Author Archives: tavistock_books

Happy Birthday to Gore Vidal – the Most Combative Man in History

A part of me thinks that a name like Gore Vidal belongs in the company of Perez Prado and Carmen Miranda. I know how that sounds, but honestly – to me, the name is power embodied. As many know, and as Chris Bram most notably stated, “Gore Vidal was famous for his hates: academia, presidents, whole portions of the American public and, most notably, Truman Capote. Yet he could be incredibly generous to other writer friends… He was a man of many facets and endless contradictions.” Let’s look at some quick facts about this notorious American figure on what would have been his 93rd birthday. 

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1. His first novel was published in 1948 when he was a mere 22 years old (show of hands for which of us feel like we have accomplished nothing with our lives?), and won him instant notoriety. The City and the Pillar broke so many boundaries people didn’t know where to start… it depicted a male homosexual relationship at a time when homosexuality was still illegal throughout the United States.

2. Along these lines, Vidal believed that homosexuality and heterosexuality were adjectives, not nouns. Therefore someone could not BE a homosexual, they could simply perform homosexual acts. He believed that human sexuality existed on a sliding scale, and everyone was at least a little bisexual – even if it only meant that you could appreciate the beauty of a member of your own sex! He is now considered the godfather of gay literature, though he did not wish to be simply known as a gay author when he was writing, as he had views on all aspects of life that he wished to share.

3. Getting off the subject of sex, Vidal was also a master of upheaval in politics, and published many essays that would offend the conservative side of America. His historical novel Julian, published in 1964, relived the time of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate and how he used the idea of religious tolerance in Christian times to reinstate polytheistic paganism.

vidal14. We think this quote by Vidal needs no explanation (but everyone please remember that this is Vidal’s quote – not necessarily ours): “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.” Ouch!

5. He fought with… everyone. Most famously, though, as mentioned above in the quote by Bram, he fought with Truman Capote and William F. Buckley Jr.. With Capote, they fought over Capote supposedly spreading slander about drunk and disorderly behavior by Vidal in the White House. Untrue, Vidal took grave offense to these rumors and both traded hateful barbs. The Buckley feud a bit more intense, with actual lawsuits coming forth for libel and cruelty, Vidal said in 2008 after Buckley passed away, “I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.”

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Jeesh! Now here’s the thing… Vidal did a lot of things for the wrong reasons, and a lot of things… because he had thoughts and feelings and wanted to express them. However, hate him (which someone like him would probably appreciate, not going to lie) or love him – you have to admit… he was a pretty worthy opponent.

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OTD in 1891…

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Moby-Dick is, undeniably, a classic American novel. But did you know that at the time of its publication it was considered a total flop? In fact, Melville’s prior novels (which some of you may never have even heard of) did much, much better in American critical literary society than Moby-Dick. Readers could not see past the complexity of the novel – they were expecting an adventure tale and what they got was “obscure literary symbolism.” I always find it humorous (though I am sure it wasn’t humorous to Melville) when a work that is today considered of the highest class was at the time frowned upon. The old Picasso problem, right? At least due to these instances we understand what genius looks like at the beginning, no?

melville4Herman Melvill (yes, that spelling is correct) was born in August of 1819 in New York City. He was the third of eight children born to a merchant and his wife. Though his parents have been described as loving and devoted, his father Allan’s money woes left much to be desired. Allan borrowed and spent well beyond his means, and after contracting what researchers imagine as pneumonia on a trip back to Albany from New York City, he abruptly passed away when Herman was merely 13 years old. Herman’s schooling ended as abruptly as his father’s life, and he was given a job as a clerk in the fur trade (his father’s business) by his uncle. Sometime around this time, Herman’s mother changed the spelling of their last name by adding an “e” to the end. History is still unsure as to why she would have done this – to sound more sophisticated, to hide from debt collectors… we may never know! But that simple “e” will live on forever, that is for sure.

melville3In May of 1831 Melville signed up as a “boy” (a newbie, for all intents and purposes) on a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, and went from New York to Liverpool and back. That experience successful (and what with a longstanding obsession with the true story of the search for the white sperm whale called Mocha Dick), he decided to join the Acushnet for a whaling voyage in 1841. After a few months on board, Melville decided to jump ship with another deckhand in the Marquesas Islands after several reported disagreements with the captain of the ship. Expecting to come across cannibalistic natives, Melville was (unsurprisingly) pleased to find out that the natives were accommodating and friendly – a fact which he would later address in his 1845 novel Typee – semi-autobiographical in nature as it was based on his stay in the islands. Melville then experienced island and country hopping to an extreme degree, after boarding a boat from the Marquesas to Australia then continuing on whaling and merchant vessels visiting Tahiti, Oahu, Rio de Janeiro and Lima, Peru – among others. Eventually, Melville ended up back in Boston, Massachusetts.

Between the years 1845 and 1850, Melville experienced substantial success as a writer. His first novel Typee performed well in both public and critical arenas, and its sequel Omoo (also based on his time in the islands) performed almost equally as well. During these years Melville won the hand of Elizabeth Shaw in marriage, which throughout the years would give him four children – two sons and two daughters (though only the daughters would live to adulthood). Melville followed Omoo with novels Redburn and White-Jacket – both successful enough in their own right to afford Melville the opportunity to buy his beloved home Arrowhead in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was an inspirational setting for his writing. It was here that he wrote Moby-Dick, or The Whale – which started as a simpler story on a fictional whaling event and eventually (with the aid of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had recently enjoyed success with his novel The Scarlet Letter) turned into the allegorical novel it came to be. As a matter of fact, Melville dedicated what is now considered his most enduring work but became the flop that threatened to break his bank account to this friend and colleague.

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After the unfortunate reception of Moby-Dick – it seemed a bit too far-fetched in style and meaning for its audience – Melville was forced to sell his home in Pittsfield to his brother and move his family back to New York City, where he took up work as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service. Though his writing took much of a backseat at this time (roughly 1857 to the late 1870s), Melville continued to write poetry throughout his lifetime, up until his death from cardiac arrest on September 28th, 1891, when he was 72 years old. His last work Billy Budd he had stopped working on in 1888, but was found accidentally and published posthumously in 1891 – and today holds great esteem as yet another wonderful work by a misunderstood great American novelist. Today, 127 years to the day of Melville’s death, we are glad to have a chance to study and appreciate his work today. And if you haven’t yet read Typee – we greatly recommend it!

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Report on the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, Pt. II

Answers by Samm Fricke

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So Samm! This is (a bit confusingly) your second Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Could you tell us a bit about your experience, prep and overall impression of the previous Sacramento fair you attended in March of this year? For those of you that don’t know, Samm was brought onboard the Tavistock Books train (what seemed like) mere minutes before this past spring’s Sacramento Book Fair.

Last Sac Book Fair was quite overwhelming for the first hour of set up.  As I was loading in, taking in the surroundings and meeting everyone Vic brought to me saying “This is my new assistant Samm!  Samm this is ….”.  All at the same time! Lots of info and names. But after about an hour of watching other vendors set up booths I was beginning to get a feel for it and settle down a bit. As for the opening of book fair to the public, that was the more easier part as I have done so much book retail in the past, but these were people with more niche interests rather than what I have known of “I’m just looking for a good beach read”.  

How was this last weekend’s fair different from the fair in March for you? Do you feel more at ease with Tavistock’s wares and in the antiquarian book world in general? We know you come from a book background, but we also know that the antiquarian book world is a horse of an entirely different color!

I thought this past weekend was much easier!  I knew where the booth was, I knew our booth mate (Hey Chris!).  The faces of collectors and vendors were more familiar.  I knew where the bathroom was and when was the best time to order food was! Ha! Because I knew vendors a bit more, and they have now seen me, emailed with or talked on the phone with me I was more comfortable making small talk at their booths.  Surprisingly to some, but I am pretty shy! 

As for the wares of Tavistock, yes much more at ease!   And more comfortable discussing product and assisting collectors find items that may interest them.  Knowing the stock is always good, which was not the case last fair!

How did you find turnout and other sellers’ wares? Did any items of note catch your eye?

I only have the last Sacramento Book to compare, but I did think the turn out grander. At the end of the fair Jim Kay got on the mic and said it was the best fair turnout yet – a new record had been set! So shoutout to Jim for doing an awesome job. Perhaps by March 2019 I will have my name tag! *wink wink*

Vic bought a lot of cool items there, more than last year even! (Didn’t think it was possible, but that just shows how much I know.)  You can see them when you sign up for our New Acquisitions Newsletter! (Yes, that is a plug… and yes, you can sign up for it on our website!) As for me, there were a few items that were of interest, though I am not in the position to spend the big bucks on them yet. However, I made many mental notes!
What will be the next fair you are excited about and what do you hope to learn or accomplish before then?

Oakland! I am very, very excited about the Oakland Book Fair in February. Just seeing all the amazing items at Sacramento, I cannot wait to see what an international fair brings! Also, being local means packing and load in won’t be too bad.  

I am trying to have a better grasp on our stock so I select the most interesting items to bring that will also show Tavistock’s interest best! 

We certainly won’t! Thanks, Samm!

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Report on the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, Pt. I

by Vic Zoschak, Jr.

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                              Dinner at Roxy’s could tempt us all!

Reading colleagues’ comments with regard to the recent Brooklyn event, allow me to put in a plug for the Sacramento Antiquarian Fair, held this past weekend.  A semi-annual event, hosted by Jim Kay, I suspect it doesn’t have the panache of Brooklyn, but that said, it has come to be beloved by those of us on the west coast, drawing exhibitors from both ends of the coast, not to mention a fellow bookseller who routinely makes the trek from out Utah way…  that said, despite the close proximity of Sacramento, I suspect David flew east for the weekend, for the local event definitely has a Californiana bias in exhibitor offerings, and that not David’s metier ime, but it is one of mine. Given that, from an ABAA colleague I bought a [what I consider to be] fantastic item: an 1853 Sacramento Directory, and as I recall, the second Sacramento city directory ever published, this one an inscribed presentation copy from the publisher to the man considered to be Sacramento’s first mayor.  Plus *bunches* of other neat stuff, filling over two boxes, and occasioning Samm’s questioning look: “How the heck are we going to get all this stuff in the car?!?”

I have no doubt the food & beverage choices in Brooklyn are myriad, however, I’d stack up the fair’s local concession’s Chicken Pesto sandwich against any comer offered elsewhere [Taylor, feel free to offer your thoughts here  ;) ].  And the pre-fair, post-setup Friday night dinner at Roxy has become traditional, this time around, shared with 9 colleagues… Chuck, Roxy’s Manhattan might even tempt you.  

So, it seems we have two credible regional events on this same weekend in September, and for that I’m thankful.  Here on the West Coast, we’ve lost so many regional fairs over the last decade or two that it’s gratifying this one is thriving [I understand a new fair attendance record was set yesterday].  Further, Jim tells us it’s here to stay as long as he is.  I should add, it’s relatively inexpensive to exhibit… my half-booth, with display case, was a modest $385.

Finally, I personally like the fact that the Sacramento show is a one day event.  I got home last night by 7 pm, slept in my own bed, and today, get to watch Jimmy G & cast take on the Vikings… in other words, no standing around in the booth on a quiet Sunday, hands in pockets, watching the clock sloooowly make its way towards 5 pm.

Very civilized, promoters please take note.

V.

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MRT: A Reminisce

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Michael Thompson, photo courtesy of ILAB.

This past Saturday, the ABAA’s Southern California Chapter held a memorial for our recently departed colleague, Michael Thompson.  Through the good offices of Brad Johnson, my following remarks were read, as I was unable to deliver them in person.  I offer them here too, in an effort to pay wider homage to our dearly beloved friend.

I suspect that I’m like most of you here today, in that I knew Michael for over 2 decades, our acquaintance first being made, as I recall, in the mid-90s, at one of the then bountiful California book fairs.  We recognized in each other a kindred spirit, that is, we both loved the ‘hunt’ for books, and it’s in that vein I’ll relate a story from the late 90s that, I believe, epitomizes Michael’s joy in bookselling…   

One summer, we decided to share a booth at Rob Rulon-Miller’s Twin Cities Book Fair.  Like most regional fairs, Sunday morning that weekend was, shall we say, slow.  Standing idly in our booth, hands in our pockets, Michael looked over at me and inquired,

“Mind holding down the fort?  I’m gonna wander around for a bit.”

“No problem,” say I, “take your time.”

20 minutes later, I see Michael purposely striding back to the booth, clutching a little … something, in his left hand.

Entering the booth, smiling triumphantly, he exclaimed, “I just made my weekend!”

“Do tell!”

“Do you know what this is?” he queried, waving the little pamphlet, leaflet.. I couldn’t quite discern which.  “It’s the press announcement for Saul Marks’ Plantin Press!  I’ve never seen it before, and what do you know, I find this LA item in Minneapolis!  For twenty bucks no less!”  He grinned, and continued, “Young man, just remember, anything can be anywhere!”

Well Michael, I’ve never forgotten that advice given decades ago, just as I’ll never forget you.  Godspeed my friend, may you enjoy this new journey on which you’ve embarked with as much joy as that you experienced in the one just finished.

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Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut are Two Different People

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Embarrassingly enough (because when should you admit things of that nature except online, in front of strangers?), I spent a few of my formative years confusing authors Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. I thought the same prolific man wrote all of their stories! Obviously I was quickly apprised of the real situation (and excruciating difference in genres) and had to immediately stop telling people how much I enjoyed Bradbury’s Slaughterhouse-Five. (I was 14, okay??). I wised up. These many years later I am revisiting my childhood trauma – I mean “experience” – and updating my knowledge on Ray Bradbury on his birthday!

ray10Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920, in rural Illinois. In 1932 at the age of twelve, Bradbury had a somewhat extraordinary experience with a traveling magician known as Mr. Electrico – who touched him on the nose and exclaimed “live forever!” – to which Bradbury took in the best way possible – his literature (which he began writing only days after this experience) will live forever. A couple short years later, the Bradbury family relocated to Los Angeles, where he was able to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction league as a teenager, and counted authors such as Robert Heinlein and Henry Kuttner among his mentors.

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ray8At the age of 19 his literary career began getting even more serious – and he honed with fantastical science fiction writing style by publishing his own fanzine, called Futuria Fantasia, and traveling to the first World Science Fiction convention, held in 1939 in New York City. His short stories began to be published in Science Fiction magazines such as Weird Tales and Super Science Stories. In the 1940s, Bradbury began to be published in high-end literary and social magazines like Harper’s, the American MercuryCollier’s and The New Yorker - not typical for most science fiction writers. And to do it without losing sight of your style and genre – almost unheard of! Bradbury published short stories, series’, and novels over the coming years. In 1953 his novel Fahrenheit 451 hit the shelves – and is now regarded as one of his greatest works. It follows a futuristic world where censorship is in full force and follows the seduction of one firefighter through the world of literature. Fahrenheit 451 was closely followed by his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, where the story inspiration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was found. He followed up his works with more and more short stories, and more novels, until his later life, when he elected to turn more often towards poetry, drama and mysteries – including adapting his stories for the big screen. Despite being considered a primarily science fiction writer, Bradbury often considered his works more in the fantasy, horror and mystery genres – that he did not stay true to science fiction themes, with the exception of his novel Fahrenheit 451.

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Bradbury dated and married only one woman throughout his life – a lady named Marguerite McClure, whom he married at the age of 27 and remained married to until her death 56 years later. The couple had four daughters. Bradbury himself lived to the ripe age of 91, when he died in 2012 after a lengthy illness. His personal library was left to the public library in his small Illinois hometown – where so much of his inspiration came from.

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And now, for some book-related history!

There comes a time in every bibliophile’s life when you have to sit back, relax… and read an online blog instructing you on the history of books! Not all books are created equal (this is where you should start taking notes). Some books are newer than others, some books are flimsier than others. Some are made of pigs skin, some of human skin. (But not that many, thank god). Some are so delicate that to touch them is to risk their disintegration. And some changed the way books were bought, read, and used by the world. We speak, of course, of the modern paperback novel – on today, its 83rd birthday. 

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A paperback is defined as being a book between stiff sheets of paper or paperboard, held together by glue (more often than by stitching or staples, as would be more likely to be found on paperbound pamphlets or booklets). Though paperbound works existed long before in forms of pamphlets and yellowback copies of existing works or dime novels, the modern paperback as we know it was only recognized in 1935, when the UK’s Penguin Books released their first paperback title, André Maurois’ Ariel. Now, credit where credit is due… Penguin Books actually took over design elements initially brought forth by Germany’s Albatross Books and their paperbound book idea in 1931 (cut short by the rapidly approaching onset of WWII). 

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK's Penguin Books.

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK’s Penguin Books.

The paperback revolution, as it is sometimes called, was something bordering on the revolution that the printing press made upon its release in the world. Penguin Books offering the first selections in English, published ten titles (all reprints of existing works, of course) in a relatively short period of time. British publisher Allen Lane, who invested large amounts of capital in Penguin Books for the publication of these paperbacks, ordered 20,000 copy runs for the first titles – keeping costs low. (According to history, as long as Penguin sold at least 17,000 titles of a run, they would break even – which they did – by a long run.) The books ran cheaper than a dozen cigarettes at the time – more than affordable to the average citizen. Though at the initial onset paperbacks were considered trash by booksellers of the day, once British department store Woolworths agreed to carry the novels and they sold unimaginably well, booksellers soon changed their tune.

After all, within the first year of existence, Penguin Books had sold over 3 million copies of their titles. 

(We are only human, you know…)

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America’s Simon & Schuster began their own line of “Pocket Books”

Penguin Books were a godsend during World War II. They were small enough to be carried in the pockets of soldiers, and brought more joy to the men on the battlefield than much else available in those days. Penguin Books was not alone for long, however. Simon & Schuster was part of the initial run of the American Pocket Books label, and soon “Pocket Book” and “Paper Back” became synonymous for small, paperback books, affordable to the public. In France they began to call the books livre de poche – pocket book. No matter where you turned, paperbacks had changed civilization in the western world as we knew it. 

With the advent of the e-book, one has to ask – where do we see paperbacks in the future? Surely they still serve the same services they once did – the ability to read on the go, carry a title around with you with less weight and at a lower cost. The antiquarian book world is an interesting place – we feel a bit removed from the new advances in book reading technology. If anything, with more and more e-book reading and online activity, books should become even more collectible and valued. But what of the mass-market paperbacks that are being made every day?

Send us or comment your thoughts! 

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