Category Archives: History

OTD in 1960… Lawrence-1, Censorship-0!

NOTE: Please understand that this blog contains heavy subject matter and foul language. You’ve been warned. 

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Censorship. A hated word in the bibliophile community. The very definition of the word seems off. Too… all encompassing. 

Censorship is defined as: “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” Well now, from my own experience I can tell you that anything you write, anything you film, and anything you publish – it can and most likely will be offensive to someone. Someone, somewhere, will read your sentences with disdain. It is inevitable. It is why we have free speech. It is why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (including blogs). Censorship has won so many times over the centuries. How lucky we are to live in a country and be a generation that incorporates free speech and acceptance into our daily lives. If censorship was still at large, we would not be able to search anything we please on Youtube. We would be reading only what a small group of people we don’t know would be allowing us to read. Our President would not be allowed to post his every thought on Twitter.

Okay wait, perhaps censorship does have a silver lining.

My point is – by and large – a world without censorship (as it has been known) is far superior to a world lived in the dark. On this day in 1960, censorship truly lost an epic battle in London. D. H. Lawrence, Penguin Books, Lady Chatterley and literature won, despite the fact that Lawrence was no longer around to enjoy his success. In one day, Penguin sold 200,000 copies of the title that had been banned since 1928. Over the next few months, over 3 million copies went home with their newly adoring owners. So what did the trial in 1960 truly do? As Geoffrey Robertson for the Guardian states, “No other jury verdict in British history has had such a deep social impact.” Let’s find out why.

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Lady Chatterley’s Lover was privately printed for the first time in Florence in 1928. Due to illegal copying of the book, Lawrence arranged for a more legitimate publication of the book the following year in Paris. The British government immediately recognized its “disturbing” subject matter and the offensive language contained in the book – the opening prosecuting speech during the 1960 trial stated that “The word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ appears no less than 30 times… ‘Cunt’ 14 times; ‘balls’ 13 times; ‘shit’ and ‘arse’ six times apiece; ‘cock’ four times; ‘piss’ three times, and so on.” Now, if you ask me… that’s just a list of dirty words. Perhaps the prosecution should have been censored, no? At least Lady Chatterley’s Lover had plot descriptions surrounding these words. In any case, Britain had spent the previous 30 years putting energy into keeping the book out of the country. So how did Penguin books win this battle in 1960?

chatterleyThe defense was aided in part due to the previous year’s 1959 Obscene Publications Act, which Parliament passed saying that in order for censorship to take place, the work in question would need to be considered as a whole – without singular focus on the dirtier bits. The prosecution did not fare well anyway, as, despite a conservative following not wishing to see the book in print and in the hands of anyone, lawyer Mervyn Griffith-Jones called no witnesses to support his argument (as no one agreed to stand for the prosecution) and merely suggested that the book had no literary merit. The defense, led by Gerald Gardiner (who would a mere four years later become Labour Lord Chancellor), had rather a different angle. He stated that the book did have merit, that Lawrence wasn’t simply writing smut, but attacking the “impersonality of the industrial age and loss of personal relationships… he was extolling the life-giving importance of romantic and sexual intimacy” (The Telegraph). Gardiner called 35 witnesses to his side – big wigs in academia and literary worlds. He even had a Bishop – the Bishop of Woolwich, who wrote that, though Lawrence was not a Christian himself, he was “portraying the act of sex as something valuable and sacred – as an act of communion” – he went so far as to say that Christians could easily read this title. 

Let’s face it… Griffith-Jones did not stand a chance. 

The trial began on October 20th, 1960 in the Old Bailey’s Court No. 1. The jury held nine men and three women, and though the judge offered the defense to remove the women from the jury and the court, Gardiner refused and wished the women to stay. The entire trial lasted only 13 days (ending on November 2nd), and deliberation lasted only 3 hours. Penguin Books and Lady Chatterley’s Lover came out on top. Fifteen minutes after Penguin Books was found not guilty, Foyle’s bookshop in London had taken in orders for over 3,000 copies. On November 10th, 200,000 copies sold. As the Telegraph muses, “The result of the trial was an instant liberalization of attitudes toward publishable material. But its impact went much further. It started the process of breaking down taboos around sex – a movement that would culminate in the sexual liberation of the 1970s – and it changed the stuffy and outdated prism through which the class system was viewed” (The Telegraph). 

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and we are so glad that we have the ability to report on this case, and celebrate the fact that due to this novel, due to this trial, we all live in a more liberated and free world. 

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We All Have Those Days…

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November 1st is always a weird day for me. Halloween is a big day in my family, and truthfully, with it being the last day of the month, I always wake up confused that November is suddenly upon us! I make strange decisions. I forget to take down decorations, I don’t realize that my Dia de los Muertos makeup is still all over my face. I guess you could say I feel… dazed. Confused. Bewildered. 

That being said, I would like to point out that as strange and disconcerting as certain of my choices on November 1sts have been, they pale in comparison to a choice made by one Thomas Cadell (the Younger), on this very day, many, many years ago. 221 years ago, to be exact. In 1797, Thomas Cadell made a decision that (one hopes) he regretted sincerely later on in life. He turned down a romance novel manuscript written by an unknown 21 year old woman and sent in by her father, George Austen.

He turned down First Impressions – what would later become Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

NPG D11248,Thomas Cadell the Elder,by; after Henry Hoppner Meyer; Sir William Beechey

Thomas Cadell the Elder

Despite this sad choice, the Cadell name wasn’t a waste of nothingness in the world of London publishing. Long before this incident, Thomas Cadell (the Elder) was apprenticed in 1758 for 105 GBP to London bookseller and publisher Andrew Millar, whom he partnered with in 1765 after a seven year apprenticeship. He published works by Edward Gibbon, Henry Mackenzie, Robert Burns, William Blackstone, David Hume, Tobias Smollett, and Samuel Johnson. As a matter of fact, Cadell was close enough to Johnson to have been part of the group of booksellers and friends who convinced Johnson to write his famous Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. He also partnered with publishers William & Andrew Strahan to publish Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775. Cadell was apparently very well liked among the bookselling and publishing communities, and in 1793 he passed his business on to his son and namesake, Thomas Cadell (Jr.). Not as much is known about Thomas Cadell (Jr.), though he did publish (along with his father’s apprentice whom he partnered with to create Cadell & Davies Publishing, William Davies) James Boswell’s Life of Johnson in 1791, and continued publishing until his death in 1836.

But you know… in 1797 he refused Pride and Prejudice and sent back George Austen’s letter, declining it “by return of post”.

Just remember that the next time you could kick yourself for making a silly mistake.

Happy 1st of November!

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Happy Birthday to Gore Vidal – the Most Combative Man in History

A part of me thinks that a name like Gore Vidal belongs in the company of Perez Prado and Carmen Miranda. I know how that sounds, but honestly – to me, the name is power embodied. As many know, and as Chris Bram most notably stated, “Gore Vidal was famous for his hates: academia, presidents, whole portions of the American public and, most notably, Truman Capote. Yet he could be incredibly generous to other writer friends… He was a man of many facets and endless contradictions.” Let’s look at some quick facts about this notorious American figure on what would have been his 93rd birthday. 

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1. His first novel was published in 1948 when he was a mere 22 years old (show of hands for which of us feel like we have accomplished nothing with our lives?), and won him instant notoriety. The City and the Pillar broke so many boundaries people didn’t know where to start… it depicted a male homosexual relationship at a time when homosexuality was still illegal throughout the United States.

2. Along these lines, Vidal believed that homosexuality and heterosexuality were adjectives, not nouns. Therefore someone could not BE a homosexual, they could simply perform homosexual acts. He believed that human sexuality existed on a sliding scale, and everyone was at least a little bisexual – even if it only meant that you could appreciate the beauty of a member of your own sex! He is now considered the godfather of gay literature, though he did not wish to be simply known as a gay author when he was writing, as he had views on all aspects of life that he wished to share.

3. Getting off the subject of sex, Vidal was also a master of upheaval in politics, and published many essays that would offend the conservative side of America. His historical novel Julian, published in 1964, relived the time of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate and how he used the idea of religious tolerance in Christian times to reinstate polytheistic paganism.

vidal14. We think this quote by Vidal needs no explanation (but everyone please remember that this is Vidal’s quote – not necessarily ours): “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.” Ouch!

5. He fought with… everyone. Most famously, though, as mentioned above in the quote by Bram, he fought with Truman Capote and William F. Buckley Jr.. With Capote, they fought over Capote supposedly spreading slander about drunk and disorderly behavior by Vidal in the White House. Untrue, Vidal took grave offense to these rumors and both traded hateful barbs. The Buckley feud a bit more intense, with actual lawsuits coming forth for libel and cruelty, Vidal said in 2008 after Buckley passed away, “I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.”

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Jeesh! Now here’s the thing… Vidal did a lot of things for the wrong reasons, and a lot of things… because he had thoughts and feelings and wanted to express them. However, hate him (which someone like him would probably appreciate, not going to lie) or love him – you have to admit… he was a pretty worthy opponent.

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OTD in 1891…

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Moby-Dick is, undeniably, a classic American novel. But did you know that at the time of its publication it was considered a total flop? In fact, Melville’s prior novels (which some of you may never have even heard of) did much, much better in American critical literary society than Moby-Dick. Readers could not see past the complexity of the novel – they were expecting an adventure tale and what they got was “obscure literary symbolism.” I always find it humorous (though I am sure it wasn’t humorous to Melville) when a work that is today considered of the highest class was at the time frowned upon. The old Picasso problem, right? At least due to these instances we understand what genius looks like at the beginning, no?

melville4Herman Melvill (yes, that spelling is correct) was born in August of 1819 in New York City. He was the third of eight children born to a merchant and his wife. Though his parents have been described as loving and devoted, his father Allan’s money woes left much to be desired. Allan borrowed and spent well beyond his means, and after contracting what researchers imagine as pneumonia on a trip back to Albany from New York City, he abruptly passed away when Herman was merely 13 years old. Herman’s schooling ended as abruptly as his father’s life, and he was given a job as a clerk in the fur trade (his father’s business) by his uncle. Sometime around this time, Herman’s mother changed the spelling of their last name by adding an “e” to the end. History is still unsure as to why she would have done this – to sound more sophisticated, to hide from debt collectors… we may never know! But that simple “e” will live on forever, that is for sure.

melville3In May of 1831 Melville signed up as a “boy” (a newbie, for all intents and purposes) on a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, and went from New York to Liverpool and back. That experience successful (and what with a longstanding obsession with the true story of the search for the white sperm whale called Mocha Dick), he decided to join the Acushnet for a whaling voyage in 1841. After a few months on board, Melville decided to jump ship with another deckhand in the Marquesas Islands after several reported disagreements with the captain of the ship. Expecting to come across cannibalistic natives, Melville was (unsurprisingly) pleased to find out that the natives were accommodating and friendly – a fact which he would later address in his 1845 novel Typee – semi-autobiographical in nature as it was based on his stay in the islands. Melville then experienced island and country hopping to an extreme degree, after boarding a boat from the Marquesas to Australia then continuing on whaling and merchant vessels visiting Tahiti, Oahu, Rio de Janeiro and Lima, Peru – among others. Eventually, Melville ended up back in Boston, Massachusetts.

Between the years 1845 and 1850, Melville experienced substantial success as a writer. His first novel Typee performed well in both public and critical arenas, and its sequel Omoo (also based on his time in the islands) performed almost equally as well. During these years Melville won the hand of Elizabeth Shaw in marriage, which throughout the years would give him four children – two sons and two daughters (though only the daughters would live to adulthood). Melville followed Omoo with novels Redburn and White-Jacket – both successful enough in their own right to afford Melville the opportunity to buy his beloved home Arrowhead in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was an inspirational setting for his writing. It was here that he wrote Moby-Dick, or The Whale – which started as a simpler story on a fictional whaling event and eventually (with the aid of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had recently enjoyed success with his novel The Scarlet Letter) turned into the allegorical novel it came to be. As a matter of fact, Melville dedicated what is now considered his most enduring work but became the flop that threatened to break his bank account to this friend and colleague.

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After the unfortunate reception of Moby-Dick – it seemed a bit too far-fetched in style and meaning for its audience – Melville was forced to sell his home in Pittsfield to his brother and move his family back to New York City, where he took up work as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service. Though his writing took much of a backseat at this time (roughly 1857 to the late 1870s), Melville continued to write poetry throughout his lifetime, up until his death from cardiac arrest on September 28th, 1891, when he was 72 years old. His last work Billy Budd he had stopped working on in 1888, but was found accidentally and published posthumously in 1891 – and today holds great esteem as yet another wonderful work by a misunderstood great American novelist. Today, 127 years to the day of Melville’s death, we are glad to have a chance to study and appreciate his work today. And if you haven’t yet read Typee – we greatly recommend it!

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Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut are Two Different People

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Embarrassingly enough (because when should you admit things of that nature except online, in front of strangers?), I spent a few of my formative years confusing authors Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. I thought the same prolific man wrote all of their stories! Obviously I was quickly apprised of the real situation (and excruciating difference in genres) and had to immediately stop telling people how much I enjoyed Bradbury’s Slaughterhouse-Five. (I was 14, okay??). I wised up. These many years later I am revisiting my childhood trauma – I mean “experience” – and updating my knowledge on Ray Bradbury on his birthday!

ray10Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920, in rural Illinois. In 1932 at the age of twelve, Bradbury had a somewhat extraordinary experience with a traveling magician known as Mr. Electrico – who touched him on the nose and exclaimed “live forever!” – to which Bradbury took in the best way possible – his literature (which he began writing only days after this experience) will live forever. A couple short years later, the Bradbury family relocated to Los Angeles, where he was able to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction league as a teenager, and counted authors such as Robert Heinlein and Henry Kuttner among his mentors.

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ray8At the age of 19 his literary career began getting even more serious – and he honed with fantastical science fiction writing style by publishing his own fanzine, called Futuria Fantasia, and traveling to the first World Science Fiction convention, held in 1939 in New York City. His short stories began to be published in Science Fiction magazines such as Weird Tales and Super Science Stories. In the 1940s, Bradbury began to be published in high-end literary and social magazines like Harper’s, the American MercuryCollier’s and The New Yorker - not typical for most science fiction writers. And to do it without losing sight of your style and genre – almost unheard of! Bradbury published short stories, series’, and novels over the coming years. In 1953 his novel Fahrenheit 451 hit the shelves – and is now regarded as one of his greatest works. It follows a futuristic world where censorship is in full force and follows the seduction of one firefighter through the world of literature. Fahrenheit 451 was closely followed by his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, where the story inspiration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was found. He followed up his works with more and more short stories, and more novels, until his later life, when he elected to turn more often towards poetry, drama and mysteries – including adapting his stories for the big screen. Despite being considered a primarily science fiction writer, Bradbury often considered his works more in the fantasy, horror and mystery genres – that he did not stay true to science fiction themes, with the exception of his novel Fahrenheit 451.

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Bradbury dated and married only one woman throughout his life – a lady named Marguerite McClure, whom he married at the age of 27 and remained married to until her death 56 years later. The couple had four daughters. Bradbury himself lived to the ripe age of 91, when he died in 2012 after a lengthy illness. His personal library was left to the public library in his small Illinois hometown – where so much of his inspiration came from.

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And now, for some book-related history!

There comes a time in every bibliophile’s life when you have to sit back, relax… and read an online blog instructing you on the history of books! Not all books are created equal (this is where you should start taking notes). Some books are newer than others, some books are flimsier than others. Some are made of pigs skin, some of human skin. (But not that many, thank god). Some are so delicate that to touch them is to risk their disintegration. And some changed the way books were bought, read, and used by the world. We speak, of course, of the modern paperback novel – on today, its 83rd birthday. 

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A paperback is defined as being a book between stiff sheets of paper or paperboard, held together by glue (more often than by stitching or staples, as would be more likely to be found on paperbound pamphlets or booklets). Though paperbound works existed long before in forms of pamphlets and yellowback copies of existing works or dime novels, the modern paperback as we know it was only recognized in 1935, when the UK’s Penguin Books released their first paperback title, André Maurois’ Ariel. Now, credit where credit is due… Penguin Books actually took over design elements initially brought forth by Germany’s Albatross Books and their paperbound book idea in 1931 (cut short by the rapidly approaching onset of WWII). 

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK's Penguin Books.

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK’s Penguin Books.

The paperback revolution, as it is sometimes called, was something bordering on the revolution that the printing press made upon its release in the world. Penguin Books offering the first selections in English, published ten titles (all reprints of existing works, of course) in a relatively short period of time. British publisher Allen Lane, who invested large amounts of capital in Penguin Books for the publication of these paperbacks, ordered 20,000 copy runs for the first titles – keeping costs low. (According to history, as long as Penguin sold at least 17,000 titles of a run, they would break even – which they did – by a long run.) The books ran cheaper than a dozen cigarettes at the time – more than affordable to the average citizen. Though at the initial onset paperbacks were considered trash by booksellers of the day, once British department store Woolworths agreed to carry the novels and they sold unimaginably well, booksellers soon changed their tune.

After all, within the first year of existence, Penguin Books had sold over 3 million copies of their titles. 

(We are only human, you know…)

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America’s Simon & Schuster began their own line of “Pocket Books”

Penguin Books were a godsend during World War II. They were small enough to be carried in the pockets of soldiers, and brought more joy to the men on the battlefield than much else available in those days. Penguin Books was not alone for long, however. Simon & Schuster was part of the initial run of the American Pocket Books label, and soon “Pocket Book” and “Paper Back” became synonymous for small, paperback books, affordable to the public. In France they began to call the books livre de poche – pocket book. No matter where you turned, paperbacks had changed civilization in the western world as we knew it. 

With the advent of the e-book, one has to ask – where do we see paperbacks in the future? Surely they still serve the same services they once did – the ability to read on the go, carry a title around with you with less weight and at a lower cost. The antiquarian book world is an interesting place – we feel a bit removed from the new advances in book reading technology. If anything, with more and more e-book reading and online activity, books should become even more collectible and valued. But what of the mass-market paperbacks that are being made every day?

Send us or comment your thoughts! 

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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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