dateline : Paris

The Endless Bookshelf will be filing occasional despatches from Paris during annual congrès of the Association internationale de bibliophilie (AIB), and may lapse into French on occasion

the reader

[from an earlier visit, the mural of the reader, by Ferdinand Humbert, in the Petit Palais]

— Charles Dantzig. Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien. Grasset, [2009].

And, soon after arriving in a rooftop apartment in the 4e, well, yes, of course I opened this book, to this page (252), in the Listes des personnes [list of persons]

The Darkening Garden (review)

The Darkening Garden.  A Short Lexicon of Horror by John Clute.
Cauheegan; Seattle: Payseur & Schmidt, [2006].
Illustrated. [xii], 162, [4] pp. $45.00
reviewed by Henry Wessells
[First published in The New York Review of Science Fiction 19:7, no. 223 (March 2007). All rights reserved.]

The Knowledge at the Heart of the Labyrinth

The Darkening Garden is a brilliant, irritating book, a dark little jewel of a grenade tossed into the cocktail party of genre criticism.  Its subtitle, A Short Lexicon of Horror, is Clutean misdirection deftly understated. What we have here is a philosophical engine, an encyclopedia in miniature (assuming a certain degree of knowledge on the reader, author entries can be found elsewhere or simply imagined) and, most importantly, a record of how John Clute thinks. This last is no small matter.

FUSTIAN by Jason van Hollander

The Darkening Garden is a collection of thirty short essays on topics relevant to the horror sort of fantastic literature. No particular affinity for horror literature is required. The terms that Clute defines will be of interest to all readers, just as the critical approach these terms articulate bears upon all sorts of fantastic literature. (I use the neutral term sort — less charged than flavor or variety — here, precisely, in place of genre or mode because definition of genre is one of the concerns of the book at hand.) 

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

The illustration at top is Jason van Hollander’s FUSTIAN portrait of John Clute. The complete text of The Darkening Garden is available in Clute’s Stay (Beccon, 2014).

a pair of Swanwicks

— Michael Swanwick. Red Fox, Blue Moon. [16] pp. Dragonstairs Press, 2023. Edition of 69 copies. Stitched in blue wrappers with a photo on front wrapper.
Another world in miniature from the deft and prolific Mr. Swanwick, a history of the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, replete with fox lore and subversive whimsy from what archy would call the “under side”.
[Swanwick is a master of the short short story and more than fifty of these have appeared in the ephemeral Dragonstairs books (the tally of fiction is more than 30 titles to date).]

— Michael Swanwick. The Best of Michael Swanwick. Volume Two. 530 pp. Subterranean Press, 2023. Edition of 1,000 copies, signed by the author. Evergreen cloth and pictorial dust jacket by Lee Moyer.
Includes the beautiful and devastating “For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again”, the oh-so-tricky homage of “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin”, “The Beast of Tara” (“a story idea I came up with in the mid-seventies and finally wrote last year. So if you’re wondering how long it takes to write one of these things  and many other fine tales”), and many more. “Libertarian Russia” is filled with  a sense of wonder and loss and deep nostalgia and reads like a despatch from another lifetime though it dates from 2010.
[The Best of Michael Swanwick, “predecessor to the current volume” (as the jacket panel notes), was published by Subterranean in 2008 in an edition of 150 signed copies.] 

Deaths of the Poets

— Kit Reed. Deaths of the Poets. Designed and illustrated by Joseph Reed. Text within illustrated borders. [34], [2, blank] pp. [Middletown]: At the Sign of the Piratical Primrose, 1991. Second, revised edition (150 copies, initialled by the author and artist). Gilt leather-grained card wrappers with printed label. This copy was inscribed to Brian and Margaret Aldiss.

A poet’s life is like a breath
After which — you guessed it — Death
[. . .]
Now echoing down hills & valley
Comes our last word, it’s Hey, Finale!
Though taken out by fate’s sharp knife
We leave the verse, to signal: Life!

An abecedarium of dead poets :  Aeschylus, Byron, Crane, Donne, Euripides, Fuller, Goethe, Homer, Akhenaton, Johnson, Keats, Lovelace, Molière, Nerval, Ovid, Pope, Quasimodo, Rilke, Sand, Tennyson, Urban, Villon, Wilde, Xenophon, Yeats, and Zoroaster.
Kit Reed was a really nice warm person, and a sharp and funny writer. We read together at the KGB science fiction reading series in 2004, when Another green world had just appeared, and she was skewering many American obsessions with her Thinner than Thou (what could possibly go wrong if . . . ?!?).  It was the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday, 16 June 2004, and to mark the occasion I read “A prayer for James Joyce” by James Blish. A lot of blank looks in the audience, but Kit and a few others knew what it was about. I used see her and Joe at Readercon (she was guest of honor in 2014). As always, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has some useful things to offer about her stealthy, explosive prose :
Deaths of the Poets  was first published in 1978 as a book of etchings in an edition of ten copies (only Yale and the Boston Athenaeum report copies).

Dream Fox

— Rosalie Parker. Dream Fox and Other Strange Stories. [vi], 239 pp.  Tartarus Press, [2023]. Pictorial boards, dust jacket.
A new collection of 18 stories from this talented author, presenting a variety of modes and settings, plus a fabulous book-within-a-book, “Mary Belgrove’s Book of Unusual Experiences”. The stories also display a remarkable range of voices and a change of register from one story to the next, the oppressive tone of “Home Comforts”is followed by the quiet austerity and sense of the inescapable at the heart of “The Decision”. “Pebble” is a dark fable of modern slavery; it takes a sudden, darker turn that speaks of liberation.

The first story, “Beguiled”, starts as a glimpse of an aristocratic young lady’s privilege and confinement in Imperial Russia, with a flavor of some of the tales of Saki. The narrative moves with concision and perfect pitch to an icy conclusion and a devastating last line. The effect is breathtaking ! and all in eight pages of the most lucid prose.

The title story, “Dream Fox”, a variation on the Reynard tales, is deeply subversive of the patriarchy and the county landholding class. It is the rebellious imagination of the adolescent girl that powers the transformation. The outcome is utterly that of “Kitty” by Paul Bowles.

“Mary Belgrove’s Book of Unusual Experiences” is a collection of nine stories of ghosts and uncanny experiences in contemporary Britain, a book “chanced upon in  a remainder outlet or a charity shop, rather than a bona fide bookstore”, published by a vanity press for “the crazy old woman who own all those millions in the National Lottery” and who wants to share her belief in the paranormal. The frame story is told in an introduction and the headnotes to each account. It is hilarious (is it a cameo self-portrait of the author?): in “The Dating Game”, Mary Belgrove tells Scott, “Perhaps we need to recognise that in this case  ‘Alive’ and ‘Dead’ may be relative terms.” The experiences (each narrated in a distinct voice) are dislocating and defy reductive explanation.

A beautiful book and a notable collection.

a few pamphlets (new and old)

a few pamphlets that have come across the desk of the Endless Bookshelf in recent months :

Old apple tree, old apple tree
Keep the secrets that you see

— Cardinal Cox. The Folk Show 3 : Fan Mail for a Film [Cover title]. [16] pp.  [Peterborough: Starburker Publication, 2023]. Edition of 100 copies, (to be given away at the 2023 Whittlesea Straw Bear festival*). Self-wrappers.
——. From the Hercynian Forest [Cover title]. [16] pp.  [Peterborough: Starburker Publication, 2019]. Edition of 100 copies. Self-wrappers.
——. London Particular [Cover title]. [16] pp.  [Peterborough: Starburker Publication, 2019]. Edition of 100 copies. Self-wrappers.
These three chapbooks of poems and vignettes of English folklore draw from deep wells, mixing gritty observation of daily life with literary allusion, wit, and punk pop culture tricksters. Cox, who invokes the name of John Clare more than any other living writer, I suspect, was poet-in-residence for the Dracula Society, and seems to share a fascination with The Wicker Man. These resulted in a good old fashioned ’zine exchange (I sent alonga couple of the productions of Temporary Culture).

* Plough Monday in January, “between Christmas and fen-skate party”,  is the traditional date of the Straw Bear festival, one learns from an aside in From the Hercynian Forest. This reminds me of the excellent exhibition of modern British folk art at the Barbican in May 2005, and the accompanying book, Folk Archive. Contemporary Popular Art from the UK, by Jeremy Delter and Alan Kane (Book Works, 2005), which I lent to a friend or otherwise I would do more than wonder if I can bring back some photos from the dark age and a cheap plastic cell phone, such as this label (the photograph of the object described won’t migrate) :

— — —

— [Bernadette Mayer]. Midwinter Marie. [16] pp. [James Walsh, 2023]. Second edition, one of 25 copies. Wrappers.
Selections by James Walsh from Midwinter Day (1982).

— — —

— Meghan Constantinou. The Daniel Press. Pioneer of the Private Press Movement. Illustrated. 26, [2] pp. The Grolier Club, 2021. Card covers, printed grey wrapper. Design by Kerry Kelly.
Catalogue of an exhibition of the Daniel Press, the print shop of  Charles Henry Olive Dance (1836-1919), who printed some 50 books (chiefly poetry) between 1874 and 1906, and revived an early type face (the catalogue is set in the Fell type). Daniel is described by Colin Franklin as “an independent figure, outside fashionable taste and movements”. The books are generally small and handsome, and the press  “has had a rich afterlife in multiple sense of the term”.

— — —

three black cats

— Christopher Barker. Plagiarism & Pederasty : Skeletons in the Jamesian Closet. In which the source for ‘The Ash-tree’ by Montague Rhodes James is identified. By Christopher Barker. Together with The Three Black Cats. By the Rev. A.D. Croke. Illustration of a George Cruikshank plate. Unpaginated, [28] pp. The Haunted River, 2003. Edition of 100 copies. Printed wrappers.

“The Three Black Cats” is a short antiquarian tale of horror published in 1888 in a collection of stories by A.D. Croke. Barker notes very strong similarities between the nucleus of Croke’s tale and “The Ash-tree”, which appeared in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), and takes James to task for plagiarism and hypocrisy and more..

It is sometimes fruitful to knock two ideas together to see if something new arises. Not in this instance, however. I know nothing of Barker, but this little book seethes with such resentment and outrage at the “honeyed images of the man as presented by Jamesian scholars” that a moderately interesting insight drowns under a bubbling hostility.

— — —

— Timothy d’Arch Smith. Montague Summers. A Talk. 25, [2] pp. The Tragara Press, 1984. One of 25 copies (edition of 110).
Talk presented to the Society on Montague Summers as bibliophile and aesthete.


mail bag : late summer 2023

in today’s mail :

— Joanne McNeil. Wrong Way. [x], 272, [3] pp. MCD x FSG Originals [forthcoming, November 2023]. “Preview edition”.

/ so psyched to receive this (long anticipated) book for review ; I loved McNeil’s  Lurking (2020) and can’t wait to read this ! Nice cover design (by Abby Kagan?). Review TK

— — —

— An Appointment with the Wicker Man. The 50th Anniversary May Day, 2023. Compiled by Adam Newell. Frontispiece by Sharon Gosling, illustrated throughout. [20] pp. The Avellenau Press, 2023. Edition of 100.

Visual record of a May Day bonfire  at Burrow Head in Scotland and the burning of a new Wicker Man created by local artist Amanda Sunderland ; with a beautiful Lallans poem, The Borrowing Days, by Amy Rafferty

‘bold an rowdy as whittericks’

/ file under : British Folk Art

/ learned of this via Mark Valentine’s Wormwoodiana, and acted promptly to order ; it has since sold out

/ let us agree that The Wicker Man is one of those films which may serve as a litmus test . . . of something

Readercon 32 : a brief report

Very happy to have attended this year’s Readercon, held 13-16 July in Quincy, Mass. I arrived on the Thursday evening after a research visit to the American Antiquarian Society, and during the course of the weekend saw many old friends and acquaintances (including a couple of unexpected surprises), met a couple of people whom I had only known from correspondence, and made a few new friends.  I am
one who found the convention masking policy (generally observed inside the con areas) and ventilation precautions most reassuring. I ate my meals out of doors (or went down into Quincy to eat al fresco). The hotel patio was a good place to sit down and see who showed up, and the weather was warm but clement until a deluge began on Sunday morning.
I was much encouraged by the decision to include the  panel on Arthur Machen in the twenty-first century, Machen’s Legacy in Modern Horror & Fantasy, which I had proposed on a dark winter evening. It was very well attended and with such a knowledgeable group of panelists the conversation was so lively we ran out of time before there was any space for questions.
Arthur Machen panel at Readercon 32. Photo by Paul Witcover. From left : Michael Dirda, The Joey Zone, Michael Cisco, Elizabeth Hand, Henry Wessells (moderator)
Chris Brown’s Field Notes from the End of the World was an illustrated talk on nature writing in dystopian fiction, a good glimpse of some of my friend’s predilections and wild thinking, firmly grounded in the concerns of his Field Notes newsletter. Who else but Chris would consider Neuromancer from this perspective?  I attended the interviews with the guests of honor: Jeff Vandermeer in conversation with his wife Ann, and Justina Ireland interviewed by Arley Sorg,  lots of intelligent fun. I had not known of Justina Ireland before coming to Readercon, and found the panel on the author’s works to be exemplary in its mix of fact, interpretation, and enthusiasm. The panel in memory of Maureen Kincaid Spiller, a conversation between Graham Sleight and Romie Stott of Strange Horizons, was also very good. Of course there were time conflicts on panels & readings that I had to miss, testimony to rich multistream programming.

The book room felt a bit of a ghost town, with few antiquarian or older books, but I bought six new books (a few of them shown above) including one by Ireland (Rust in the Root) on the basis of the panel, and one by a member of a panel I moderated.
I have reached the age of insouciance, knowing that I am much older than many of the attendees and that our interests often diverge, but I had fun and will plan to attend next year. [HWW]


recent reading : february to june 2023

current reading :
— Marcel Proust. Albertine disparue (1925) & Le temps retrouvé (1927). À la recherche du temps perdu IV. Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.

— M. John Harrison. Wish I Was Here. An Anti-Memoir. [Serpent’s Tail, 2023]. Signed by the author 23 May 2023. [Gift of MLV].

— — —

recent reading :

— S. Barkworth. The Nijmegen Proof. Holmes Publishing Co., 1988.

— George Sims. The Terrible Door. The Bodley Head, [1964].
— —. The Last Best Friend [1967]. Carroll & Graf pbk., [1988].
— —. Hunters Point. Gollancz, 1973.
— —. The End of the Web. Gollancz, 1976.
— —. The Keys of Death. Macmillan, [1982].
George Sims (1923-1999) was an antiquarian bookseller, specialist in literature and literary manuscripts, and author of The Rare Book Game (1985), a memoir in the form of essays, and its several sequels. His crime novels are full of the most granular detail of the byways of London in the early 1960s, and Hunters Point is partly set in a San Francisco observed with similar care. Sims was a long-time friend of Julian Symons (I have his Death’s Darkest Face inscribed to Sims), which sparked my interest. H. R. F. Keating  included The Last Best Friend in his  Crime & Mystery The 100 Best Books and noted that the “exactitude of the poet” and “peripheral elaborations” are “simultaneously his triumph and something like his downfall” and mark him as an amateur writer. Sometimes the digressions are the voyage.

— — —

— Robert Sheckley. The Game of X [1965]. Jonathan Cape, [1966]. Excellent send-up of the espionage genre and a love letter to the city of Venice, with Sheckley’s characteristic wit bubbling up at odd moments and with perfect timing.
— —. Crompton Divided. Holt, Rinehart and Winston,  [1978]. Scent and memory and an interplanetary question for personal integration made literal. Expanded from an early novella, “Join Now” or “The Humors”, with a cock-eyed nod to Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.

— — —

— Julian Symons. The Man Who Killed Himself. The Crime Club, Collins, 1967.
— —. The Man Who Lost His Wife. The Crime Club, Collins, 1970.
— —. The Players and the Game. The Crime Club, Collins, 1972
— —. The Detling Murders. Collins, 1982. The Detling Secret. Viking. 1983.
— —. Something like a Love Affair. Macmillan, 1992.
I have long enjoyed the crime novels of Julian Symons which also serve as examinations of middle-class British life. I had read one or two of these a long time ago, and re-reading them was as interesting as charting new territory.

— — —

Dorothy L. Sayers. Clouds of Witness [1927]. Bourbon Street Books paperback.
— —. Strong Poison [1930]. Bourbon Street Books paperback.
— —. Gaudy Night. Gollancz, [1936].
— —. Busman’s Honeymoon [1937]. Bourbon Street Books paperback.

— James Clarke. Sanderson’s Isle. Serpent’s Tail, [2023].

— — —

— Arthur Machen. Far Off Things. Martin Secker, [1922].
— —. The London Adventure. Martin Secker, [1924].

— Iain Sinclair. Agents of Oblivion. Swan River Press, 2023.
Four short stories on Blackwood, Machen, Ballard, Lovecraft.

— Paul McAuley. Fairyland [1995]. Gollancz SF Masterworks paperback.

— Avram Davidson. AD100. 100 years of Avram Davidson. 100 Unpublished or Uncollected Stories. Volume I [II]. [xii], 635, [9]; [xii], 548, [8] pp. [Or All the Seas With Oysters, 2023].
A monumental collection of tales, for the Avram Davidson centenary!

— — —

— Christopher Fowler. Seventy-Seven Clocks [2005]. Bantam Books pbk., 19th ptg.

— Nicola Upson. Nine Lessons [2017]. Faber pbk., [2021]. Crime story rooted in adolescent privilege, with reference to the ghost stories of M. R. James.

— Mark Valentine. The Peacock Escritoire with At Dusk. Tartarus Press, [2024]

— — —

— Herman Melville. Moby-Dick ; or, The Whale. University of California Press, [1981]. Illustrations by Barry Moser. California edition, reproduced from the Arion Press edition.

— Ling Ma. Bliss Montage. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2022]. WInner of the Story prize.

— Janwillem van de Wetering. The Japanese Corpse [1977]. Soho paperback, [1996].

— Michael Swanwick. Transits of Venus. Dragonstairs, 2023.

— — —

— Lord Dunsany. Lost Tales Volume VI. Illustrations by S. H. Sime. [Foreword by Randall, baron Dunsany]. Pegana Press, 2022 [i.e., 2023].
Finely printed collection of 7 stories, including an unpublished Jorkens yarn! Concluding a decade-long project, the first volume of which was the Endless Bookshelf  book of the year in 2012.

— John Crowley. Little, Big or, The Fairies’ Parliament. Art by Peter Milton. Afterword by Harold Bloom. Incunabula, 2021 [i.e., 2022].

— Joanna Russ. The Adventures of Alyx. Timescape | Pocket Books, [August, 1983].

Tales from Gavagan’s Bar. Frontispiece by Tim Kirk

— L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt. Tales from Gavagan’s Bar (Expanded Edition). Owlswick, 1978.
“rhymes with ‘pagan’”

— Peter Kafer. Charles Brockden Brown’s Revolution and the Birth of American Gothic. Univ. of Penna Press, [2004, i.e., POD 26 Dec. 2022].

— Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Mexican Gothic. Del Rey [pbk, 7th ptg, 2021]

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]