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How a Dickensian Christmas Can Boost the Spirits of Those of Us Living in 2020

When you think of the word “Dickensian” what comes to mind? We would not be surprised if you mentioned soot-covered children working in factories, or angry adults beating each other down with vicious words and persnickety actions. Then again… what comes to mind if we say “Dickensian Christmas”? I’ll bet an entirely different view comes to mind. Perhaps you see a warm and cozy drawing room, children playing by a large fire, adults jolly and laughing over punch with a large tree in the corner and candles lit on its branches. Sound familiar? Well it isn’t an accident. There is an old story (a myth, if you will) that on the day Dickens died, as the news was ravaging through the streets of London, a small costermonger’s daughter said with dawning horror, “Mr. Dickens is dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” Whether this story is based in reality or not, the feeling still remains… Dickens is a name commonly associated with the holidays the world over. We’d like to examine why that is and what we can learn from it this particular holiday season.

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We have published several blogs before reviewing Dickens’ childhood experiences, and the traumas he endured as a youth. Being one of the unwashed and poor factory children we associate with the word “Dickensian” was what led him to spend his life working with social reform to aid the poor and undervalued members of society. How then did he become so widely associated with the holiday that a poor vegetable seller’s daughter thought his death might mean the end of Christmas forever? For Dickens, it was easy. His childhood made him never want to experience such a Christmas again. He gravitated towards positivity, light and joy – and made sure to share it with those around him. Christmas in the Dickens household (when Charles was a father himself) was legendary. He would perform magic tricks for his friends, the table would be set elaborately, his wife would make and/or supervise the making of all manner of foods, they would have a warm fire and sing/perform together… Dickens made for himself and his family the Christmas he wished for as a child.

 

dickensBefore Dickens published A Christmas Carol (written in only a six short weeks, and published the week before Christmas at considerable expense to Mr. Dickens), he and his wife Catherine were experiencing your average hardships. They were expecting their fifth child, and supplications of money from his aging father and family, with dwindling sales from his previous works had put him into a tough financial place. In the fall of 1843, a 31-year-old Dickens was asked to deliver a speech in Manchester, supporting adult education for manufacturing workers there. His extreme interest in the subject (one that hit a bit too close to home, I believe) and his resolve to aid the lowly pushed an idea to the forefront of his mind – a speech can only do so much… to get to the crux of the matter he would need to get into the hearts, minds and homes of his readership and country. As the idea for A Christmas Carol took shape and his writings began, Dickens himself became utterly obsessed with his own story. As his friend John Forster remarked, Dickens “wept and laughed, and wept again’ and that he ‘walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed” while writing it. Dickens took the financial hit publishing it on his own, in a beautiful cloth bound book with gilt leaf edging, and colorful illustrations by John Leech.

 

The book became an instant sensation, and this book – celebrating the joy, kindness and positivity possible in humans, not to mention the ability to change for the better – did even better than Dickens could have imagined. It transformed into a handbook, of sorts – how to live a successful, kind life, both in the holiday season and beyond.

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So what can we here in 2020 take away from A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ obsessive love of the holiday? Well, the first thing might be to embrace the warmth of home. With all the griping about the hell that 2020 has put us through, and the harsh realities of staying home for months and months, staying away from friends, not being able to eat out or travel… perhaps one last push of 2020 can be for us all to embrace what we have right in front of us – a roof over our heads, a fire (or a heater), and good food. I realize that in past years (and in A Christmas Carol, of course) we might have not only embraced the love we could find in our own households, but invited others to experience it as well. Perhaps in 2020 the time has come to focus more of our attention on those in our immediate household. Shower them with as much love and kindness as we would use for all of those around us.

 

Similar to how Dickens and his family celebrated, decorate as festively and as cozily as you so choose – don’t let a lack of visitors deter you from putting together a beautiful tree, or hanging a wreath on your door. Pass the longer evenings with a great book and a hot drink, or perhaps do as Dickens did and allow your creativity to flourish. Finally take the time to write that story you’ve been meaning to, or put together a skit for your family to act out on Christmas morning. As Dickens probably did, send your letters off to far away family and friends with your love, and perhaps a gift or two… the real gift, of course, being that your thoughts are with them, even when you cannot be. For those that do not celebrate the holiday of Christmas, we say the same endearments hold true… enjoy the winter season with your immediate family, decorate however you choose, drink warm hot toddies and allow the candlelight to spark your creativity. Whatever you do… don’t allow yourself to forget the main take-away of A Christmas Carol. Be caring, giving, and loving to all of those around you, value their lives as you value your own. Only then will you truly find the spirit of Christmas inside of you!

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Safe and Happy Holidays to All

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Honoring our Literary Heroes this Halloween

Long ago, before the days of commercialized holidays and plastic trick or treating pumpkins, many of our pagan ancestors celebrated a time of year that honored the thinning of a veil between the worlds of the living and the dead. At a time of year when the Northern Hemisphere is getting ready for a winter slumber, it was thought that this liminal time was an ideal moment for reverence and adoration of ancestors, of spirits, and of those not necessarily dwelling in the realm of the living. Some celebrated the Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-en”), marking the end of the harvest season, and enjoyed calling on their deceased loved ones and predecessors to enjoy a feast with them, or even to walk amongst the living for a period of time. Today, the spirit of Halloween is often absorbed in candy and nylon costumes. This year, we would like to honor the true spirit of the holiday by saluting some of our favorite authors who have passed on.

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Who would we wish to “see” crossing the veil and walking around amongst us on this All Souls Day? Well, literarily speaking….

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Charles Dickens

This obvious choice is our #1 pick of which author we’d like to see amongst the living on Halloween night. Who wouldn’t? We would wonder if he had any inkling how his fame and popularity would persist for years to come…

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Henry James

Considered one of the greatest novelists in the English-speaking world, James was also an interesting character. He was frequently known to abruptly change the subject, or ask for a dance when no one else was dancing. James once wrote to fellow writer Hugh Walpole “We must know, as much as possible, in our beautiful art . . . what we are talking about – &  the only way to know it is to have lived & loved & cursed & floundered & enjoyed & suffered – I don’t think I regret a single “excess” of my responsive youth – I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions & possibilities I didn’t embrace.” If we came upon James, we would love to ask what possibilities he did not embrace… perhaps so we should not live to regret not taking those chances either!

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Robert Heinlein

A favorite Heinlein quote of ours is this: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” To which we say – yes! In the modern world we wonder if we have lost a bit of our good manners. We don’t wish to re-enter a time when negative actions were brushed under the rug with politeness, no. We just wonder if we might ever again feel like the pride in our actions match the pride in our words. I wonder what Heinlein would have to say about our current political climate…

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Agatha Christie

Now here is a choice that would be truly selfish, as Christie was an enormously private person. But in a perfect world, we might be able to pick Agatha Christie’s brain, see how a seemingly “normal” woman came up with such amazing mysteries and tales. And perhaps, we would see if she’d be willing to set the stage for a 21st century murder!

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Oscar Wilde

Did you know that Wilde’s last words were “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do?” Not only was he a renegade of the “Gilded Age” but his sense of humor puts him a cut above so many. So in terms of having a good laugh on Halloween night? We have to go with Wilde.

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Mary Shelley

We know what you’re thinking… right, because she wrote Frankenstein. Wrong! Mary Shelley was accomplished for a variety of reasons – but mostly for going against the grain. True to her blood (being the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft), Shelley did not accept a life of mediocrity. She sacrificed much for the love of her life, she believed that women should have equal power to a man (including having some sexual freedom – relatively unheard of for her time), and she was a gifted writer and storyteller. Once again, we wonder what she would think about Frankenstein being such a phenomenon today!

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Edgar Allen Poe

*Sigh* Yes, we had to go here. Would it even be Halloween if we didn’t include someone a bit spooky in the mix?

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What authors, out of those that have passed on to another realm, would you invite to walk amongst you this Halloween? Let us know!

In the meantime… Happy Halloween, bibliophiles!

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“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” -Robert Frank

This week at Tavistock Books, we’d like to highlight one of our favorite genres currently in our inventory… photographs and photograph albums! We have had several amazing items on our shelves over the years, as we find these personal and first hand accounts of history absolutely fascinating. What makes a photograph, scrapbook or photo album worth collecting, you may ask? Stay tuned for the 411 on the Tavistock team’s thoughts!

This cache of nine large photographs dates back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

This cache of nine large photographs date back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

Q: So, antiquarian photo/scrapbook albums… first things first! What makes you decide whether or not to invest in one for inventory?

Vic: What I primarily look for is a story being told.  That said, most albums are unidentified faces, with few places.  If an album is not captioned by the compiler, it makes it difficult to supply context to a potential buyer.  

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Q: Is subject matter, provenance or condition the first thing checked by the Tavistock team, followed, I’m sure, quite quickly by the others?

Vic: All of those are important, though, imo, condition of the album itself not as important as condition of the images.  That said, subject matter of primary importance, with provenance coming in immediately behind.  Regarding this latter attribute, I’d consider purchasing an album with no captions if it came from a known & documented provenance, especially if said provenance was someone of import, such as, say, a Rochester neighbor of Charles Dickens.

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Q: What are the benefits of buying a photograph album, or other piece or personalized ephemera from an antiquarian seller, rather than off eBay or another such site?

Vic: We’ll, I probably buy more from general eBay sellers rather than established antiquarian professionals, for the former category will often go for the quick sale, rather than take the time necessary to properly research the material at hand.  An example recently was the acquisition on an archive of family letters & manuscripts from an individual involved in the Texas Convention of 1845 [and subsequent aspects of Texas history].  Let’s just say I anticipate a generous profit margin in this acquisition once fully researched & catalogued.

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This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century... the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century… the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

Q: In looking at the descriptions of these albums on the Tavistock Books website, it is clear a TON of research has gone into describing these albums! Without giving away any secrets of the trade, can you give us a basic overview of how you go about researching a person who put the scrapbook together? It must take a lot of precious time!

Vic: Therein does lie the rub…  much time is involved, and that time needs to be a generous block without interruption.  And, of course, one needs the availability of appropriate reference sources.  I do subscribe to ancestry.comnewspapers.com & JSTOR [though SFPL].  Google, of course, has been a vast help in this arena as well.  It’s amazing what information can be noodled out when searching the web.

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Q: In your opinion, what is the most interesting item you have of this nature on the Tavistock shelves at this time, and what about in the past? Feel free to also tell us about something you might not have sold but perhaps have seen at antiquarian book fairs, etc.!

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A happy Samm, knee deep in the R15 acquisitions!

Vic: I’ll defer to Samm on this one, for she recently went through R-15, where all our uncatalogued albums had been stored, “pending cataloguing”.  

Samm: I spent days going thru this shelf of archives – some catalogued, some not.  It was really difficult to sort through it all. But one item I thought was really cool was a photo archive of the New York Railroad and Interurban railways.  Its HUGE! As we state in the description “A massive photo album brimming with over 1100 images of street cars, trolleys, motor cars, locomotives, service trains, interurban railway lines, and railroads across New York from the 1890s up to WWII. With neatly handwritten captions, photographer’s notes often on verso, and even some typed text.”  The old photos of New York alone are incredible. Definitely worth looking at, linked here.

As for things we sold in the past, hard to answer we sell stuff regularly, hard to pick out one that struck a cord.  But this New York album, I know I will miss when gone!

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Check out Samm’s recommendation – the fabulous New York rail album here!

And that’s that! Also, don’t miss out on the upcoming ABAA Virtual Book Fair from June 4th to the 7th – where yours truly will be exhibiting! We’ll unveil some newly catalogued archival material… and maybe even a photo album or two. Join the count down and find out more information here

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Repeat After Me… “There’s No Place Like Home”

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“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Everyone, repeat it with me. “There’s no place like home.” I know we’re all feeling a bit of the cabin-fever felt by Jack Nicholson in The Shining (although, you know, hopefully to a significantly lesser extent), but let’s risk sounding like a broken record… we are lucky if we have the ability to stay home! We know money must be tight, but without the ability to put a price tag on our or our loved one’s lives we are extremely fortunate to have this ability. So in our opinion, “There’s no place like home” is possibly a great mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning. And every evening. And every afternoon. You know, just until it sinks in.

This extremely famous quote (mantra), brings us to today’s blog, however. On this day in 1919, 101 years ago, L. Frank Baum passed away. While we don’t mean to celebrate his death, we would like to bring attention to this world-famous author today with a few facts about his life! Keep on reading…

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1. The “L” in L. Frank Baum stands for Lyman, where he was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15th, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. The seventh born (out of eventually nine kids) always hated his first name and preferred to be called “Frank”.

 

2. Baum was a somewhat sickly child, educated at home (with exception to two very uncomfortable years he spent at a military academy between the ages 10-12). Hi father indulged several of his whims and encouraged his eccentricities. Baum was gifted a small printing press as a child and began making a home journal with his younger brother that he would distribute to family and friends for free. He began a Stamp Collectors journal as a teenager, and eventually another on Hamburg chickens. Another eccentricity… as a young man Baum raised fancy chickens! Who knew?

 

3. I don’t mean to keep going on about these chickens but let’s get back to them for a second – as they were the subject of Baum’s very first published book! At the age of 30, Baum published The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Okay, I promise to stop harping on about the chickens.

 

4. Baum had a lifelong love affair with the theater, and dreamed of being on the stage. He did have a short career in it, after his father actually built him his own stage in Richburg, New York. As he was touring with one of his creations – The Maid of Arran (a prototypical musical, for all intents and purposes, based on the novel A Princess of Thule by William Black), the theater back home in Richburg burned down, and in it most copies of Baum’s plays.

 

5. In 1882, while touring with The Maid of Arran, Baum married one Maud Gage – the intelligent daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous feminist and women’s suffrage activist. Baum would be a proponent of women’s rights for the rest of his life, standing strong alongside his wife.

 

6. As wonderful as it is to hear of a man standing up for women, Baum was not faultless. As tough as this might be to hear, when Baum was living in Abderdeen, South Dakota his emotional response to the death of Sitting Bull prompted him to call for the extermination of all indigenous peoples! After the Wounded Knee Massacre (where the US army killed hundreds of the Lakota tribe, including women and children), Baum reiterated once more, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” Yikes! Some do argue that Baum was actually attempting to generate sympathy for the native tribes by coming out with such a ludicrous statement, but it sure is shocking either way.

 

7. After having children with his wife Maud, Baum found he had a talent for telling them stories at bedtime. After overhearing one of these stories one night, Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda encouraged him to write one of them down. Baum had a wonderful relationship with Matilda and respected her greatly – if she thought his stories deserved to be published, perhaps she was right! This encouragement would become the impetus for his writing The Wizard of Oz.

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8. The idea for The Wizard of Oz apparently came to Baum very suddenly, and he wrote it all down in pencil. Once he had a working manuscript, he wanted to call it The Emerald City. Unfortunately, his editors did not want to use the name of a jewel in the title (bad luck, apparently – who knew), and as Baum sat in his office he looked over at a file cabinet labeled O – Z. Hence, the land of Oz was created!

 

9. The first release of The Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold out in two weeks. It became an instant classic, and received full critical and literary acclaim. Some consider it America’s first true fairy tale! The book remained a bestseller for two years, and Baum went on to write thirteen more Oz books for a bestselling series.

 

10. Baum did not only write a book on raising fancy chickens and the Oz series, oh no! He was quite a prolific writer up until his end, and actually published 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. He wrote under pseudonyms, he wrote articles for journals. And he was a family man. The all around package! (Except for his views on native peoples.)

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Our 1905 1st edition of The Woggle-Bug Book by Baum, inscribed by him on the copyright page! Check it out here.

Fun fact: The line is NOT “There’s no place like home” in the book! It is actually “I’m so glad to be at home again!” But that doesn’t really have the same ring to it for the opening of this blog so…

Also, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not red. Bursting all kinds of childhood bubbles over here!

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“There’s no place like home!”

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In Honor of Jackie Robinson

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.

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1. Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 in relative poverty in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children, and, his father leaving his mother just a year after he was born, he ended up being raised by a single mother… no small feat, especially at that time.
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2. Jackie Robinson’s middle name is Roosevelt! The former president Theodore Roosevelt died just 25 days before his birth, and his middle name is how his parents honored the distinguished politician.
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3. Robinson and his family moved to Pasadena, California early in his childhood, and it is while at school in Pasadena that his athletic abilities were first noted… mainly by his family! Robinson’s older brothers convinced him to take sports seriously, seeing his skills were unparalleled.
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4. Jackie’s older brother Matthew, or “Mack” was himself an Olympic medalist! In the 1936 Summer Olympics Mack won the silver medal in track and field. He broke the 200 meter world record but so did gold medalist Jessie Owens. Mack was one of the brothers mentioned above that convinced Jackie to take athletics seriously.
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5. While attending John Muir High School, Robinson played five sports and lettered in four: football, basketball, baseball and track. He also played on the tennis team!
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6. In 1939 Robinson enrolled in UCLA after a couple years at Pasadena Junior College. During his time at UCLA, Robinson became the first student to win varsity letters in four sports – the same he’d been playing for so many years. Clearly even into his twenties Robinson was still excelling at every athletic activity he tried his hand at.
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7. During his years at PJC and UCLA, Robinson created a stir a couple times when standing up for himself and others in the face of racism. While an acting second lieutenant in 1943 having been drafted after the outbreak of WWII, stationed in Fort Hood, Texas and a member of the 761st “Black Panthers” Tank Battalion, Robinson was taken into custody after refusing to move to the back of an army bus when traveling around the base. The absurd and highly racist legal proceedings following this incident kept Robinson from being deployed overseas with his battalion, and definitely played a major role in his interest in civil rights activism for the rest of his life.
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8. In early 1945, Robinson was offered $400 a month to play major league baseball on the Kansas City Monarchs team. Though he was a fine player, Robinson was disheartened by the level of disorganization involved in the negro leagues of baseball. He was signed shortly thereafter to Brooklyn’s international league’s farm team – the Montreal Royals. Robinson suffered an unbelievable amount of comments and attacks in his rise in the leagues – more than most as he attempted to do what African Americans had not yet been afforded the opportunity to do. He played so well with the Royals that in 1946 he was drafted to the Brooklyn Dodgers… and in 1947 he became the first black athlete to play Major League baseball in the 20th century.
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9. Just a few short years later, Robinson was chosen as the National League MVP in 1949. A year later, Robinson starred in a biographical film of his life, titled The Jackie Robinson Story! This film focuses on the abuse and hurdles Robinson faced, and depicts the baseball star with a calmness that other Hollywood stars might have killed for!
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Jackie Robinson draws his family close to help him blow out a birthday candle in 1954. Jackie and his wife Rachel had 3 children and he was definitely a family man!

Jackie Robinson draws his family close to help him blow out a birthday candle in 1954. Jackie and his wife Rachel had 3 children and he was definitely a family man!

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10. In 1955, Robinson helped lead his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to their World Series win. He had been with the team for a decade, and this win was his ultimate feat. The following year the Dodgers also won the National League pennant. In December 1956 Robinson was traded to the New York Giants, but he never played a game for the team. Robinson retired from the game in January of 1957. In 1962, Robinson became the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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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!

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Tis the Season to Read Merry!

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! 

Our 1902 Elbert Hubbard published holding of A Christmas Carol! See it here.

Our 1902 Elbert Hubbard published holding of A Christmas Carol! See it here.

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.

 

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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 CarolThe 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

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

Photo courtesy of Yale University

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!

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Happy Holidays from Tavistock Books

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The Beginnings of Tavistock Books

For those of you who don’t know, we deal in many genres of antiquarian materials. However, one of our specialities – and even our shop’s name – come from a wildly famous author who we happen to adore… Mr. Charles Dickens. As the author is very often associated with the holiday season, we thought now might be a good time for a little Q&A with our President, Vic Zoschak Jr., on his love of Dickens and the beginnings of Tavistock Books. Enjoy!

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Tavistock House, London.

Q: Vic, could you take our recent followers on a mini journey as to our shop name? I remember getting the question of whether or not your last name was Tavistock!

tavistock2Yes, over the years, I’ve often been referred to as “Mr Tavistock”, but the name actually, rather than being my surname, has a [small] Dickens connection…  back in the late 80s, as I contemplated opening my own business, I cast about for a name that would reflect my firm’s interest in Dickens, but didn’t want to be too overt in that regard..  you know, nothing like “The Old Curiosity Book Shop”, or anything like that.  So, long story short, I settled on Tavistock, the name of Dickens house in the 1850s, which was situated on Tavistock Square.  

Q: So why Dickens? He is obviously a world-famous writer of course, but what about his writing spoke to you, and what made you want to name your store after his house?

Well, back in the mid-to-late 80s, while living in Sacramento, I was in a reading group that read, as one of our books, Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.  While I personally don’t consider that his best novel, what that reading did do was spark an interest in the author himself.  And in pursuit of knowing more about the man, I [luckily] happened across what I consider to be the best biography of Dickens, Edgar Johnson’s Tragedy And Triumph.  On reading that biography, I found Dickens to be a fascinating individual, a genius, which precipitated my dive into that gentle madness known as book collecting.  I collected Dickens from the mid-80s until I opened my shop in July 1997, at which point I used my personal collection to stock the Dickens’ Corner here at 1503 Webster Street.

Q: What is your favorite of the Dickens novels and why? Favorite character in any of them?

Favorite novel is Hard Times.  Many of Dickens’ novels required “32 pages of letterpress” every month, and so often, like in Pickwick Papers, there are literary diversions therein to fill up space….  I don’t see that in Hard Times.  It’s spare, it’s lean, it’s all about the facts.

As to characters, like many, I’m partial to Mr. Micawber, the lovable impecunious fellow from David Copperfield.

Q: Is it true that you refuse to watch Dickens-related cinema? Interesting choice! What are your thoughts behind that decision?

True.  Dickens’ words call up a mental image of each & every character he’s created.  I found that when I watched a film interpretation, my mental image of a given character, e.g., Nicholas Nickleby, engendered by Dickens’ prose was replaced by the individual cast by whatever director was filming whatever version of Dickens’ works.  In comparison, I found I preferred Dickens’ version.  FWIW, he would only allow images approved by him, and as such, they are truly Dickensian.  

Q: And last but not least… who was your favorite ghost in A Christmas Carol and why?

Ah, tough question Ms P!!  I think I’ll go with the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come”.   With these visions, Scrooge realizes his future can change.  That’s powerful stuff, knowing one can change one’s future.

And you know what, Ms P – it’s been a few years since I’ve read this popular novella. I think I’ll revisit it this season… it’s time.  

~ Happy Holidays ~

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