Readercon 32, July 2023

It’s July, so that means Readercon! Once again!

I’ll be there in Quincy, Mass., Friday through Sunday 14-16 July, and if you are there you will see me wandering about, and occasionally at fixed locations, according to the following schedule.

Friday 14 July 2023
7:30p.m. (Blue Hills) : Reading (new work)

Saturday 15 July 15 2023
11:00 a.m. (Salon B) : Arthur Machen’s Legacy in Modern Horror & Fantasy (moderator)
2:00 p.m. (Salon A) : The Enduring Legacy of Jules Verne (moderator)

Sunday 16 July 2023
11:00 a.m. (Salon A) : Speculative Memoir (moderator)

Copies of The Private Life of Books and other publications of Temporary Culture will be on hand. Come say hello if you see me.

— — —

Temporary Culture at 35

TEMPORARY CULTURE started with a photocopy ’zine at the end of June 1988, The Newsletter of Temporary Culture, the title from a dream-memory, and the form and content being a confluence of available technology and literary urges in the post-industrial not-quite-gentrified Hudson river littoral in Paulus Hoek (five minutes’ walk from downtown Jersey City). With the fifth issue the word newsletter fell away from the title and the seventh issue introduced the sumac logo and marked an end to a rainbow of ’zines (the eighth issue never made it to the copy machine).

the cover of the first issue, light blue, was a rubbing of a coal chute cover in front of a house on Van Voorst Park in Jersey City

And then the world changed.

Temporary Culture evolved with the newly available technology just as my interest in Avram Davidson ripened to the point of publication, and a friend said, you don’t really want a database, let’s make a website. An electronic newsletter followed, but the itch to produce printed things resurfaced before long, first with the publications of the Avram Davidson Society, and then from 2003 a steady series of books, including Another green world, When They Came by Don Webb,  Hope-in-the-Mist by Michael Swanwick, and the specially bound copies of A Conversation larger than the Universe. (In retrospect, it would have been cool to accept the hand press and founts of type offered to me in late 1992 or early 1993, but at the time I had nowhere to house them and so a different path was chosen.) The most important book published by Temporary Culture is without a doubt Sexual Stealing by Wendy Walker; the most elegant is the hand printed edition of Naples by Avram Davidson. Of each one of these (and of each of the books of Temporary Culture) I can assert that without my energies these books would not have come into being. A checklist of the publications of Temporary Culture is in preparation. There will probably be a few more books before it’s over. [HWW]

The Avram Davidson Centenary

Sunday 23 April 2023 is the centenary of the birth of Avram Davidson.

On this occasion, worthy of celebration wherever the readers of this website may find themselves, it is worth looking back at origins. I count myself fortunate to have discovered the work of Avram Davidson, when in late 1992 I first read a battered but intact copy of The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy paperback. I was surprised, again and again. The rambling sentences and digressions impressed me, but most of all it was the way in which Davidson integrated obscure and bizarre knowledge into these stories: knowledge that in anyone else’s hands would be dusty and uninteresting or an info-dump that strangled or squashed the flow of language. Davidson was genuinely learned, as even a single sentence taken at random will reveal. There is a healthy measure of irreverence to temper this erudition, too, so that a reader is never oppressed by the weight of information imparted. I know that I was re-reading the Enquiries in late April or early May 1993, for when I decided to order the two books then in print and called up George Scithers, publisher of the Owlswick Press (and Weird Tales), in King of Prussia*, Penna., he answered my inquiry with the statement, “Avram Davidson died last week.”

portrait of Avram Davidson (1923-1993), American science fiction author and essayist

Over the next several months and years, the quest for other works by Davidson, at first to read them, but soon I began preparing lists in an attempt to understand the range of his work. I corresponded with or met folks in and out of science fiction, many of whom I still count as friends. The rest is history, some of it chronicled in back issues of The Nutmeg Point District Mail newsletter and in the archives of the Avram Davidson website. From small seeds and many friendships, the Avram Davidson Society (largely imaginary but important for all that) has fostered interest in the writings of Avram Davidson.

In recent months, I have been re-reading lots and lots of Avram Davidson with great pleasure, the Eszterhazy stories (a perennial favorite), but also “Lord of Central Park” and El Vilvoy de las Islas (if Naples is the most elegant book I have published with the imprint of the Nutmeg Point District Mail, El Vilvoy is the most important). And then there is The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), the great triumph of Grania Davis and her efforts in the first wave of posthumous publications. And if the Treasury unaccountably omitted three essential stories, “Lord of Central Park”, “The Dragon Skin Drum”, and El Vilvoy de las Islas, well, all three appeared in collections within the next few years, in The Investigations of Avram Davidson and The Other Nineteenth Century. And Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven gathered together material relating to Avram Davidson as an American Jewish writer; the biographical essay by Eileen Gunn remains the most important survey of Davidson’s life and work. These are solid foundations upon which all else has built.

And now, for the Avram Davidson Centenary year, there will be a century of stories, AD 100. 100 Years of Avram Davidson. 100 Unpublished or Uncollected Stories, a two volume collection assembled by Seth Davis and forthcoming in 2023 from  Or All the Seas with Oysters, the publishing arm of the Estate of Avram Davidson. Your correspondent had an early look at the table of contents and it is a fascinating assembly: early writings, some of which I have never seen, and stories published in a variety of periodicals and anthologies — within and without the genres— many of them ephemeral, fleeting, and extinct. Once upon a time, dear reader, it took fantastical amounts of luck and patience and effort and, above all, TIME to trace these stories, simply for the pleasure of reading them. Now, this pleasure will be yours, as you peruse two thick volumes. I look forward to doing so myself.

The preparation of AD100 is a colossal accomplishment and a landmark in the posthumous career of Avram Davidson as significant as publication of The Avram Davidson Treasury in 1998. Here’s to the next twenty-five years!

On the occasion of the Centenary, I acknowledge, in memoriam, a short list friends and correspondents who were instrumental in promoting the legacy of Avram Davidson: Grania Davis, Guy Davenport, Reno W. Odlin, George Scithers, and David G. Hartwell.

* King of Prussia, named for an eighteenth-century crossroads tavern, is the wonderfully named town near where I spent much of my youth. I suspect Avram Davidson took a certain amount of pleasure in the unusual name of the town where his friend and long-time editorial champion George Scithers (1929-2010) lived for many years.

[This essay appeared in slightly different form as part of The Nutmeg Point District Mail, vol. XXI, no. 1, archived at]

Ambrosia Arabica : Books & Coffee in History

Arbre du Café, from Voyage de l’Arabie heureuse, 1716

For many readers, a cup of coffee is the ideal accompaniment to a carefully chosen volume. The recent vogue of uniting bookstores with coffee shops that is rippling through the book world is but a modern revival of older custom. For of all foods and beverages, coffee has perhaps the closest and most interesting connections with the printed word. Its introduction into seventeenth-century Western Europe from the Middle East came at a time when geographical and scientific knowledge was increasing, and in turn the rise of the coffee house transformed many areas of social, intellectual, and commercial life.

Newspapers, the Lloyd’s insurance and maritime intelligence operations, the New York Stock Exchange, the British postal system, and political and social clubs are some of the diverse institutions that trace their origins to these places where people gathered to drink coffee. Coffee figures in early botanical, medical, and Orientalist books, and in numerous volumes recounting seventeenth-century travels and explorations. In literature and the arts, coffee is at the core of a similar array of books and musical and theatrical compositions.

To be sure, wine has a longer literary heritage, with various threads extending back to Ancient Rome, Persia, and China. In the end, however, the fruit of the grape induces somnolence rather than the alertness and perspicacity that are characteristic of many book people. So with all due apologies to those who favor a glass of port and a comfortable armchair for their reading on a wintry evening, this essay will look at the relationship between coffee and modern culture, with particular attention to the printed book. One of the most venerable myths about coffee — concerning its introduction to Vienna — will be dispelled, and the truth made known.

To read the complete essay, click here :

[Originally published in slightly different form in AB Bookman’s Weekly, December 15, 1997. Copyright 1997, 2023, by Henry Wessells. All rights reserved.]

The Philosophical Exercises of Janwillem van de Wetering. By Henry Wessells

With A Checklist of Books by Janwillem van de Wetering

Author of a highly acclaimed series of mystery novels, world traveller, former Zen student, and former police officer Janwillem van de Wetering brings an unusual perspective to the detective genre.  His novels and stories feature a diverse and richly drawn cast of characters and settings that range from the streets of Amsterdam to the Caribbean and from rural Maine to Japan, South America, and New Guinea.  A careful eye for the details of police investigations is joined with a quirky sense of humor and a keen interest in philosophical and spiritual matters.

[ To read the complete review essay, click here : ]

[ This article was first published in slightly different form, as “The Mystery Novels of Janwillem van de Wetering” in the issue of AB Bookman’s Weekly for 7-14 September 1998. This digital version was for a long time posted at the Avram Davidson website. All rights reserved. ]

A singular interview with Henry Wessells, by Michael Swanwick

Singular Interviews, by Michael Swanwick.  Tenth in an Occasional Series

Henry Wessells is not only a writer of fiction, criticism, and critical fictions but a bookman as well — a professional dealer in rare books and related materials. It is in this latter capacity that this question was posed.

Michael Swanwick: If you could own one essentially unobtainable rare genre book, what would it be?

Henry Wessells: I would like to own Erasmus’ own copy of Utopia (Louvain, 1516); or, failing that, More’s own.
But you know me very well, Michael, to ask such a question, for I (or a character calling himself “I”) have answered your question twenty years ago in the pages of NYRSF, when I summoned into being an imaginary book “I” needed to know in order to write about the work of Don Webb. That book is Irimari, ou, la reine zombie de la Guiane (Brussels: Auguste Poulet-Malassis, 1866) by Gérard de Kernec, and its English translation by Swinburne, Eurydice in Guiana, published anonymously in 1871 by John Camden Hotten. In “Book becoming power” (NYRSF, March 2000), D. owned Lester Dent’s copy of that book, and even now I wouldn’t mind owning a copy of either edition myself.
That was easy; there was no hesitation, for I have been thinking about the literature of the fantastic ever since I was seven years old. Not that I read Utopia at that age. I have seen the copy of Frankenstein which Mary Shelley inscribed to Lord Byron (one genius to another), but I never felt I needed to possess it.
I did, of course, answer your singular question in a concrete sense, by thinking about a book which did once exist, for a key aspect of our mode of literature is the literalization of metaphor.

— — —

First published in the New York Review of Science Fiction 355 (June 2021).
Copyright © 2021 Michael Swanwick. Reprinted by permission of the author.


readers in real time

readers in real time : in the library at Astrea Academy Sheffield 

[photo by Charlie Pogson]

From Charlie Pogson, Head of English at the Astrea Academy Sheffield, last March: “I am writing to request your permission to use your poem, The Private Life of Books, as a permanent display in our school library. We would like to have the poem professionally painted or printed and displayed floor to ceiling on the entrance wall of our library space. The library is the heart of our school; it is the space in which we know we can transform the lives of the young people who we work with by showing them the world/s around them in books. Your poem perfectly encapsulates the gift that we want to give to our young people; a life-long, two-way relationship with books and stories.
“I heard your poem being read as the concluding voiceover on The Booksellers and was very moved by how it distilled the almost-indefinable magic of a book into words.”

And now that the installation is complete: “The children really love the poem – I see them being captured by it daily, and I think they revisit the library shelves having been invigorated by its reminder of how special their relationships with books are. [. . .] You’ll see a close up of your wonderful poem as well as a few of our scholars reading their own texts around it. You might also be able to see some glimpses of Sheffield in through the windows – it’s a city that’s both very green and very dilapidated in parts; a city where great stories are sorely needed.
“On behalf of all of us here at Astrea Academy Sheffield, we would like to thank you for gifting us your poem to accompany our reading experiences.”

[photo by Charlie Pogson]