more diffident, as if sensing their tenuous status. These tend to move around.
They often start out on the dining room table, where they wait in hope of attention, little knowing they havenÉt even reached the triage station yet, which is over on the sideboard. From there, if they look good enough, they may make it upstairs to the small chair that serves as my bedside table. [. . .]
The next way station is the dread Bottom Shelf in the living room, where they await final disposition. There they lie despondently on their sides, some cowering behind others, as if they know their chances of making it onto one of the shelves above are about as good as an upstart deity being invited to join the pantheon on Mount Olympus. Those places are reserved for works of genius. For the strange and the rare. For important gifts, for works written and signed by friends, for venerable inherited books.
ThereÉs practically no room on the rest of the shelves in any case. [. . .]

Link to the article . Alice Elliott Dark is a deft storyteller and novelists ; her books have earned a place on my own overcrowded shelves.

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1 September 07

A brief taxonomy of the Club Story

I recently received the second and third volumes of the Night Shade Press edition of The Collected Jorkens  edited by S. T. Joshi. I reviewed the first volume in the issue of NYRSF  for February 2005, where I reflected upon some aspects of the form :

A brief taxonomy of the Club Story
O Best Beloved ! In the High and Far-Off Times, when people gathered and stories were told  . . .
The path from the Arabian Nights and the coffee houses of Cairo through “ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ” to the postprandial conversations of Edwardian clubmen and London yachtsmen is one that can be traced ; by someone else. When I use the term “ club story ” I refer to a form in the literature of the English-speaking world that flourished from the late Victorian period to the middle of the twentieth century. These stories are incidents of story-telling, written works recording a narrative told  by another, generally at a small gathering. The Season of the club story is Edwardian autumn, rain and hideous palls of smog we can hardly imagine ; the setting is frequently but not exclusively indoors ; the narrators and audiences are almost invariably men (the Larger Question this raises is duly noted, to be considered below) ; there is, equally invariably, an element of the Exotic involved ; an important convention of the form is that paradox is involved — whether as part of the story or merely to prompt the story-teller's recollection and resolve. The club story is, finally, a particular species of the frame story : what is crucial is the central idea, the tale within the tale.
The club story attained its apotheosis early : Conrad’s “ Heart of Darkness ” (1899) and Lord Jim  (1900), tales of “ dark places of the earth ” and courage arising from cowardice, define and transcend the form. It quickly became a cornerstone of detective and thriller fiction : note In the Fog  by Richard Harding Davis (1904), The Man Who Knew Too Much  by G. K. Chesterton (1922), and The Runagates Club  by John Buchan (1928). P. G. Wodehouse’s stories of Mr. Mulliner and the Angler’s Rest or the Oldest Member’s golfing memories are humorous manifestations of the same form. Buchan includes tales with fantastical and supernatural elements, and there is a long line of club stories in science fiction. These are, however, chiefly successors to the tradition, set in bars and pubs : Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s Tales from Gavagan’s Bar  (1953); Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart  (1957), and Spider Robinson's Callahan stories. Sterling Lanier’s two volumes of Brigadier Ffellowes stories (1972 & 1986) are late but entirely in the voice and style of the club story.

The complete review is available here. One additional point to bear in mind is John Clute’s chapter on Difficulty in The Darkening Garden , as the club story is a form that makes fullest use of “ apparent estrangement devices ”. Volume two of The Collected Jorkens  includes two favorites, “ On the Other Side of the Sun ” and “ In a Dim Room ” ; they are of deceptive simplicity.

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Review in NYRSF

My review of Portable Childhoods  by Ellen Klages appears in the August issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction .

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This creaking and constantly evolving blog 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. [HW]

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Copyright © 2007 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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