We know that things have been looking grim over the past month… businesses shutting their doors, schools closing, unemployment rising. It is a scary world to be living in – for there is the fact that we have no set plan for how long this will all last. Call us old fashioned, but we find that in times of crisis a little bit of stability goes a long way, so we are planning on keeping up with our blog posts, our newsletters… and Samm has even upped our lists to biweekly so that we can entertain you at home with interesting items from all over the world! Is there something in particular you’d like to see a blog on? Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can fit it into our schedule. In the meantime, we’d like to do a 10 Fact birthday blog on a born San Franciscan who has spent over the last hundred years keeping us sane and calm. Mr. Robert Frost, ladies and gentlemen!
Todays blog celebrates one of the many authors that we know the name of but few facts about. Despite a family wealth in the slave trade she was an abolitionist, she was a major supporter of child labor rights… and the first in her English-descended family to be born in the United Kingdom in over 200 years. Today’s blog honors one Elizabeth Barrett (later Elizabeth Barrett Browning)… poet, lover and worldwide literary influencer.
Elizabeth Barrett was born on March 6th, 1806 in Durham, England. As the first Barrett to be born outside of Jamaica since 1655, her birth was the cause for much celebration. Her family’s wealth had come from sugar plantations in the island country, meaning that her family did benefit from slave labour in running their grand plantations. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children, all but one of which would live to adulthood. Elizabeth’s childhood was fairly sweet and standard – full of family picnics, home theatricals and pony rides. However, unlike some other children (and definitely little girls) of the time, Elizabeth fixated on books and began writing, even as a four year old child. She was intensely studious, learning the Greek language by the age of ten and writing her own Homeric epic poem by eleven. Since both of her parents encouraged, published and saved her work, Elizabeth Barrett has one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English-speaking writer.
A young illness affecting her spine and movement led to Elizabeth being given (and then continuously taking) laudanum, morphine and opium as a child for pain. Being addicted to these somewhat serious drugs and taking them throughout her lifetime is generally acknowledged to both have helped and hindered her in life. Her constant frail health was negatively affected by these chemicals, but they also may have contributed to her originality and imagination when writing her poetry.
Barretts late teens and twenties were fraught with trauma and tragedy. Her mother passed away in 1828, and her grandmother just a few years later. After moving to the Devonshire coast to aid her frail health (by this time she had possibly contracted tuberculosis), Elizabeth endured the loss of two of her brothers. One caught a sickness visiting the family plantations in Jamaica, and the other, her favorite brother, sadly drowned in a sailing accident while visiting her in Torquay. The guilt of this tragedy stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life.
In 1841 Elizabeth’s life seemed to begin to turn itself around. She was struck with a few years of intense creativity, which led to the publication of several of her greatest works. Her 1842 poem “The Cry of the Children” published in a Blackwoods magazine helped bring about child labor law reform. In 1844 she published not one but two volumes of poetry, which were immediate successes. She was suddenly a household name. It was her poetry that inspired one Robert Browning to write to her and tell her of his love for her writing. They met and instantly became ardent devotees of the other. Both Browning and Barrett’s works improved (despite their work already being popular with the public). After meeting Browning, Barrett published her most famous works Aurora Leigh and Sonnets from the Portuguese. The marriage between Browning and Barrett was carried out in secrecy, and once found out Barretts father disinherited her (as he funnily enough did to all his children who married). They made their permanent residence in Italy, where they raised their son, Pen, and befriended many influential writers and artists of the day.
On this what would be her 214th birthday, we honor this timeless writer – one who inspired Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf alike. And we give you a parting few lines…
This past weekend saw the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair held in Pasadena. We gave Vic and Samm a few questions to ruminate on while experiencing the fair and their responses don’t disappoint! This fair was also a bittersweet occasion as our Master & Commander Vic Zoschak Jr. ended his two year tenure as President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (or the ABAA) while there. See how they felt about the state’s biggest book fair below!
Q: So another year, another ABAA fair! How did you two feel going into this 2020 Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair (or the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair, to be precise)?
V: Actually, we took a beating at fairs in 2019, so there was a bit of trepidation as we approached this first one of 2020. Nevertheless there never was any question as to whether we would exhibit, as it’s the ABAA California fair, and I want to support our local chapter’s efforts.
S: As Vic mentioned above, our fairs in 2019 were rough to say the least. I, too, was a bit “on edge” about how things were going to go – after all, book fairs can make or break your month, or even your season. Luckily though, this book fair – first of the new year – was a great start!
Q: What all did you focus on bringing this year? How were sales?
V: There were two themes for the fair: celebration of the vote for women, and Ray Bradbury. We focused on the former, and everything found in our booth had some connection to women, be it as author, illustrator, character, printer, owner, or whathaveyou.
Happy to report sales were steady throughout the weekend, though without that one [or more] blockbuster transaction that would have propelled us into the ‘excellent fair’ category. But compared to 2019 fair results… night-n-day.
S: I would say our booth was 90% items by women – which we really enjoyed putting together as a tribute to this year’s fair theme, celebration women’s suffrage. Though of course we could not leave out our main man, Charles Dickens, and found a way to incorporate him into our mix as well!
Q: How would you say this Pasadena fair equates with previous Pasadena fairs?
V: Better, see above.
S: Once again, I must agree with Vic. It was better. We also tried something new this year – as we had two main, lighted display cases – which while beautiful can also make people feel a bit too timid when it comes to inquiring about an item. Therefore, we also had several boxes of items in mylar sleeves out in our booth. People seemed much more intrigued by this concept as they were able to flip through and pull items out and touch them in a more accessible manner. I truly believe this helped make our booth a bit more “shoppable”.
Q: How would you say it holds up in comparison with the Oakland fair? Obviously the Oakland fair is a bit easier for us, but in terms of customers and purchases is there a markable difference?
V: Well, this a difficult comparison… I think our Pasadena booth location this past weekend contributed significantly in our results. Our Oakland location was not so positioned. We’re hopeful for 2021 this changes, especially since, in 2021, John Knott & Tavistock Books plan to have adjoining booths, where we’ll open things up & have a larger, more visible footprint in the aisle.
S: Yes, a comparison between the two is a bit tough as, especially for us locals the Oakland fair is much easier! We are able to bring more items… and I can sleep in my own bed (huge plus)!
Q: Samm, how was this Pasadena fair for you? This is your second ABAA fair, right? What was your favorite experience down in Southern California?
S: Set up went relatively quickly, so I had some free time to go to the norton simon museum with a colleague! sometimes its good to break away for a bit. but overall the fair was good, met and chatted with several new institutions about what collections they are building and how we can assist. there were some critiques i was hearing from others but i felt it was a really nice fair and a lovely time down in Pasadena!
Q: Vic, how did you feel heading towards the end of your Presidency of the ABAA? Did that play any part in this fair?
V: Yes, my term as President concluded with the ABAA’s Annual meeting this past Sunday morning. As President, I feel like I personally experienced aspects of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity [as I understand it], which is to say, the two years went by in a blink of an eye, but some days dragged on interminably! lol
My successor is Brad Johnson, in whom I have unwavering confidence that he will successfully meet all the future challenges the Association may face. And let me again, in this forum, give a shout-out to Brad, who tremendously surprised me with a parting gift… a San Francisco Giants jacket!* OMG, I was blown away. Brad, thank you!
Q: What’s next on the agenda for you both? Perhaps some to catalogue, we hope!
V: To be honest, I’m not sure what I will do with the time I regain in my schedule… maybe catch a few more Giants games while sporting my wonderful new jacket! :)
S: And while Vic is enjoying those Giants games, I will be working on a catalogue! Also, if you find yourself in the area next month, please come and see us at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday March 28th!
Thanks, you two! Samm is right… onto the next!
Some more photos from this year’s fair:
This week is Children’s Authors and Illustrators week! In honor of the writers and artists who helped shape our lives, and will continue to shape the lives of children all over the country, we’d like to bring some awareness to five of the most beloved, or most inspirational, award winning children’s books of all time. (Along with hefty advice to immediately run out and read all three!)
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
We begin our list with the 2020 sweeper (as it has already won the 2020 Caldecott Medal, is a Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award) – The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson. This poem highlights the reality of slavery and its traumas – the power of the civil rights movement and “determination of some of our country’s greatest heroes” (redtri.com). “Kids will not only get deeper insight into an integral period of our nations history but learn the words of change makers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks.” This book, intended for ages 6-9, will no doubt change the worlds of many – as it should us all.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
How could we ignore a classic like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak? Originally published in 1963, the title won the Caldecott medal for its illustrations in the following year. And who could blame the decision committee? The book’s striking illustrations will stay with most of us for the rest of our lives. It has since been adapted for the stage and the screen, but we think we speak for us all when we say that the original is our personal favorite.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
It is hard to choose a single Dr. Seuss title to add to our list, as so many are household names (at least here in the United States). We choose Green Eggs and Ham because it is considered one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. In fact, though published in 1960, at the turn of the 21st century the book was still considered one of the top 4 children’s books of all time. We attribute this to the catchiness of Seuss’ phrasing, the typically colorful and fun illustrations, and the fact that it has single handedly taught entire generations how to say no to food they hate. Oh wait… was that just my own experience?!
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Number the Stars is a historical work of fiction detailing the lives of ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen in Nazi Denmark. This gripping tale follows the escape of Ellen and her family from Denmark, as Ellen poses as Annemarie’s late older sister in a terrifying and emotional ordeal. Not only does this story pull you in, it also serves to educate our youth on the Holocaust. It was the 1990 recipient of the Newbery medal for authorship, and we couldn’t agree more – it is one of the best.
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
Now we don’t mean to switch from one end of the spectrum to the next (serious -> funny, I mean), but our last choice has got to be Officer Buckle and Gloria – a dog tale that stole the hearts of many when it was published in 1995. The rather droll Officer Buckle goes from school to school teaching safety demonstrations to children. Unbeknownst to him, his new partner, the police dog Gloria, begins acting out the safety rules behind his back. Buckle becomes very offended when he finally realizes the reason for his success, but despite a brief break from the demonstrations Buckle learns to appreciate Gloria in all her hilarity. Honestly – it’s a hilarious tale and the winner of the 1996 Caldecott medal. Can’t argue there, can you? Check it out – we promise you won’t be disappointed!
Today is baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s birthday, and being the serious fans we are about the sport (and by “we” I mean Vic – just check out the amazing amount of baseball related items we have in stock), we thought to bring some attention to this amazing athlete and activist and take a look at what he brought to the game… so to speak! Here are ten personal facts you might not have known about this amazing man.
We chose not to include Robinson’s baseball stats and figures… as those are easily found online and also because what we wanted to bring attention to was not only his talent on the field, but his amazing life. Robinson overcame more difficult situations and hurdles than you or I could ever imagine – and for that, and for his inexhaustible efforts as a civil rights activist, we thank him and honor him on his birthday. Happy Birthday, Jackie Robinson!
Quick! Think about the most famous pair of brothers you know of. What names came to mind? I bet for at least 50% (after all, we are all bibliophiles here, are we not?!) of us, the names that popped into our heads are most commonly associated with folk tales, fairy tales… or just “tales”, if some of them are a bit too… grim… for your taste!
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm were born just a year apart in Hanau – part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time and present day Germany. After Wilhelm was born in 1786, they would have three more surviving siblings (with one older). The family moved in 1791 to the countryside – a move which the two young boys were exceedingly fond of, loving everything about country life. Unfortunately the family was plunged into despair in 1796, when the family Patriarch, Philipp Grimm, died suddenly of pneumonia leaving the large family poverty stricken and struggling to make ends meet. The family was supported by their mother’s father and sister, and their grandfather made quite an influence on the boys’ lives. He constantly reminded them to be industrious and hard working. The boys were able to go away to school as teens, paid for by their aunt, where despite being looked upon as lower class by the rest of the students, they were able to graduate at the top of their classes. The two brothers remained very close throughout their schooling, despite having different temperaments – Jacob being more introverted and Wilhelm more playful and outgoing, though oftentimes ill.
The two attended the University of Marburg together, where they tried to study law. I say “tried”, because here the brothers once again met adversity due to their reduced social status. Treated as outcasts, without the benefit of receiving financial aid or stipends as some of the wealthier students received (explain THAT one, if you can), the brothers once again turned to each other for comfort and worked hard in their studies. It was at the University of Marburg that the pair first became interested in medieval German literature and more simplistic, romantic ways of writing that the modern day seemed to have forgotten. This interest in folklore and poetry and traditional “German” culture influenced the brothers for the rest of their lives. They wished to see the unification of the over 200 principalities into a single, unified state, and spent much of their time with their inspiring law professor Friedrich von Savigny and his friends. It was through these romantics that the Grimm brothers were introduced to the literary beliefs of Johann Gottfried Herder – a German philosopher who felt that literature of the area should revert back to simplicity, and focus more on nature, humanity and beauty. The boys credited their devotion to their studies in Germanic literature and culture as a saving grace in a dark time – outcasts amongst their peers. Wilhelm himself wrote, “the ardor with which we studied Old German helped us overcome the spiritual depression of those days.”
The brothers did not immediately turn to transcribing Germanic folklore for the masses. As they were solely responsible, as the oldest boys (primarily Jacob) of the family, for their sibling and mother’s livelihood (because that’s what they needed… more stress), Jacob accepted a job in Paris as assistant to his once-professor (von Savigny). On his return to Marburg he gave this post up to take a job with the Hessian War Commission. Their circumstances remained dire – as it seemed almost impossible for Jacob to support them all on his own. Food was often scarce and the brothers suffered emotionally. In 1808, Jacob found a more appropriate (to his interests) job as the librarian to the King of Westphalia, and soon after went on to become the librarian in Kassel, where the two boys had attended their gymnasium (high school, for all intents and purposes). Jacob supported his siblings once their mother passed away, and he even paid for Wilhelm to receive medical attention that year to seek treatment for respiratory problems. After Wilhelm’s recovery, he joined his brother as a librarian in Kassel.
It was around this time that the men began to collect folk tales from others. Initially they collected them in a haphazard manner – not realizing the great wonder they began to lay their hands on. They used their positions as librarians to accomplish their research, and began to publish in 1812. Their first volume of 86 folk tales, called Kinder- und Hausmärchen, was published when the brothers were merely 26 and 27 years old. They published several books and collections until 1830 – not only on Germanic folklore but of Danish and Irish folk tales, Norse mythology, and began work on a Dictionary. The brothers stayed quite busy and enjoyed their positions – their work becoming so well-known that they received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Marburg (along with their original diplomas), Berlin and Breslau.
After being slighted for a job promotion, the brothers eventually moved to Göttingen where they became professors of German studies at the University (Jacob also as head librarian), and continued to write and publish works on Germanic folklore, mythology and country tales for a few years. The brothers moved to Berlin in their later years, working at the University of Berlin and also editing their German Dictionary, which would become one of their most prominent works.
Because of the brothers Grimm, we have several tales written down today that might not have been, otherwise. To the brothers we can attribute (at least in transcribing) versions of Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin. One of the best qualities of their writing is that the brothers found a way to make the tales accessible and readable by adults (at first the stories contained their original graphic violence and sexual implications, which were slowly and painstakingly edited in a way to make the stories accessible to children), while retaining their folkloric qualities and symbolism. Though the brothers did not author the stories – but rather listened, read and researched them all until they were able to grow a collection of over 211 tales – they provided arguably the most extensive fount of Germanic folklore to date… and to them we are eternally grateful.
The 2019 Christmas Season is upon us, bibliophiles. We’d like you to take some time out of the busy practices of the holiday season and take up a Christmas tale or two… some quiet time amidst the chaos is just what the Doctor ordered! Here’s a mini rundown on some of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time. Happy Holidays!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This story, written by our main man Charles, was first printed in 1843. For a story to still have such relevance today, that seems quite a long time ago! It follows the Christmas Eve adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited miser who is visited by three ghosts that in turn show him his shortcomings and his unfortunate future should he not shift his attitude and his focus in the present. We highly recommend this tale (though we also assume everyone reading this blog has most likely read A Christmas Carol before!), as it is a wonderful story for all ages.
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
This 1845 “Christmas story” I have some reservations about including here (since I don’t want to bring our party down) – but it is a popular tale this time of year! It is a beautiful story, well-written as only Anderson can write, but we must warn you in advance… if you’re looking for a heart-warming happy ending, maybe stick with A Christmas Carol. The Little Match Girl follows a dying young pauper’s reflections on her hopes and dreams and teaches us the moral of being kind and charitable to those around us, especially during the holiday season when we have so much and others have so little. My advice? Read with cocoa, not wine, and have a box of kleenex handy. <3
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
I kind of feel like this story needs no introduction (but neither did A Christmas Carol I suppose and yet we introduced that). How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a quaint tale of a young man who in his hardships realizes that you can’t burglarize department stores on Christmas Eve and feel good about yourself afterward, and therefore learns the value of paying for your Christmas gifts instead of stealing them.
Psych! Just seeing if you’re paying attention. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a children’s story published in 1957 about a mean, green recluse living up on a mountaintop who hates everything Christmas – unlike the tiny town below his home. Through the art of trying to spoil their happiness, Mr. Grinch learns how to love… and how to love Christmas to boot!
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
One of my personal favorite Christmas tales, this short story was published by O. Henry in 1905, and follows a young couple struggling to afford the perfect gift for their spouse on Christmas Eve. This tale of selflessness always touches the hearts of those who read it – and is a great one for remembering that the art of giving gifts is not to show how much we have and can give away, but to share our love for others by the giving of ourselves. Read it… we promise you won’t be disappointed!
A Letter from Santa Claus by Mark Twain
Now I’m not entirely sure we can call this a Christmas “story”, per say, as it is literally a letter, but we will include it anyway in the spirit of the holiday! In 1875 American author Mark Twain answered his 3 year old daughter Susie’s letters (by way of her mother and nurses) to Santa Claus with one of his own, signing off as jolly old St. Nick. In the letter, which will make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, Santa Claus/Mark Twain sends his love to little Susie and apologizes profusely for not being able to obtain every single gift her heart desired – making up an elaborate reason as to why it wasn’t possible. He gives detailed instructions for his visit (threatening a servant named George with his own mortality a couple times, but that’s neither here nor there), and the entire letter is absolutely full of the warmth and love of parents around the world who sneak out in the middle of the night to place presents under the tree and keep their little one’s imaginations alive. You parents out there won’t be disappointed. Read his letter here.
That’s all for now! So let us just say have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate some of the wonderful, heart warming stories written about this season of giving. It’s never too late put down a gift and pick up a book!
Happy Holidays from Tavistock Books