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The Realism of Stephen Crane

We thought we’d start off a very autumnal month like November with an in-depth look at an author read country-wide… oftentimes in the fall school semester for required High School reading! Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage, continues to captivate readers of all ages, all over the country. Published in 1895, this novel doesn’t only have an engrossing (according to my sophomore year lit teacher) narrative, but it truly is an in-depth exploration of human nature, war… and an “American” experience. On this here his birthday, let’s remember what Crane did for American literature!

Before we dive into the The Red Badge of Courage, we should understand the literary movements of the time that helped shape Crane’s writing into what we see today. The late 19th century, when Crane was writing, witnessed both movements of Realism and Naturalism. Both literary trends sought to show life as it truly was… sans the idealization or romanticism of previous movements. 

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Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage uses realism and naturalism to show the raw, gritty reality of war. Through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who dreams of glory but is suddenly faced with fear and confusion on the battlefield, Crane paints a pretty vivid picture of the uncertainty, fear and coldness of battle. Crane’s (almost ridiculous – oh, I’m sorry…. meticulous) attention to detail, his extremely vivid descriptions of battle, and his description of the emotional turmoil experienced by the protagonist Henry all contribute to the novel’s realism. For Crane, sugar-coating was simply not allowed! 

One of the most striking characteristics of The Red Badge of Courage is Crane’s focus on the inner struggles of its protagonist. Crane goes deep into Henry Fleming’s psyche, offering readers a pretty remarkable ‘character study’. The novel watches the evolution of Henry, as he confronts fear, cowardice, and a desire for forgiveness. We get to see his journey from a self-doubting youth to a more adult, self-assured and introspective individual. During his transition, American high school students all around the country get a more comprehensive understanding of human nature.

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In the world of American literature, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is considered a masterpiece of realism. Its enduring appeal lies in its (almost) too-descriptive depiction of the psychological and emotional struggles of a young Civil War soldier. Crane’s understanding of an “American experience”, coupled with his decided portrayal of war’s (extremely) harsh realities, truly fixed the novel’s place as an American classic.

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Honoring our Supernatural Queen, Anne Rice

Anne Rice, born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien (because her mother thought naming her “Howard” after her father would be an interesting thing to do) on October 4, 1941, was an iconic figure in the world of literature. Known primarily for her compelling (and sensual) books, Rice created a unique niche within the genres of gothic fiction and supernatural fantasy. Now that “spooky season” is truly upon us and we are desperate for thrilling reads, we honor her birthday today with a wish to explore her literary masterpieces!

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Anne Rice was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her birthplace, a location steeped in history and the mysticism of the Deep South (as any who have visited the city will attest), would later serve as an influential setting for several of her novels. She became “Anne” when a nun asked her for her name at school, and being self conscious about being “Howard” (who knows why) said  her name was “Anne” – a name she thought was pretty. Her early years were unfortunately marked by tragedy; she lost her mother to alcoholism in her teens and would later face her own health challenges. It was during these tumultuous years that she began to nurture her love for literature and storytelling, eventually earning herself a degree in political science from San Francisco State University. 

Anne Rice’s true literary journey began in 1976 when she released her debut novel, Interview with the Vampire, to the world. Reeling from the early death of her daughter to cancer, Rice took a previously written short story and turned it into a work that captured the attention of the country. This novel, the start of her celebrated “The Vampire Chronicles” series, created a subgenre of gothic and vampire fiction that continues to captivate readers and interest writers to this day. Rice’s storytelling capabilities are evident from the first page of Interview with a Vampire – she drew her readers into a dark and seductive world where vampires exist not as monsters but as complicated and tormented “human” characters. 

One thing that sets Rice apart from other writers of her time was her willingness to tackle more taboo subjects head-on. Her novels are confidently erotic (and occasionally explicit), pushing the boundaries of what is considered conventional, mainstream literature. Her fairly fearless exploration of sensuality, desire, and the general darker aspects of human nature have helped make her a household name. While Interview with a Vampire and “The Vampire Chronicles” may be her most famous works, Rice’s literary successes extend beyond her world of vampires alone. In The Witching Hour, she introduced her readers to the family of the Mayfair witches, with a saga of magic, family, and fate. She even published “The Songs of Seraphim” series – detailing layers of spirituality and focusing on angels, faith, and the battle between good and evil. The most controversial of her works must be “The Sleeping Beauty Quartet,” a series of erotic novels written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. These books focus on the world of BDSM and erotic fantasy, further pushing the envelope of what is considered “acceptable” in the world of literature. Her many different series showcase her versatility as a writer, transitioning her subject matter from vampires to witches to angels and erotica seamlessly, all while continuing to use her signature gothic style.

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Anne Rice’s influence on literature and popular culture is undeniable. Her groundbreaking contributions to the vampire and erotic fiction genres paved the way for countless authors and even filmmakers to explore similar themes. For instance, Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyer counts Rice as a great influence! On the anniversary of her birthday, we appreciate her ability to create entire worlds far (yet close) to our own, her fearless exploration of taboo topics, and her knack for addressing pretty profound philosophical questions about life and morality all within a framework of supernatural fiction. To this day, she reminds us that literature will always have the power to both entertain and provoke.

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CALRBS, One Man’s Experience

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It’s been said that old dawgs can’t learn new tricks.  Well, this old dawg thought maybe he could, for despite having been in the antiquarian book trade for 3+ decades, in the hopes of learning something new, the week of August 7th, I attended the CALRBS course, PostModern Bookselling, taught by my friends & ABAA colleagues, Brad & Jen Johnson, principals in the firm, Johnson Rare Books & Archives, Covina, CA.

For those not familiar with CALRBS, the courses are taught on the lovely UCLA campus, with the classes [mainly] held in the SE&IS building on the north end, right next to the Young library.  While the UCLA Guest House is close by, I chose to stay at the Tiverton, at the South end of campus, close to Westwood.  It made for a nice to/from walk every day… you know, “Get your steps in”.  

As with most classes of this nature, the week began with a welcome brunch hosted by Director Robert Montoya, providing all attendees there for the week [CALRBS hosted 3 other classes that week] the opportunity to meet staff & fellow attendees, followed by each class heading to their respective class room.  So the 8 of us gathered in room 101, and began the week together with personal introductions…  we were a rather diverse group, though as you might imagine, the majority were booksellers in some fashion or form, ranging from relative newbies, to this old dawg of 34 years standing.

Brad & Jen’s plan for the course was to demonstrate to the class that the trade has evolved from what it was just a few decades ago…  that PostModern booksellers should recognize that material other than just books is worth their time & energy, and they used their personal success as an example of what is possible.  For those that don’t know, Johnson Rare Books & Archives has enjoyed considerable prosperity by focusing on archives, telling the story of under-represented communities & those outside the mainstream of literary pedagogy.  Further, they emphasized the practice of active bookselling [reach out to possible customers] vs that of a passive nature [e.g., list your books on ABE, and wait for a buyer].  

But what about specifics of the week you ask?  To the Johnson’s credit, they brought in [some by Zoom] experts from many walks of the trade & book world…  To start, Monday afternoon, Kevin Johnson, principal of Royal Books & author of The CELLULOID PAPER TRAIL, led a session on movie scripts, their history, identification, etc.  Fascinating!  We spent Tuesday morning with Russell Johnson, UCLA Curator of the History of Medicine.  For those that know Russell, you know he’s a very generous individual, and a true friend of the trade.  He showed us a number of usable treasures he’s procured over the decades he’s been in his position.  And Tuesday afternoon was devoted to “Born Digital”, a Zoom presentation by Will Hansen, Newberry Library, followed by buying at auctions, another Zoom session, with Joe Fay, McBride Rare Books [and one who spent a number of years with Heritage auctions, so he had intimate inside knowledge of that about which he spoke].


Wednesday was spent on a field trip to Covina, where Brad & Jen had closed their shop for the day, in order to give the class the run of it, as well as show us some projects currently in the works…  perhaps most impressive was a recently acquired consignment, a binding collection of some repute [Morris-Levin anyone?], though some were taken by Brad’s archive-in-the-building, nudist camp literature [feel free to quote him material].  But perhaps the high point of the day was lunch at Brad & Jen’s go-to place, Casa Moreno.  Good food, generous portions, great company!  After lunch, we traipsed over to Pasadena to visit “Paper Village”, a site where a number of pickers store their finds.  What a fun afternoon!  I even bought a bunch of books [which Brad kindly agreed to ship back to Reno for me].

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Thursday was another busy day, with 4 areas covered:  “Working with Institutions”, led by Greg Williams, Special Collections Librarian for CSU Domingo Hills.  “Introduction to Appraisals” by James Goldwasser, Locus Souls Rare Books.  “Research Strategies for Non-Traditional Materials”, Kate Mitas, Bookseller [by Zoom].  “Non-Traditional Approaches to Photography”, Kent Tschanz, Tschanz Rare Books.  While all were quite good, and James taught me a few things about appraisals I didn’t realize [or forgot], I confess, I have to give a nod to Kent as my favorite, for his enthusiasm for the subject was nothing short of infectious.  I’m only sorry he didn’t have another hour or two, for he showed some truly magnificent images to the class, though many were given short shrift, or skipped altogether, due to time constraints.
While not originally part of the class schedule, fortuitously, the LA Art Book Fair had its opening night that night.  We all went.  The crowds, of mostly young folks, was nothing short of amazing.  And two of our class [Miranda & Laurelin,  Amortia Fine Art Books] had a stand!  We all hoped they killed it!  After, dinner at a local restaurant, Manuela DTLA, fabulous of course!

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Friday, our last day, but certainly not our least.  It began with a Zoom session featuring colleague Andrew Gaub, Bruce McKittrick Rare Books.  McKittrick Rare Books focuses solely on books from the hand-press period, and Andrew spoke on how to market & sell antiquarian books in the 21st century.  Suffice it to say, despite the week’s bias toward non-traditional materials, Andrew makes a credible living selling ‘olde’ books.  The next session was with two local LA librarians, Dalena Hunter & Lizeth Ramirez, who discussed the collecting of under-represented communities.  And while their focus is LA, the precepts they shared can be applied to any locale.  Finally, class concluded with a “Non-Traditional Materials Workshop”, where each of us was to ‘pick & catalogue’ an item supplied by Brad & Jen.  Mine was a photo album & letter archive Brad had just purchased just the Sunday prior at the Pasadena flea market!  Since it may soon be on the market, I won’t say too much more, other than that guy sure has an eye for great material!


The official week ended with a mixer at the Young library, typical cheese cubes & white wine, but long on new friends saying their goodbyes.  It was sad to see the week end, but hey, next year brings another schedule of classes, so perhaps I’ll see you in LA the summer of 2024?

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An Update on Tavistock Books’ Latest Adventure!

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Tavistock Books underwent a lot of big changes this year! For those of you who don’t know, we moved our store from the California island of Alameda after 25+ years all the way to Reno, Nevada! Vic and his wife Ellen wished to live closer to family, so Tavistock Books was packed up and moved, and we’re dying to know how it is all going in such a different world!

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Q: Hi Vic! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about the bookselling trade after your major year! How are you holding up after such a major shift?

It was a major change Ms P, one 6 months in the undertaking.  I started prepping the Alameda store for the move in mid-November 2022, and the last load of books wasn’t delivered to 220 S. Rock Blvd until this past 6 May.  For most of that 6 months, I worked 7 days a week.  At the end of the move, I was one tired puppy, and I’ll be honest, it took me a couple weeks to regain my energy!  

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Q: How are you enjoying living in Reno, after a few months there?

I’ll really like Reno.  Its nickname is the Biggest Little City in the World, which seems quite fitting actually.  Its population is just under 300,000 so not so many folks that you feel the press, but enough to give it some gravitas, e.g., entertainers who perform at the casinos, some really great restaurants, a bit of social & cultural life, and not to mention, its world famous event –  HOT AUGUST NIGHTS!   Speaking of which, yours truly is taking his classic sports car [see below] out on Thursday night.  🙂

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Q: How goes the unpacking of Tavistock Books?! Last we checked in with a couple pictures in our FS Lists, the bookcases were up and you were slowly but surely getting box by box settled. How is the new store/office looking?

Well, frankly, it’s going rather slowly…  I know you & I previously had discussed a ‘grand opening’ on/about 1 July; obviously that date has come & gone, so perhaps 1 July 2024 is more realistic.  I attribute this slow progress to two factors:  one, I’ve gone into semi-retired mode, and am only working 3-4 hours a day.  Second, as I unpack a book, I take the time to review its original record for accuracy, verify its listed condition, check pricing with respect to current market conditions & update/take images [as required].  The benefit to this approach is that, after 26 years, I’m actually performing a book-by-book inventory on my listed stock.  Curiously enough, I’ve come across around a dozen or so items that had been marked in my database as “missing”.  Now I’m recording a location for every book I unpack, so the “lost” or “missing” phenomena should no longer happen!

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Q: What have you noticed is the biggest difference in bookselling when in Alameda vs. Reno? Do you miss anything about the open storefront?

I’ve not really noticed any difference.  I say this, for my last number of years in Alameda, even though I had a storefront on a major Alameda mercantile street, I had gone to a business model that emphasized on-line sales vs courting public walk-in traffic.  In fact, when COVID hit, I completely closed the Alameda store to the public, only seeing folks on a ‘by appointment’ basis.  Since my Reno location is in a soft-industrial park, I’ve continued the ‘By Appointment’ approach here in Reno.  The only ‘downside’ to this is the opportunity to ‘buy’ books… people walking by my Webster storefront, seeing my “We Buy Books” sign would bring things to me, that won’t happen here in Reno, at least by that mechanism.  I’ll have to explore other opportunities to get my name out there in the Reno community for folks who wish to sell their collection, etc.

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Q: How do you view Tavistock Books operating from here on out?! Hopefully you have lots of time to devote to your family!

As do I!  So far, this relaxed approach is suiting me well, and even with my reduced hours, I’m still paying the bills.  As I look toward the future, my Reno lease is only 3 years, so come 2025 I’ll need to decide what path to take…

But as Scarlett said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Vic’s 1982 Porsche 911SC Targa!
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The Literary Marvel of the American Declaration of Independence: An Ode to Freedom

The American Declaration of Independence is a remarkable document that paved the way for a new nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality. As we take a closer look at this historical masterpiece, we discover profound notions that continue to resonate with individuals even today. In honor of July 4th, we did a dive deep into the Declaration, uncovering its key ideas and their relevance to society today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These simple yet powerful words serve as a jumping-off point for the Declaration’s journey. The phrase in its entirety captures the belief in certain undeniable truths, such as the equality of all people. It reminds us that some things ought to be so obvious that they require no further explanation, urging a sense of shared understanding and unity. Interestingly, the inclusion of the “pursuit of Happiness” among the inherent rights highlighted in the Declaration is kind of a revolutionary idea. It acknowledges the innate desire for personal fulfillment and the pursuit of one’s ambitions. This concept, somewhat rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment at the time, reflects the profound belief in individual agency and has resonated throughout American history… it is even a trait we are still associated with today.

“That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

This quote recognizes the idea that every person is born with fundamental rights that cannot be taken away by man. It reminds us that our rights, like life and liberty, are not granted by any government or individual, but are inherent and universal. These words resonate with everyone, as it reaffirms the belief in the intrinsic worth and dignity of every individual, no matter their background.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

With this phrase, the Declaration emphasizes the true purpose of government: to protect the rights of its citizens. This concept resonates with us still today, as in a perfect world we would like to rely on our government to ensure justice and uphold our freedoms. It highlights the reciprocal relationship between the governed and those in power, reinforcing the notion that government should serve the people, and not the other way around.

Listing Grievances: An Unveiling of Injustice

The middle section of the Declaration lists a set of grievances against the British King George III, describing the colonists’ reasons for seeking independence. As one delves into these exploitations, you can understand the injustices that fueled the desire for change. 

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

This quote alone encapsulates a pretty powerful idea—that people have the right to challenge a government that fails to protect their rights. For us, it serves as a reminder that we have agency and the ability to demand change when necessary. It empowers individuals to question authority and assert their rights not only as citizens, but as humans.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The concluding words of the Declaration of Independence embody the spirit of sacrifice, confidence and commitment that began the American Revolution. The men who signed it, fully aware of the risks they faced in doing so, pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to the cause of American liberty. 

The American Declaration of Independence continues to speak to American citizens in profound ways, when we take the time to reread it. Its simple, straightforward language and relatable themes resonate with individuals from all walks of life. It reminds us of the timeless importance of equality, the true role of government in protecting our rights, and the power of the people to effect change. The Declaration’s literary genius lies in its ability to engage the average person and inspire them to recognize their own agency in shaping a more just and free society. As we reflect on this literary treasure on the anniversary of the birth of our country, we embrace the enduring spirit of freedom and continue the pursuit of justice… for all!

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What are You Reading this Summer?

In adulthood, summer isn’t always the joyful time we remember it as when we were kids. Unless you work at a school, there aren’t months off, laying around enjoying the heat and the sunshine endlessly. That being said, getting lost in a book can be a great way to escape the humdrum of the every day and bring back a hint of those summer feelings we had as children! Here are five summer-y classics (we use the term classics a bit loosely) to inspire you to enjoy the season! Perhaps you have read them, perhaps not. Either way, it’s time to pick up a book.

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1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I know, I know. We start with the most obvious of obvious choices. But who can blame us? This classic is a dappled sunlight summer in Long Island and in New York City, with high society and beautiful days unending (well… until the end). It is definitely a summer read, and while most likely already read by all of those reading this blog – it’s never a bad idea to reread Fitzgerald!

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2. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

A bit lesser known and read, if still a noteworthy title. Some of our readers may know the Italian summer sun-soaked movie of the same name, and the book is just as worth some hours of your time! This story follows the con artist Tom Ripley on a dangerous game of murder and assuming identities. It is a short and easy read, but also won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière as the best international crime novel in 1957. If you’re a fan of crime, you’ll love this summer read. 

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3. JAWS by Peter Benchley

We couldn’t resist… sorry! But did you know that not only did Jaws remain on the bestseller list for 44 weeks straight upon its debut in 1974, but that the author Peter Benchley also worked tirelessly for over a decade for shark conservation, and used his name associated with the most famous of books about a shark to help bring awareness to their plights? We find that pretty cool! This tale will have you gripping the edge of your seat, grateful to have all of your remaining limbs. 

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4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

This classic is an easy read for those of us desperate to return to childhoods awash with visions of piracy and adventure! Sometimes we find that classic children’s literature gets pushed aside in favor of more “adult” writing, when it shouldn’t be the case! Treasure Island can be (and should be) enjoyed by all ages, and will have you yearning for the open sea soon enough. 

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5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

If you can handle Woolf’s prose style (some don’t love stream of consciousness, and while we can understand it – you’re missing out!), To the Lighthouse is a wonderful, more introspective summer read. The novel follows the Ramsay family and their experiences at their summer home on the Isle of Skye. It focuses on the complexity of human relationships, especially those within a family. If you’re looking for a work to bore deep inside you and make you think, this story is for you.

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Bonus: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

When was the last time you read a Shakespeare play?! You’d be surprised how many answer with “school”! We know we all read them, some of us have seen them. But A Midsummer Night’s Dream is too good to resist. The magic, the hilarity of it all. If the last time you read through this play was anything to do with your education, we suggest a reread! (Or better yet, find out where it’s being performed near you! It almost always is, during the summer.)

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Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

In honor of his birthday, today we dive into the world of early American poetry and the incredible, lasting impact of Walt Whitman. In the mid-19th century, American literature was primed to experience an almost seismic shift. That’s where Whitman – with his larger-than-life personality, strong opinions and groundbreaking verses – stepped in and became a figurehead of the American dream. As poet Ezra Pound once said about Whitman… “America’s poet… He is America.” 



Walt Whitman was born on May 31st, 1819, in West Hills, New York. After a rather long period of time working in editing and freelancing (and getting fired from several jobs in the process), Whitman decided to write poetry. He began writing poems in 1850, and in a time when strict poetic forms and rhymes were expected – Whitman broke free from these conventional norms. His first book of poetry and magnum opus, “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855, shattered the traditional poetic protocol of the time. He celebrated the beauty of everyday life (what a novel idea!), embraced a democratic spirit, and wove together the interconnectedness of all beings, human and nature alike. He opted for free verse, aiming to set poetry free from the rigid confines it had been heeding to. It even seemed to some that Whitman wished the art of poetry to be as free as he himself was.

Whitman’s ideas aligned perfectly with the transcendentalist movement of the time. Transcendentalists believed in the power of the individual, the transcendence of the self, and a connection between humans and nature. Minds like those of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were Whitman’s philosophical comrades, Emerson praising Leaves of Grass far and wide, and almost certainly aided in the work’s popularity. Transcendentalists were all about embracing spiritual in the mundane, finding beauty in the everyday, and recognizing the oneness of all existence. Whitman’s revolutionary approach to form and subject matter not only rocked the American literary scene, but paved a way for future poets to break free from using more traditional verse. Emily Dickinson, often regarded as one of the greatest American poets, was profoundly influenced by Whitman’s somewhat unorthodox style, and proceeded to use her own brevity and lyricism to explore similar themes of individualism and the human condition. Other notable poets who fell under Whitman’s spell include Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, and Adrienne Rich. Each poet, in their own way, channeled Whitman’s spirit of rebellion, using poetry as a tool to challenge societal norms, advocate for social justice, and shed light on the diversity of the American experience.

Walt Whitman’s celebration of democracy, inclusivity, and everyday beauty continues to inspire modern American readers. Whitman’s embrace of individuality and his refusal to be confined by societal expectations serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a unique voice and our own stories to tell… if only we have the courage to open our mouths!

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