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.
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!
Tavistock Books joins millions of Americans in welcoming President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to the White House, bringing much needed peace and guidance back to the American people.
1. George Washington (1789-97): Cato, a Tragedy by Joseph Addison
2. John Adams (1797-1801): An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution by Mary Wollstonecraft
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-09): Literally everything
4. James Madison (1809-17): The Collected Essays of John Locke by John Locke
5. James Monroe (1817-25): Pleasures of the Imaginations by Mark Akenside
6. John Quincy Adams (1825-29): Oberon by Christoph Martin Wieland
7. Andrew Jackson (1829-37): The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
8. Martin Van Buren (1837-41): Autobiography of Martin Van Buren by Martin Van Buren
9. William Henry Harrison (1841): A Memoir of the Public Services of William Henry Harrison by James Hall
10. John Tyler (1841-45): The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
11. James K. Polk (1845-49): His Diary
12. Zachary Taylor (1849-50): The History of England by David Hume
13. Millard Fillmore (1850-53): A Dictionary
14. Franklin Pierce (1853-57): The Life of Franklin Pierce by Nathaniel Hawthorne
15. James Buchanan (1857-61): Life of George Washington by Jared Sparks
16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-65): Collected Works of William Shakespeare
17. Andrew Johnson (1865-69): The American Speaker
18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77): Most likely a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881): The Collected Speeches of Daniel Webster
20. James Garfield (1881): Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
21. Chester Arthur (1881-85): Something by Charles Dickens or William Makepeace Thackeray
22. Grover Cleveland (1885-89): Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone
23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-93): One of Walter Scott’s novels
24. Grover Cleveland (1893-97): Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone
25. William McKinley (1897-1901): Collected poems by Lord Byron
26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09): Influence of Sea Power Upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan
27. William Howard Taft (1909-13): Something about the Supreme Court… probably
28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-21): Congressional Government by Walter Bagehot
29. Warren Harding (1921-23): Rules of Poker
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-29): The Collected Works of Cicero
31. Herbert Hoover (1929-33): David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45): A collection of Rudyard Kipling poems
33. Harry S. Truman (1945-53): The Lives of Great Men and Famous Women by Charles Francis Horne
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61): A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
35. John F. Kennedy (1961-63): From Russia with Love by Ian Flemming
36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69): The Other America by Michael Harrington
37. Richard Nixon (1969-74): Anything by Leo Tolstoy
38. Gerald Ford (1974-77): Any Horatio Alger novel
39. James Carter (1977-81): Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans
40. Ronald Reagan (1981-89): The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
41. George H.W. Bush (1989-93): War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
42. William J. Clinton (1993-2001): Meditations by Marcus Aureilus
43. George W. Bush (2001-09): The Bible
44. Barack Obama (2009-2016): Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson and/or Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
45. Donald Trump (2017-2021): All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel by Erich Maria Remarque
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (2021 – ): Ulysses by James Joyce
Vice President Kamala Harris (2021 – ): Native Son by Richard Wright
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.
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.
Before 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.
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!
Safe and Happy Holidays to All
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.
Who would we wish to “see” crossing the veil and walking around amongst us on this All Souls Day? Well, literarily speaking….
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…
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!
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…
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!