I know we’ve beaten into you all how Hans Christian Andersen once went to Charles Dickens’ home for a visit and became the house guest that would never leave (though we can understand his obsession with Dickens, our inner Ms. Manners obviously cannot condone that sort of behavior), but there is much more to this author than a once-off lack of ideal behavior! More than meets the eye, that’s for sure. In honor of the 146th anniversary of his passing, here we offer a few fun facts about this fairy-telling Dane.
On this day in July 1930, a true visionary breathed his last. Of course, he wasn’t born a visionary, he was born simply… Arthur. And as often as people assume his last name to be Conan Doyle, it is simply Doyle… Conan just one of his middle names. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22nd, 1859, and died on July 7th, 1930, almost a hundred years ago… yet he is a common household name still today. However, he is known to have said that in a hundred years if he was only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, he would consider his life a failure. So let’s remember him for more than that, shall we?
Conan Doyle (for as much as we may know his last name is simply “Doyle” we also feel strange writing just Doyle to refer to him) was born to poor Irish Catholic parents, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father spent a good deal of Arthur’s early years suffering from alcoholism and mental illness, which had a great influence on his later works. Throughout his school-life he noted that he severely detested staunch religious practices in schools, disliking the lack of compassion and warmth, and favoring a more forgiving and compassionate atmosphere (which inspired his predisposition for spiritualism later in life).
From 1876 to 1881, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and botany at the Royal Botanic Garden, studies which would help mold his future writings in the Sherlock Holmes series – boggling the minds of civilians with science! It was during this time that he wrote his first short story, The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe, and tried (unsuccessfully) to submit it to Blackwood’s Magazine. A later story was published however, along with several scientific articles in different magazines and journals in Edinburgh. Upon graduating from medical school with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Master of Surgery, Conan Doyle became a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during their voyage to West Africa. Just a year later he found himself setting up his own independent medical practice in Portsmouth, with less than 10 pounds to his name. His practice did not prove entirely successful, neither did a stint in the field of ophthalmology, and in his free time Conan Doyle found himself drawn back to writing fiction.
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes installment, A Study in Scarlet, when he was only 27 years old. Written in just under three weeks, it is amazing to think that on how this work has endured and began a legacy, a series the likes of which may be unparalleled in fiction. A Study in Scarlet was popular and successful, and Conan Doyle was commissioned to write a sequel in less than a year. The next work, The Sign of the Four, was no less popular when it appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine. Amusingly enough, even early on in his Holmes works Conan Doyle felt contradictory emotions towards his most famous character. He wished to kill Holmes off after just a couple years, but was dissuaded (more like forbade) from doing so by his own mother! He raised the prices for his stories hoping to dissuade publishers from paying for them, but found that publishers were willing to pay exorbitant sums to keep the stories coming… consequently Conan Doyle accidentally became one of the best paid authors of all time. In all, Conan Doyle featured Sherlock Holmes (often against his will – public outcry was so great after Doyle had Holmes and Moriarty plunge off a cliff together that Holmes was forced to resurrect his famed detective in The Hound of the Baskervilles years later) in fifty-six short stories and four novels – a long and eventful life for a fictional character!
During the same years as his publication of Holmes’ adventures, Conan Doyle also worked on several historical novels, works which are commonly considered in academic circles his best, and were his favorite to write. Some of his historical novels include popular titles such as The White Company and Sir Nigel, both set in the Middle Ages. He also wrote dozens of short stories (some set in Napoleanic times), and even dramas for the stage. Later on in his life, Conan Doyle wrote the Challenger Series, a science fiction and fantasy series featuring Professor Challenger as the protagonist – a character that couldn’t be further from Sherlock Holmes if he tried! Where Holmes was calculating and quiet, Challenger was aggressive and hot-tempered. One could imagine writing about a character that was the antithesis of all that made Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes was a great enjoyment for Conan Doyle.
Similar to our main man Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (as he was knighted by the Queen in 1902) was one of the most prolific authors of the modern world. Not only that, but he was much involved in the justice system, fighting for those wrongly accused to be exonerated (succeeding in at least two cases, his work inspiring the setup of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907), and he was a staunch supporter of mandatory vaccinations! He stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist, and became a figurehead for the spiritualism movement that swept through England in the 1900s. While he was far from perfect (as we all are), he was certainly an intelligent, resilient individual who should go down in history for a lot more than simply inventing one of the most notable and fascinating characters of all time!
This past week saw another virtual book fair “hit the e-shelves”, so to speak. After over a year of Covid, we are more than ready to return to normal, in-person book fairs! Here the Master and Commander of Tavistock Books, Vic Zoschak Jr., gives his opinion on the matter of virtual book fairs, the RBMS Booksellers’ Showcase in particular.
Well, that’s another one in the books. “What?”, you ask… that would be last week’s ABAA-RBMS VBF, held in conjunction with this year’s virtual RBMS conference. When in person, the ‘ABAA Booksellers’ Showcase’, as it is called when held attendant to the real event, the number of exhibitors is usually in the ~ 35 range, primarily due to physical limitations imposed by conference venue, so a positive for the 2021 rendition was the ability to expand the number of exhibitors that could participate, so in this instance I understand that approached 60 [or more?]. However, given this expansion, a question then comes to mind, did the size of the [revenue] pie stay the same, such that average sales per exhibitor decreased…?
I’ll never know the answer to that particular question, as others’ sales data is only anecdotal, and in this instance, results shared tended to mirror that of an actual book fair, which is to say, mixed. A few of those that did well are happy to publicly proclaim same. Those who have more modest results, more often than not, tend to stay silent. Tavistock Books, as well as a few more frank colleagues, reported ‘soft’ sales, i.e., for us, 5 items sold, which was 10% of our total listings. So hardly robust, but nevertheless, we were content to have a presence, keeping our name in front of the librarian community.
What about VBFs in general? My view… there seems to be a number of them every month these days, with Marvin Getman, bless his heart, the primary promoter hosting same. But as a result, I see a ‘devaluation’ taking place, somewhat mirroring the public’s view, and subsequent demise, of physical book fairs that took place over the last 2-3 decades. For example, I not only didn’t exhibit at Marvin’s last event, I didn’t shop it.
All this said, I recognize, this is just one bookseller’s view. And this bookseller is nearing the end of his career, so I acknowledge my ‘aggressiveness’ level in pursuing the VBF trade somewhat less than many others. Which is to say, this take of mine on VBFs may, or may not, represent the majority of the trade. But these views do represent me, and I’m looking forward to once again having the physical interaction that comes with real events.
With that in mind, see you in Oakland, February 2022.
A phrase I have said for literal years of my life is this… “well, for the love of Thomas Hardy”. I used it in situations when another might say “Oh, for the love of god.” Now I was not equating Thomas Hardy with anyone’s god by any means, I just picked it up somewhere and used it fairly frequently. Assuming that this was a well-known idiom, I never stopped to question the quizzical looks from people on the receiving end of the strange turn of phrase.
Turns out that it is NOT a real expression. I looked it up online, expecting some awesome intellectual to have done the dirty work for me and found its origins. And nothing, nada… zilch. I felt vaguely certain that I had heard someone say it before, some classy lady, somewhere. It turns out I had! After extensive research, I found it was a phrase said by none other than Helen Mirren in the movie Inkheart, which came out in 2008, based on the book of the same name. So my embarrassing question is this… why are we not using this phrase more often? Try it out, if anything we can guarantee it’s good for a chuckle (on your end, of course… don’t forget the quizzical looks from the receiver).
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2nd, 1840, in a small hamlet east of Dorchester in Dorset, England. His family was of modest means, and though his father was a local builder, Hardy’s mother was well-read and literate and taught Thomas to read at an early age. He did well in school, but upon graduation at the age of 16 Hardy did not have the means to pursue a University education, and became an apprentice architect to a local man for several years. At the age of 22, Hardy had worked enough to foster a move to London to attend King’s College where he did design work with his architectural skills. Despite his success there, Hardy never felt truly at ease in the city – he was keenly aware of the class divisions and became extremely interested in social reform – a key element that would make itself known in his later works. In 1867, after only five years in London, Hardy chose to return to the countryside and settled in Weymouth while beginning his writing career alongside working as an architect.
Hardy began writing novels the same year he chose to leave London. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, could not find a publisher willing to work with it due to its highly political nature. In fact, Hardy’s friend and fellow author George Meredith even concluded that attempting further to get the story published might harm Hardy’s ability to have work published in the future. Deciding the cons outweighed the pros, Hardy shelved the book and went on to publish several novels in the 1870s, including Desperate Remedies (1871), Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) – a work he is well-known for today. Hardy, beginning by being published anonymously, quickly took credit for his works and was a prolific writer through the rest of his life. He went on to publish ten more novels after Far from the Madding Crowd (including Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure - other popular Hardy titles), dozens of short stories, and several books of poetry.
Hardy’s written style has been classified as Victorian realism – he used his own experiences in London, seeing the detriments of such a classist society in England, to fuel his writing and criticisms of the social constraints found in all aspects of Victorian life. The human suffering caused by these limitations set upon people are constant themes in all of his works. In his own way, Hardy wished to banish the conventions found in society, religion, romantic relationships and friendships and live a freer life. Hardy also full-heartedly believed in fate, and its ability to change destiny, another theme commonly found in his characters’ journeys.
Hardy and his work were an influence on many, many creatives and authors both in his time and ever since – some of the more notable ones include D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, John Cowper Powys and W. Somerset Maugham. His courage to bring attention to the disadvantages of common societal roles was admittedly brave for his time. He is a great example of an author who broke literary norms to help lead us into modern day life. (Which, despite the myriad of problems we still face and propagate, has the advantage of being a much more liberated, independent society where anything is possible.) So a very Happy Birthday to him… and for the love of Thomas Hardy!
Well, all… this year has been a doozy for almost everyone! We don’t know a single soul that was completely unaffected by this global pandemic, and many sadly affected in traumatizing ways. The bookselling community has done its best to stay connected and functioning during this time, and we thought it might be a good idea to pick the brain, almost a year later, of our fearless commander Vic Zoschak Jr. on how Tavistock Books was affected by these past many months and what he sees for bookselling in the near, vaccinated future!
Q: So Vic, over a year of bookselling during a global pandemic has passed us by! How did you, personally, fare, and how did your patterns or habits change throughout this time?
It’s been a YEAR has it not Ms P?! Despite the retail challenges posed by COVID to many businesses, it’s my understanding that most in the antiquarian book trade did ok. I know that’s true for Tavistock Books. Sales were stable, but expenses declined significantly [no travel, and no employee expenses], so revenue actually increased over 2019. And to be honest, the lack of general public foot traffic in my shop turned out to be beneficial, in that I was better able to concentrate on cataloguing, & quoting, material from my backlog.
The one significant habit change for me came about mid-summer last year… after Samm left to head back East, I started closing up the shop at 3 pm. I’m getting to be of an age when I just want more leisure time!
Q: Did you see any shift in what was being purchased (less of one thing, more of another)?
Not that I could readily point a finger at… my sub-specialities haven’t changed, so those continued to be patronized by those interested in that sort of thing.
Q: What are your thoughts on the many virtual book fairs (in terms of both selling and buying), and how do you think they impacted the world of antiquarian bookselling and book collecting this year?
I think they are here to stay. While a VBF can’t offer the same breadth of material in one’s ’stand’, that’s counteracted by the fact that expenses are but a fraction of what you would spend to exhibit at, say, an ABAA fair. For example, the Feb 2020 ABAA fair in Pasadena cost cost me, with booth fees, display cases, travel, meals, etc, etc around $10K to exhibit; in contrast the most recent ABAA VBF was under $1K. As a result, just in terms of $$ & ¢¢, the most recent ABAA VBF was much more profitable.
What is missing from the VBFs are the intangibles… dinner with colleagues, the chance to personally interact with customers walking the aisles, that sort of thing.
I suspect in the future, once the nation has moved beyond the COVID restrictions, we’ll have a hybrid schedule of both types of fairs.
Q: What do you see for the book world going forward? For example, do you think virtual book fairs will become a new norm in a post-Covid world? Do you think people might have taken up collecting during this time? Any insights you may have in the shifts of our little corner of the world we’d love to hear about!
I’m of the opinion the recent VBFs proved the viability of digital book fairs… I remember, oh over a decade or so ago, there was an attempt at an ILAB on-line only fair. I participated. The mechanics were a bit clunky & it was poorly attended. I did not sell a book. I don’t think another such was planned until COVID made it necessary to do so.
So again, I think VBFs are here to stay, though it seems they’re popping up every time I turn around. I don’t participate in all of them, and to be honest, I don’t shop them with the same diligence as I did a year ago when they first came on the scene. Probably that’s to my detriment, but to be honest, I find I’m very much missing the real thing. I loved hoping on a plane to Boston in November, primarily just to shop the fairs … I’d spend an hour just in Peter Luke’s booth, flipping through all his boxes. That is, me, and at least 20 other customers/booksellers. I currently don’t have that motivation for the VBFs. But still, I’m also appreciative of not having to pack/schlep/unpack/display/repack/schlep/unpack & re-shelve 15 boxes of books. I’ll try to find a happy balance that works for me.
Q: So tell us… what’s coming up next for Tavistock Books?
The $64,000 question! Well, I did sign a lease extension through 2022, so we’ll continue to be at 1503 Webster Street for a bit… as to the immediate future, Jim Kay has said he’s planning an in-person Sacramento fair for September, so given I’ve gotten my shots, I’m inclined to exhibit there [presuming no big COVID surge between now & then]. And theirs a couple VBFs coming up in which I’ll participate, the next one being the WESTERN STATES, April 29 – May 2nd. Come visit!
When you say the name “Keats” I can bet you that there is a divide of people, some think of John Keats while others will think of Ezra Keats. While both authors are intensely talented gentlemen… both follow very different subject matter. Ezra Jack Keats is known as the Caldecott Medal award winner of 1963… and possibly as the first great author to introduce multiculturalism into popular children’s literature.
Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz on March 11th, 1916 in Brooklyn. The third child to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Keats led far from an idyllic childhood. The family was very, very poor – leading the artistic child to begin his creative energy making art out of scraps of trash (wood, fabric, etc.) that he found near his home. While his father was working as a waiter, he tried to dissuade his son from entering the arts, explaining how tough it was to make a living doing such things. That being said, Benjamin Katz (his father) also would bring the occasional paint tubes home with him, claiming that a “starving artist” had traded it for a meal. In this way, Keats knew he was supported even when words told him otherwise. Keats won a Scholastic national contest when he was just a teenager, for his illustration of a group of homeless men warming themselves by a fire.
After school, Keats worked several jobs while illustrating on the side, taking art classes when he could. He was drafted into service during WWII, where he put his artistic skills to work, creating camouflage patterns for the soldiers’ uniforms. Sadly, around this time is when Keats legally changed his name due to antisemitic sentiment in the world. After the war, Keats spent a year in Paris working as an artist, realizing that for the first time it truly could be a way of life for him. Upon moving back to the United States, Keats threw himself into his art, working as a commercial artist helping illustrate books and articles for publications like Reader’s Digest, The New York Times Book Review and Playboy, to name just a few. It was in doing this that publisher Elizabeth Riley saw a book cover illustration done by Keats in a store window in 1954, and approached him asking him to illustrate children’s books for her. Keats illustrated over 70 children’s books for other authors throughout the next years, until in 1960 he co-wrote one of the stories to follow along with his illustrations. His first protagonist was a young Puerto Rican boy named Juanito who lost his dog.
By 1963, Keats was still bothered by the lack of children of color as protagonists in books available. He wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, and used a young African-American child protagonist named Peter as his subject, stating that is where people of color “should have been all along” (ezra-jack-keats.org). That same year, Keats’ Snowy Day won the highest medal a children’s picture book could – the Caldecott Medal.
Keats continued writing and illustrating until his death in 1983. His books follow a myriad of subjects and characters (Peter featured heavily in a few), where the children in his stories are sometimes faced with true hardships or problems and learn and mature through their pages. While it is true that winning the Caldecott Medal made Keats a household name… his inclusivity and love for all make his stories stand the test of time. Happy Birthday to a true ally – Ezra Jack Keats.
During this week of Dickens’ 209th birthday, we thought to do a short exposé of sorts into one of his most famous works. Great Expectations has captured the hearts and minds of millions since its publication in 1860 with its story of presumptions, manipulations, love and fear. The novel centers on young Pip as he follows dreams that seem outside his reach, and his actions once his dreams are made a reality. But what can we learn from this beloved story that may still be relevant today? More than you might think!
Starting with a short overview of the story (for the .000001% of you that have been living under a rock these past 160 years), we can come to look at the “expectations” housed within and see what we can decipher from the moral tale it holds. When young orphan Pip encounters an escaped criminal hiding in a churchyard one Christmas Eve, it gives him the fright of his life. The young boy is scared into thieving for the convict, and though the criminal is recaptured and clears Pip of suspicion, the incident colors Pip’s outlook on life. The young boy is sent to the house of the spinster and slightly mad Miss Havisham, to be used as entertainment for the lady and her adopted, aloof and haughty daughter Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella and visits them regularly until he is old enough to be taught a trade as an apprentice blacksmith. Four years into Pip’s apprenticeship, however, a lawyer arrives with news that Pip has anonymously been provided with enough money to become a gentleman. An astonished Pip heads to London to begin his new life, assuming Miss Havisham is to thank for his unexpected new windfall. Once in London the young Pip is introduced into some society, and makes new friends. His heart still belonging to Estella, he is ashamed of his previous life and expects his social advancement, new wealth and sudden social standing to sway her emotions towards him more favorably. It does not, Estella remains cold as ever, and Pip’s illusions are finally shattered when he realizes that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham at all, but the escaped convict Magwitch whom he helped in the churchyard all those years before. Through many mishaps and misfortunes, Pip and his friends attempt to help Magwitch escape England (which is ultimately unsuccessful), where he had returned to simply to make himself known to Pip. Pip learns valuable lessons throughout the story – interestingly not necessarily from those with money and social standing, but more often than not from those in his own class. The story has a kind ending, with Pip and an altered, warmer Estella walking hand in hand over a decade after her initial rejection of him (though Dickens originally planned a more likely, yet more disheartening end to the story and was convinced by Edward Bulwer-Lytton to change it).
So what qualities does Pip have that give the book its title? Pip’s expectations are common in most of us, whether living in Dickens time or the here 21st century… Pip wants social advancement and wealth. He wants to be taken seriously and not looked down upon. He has a lifelong ambition to be something he is not, and when he is finally able to be such (wealthy and more respected), he finds it is not at all everything he ever dreamed of. By the end of the story, Pip certainly realizes that the qualities of loyalty, kindness and compassion are far more important than wealth and social standing. With the shadows that come to light in the story, Dickens mocks the very hypocritical idea of the “gentleman” as every man you meet in the story is not exactly what you think he is. With this realization, Pip finds he has chased a phantom dream, not a concrete one.
How do we see these expectations still in use today? Though “society” is not necessarily the boon it once was (I find the people who truly care about society are the ones in “society”… and the bulk of the population of the world outside it could really give two figs), aspects of the circumstances they enjoyed are still very much at large within us. Wealth, for instance, matters to most – not only is the cost of living in certain areas astronomical, but our materialistic society makes it more difficult for any to be raised without the wishes of privilege. Oftentimes, the factor of wealth is seen today in desperate competitiveness or harsh attempts for a raise or a promotion, even when one is happy and competent at their current job. A desire for the finer things in life leads most of us to spend money we shouldn’t, or don’t even have, in order to feel a sense of gentility or even simple belonging, when in reality it isn’t necessary! (Keep in mind Travis Bradberry’s thoughts on the matter: “Sure, things can make life more fun and comfortable in the short run, but they can’t make you happy in the long run. Too many of us expect a future event ['I’ll be happy when I get that promotion'] to make us happy, instead of looking more deeply into the real causes of our unhappiness. If you don’t fix what’s going on inside, no external event or item is going to make you happy, no matter how much you want it to.”) Our desires for respect are more understandable and able to be grasped, as a focus on gaining people’s trust and respect is hardly a quality to look down upon. As long as it is gained through acts of loyalty, kindness and compassion, you can’t go wrong!
Perhaps we ought to keep these moral tales from Great Expectations in mind as we (very) slowly move into a post-Covid world. We may have to get back into the swing of things, but we can choose to re-focus our energy on the important things, rather than the silly. After all, if we’ve learned anything this year, I believe it is that the most important things in life are family, friends, respect, kindness and health… none of Pip’s “great expectations” factor in whatsoever!