Category: commonplace book
sixteen years of the Endless Bookshelf
24 January 2023
Today marks sixteen years of the Endless Bookshelf, and the past year was an eventful one to be “simply messing about in books”. To have played a part in the long history of The Book of Ryhmes (1829) by Charlotte Brontë, now at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, was a signal delight. It was a good year to be a reader, too.
The Endless Bookshelf book of the year, The Silverberg Business by Robert Freeman Wexler (Small Beer Press, 2022), is a work that affirms the utility and possibility of fiction, and it’s a weird, fascinating story.
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In February, I expect to be at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena, booth 514 (James Cummins Bookseller) at the Oakland Marriott City Center, Friday 10 February through Sunday 12 February. If you are in the vicinity, come by and say hello (and please let me know in advance if you would like a pass). I will have a handful of Temporary Culture publications on the booth.
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commonplace book – autumn 2022
‘beyond realistic description’
“His experiments in watercolour and rapid adoption of the new, glaring pigments of chrome yellow, chrome orange and pale lemon chrome had brightened his palette. He had already given ordinary subjects a sense of the sublime through dramatic lighting — the fishermen cleaning and selling fish in the National Gallery’s ‘Sun Rising Through Vapour’, for example. But from the 1820s, his high key colour and transparent, luminous effects began to push beyond realistic description.”
— Jackie Wullschläger
reviewing an exhibition of J. M.W. Turner in the Financial Times
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‘in a tête-à-tête there is no shuffling’
— from The Charles Lamb Day Book
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“What is the Midwest, after all, but a long, straight superhighway to the past, a place where suicidal farmers and homicidal cops and polite fanatics in dad pants are phantasms of the frontier’s original settlers?”
on My Three Dads by Jessa Crispin in the New York Review of Books
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from the jacket copy for the Mirrorshades anthology, 1986
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“. . . and some things you can only think of in the dark”
— F. & E. Brett Young, Undergrowth
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Workers lose out
how I spent my summer vacation (part two)
Publication day for NAPLES by Avram Davidson, 11 September in Castel del Ovo, Napoli
fascio ti sfascio : the writing on the wall, Salerno
how I spent my summer vacation (part one)
Rhododendron Day, 2022
fifteen years of the Endless Bookshelf
24 January 2022
Your correspondent celebrates fifteen years of simply messing about in books on this website (it started here, but of course the mischief and fun and seriousness go back much further). There are a few regular readers of the ’shelf, and perhaps once in a while a new reader will come across something in the archives which cannot be found elsewhere. I continue to read Proust in the Pléiades edition, with great interest and pleasure; I am now at the stage of Le Côté des Guermantes, and there is no stopping. There are also other books which come to hand, as I usually have a second or a third book which I am reading, or at least reading at. Some of them are noted below. I omit the names of several bibliographies I have been consulting as these fall under work in progress.
I have written a few essays recently where the lead time for publication is rather longer than for the Endless Bookshelf: I received Paul Witcover’s new book late last week, read it, and finished the review a couple of days later; and even had time to look at it in the cold light of day before posting it. That flexibility is one reasion why I figure I will keep writing these chronicles of small beer for a while longer. Perhaps you will want to read them.
I am very much looking forward to reading Robert Aickman An Attempted Biography by R. B. Russell (Tartarus Press); I have read some of Aickman’s stories but by no means all of them.
Wednesday 2 February marks the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published as a book in Paris on the author’s fortieth birthday in 1922. This is the darkened and tattered remains of the front wrapper of one of the 750 ordinary copies of the first edition, one of those scraps of paper which demand to be saved.
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In February, I expect to be at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland, booth 504 (James Cummins Bookseller) at the Oakland Marriott City Center, Friday 11 February through Sunday 13 February. If you are in the Bay Area, come by and say hello (and please let me know in advance if you would like a pass).
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— Henry C. Mercer. November Night Tales . [Introduction by Peter Bell]. Swan River Press, 2015.
Supernatural tales by the Pennsylvania polymath archaeologist, ceramicist, and polymath Henry C. Mercer (1856-1930), who was educated at Harvard (Class of 1879) and as a ceramicist played a key part in the American Arts and Crafts movement. His poured concrete mansion, Fonthill — named for William Beckford’s Gothic folly — is a turn of the century wonder; and his collections of American tools and vernacular objects pioneered the preservation of what is now called material culture. These stories range from rural Pennsylvania folklore to a forgotten treasure in the Italian Alps. The best of them is “The Wolf Book”, a tale of werewolves in the Balkans and an ill-starred book.
— Richard Thompson, with Scott Timberg. Beeswing. Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2021.
Memoir by one of the founders of Fairport Convention; his fabulous 1968 dream of Keith Richards and south London is worth the price of admission. Thompson played a solo acoustic show at a local Montclair venue not too long before the pandemic, and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” was one of the great moments of that evening. Thompson’s songs express — like the late novels of Russell Hoban — the curious notion that loss is the great creative well for literature and song. Sad and beautiful can be triumphant at the same time, because the song outlasts the sorrow.
— T. Frank Muir. Hand for a Hand. Soho Crime, . Crime novel set in St. Andrews, Scotland.
— Sara Gran. The Book of the Most Precious Substance. A Novel. Dreamland Books, .
— Michael Shea. Mr. Cannyharme. A Novel of Lovecraftian Terror. Foreword by Linda Shea. Edited by St. Joshi. Hippocampus, .
San Francisco at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, with interdimensional beings, written by Michael Shea circa 1981. I found the first half of the book interesting, with well grounded scenes around the Tenderloin hotel managed by the writer-protagonist, and some choice, weird secondary characters. My interest waned as the supernatural elements unfolded.
merry christmas from 1887
merry christmas from 1887
from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 22 December 1887
Eliza (my great-aunt) writes on behalf of herself and her younger brother Henry (my grandfather); their father was a cavalry officer:
Jefferson Barracks, December 2
Dear Sandy Clause
Will you bring me a doll and a pair of fleece gloves, a bed and a pair of slippers , a burro [or bureau], and a baby carriage. Goodbye. And a train for my brother Henry. And a hat a horse a GG saddle and a GG bridle and a streetcar a book a saber and a gun.
From Eliza Wesssells
commonplace book : 1920s book covers
details of 1920s marbled papers seen this month
this most important thing
this most important thing
“I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem.”
— Sherlock Holmes
Ever since moving to the yellow house some seventeen years ago, I have thought about the cluster of sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) along the block, some of which are plainly older than our house (built 1896 and one of the oldest on the street, which dates to when Montclair was still partly an agricultural town). The oldest sweet gums are tall, with boughs spreading in a high canopy and producing an abundance of biomass at each season: flowers; leaves, which fall in mid-November; and the spiky globes of the pods which typically fall at the end of December. I have raked and gathered bushels of the pods, and thought about them: aesthetically, as Christmas-tree ornaments (spray-painted gold), and as sources of literary inspiration (see The Windhill Bequest). I am not, however, anything more than an amateur botanist and sometime alumnus of the San Francisco Weedwalks. So it was only last year that I noticed another aspect of the plant’s cycle. I brought indoors two early fallen pods, still sheathed in a greenish pink husk, and put them in a small bowl. And promptly forgot them for a few days. They dried out, and opened, and at the bottom of the bowl I found hundreds of tiny seeds. Outside, I saw doves scratching amid the fallen pods, I thought of vanished forests, and the passenger pigeon.
And today while raking leaves (that ridiculous suburban dance, a little late this year), I paused for a moment. Off in the distance there was a rumble of a passenger jet taking off from Newark. Looking up, I saw a tiny, almost invisible fall of golden seeds from the gum trees overhead, turning silently until, with a noise of unseen raindrops, they hit the leaves I had raked. The sweet gums cast billions of seeds each season. In all the preceding years I had never noticed this most important thing.
I looked up in other trees, and noticed birds, sparrows and doves, moving among the pods and not waiting for the seedcast. When I saw that a layer of the seeds covered parts of the terrace, I put down a sheet of paper at random and after about two hours I collected half a teaspoon of the seeds, each one barely the size of a mustard seed. That amateur conjecture about the passenger pigeon does not now seem so unlikely. The trees here were probably young saplings when the passenger pigeon went extinct.
I suppose I had been thinking about life cycles of plants and their rôle in an interdependent ecosystem after reading an essay by Chris Brown on the industrial agricultural countryside: “what I remember is the paradox that all that vast green countryside was so completely devoid of wild nature”. And having read “Or All the Seas with Oysters” by Avram Davidson, I should of course have been primed to pay more attention to the reproductive abundance of organisms as an inherent aspect of competition in those interdependent systems.
The pods will come down, empty, a month from now (usually around the first snow). By that time, I will have looked in the Journals of Henry David Thoreau to see if he has written on the sweet gum; and I will have read William B. Mershon’s book, The Passenger Pigeon (1907), and possibly something a bit more up-to-date. I wonder if the seeds are edible for humans.
Forget that old saw, from tiny acorns great oaks: when it come to small beginnings, the sweet gum outclasses the oak.
[This essay took half an hour, and seventeen years, to write.]