Category Archives: Uncategorized

MRT: A Reminisce

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Michael Thompson, photo courtesy of ILAB.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do tell!”

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

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

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The World’s Most Beloved (and Criticized) Family of Bears

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If you are a 90s child like myself (or a 70s child, or an 80s child, or a 2000s child…or even a 2010s child), I can guarantee that you know a family of bears… that live in (pretty much) the coolest treehouse ever… and whose sister and brother magically (almost) always get along. I grew up envying this small family and their adventures in pumpkin patches and at school. (So get to the point, you say?) Well today we thought we’d do a short feature on our favorite (fictional) family of bears… the Berenstain Bears, in honor of Jan’s birthday anniversary!

The Berenstain Bear family and franchise was created by Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1962, and has since become a series of over 300 titles. Since 2002, Jan and Stan’s son Mike continues the tradition by authoring the titles. A full family project, in a sense! Let’s see how it all came about…

bears5In 1941, Janice Grant and Stanley Berenstain met on their first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and became close very quickly. At the onset of World War II, they took up different war effort posts (as a medical illustrator and riveter), but were eventually reunited and married in 1946. They found work as art teachers, then eventually became co-illustrators, publishing works like the Berenstain’s Baby Book in 1951 followed by many more (including, but not limited to Marital Blitz, How To Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making A Complete Fool of Yourself and Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had A Cigar). In the early 1960s the Berentain’s first “Berenstain Bears” book made it to a very important colleague and publisher – Theodore Geisel – or, as some of you may remember from our somewhat recent blog, Dr. Seuss! 

bears2Geisel traded ideas with the Berenstains for over a year – until he finally felt like they had a marketable product for the American public. In 1962, The Big Honey Hunt hit shelves across the USA. The Berenstains were working on their next book – featuring penguins – when Geisel got in touch to say another bear book was needed by demand, as The Big Honey Hunt was selling so undeniably well. Two years later The Bike Lesson came out… which began a waterfall of publications… at least one a year since then, but typically more than a few. A record 25 Berenstain Bears books were published in 1993 alone! Six titles have already been published in 2018. The immediate success of the Berenstain Bears lead to a situation not unlike the popular Hardy Boys series or Nancy Drew’s popularity – only for a younger age range and with a somewhat different tone. Not to mention all written and illustrated by the same authors, at least until Mike Berenstain took over the franchise in 2002. Jan and Stan were quite a busy pair for a number of years!

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Jan and her son Mike, the now author of the series.

Now why were the bears as successful as they were? Though some criticism has fallen on the books over the decades for its “formulaic” and “syrupy” tone, the books have also seen 35 titles in the Publishers Weekly top 250 titles of all time, and 15 titles in the top 100 Children’s Paperbacks. As an educational series (each title dealing with a somewhat moral or educational lesson for youngsters) it has received many accolades. However, as stated the series has also received criticism for being outdated and perpetuating stereotypes from its beginning. That being said, I do not believe that anyone, even those critical of the texts, can deny the obvious influence they have had on children and families… for decades! The bears provided a learning ground for warm and cuddly (if only mildly didactic) lessons for young children in the United States.

And the rest of the world. Because it has been translated into 23 languages. 

Happy Birthday to Jan Berenstain and the family of Berenstain (NOT “Berenstein”) Bears – Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey!

(…How come Honey gets an actual name?)

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Jan & Stan working in their studio with sons Leo and Mike. One big happy family!

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Highlight on the 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Winner Ellen Saito and her business, Excelsa Scripta Rare Books!

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The 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Award Winner Ellen Saito and Bibliography instructor Joel Silver this month at RBS.

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Welcome, Ellen! As the latest recipient of the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship to Joel Silver’s course at RBS, what were you most excited about, in terms of RBS? The class? Meeting more like-minded people?

Thrilled to secure the Tavistock scholarship, I was elated to attend this course as my first choice by far. For months, I was in a tizzy of anticipation of this course, ESSENTIAL to everyone in the rare book world. It was most exhilarating to meet Joel Silver, prominent librarian, kind and generous teacher and master storyteller, who shared his discerning knowledge of 350+ top rare book research sources, including their free websites and affordable reprints. Develop your inner librarian; you, too, can be privy to any topic related to rare books. Your lost invitation to a secret society for smart, down-to-earth and humorous adults has been found. You are most welcome to join this warm, embracing community. Applicants are sought. Scholarships and affordable housings abound. It is a bargain. Invest in yourself!

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What is your general impression of RBS? Did things run smoothly, were people enjoying their classes and themselves? Etc.

6RBS provides you with the ultimate learning environment. The faculty is a who’s who of rare book experts, who unselfishly divulge their secrets, meant to be shared further with others. Students are free to select their favorite course(s) only, but once you experience this wonderful place, you will want to return soon and often. There is no competition, no cramming, no grades. This is learning at its best. Hint: get to know your peers; they will be delightful and VERY helpful to you. The RBS staff made hard work look easy; everything ran without a hitch. People enjoyed their chosen course, each a shortcut to expertise garnered over a lifetime. Casual, well-attended get-togethers formed naturally during breaks; people were very happy to be there. It felt like a week-long vacation from reality.

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How did you like the course? As you, but possibly not everyone, knows – Vic offers a scholarship to this amazing Bibliography class every year! We love to see booksellers taking the time and effort to cite their sources properly – one mark of great bookseller, in our opinion! How did you find it?

Joel Silver.

Joel Silver.

I learned of the RBS at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) and enjoyed the course immensely! You might expect Joel Silver, professor of librarianship, to have a vast and deep database of detailed and accurate knowledge of all things book-related in his laptop. Wrong. It is all committed to MEMORY. Well worth the time, effort and tuition, this course is an excellent introduction to the RBS: just take notes as you like, while Joel Silver instructs you and keeps you laughing with astonishing real-life stories. Explore the clear RBS website. The RBS staff is truly helpful, so call in or email any questions. The online application requires a personal statement and CV, then you write an essay for Joel Silver – that’s it. You are considered for all RBS scholarships. Outside scholarships are available.

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The beautiful gardens at Monticello - Thomas Jeffersons home, just a short drive from RBS.

The beautiful gardens at Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home, just a short drive from RBS.

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Did you hear about any courses that were of interest to you you’d like to pursue in the coming years?

I am most interested in twelve courses: Introduction to Bookbinding, Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography, Illustration to 1900, Printing to 1800, Introduction to Typography, Provenance, Forgery (detection), Collection Development, Indigenous Sovereignty, Book History 200-2000, Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts and English Handwriting 1500-1750. I am currently doing the reading for Printed Books to 1800.

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Tell us a bit about your business!

Excelsa Scripta Rare Books, where “excelsa scripta” is Latin for “sublime writing,” is an online boutique bookstore specializing in social justice as a source of inspiration, while reaching back over the centuries. Emphasis is placed on historically significant books about striving for social and economic equality in a safer, more civilized world with better protection of freedoms and rights. Subjects that are prioritized include, but are not limited to: Women’s History, Black History and topics addressing civil disobedience, disability, poverty, L.G.B.T.Q., Native Americans, racism and ethnic cleansing. First editions in original bindings prevail. Expect truth in advertising and attention to customer care. Eco-friendly packaging products make use of recycled, renewable and biodegradable materials to support sustainability.

Thank you, Ellen!

More information on the scholarship can be found here.

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The Views of Voltaire, Pt. II

Now where did we leave off? Ah yes, Voltaire’s influential experiences in Great Britain during his self-imposed exile in 1727…

This time in England was an extremely eye-opening experience for Voltaire. He spent much of his time with the literary giants of the day (Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and the like), and began expressing his first interests in science. In fact, Voltaire was most likely an attendee of Sir Isaac Newton’s funeral in 1727. He continued publishing throughout this time – essays, poems and letters on government, religion, literature and science. Upon his return to France, he was able to invest some capital wisely and became a wealthy, and more refined, citizen of his home country. However, his love for England is obvious throughout his work – he considered their government and practices more refined – he cared more for the constitutional monarchy of Britain rather than the absolute monarchy of France. He favored democracy and free speech, and was not religious, nor overtly political. His interest in politics lay in writing – and write he did.

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Over his life, Voltaire wrote over 20,000 letters and published over 2,000 books, essays, poems and pamphlets. He used his chosen platform to criticize and satirize and praise all in turn. He spent a good deal of the second half of his life living with his mistress Émilie du Châtelet, a wildly intelligent married woman with three children who spent her life reading, translating and writing natural science texts. She and Voltaire lived together openly with her husband for 16 years. After their affair ran its course, Voltaire spent his time living in Prussia, Switzerland, and eventually bought a large estate on the Franco-Swiss border in which he lived with his niece. In 1759 he published his work Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism), and its popularity at the time has remained until today – it being Voltaire’s most distinguished work. In 1964 he published a great philosophical work entitled the Dictionnaire philosophique, a “series of articles mainly on Christian history and dogmas” – in which he made his thoughts on religion apparent. His historical works [such as the History of Charles XII (1731), The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and his Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756)] were some of the first to break the tradition of narrating solely military and political events and instead focused on society and customs throughout time – looking at great art and advances in science through the ages. As we have mentioned he was prolific at epic poetry, though his prose work (essays and letters) make up the bulk of his copious publications. He was friends with Benjamin Franklin, admired and criticized Shakespeare in turns, and lived to the age of 83 – an old age indeed for his time.

So what is it that makes Voltaire the household name he is today?

I’ll get back to you on that soon… I have over 2,000 publications to read before I let you know!

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Who is… Thomas Mann?

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Today is Thomas Mann’s birthday!

For those of you who did not know enough about this exceptional German author, why don’t you take a few minutes and read our quick facts below? We had more than an interesting time of it researching this man – we are sure you will find the facts as intriguing as we did!

1. Thomas Mann was the younger of two sons born to a bourgeois German family in 1875.

2. Thomas Mann and his mother and elder brother moved to Munich following the death of his father in 1891.

3. Thomas Mann began his studies (like so many talented writers we seem to know of) in training for a career in journalism.

4. Thomas Mann married at the age of 30 and his wife bore him 6 children.

5. Having emigrated to the United States with some of his most popular works behind him, he began teaching at Princeton in 1939.

Sounds like a pretty average Joe, right?

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WRONG.

Now get ready for the real facts. The facts that make this author someone to admire…

1. Thomas Mann’s elder brother was author Heinrich Mann, another notable German author known for his criticisms of fascist regimes. Three of Mann’s 6 children also grew up to be widely known and read writers.

2. Thomas Mann wrote his first novel in 1901 when he was only 26. His novel Buddenbrooks, based on his life growing up, would win him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929.

3. In 1912 Mann and his wife Katia moved to Switzerland and lived in a sanatorium (which was apparently a very inspiring place, as it helped fuel his work on Joseph and His Brothers.

Thomas Mann + Einstein / Foto 1938

4. In 1933 Mann’s eldest two children wrote to their parents from Munich, advising them that because of their beliefs and outspoken distaste for fascism and the like it would be a dangerous place for them to return to. Hence their emigration to the United States in 1939.

5. Due to his openly anti-Nazi beliefs, Mann was approached in 1939 to record anti-Hitler broadcasts, in the German tongue, to be broadcast furtively to the German people over the radio. His 8-minute recordings were widely received and well-known. In one of his most noted speeches giving hope to those living under the Nazi-regime, he made the famous claim, “The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.” Burn!

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Now, this blog isn’t to say that Mann was a perfect specimen. People criticized his speeches for certain reasons, and in the McCarthy era he was condemned for being associated with peace organizations that were being criticized for being “Communist fronts.” (Cause we all know the Red Scare was legit.) However, despite the problems people might find with him… we all must agree – pretty radical guy, no???

Happy Birthday, Thomas Mann!

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The Views of Voltaire, Pt I.

Voltaire is a household name. There is no doubt about it – I am sure (meaning I hope very, very strongly) that even the latest generation learn about Voltaire in school. Why else would we know that occasionally dropping his name makes you sound really smart?

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Just kidding! But honestly – let’s look at why Voltaire is such a well-known figure and what exactly his name stands for when used today. For example, one of my closest friends recently exclaimed to me that Voltaire was the god of those who had been bullied in school. His reasoning? “Voltaire could humiliate a king to his face, yet he was so clever that he always got away with it.”  High praise indeed! With a comment like that, how could you not find out everything you could about this prolific writer, eminent historian and witty philosopher?

Voltaire was not always Voltaire. He was born the youngest of five children to a French lawyer/treasury official and christened François-Marie Arouet in 1694. His family referred to him as “Zozo.” After finishing his education at the College Louis-le-Grand, Voltaire moved to Paris and pretended to work as a lawyer to appease his father while all the while spending his time writing. His young adulthood seems to be riddled with these instances – the boy playing the disreputable and difficult son and the father stepping in to “save the day.” After his father discovered his initial trickery, he sent him to study law once more, this time in Normandy. After his father was able to get him a job with the French ambassador to the Netherlands, Arouet began an affair with a French prostitute that resulted in immense scandal… once more subjecting him to his father’s rule and ending with his imminent return to France.

voltaire1Now, Voltaire’s early life does not necessarily reflect my friends insistence that Voltaire “always got away with it.” As a matter of fact… he totally didn’t. Voltaire spent almost a year imprisoned in the Bastille for accusing a member of the royal family of incest with his daughter in a satirical poem (I mean… what exactly did he expect?). Seven months after his release in 1718, however, his play Oedipus debuted at the Comédie-Française in Paris a spectacular success. Not only did it land Voltaire on the literary map (for something other than scandal), but it also marked the first time he used his pen name – Voltaire, an anagram of the Latin spelling of his surname, AROVET LI (though there are several schools of thought for how Voltaire settled on “Voltaire”). Despite the importance of this name today, what is not necessarily commonly known is that throughout his lifetime Voltaire wrote under 178 different pen names.

If you’re wondering if you’re not sure you read that correctly I’ll say it again…178 pen names! That is a LOT of names! Let’s talk about how prolific Voltaire really was… for as you will easily learn Voltaire is to this day one of the most prolific writers that ever lived. After the success of Oedipus, Voltaire released two plays in 1720 and 1724 respectively, entitled Artemire and Mariamne – both considered flops today (and at the time as well – only fragments of Artemire exist today). However, an epic poem he was denied permission to publish about King Henry IV of France was a great success after Voltaire went to great lengths (traveling all the way back up to the Netherlands) to have published secretively. Soon after, Voltaire spent two years in England in exile – after challenging nobleman Rohan-Chabot to a duel and being imprisoned prematurely once again in the Bastille, Voltaire himself came up with the idea of his exile instead…

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Continued soon with The Views of Voltaire, Pt. II!

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To Neverland… and Beyond!

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Would you imagine that the person who wrote this somewhat jarring quote above also once wrote,

“‘Wendy,’ Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, ‘Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.’”?

Well you might be surprised to find out that indeed it was the very same author. J.M. Barrie was a man of many talents (not least of which being so obviously a feminist before his time)!

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James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9th, 1860, the ninth of ten children born to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver in Kirriemuir, Scotland. James had a happy childhood until he was 6, when his elder brother died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. His mother was confined to her bedroom for months on end, ill with grief. Barrie tried to cheer her up by dressing in David’s clothes and walking around as him. Though by doing so he scared his mother out of her wits, their relationship was eventually strengthened by it. For the next couple years, before James was sent away to school, he and his mother shared a love of literature – reading aloud works like Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Walter Scott. 

Throughout his youth Barrie remained a voracious reader – and even formed a drama group with his friends during his teenage years. He left school wanting to become an author, and despite pressure from his family to join the religious order, he was able to attend university and study literature! After graduating the University of Edinburgh he worked for over a year as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal, and then returned home to his mother in Kirriemuir and began writing her childhood stories into a series eventually named “Thrums”. The editor of the St. James’s Gazette in London liked the series so much that he commissioned and published these stories. Though now not Barrie’s most popular work, these stories made him a well-known figure in the literary world and allowed him to begin writing plays – as he wanted.

barrie5Barrie wrote several successful plays (and a couple flukes), but his third script brought him into contact with a young actress of the day – Mary Ansell – who would later, in 1894, become Barrie’s wife. For their union Barrie gifted Mary a St. Bernard puppy – who would become the inspiration for “Nana” in later years. They settled in London but kept a country home in Farnham, Surrey. In 1897 Barrie became acquainted with a nearby family – the Llewelyn Davies family.  Barrie spent most of his free time with the family – and despite this relationship being depicted in movies and tv these days, it was a bit different than we see! Barrie met the family when the father Arthur was still alive, and was there for the five sons through the death of their father and eventually their mother, prematurely. Around this time Barrie unfortunately found his 10-year marriage falling apart. Amid rumors that their marriage was never consummated, Barrie’s wife took a lover twenty years her junior – Gilbert Cannan – an acquaintance of Barrie’s through theatrical politics. Barrie and Ansell’s marriage ended in divorce, though Barrie continued to support Mary throughout her subsequent marriage to Cannan and for the rest of her life. 

barrie2Inspired largely by the stories he told to the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie began to formulate a story of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, who flew around and had adventures. Not unlike Charles Dodgson’s Alice a century before, Barrie began to write his story into a play and once debuted in 1904, the play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was an immediate success. George Bernard Shaw said of the performance, “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children, but really a play for grown-up people” – a wonderful description of the meanings and metaphors found in Peter Pan. Though children may see the adventure story on the outside, the adults in the audience could see what was really at play (pun intended) – Barrie’s social commentary on the adult’s fear of time and growing old and losing their childish innocence and fun, to name just a few.

After Sylvia’s death in  1910, she named Barrie as co-guardian of the boys, along with her mother. Barrie remained close to the boys all their lives (though tragically two of the elder sons died young and Barrie seemed to suffer the trauma of losing a child). In 1911 Barrie wrote the novel Peter and Wendy as a follow up to the play, and in 1929 he donated all the proceeds from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London – which the hospital still holds to this day. 

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Barrie continued to write several plays until his death in 1937 – though to hear the names of them, you wouldn’t think to associate them with the author of Peter Pan! Titles like Pantaloon (1905), Half an Hour (1913), A Kiss for Cinderella (1916), Shakespeare’s Legacy (1916), Mary Rose (1920), Cricket (1926), and The Boy David (1936) are some of the few that stand out, but are among dozens. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 77 from pneumonia in a London nursing home.

To the author of (arguably) the most beloved children’s story of all time (that wasn’t really intended for children), we have one thing to say to you on your birthday…

we hope that second star to the right is everything you imagined for all of us! 

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