Category Archives: History

Happy Birthday, Gabriel García Márquez!

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After his death in April 2014, the President of Colombia called this author “the greatest Colombian that ever lived.” Let’s find out why!

Author Gabriel García Márquez was born on March 6th, 1927 in the small Colombian town of Aracataca. His father, a pharmacist, and his mother left him to be raised by his maternal grandparents, before coming back to Aracataca for Gabriel and his brother when he was almost 10 years old. His maternal grandparents, his grandfather in terms of his liberal political beliefs and his grandmother’s belief in the supernatural, were very influential in Márquez’s upbringing, and so was, surprisingly, his parents romance before marriage. His father was not the ideal choice in his mother’s list of suitors, and yet he spent quite a bit of energy romancing her (window violinists, love letters, the whole nine yards) and eventually won both her and her family over. This story Gabriel would eventually, much later, adopt for his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. 

But, I get ahead of myself. First things first! After being reconciled with his parents at age 10 and moving to Sucre, Márquez became a shy and serious teenager, often found writing humorous poetry, to the delight of his family and friends! Though he was not very athletic as a child, after attending high school at Colegio jesuita San José he was awarded a scholarship to study in Bogotá. After graduating in 1947, Márquez stayed living in Bogotá to study law. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 8.05.52 PMHowever, Márquez’s passion lay in writing, despite continuing his law studies in order to please his father. That did not stop him from publishing his work, however. Having published poems throughout high school in his school journals and papers, La tercera resignación was his first published work as an adult, which appeared in the 13th of September, 1947 edition of the newspaper El Espectador. Coincidentally and luckily for Márquez,the assassination of Gaitán, in 1948 led his school to be closed indefinitely. Márquez began working as a reporter at El Universal and eventually moved on to write for El Heraldo. 

Márquez’s literary skills were honed in the 1950s, when he became part of a group of journalists and authors known as the Barranquilla Group – the Bloomsbury group of Bogotá, if you will. He became enthralled by the works of contemporary authors like Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner – and authors who mixed the every day with the extraordinary, like Franz Kafka. Throughout this time, Márquez continued working as a journalist, honing his literary skills. 

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In 1955, Márquez’s first novella Leaf Storm, was published after seven years of trying to find a publisher – somewhat shocking, considering the group he was a part of in Barranquilla. Later on, Márquez would remember Leaf Storm as his favorite of his works – insisting that it was his most spontaneous and most sincere work. It follows both a child and woman’s point of view of death in stream of consciousness style.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 7.54.19 PMIn 1967 Márquez finished 18 months of daily writing to publish his most critically successful work, and the one he would win the Nobel Prize for years later – One Hundred Years of Solitude. After achieving international fame for said work, Márquez spent the following years traveling the globe with his family, acting as a negotiation liaison for several political situations, and writing other works such as Autumn of the Patriarch, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (see our holding, a 1st Italian edition, here) and Love in the Time of Cholera. All of his works held a kind of “magical realism” – origins that one can trace back to his upbringing with his realistic grandfather and supernatural-believing grandmother. 

By 2005, Márquez was publishing significantly less, though still admitting to writing all the time. After suffering from lymphatic cancer (but going into remission), a few years later it was announced that he was suffering from dementia. In April 2014 he passed away from pneumonia in Mexico City – and his loss was felt by the entire world. 

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2018 is Not a Leap Year. That Being Said… Get ready for 2020!

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Sometimes, children ask ridiculous questions. I think everyone here has probably rolled their eyes at a bright and inquisitive child at least once, while answering questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do we have to wear pants?” (The latter of which I am still not sure of a legitimate answer to.) 

But there are a couple basic life questions that a child could ask me… and I would be unable to answer scientifically. Hence this blog. I would like to use this time to answer a question I have had since childhood and never bothered to truly research… until now. 

What is leap year and why on earth (pun intended) does it need to happen? And in that same vein… why did February get jipped at only 28 days (most of the time)? Ahh. All in good time, folks. All in good time. 

Leap year is defined as a calendar year with a single extra day in the mix, making a year of 366 days instead of 365. It is added to keep the calendar year synched up with the astronomical or seasonal year. What does that mean, exactly? Well, one full day on earth is the planet spinning around on its axis once. A year is how long it takes the earth to orbit the sun exactly once. Now the problem lies here – the earth actually orbits the sun 365.25 times – an “astronomical year.” Quite obviously, the .25 years accumulate and voilà! The stars threaten to drift out of sync with our calendar, so every four years we have one extra day laying around. 

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So how did we figure this all out? Ancient Egyptians actually discovered that it was 365.25 days by seeing the Sirius star drift out of sync first. However, much later (in 46 B.C.) Julius Caesar (with the help of an astronomer) discovered the same, and created the Julian Calendar with the leap year added. Today, a revised version of the Julian calendar called the Gregorian calendar (for Pope Gregory) is in use – leap years still hold true. However, every year that is divisible by 100 (1700, 1800 and 1900) will NOT be a leap year, even though they normally should be. Then again, every year divisible by 400 WILL be a leap year, even though it is also divisible by 100. Like the year 2000, which was a leap year, despite being divisible by 100. 

You still with me? (Good, because I almost lost me there for a second.)

So all of this science behind us, we now know WHY we use leap years – so that we stay in sync with the stars! But why February? Well, it actually used to be that August had 28 days! But when Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, he wanted his name month (Caesar Augustus) to be the full 31 days… so had it switched to February! 

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Now if only we could figure out why we still need to deal with daylight savings… 

(Stay tuned for THAT blog coming to a computer screen near you this November.) 


OTD in 1577, Sir Francis Drake Sets Sail from England on a Circumnavigation of the World


On this day exactly 440 years ago, an English nobleman named Francis Drake left on a mission that would take him three years and would win him a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth I of England. (I’m not entirely sure that people “win” those, but you know what I mean.) Now, Sir Francis Drake wasn’t always the historical explorer and hero we know him as today. Before he was chosen for the expedition that would win him his lordship, Drake was a pirate and slave trader. Woah!

Francis Drake was born in 1540 in Tavistock (that is NOT lost on us), Devon, England. He was the eldest of twelve sons, born to a farmer in Devon. Not much is known about his early life, as is pretty expected of someone living at that time. In 1549 the Drake family moved to Kent due to religious persecution, and Edmund Drake apprenticed his eldest son out to a neighbor – a captain of a large sailboat. This was Francis’ first introduction to the sea – and the neighbor was so pleased with Drake’s attitude and abilities that, being without children of his own, he gave the barque (a sailing vessel with three or more masts) to Drake when he died. Drake spent his twenties sailing to and from the Americas with his second cousin John Hawkins – the first known English slave trader.

drake1After a few adventures with his cousin, Drake spent much of the early 1570s living along the “Spanish Main” or the Panama Isthmus, attacking Spanish vessels and small settlements. During this time, fun fact, Drake climbed a tree on the Isthmus of Panama and looked out over the Pacific – being the first Englishman to ever behold the Pacific Ocean. Drake and his men eventually made it back to Plymouth, England, having captured much in Peruvian gold but having been forced to bury it along the way to avoid its recapture by the Spanish.

drake4In 1577, Elizabeth I sent Drake (because of his “success” with the Isthmus raids) on an expedition to sail along the Pacific coast of the Americas. After one false start due to bad weather, the crew set final sail on the 13th of December, 1577. Drake set out with five ships (which soon became 6) and 164 men. The crew made it around Cape Horn, and went alongside the coast of South America pillaging and looting Spanish towns and ships along the way. Drake restocked and rested his ships on the Coast of California for a time, and then continued on to the Molucca islands in what is now known as Indonesia. Eventually Drake rounded the Cape of Good Hope – the southernmost tip in Africa, and made his way back to Plymouth, having circumnavigated the globe and made it around two of the most treacherous sailing spots in the world (both Capes) in just under three years.

Upon Drake’s return to Plymouth, the half share of his pillaged cargo that was to be Queen Elizabeth’s actually exceeded all the other income the crown had that entire year. Hence the knighthood.


Drake became an active political member of the British aristocracy, being a member of Parliament on three occasions and even mayor of the coastal town of Plymouth from where he set sail. Drake led further attacks against the Spanish under the Queen’s command in the mid-1580s, and in 1588 he was vice-admiral to the English fleet that destroyed the Spanish Armada in a nightly attack. In 1596, on a voyage to capture San Juan (Puerto Rico), Drake failed to take the city, and after suffering terrible blows to his ship and crew, came down with dysentery and passed away onboard. Just goes to show you… doesn’t matter who you are you are still subject to the same perils that the lowest members of your crew are subject to! In any case, Drake is still remembered today for his bravery, amazing sea-faring abilities, and indefatigable hatred of the Spanish.

Just kidding!


We Have NOT Come to Suck Your Blood


What are the greatest parts about fall? The crisp smell of apples, the chill in the air, the colors of the leaves… and the somewhat spooky feeling all around us! Just kidding, that’s just near Halloween. But you must admit, there is something about this season that may inspire you to revisit some of Poe, of the gothic masters, or of our blog subject for today – Bram Stoker.

Stoker is, of course, best known for his novel Dracula - a tale of a blood-thirsty beast in love (classic), but who was he otherwise? Here are some facts that you probably didn’t know about this Irish author!

1. He was Irish. I realize I gave that away in the previous sentence, but still. Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847, and lived in the county of Dublin all his life, even attending Trinity College for his higher education. Though graduating with a degree in mathematics, he showed prominence in the humanities as the auditor of the College’s Historical Society and president of the University Philosophical Society.


2. Interested in theater from a young age, Stoker became a theater critic for the Dublin Evening Mail early on. After writing a favorable review of Henry Irving’s Hamlet, he was invited to London to become his new friend Irving’s theater business manager at the Lyceum Theater.

3. Bram Stoker’s wife Florence Balcombe was a previous suitor of Oscar Wilde. It may be strange for me to be so impressed by this, but nevertheless…


4. Stoker worked on several novels while managing the Lyceum, Dracula being one of his first. After its publication, the novel received quite a bit of literary and critical acclaim, but did not shoot him to fame, despite the fact that it is now a story known worldwide. There are over 200 films and over 1000 novels written about Dracula alone!

5. Most people assume that Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for the character of Dracula. However, recent scholarship suggests that, though Stoker may have borrowed the somewhat gothic and creepy name from the historical Romanian, he most likely based more of the facts on his own ancestor, Manus O’Donnell – or Manus the Magnificent – an Irish clan leader.

6. Complications and vagueness around Stokers death has sparked all kinds of discussion in his fans – some say he died from another stroke (after living several years after his first), others say syphilis. Even others say he is not dead at all… but still walks along the living! (Only at night, of course.)

Bonus fact: Through his friend and employer Henry Irving, Stoker met two US Presidents – William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Crazy!

This fall we invite you to grab a cup of tea, cozy up next to the fire, and pick up a scary classic… we promise you will thank us for it!



Happy Birthday to the Ever-Young Stephen Crane


At the tender age of 28, author Stephen Crane succumbed to tuberculosis and passed away at a German health spa. Despite his young age, Crane had accomplished what many take several decades of adulthood to achieve – fame, success, scandal, sickness and health. He lived a full life and was not afraid of standing up for himself and for others. Let’s learn a bit more about this famed American author, shall we?

crane5Crane was born on November 1st, 1871 in Newark, New Jersey, the 14th child (of only 8 surviving children) to a clergyman and daughter of a clergyman. Crane began writing at an early age, and when he was eight years old he wrote his first surviving poem – “I’d Rather Have A-” – a poem about wanting a dog for Christmas! One year later he began formal schooling and completed two grades within a six week period. Throughout Crane’s education he was a slightly erratic student, if intelligent and somewhat popular. This could be put down to the fact that by the time Crane was a teen, quite a few members of his family (his father and siblings) were dead – leading to a very different childhood than his classmates.

Crane was interested in baseball, the military, and writing. After enrolling in college under an engineering degree, he eventually left at the age of 20, declaring college a waste of time! He moved in with his older brother Edmund in New Jersey, but made frequent trips into The Bowery slums of New York City where he found human nature to be open and unaffected. He entered into a brief relationship with a married woman and wrote some controversial free-lance work on local events – beginning to make a name for himself solely out of scandal. In the next two years, after moving to New York, Crane worked on what would become his first novel, A Girl of the Streets (the Maggie would be added later). The novel about the girl who becomes a prostitute out of pitiable circumstances unfortunately needed to be self-published privately by Crane himself. He printed 1,100 copies and spent $869 to do so. Despite Maggie receiving praise for its truthful account of life in the slums, it did not garner the enthusiasm or scandal that Crane hoped for and he ended up giving away the last hundred copies for free. 

stephen crane 3In 1893 Crane became frustrated with stories written about the Civil War, stating “I wonder that some of those fellows don’t tell how they felt in those scraps. They spout enough of what they did, but they’re as emotionless as rocks.” Crane decided to write an account of a soldier in the war, and began work on what would become The Red Badge of Courage, Crane’s most beloved work to date. His story would be different from his contemporaries – for he wanted desperately to present a “psychological portrayal of fear” by describing a young man disillusioned by the harsh truths of war. He succeeded and a year later his novel began to be published in serial form by the Bacheller-Johnson Newspaper Syndicate. It was heavily edited for publication in the serial, though it did begin to cause a stir in its readers. Crane then worked on a book of poetry, which was published to large amounts of criticism due to his use of free verse, not then a common convention. Crane was not bothered by its unpopular reception – he was instead quite pleased that the book made “some stir” and caused a reaction of any sort. In 1895 Appleton published The Red Badge of Courage, the full chapters, in book form – and Crane became a household name overnight. The book was in the “top six on various bestseller lists around the country” for months after its publication. It even became popular abroad and was widely read in Great Britain as well. Crane was only 23 years old at the start of his fame. 

At 24, Crane was involved in a scandal that shaped his reputation for life. While accompanying two young ladies home in the evening, one of the ladies was arrested by an undercover policeman on charges of attempted prostitution. The woman was charged and Crane remained adamant that the ladies he was with were innocent – leading the world to remark on his Courage at standing by the alleged prostitute. The praise for Crane quickly turned sour, however, when the arrested lady pressed charges against the policeman that solicited her and Crane was called on to be a witness. Police of New York wrecked havoc on Crane’s life when he was targeted by the Defense – they sought to portray him as immoral and a frequent visitor of brothels and drug addicted – Crane’s courageous reputation was stripped quite quickly. Crane escaped to Cuba to work as a war correspondent at the age of 25. While awaiting his trip to Cuba in Jacksonville, Florida, Crane met the slightly older brothel owner Cora Taylor and began a relationship with her. However, after a few months Crane was granted travel to Cuba on the SS Commodore and he left Cora to travel. After only 2 days on the Commodore, the ship struck ground twice and began to sink. Crane and other men on the vessel boarded a 10-foot dinghy and attempted for days to land the boat on Daytona Beach. The waves were large and the boat eventually overturned and the men swam to shore. Cora traveled to Daytona to bring the weary Crane back, and eventually Crane would recount the event in his famous story “The Open Boat”, published in 1897. 

stephen crane 1Crane became a war correspondent alongside Taylor in the Greek-Turkish War of 1897, and then the Spanish-American War in 1898. Unfortunately for Crane this year was the beginning of the end, as his health worsened and none of his work ever sold as well as The Red Badge of Courage. He was a few thousand dollars in debt and worked writing feverishly to try to support both him and Taylor, who was living in England. He moved to England in January of 1899, writing for literary magazines there, but his health rapidly declined and by June of 1900 he was in a health spa in Germany, dictating his work to Taylor. He passed away from tuberculosis the same month, and left all of his work and livelihood to Taylor. Despite dying at such a young age, Crane, whose work was re-birthed in the 1980s after suffering a spell of unpopularity, is now taught in high schools across the country, as his most famous work is recognized as a highly naturalistic and realistic view of war through the eyes of a young American. Happy Birthday to Stephen Crane! 


(SPOILER ALERT) Antiquarian Nursing Material Isn’t Just for Nurses

We recently wrote a short and sweet blog post on “Why You Should Be Collecting Antiquarian Cookery.” Now, we do enjoy getting Cookery items in and we do have quite a bit of knowledge around them, but technically speaking, cookery is not one of our ‘specialties’. However… Nursing is. We often have customers exclaim surprise at our little-known specialty, followed by a slightly confused look as to why we might carry such things. You yourself might be wondering how many nurses are also antiquarian book collectors. We must confess that we do not know those numbers. (However, if you know those numbers, please feel free to share.) So for this week’s blog post we thought we would share why you don’t have to be a nurse to collect antiquarian nursing material!

Before you remind us, yes, Vic began collecting nursing material because his wife, Ellen, was a head nurse! So yes, occasionally there are nurses involved. Just thought we would get that over with before we get any “Wait up, we know that Ellen was involved in that field…” emails. However, Vic knowingly went into the field, as he realized that there weren’t many out there specializing particularly in nursing material over a more generalized medical genre.

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Although the U.S. Army Medical Department was one of the slowest to integrate women, when over 5,000 of its combat-ready men — including many trained technicians and orderlies — were forced to transfer to the Infantry in early 1944, the department began a major push to recruit women to fill the positions. The Female Medical Technician campaign, as pictured here, was hugely successful. See this Fine condition WWII poster here.

Nursing material tells us about just as much of history as other items in the medical field. Nurses were often called upon to step in and help in times of war and devastation, and, in some instances, were in even higher demand than doctors. Antiquarian nursing material often teaches the reader (albeit briefly) the best ways to care for wounds, different illness, and even mental “defects”. They are particularly interesting as, despite what western medicine looks like today, many antiquarian nursing items were published before the heavy use of medication. Nursing materials can teach how to care to the sick without Advil – which many would argue is more important than knowing how to hand over a pill!

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Check out this 1804 1st US edition of FRIENDLY CAUTIONS To The HEADS Of FAMILIES And OTHERS, Very Necessary to be Observed in Order to PERSERVE HEALTH And LONG LIFE: with Ample Directions to NURSES WHO ATTEND The SICK” – a manual for nurses from over two centuries ago! See it here.

Antiquarian nursing items are therefore of interest to any of those looking to see cultural and scientific differences in levels and quality of medical care over the past two hundred years. It is also interesting to use the materials to see how nurses were trained, what they were trained in, and what they were called on to do. Now if you don’t find that interesting, then we don’t know what else to tell you!

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Check out this 1868 1st edition of “On Nurses and Nursing by Dr. Horatio Storer – a leading physician in the 19th century who, in 1857, started the “physicians’ crusade against abortion” both in Massachusetts and nationally, and persuaded the American Medical Association to form a Committee on Criminal Abortion. The Committee Report was presented at the AMA meeting in Louisville, Kentucky in 1859 and accepted by the Association. Woah! Check it out here.


“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

We don’t often report on modern literature here at Tavistock Books, as that is not our speciality! However, you may have noticed that we occasionally like to branch out and discuss authors – specialty or not – in honor of their birth or death anniversary. We are happy to report to you good, book-fearing folk, that todays is a birth anniversary! Yay! We are not so pleased to report that book-fearing folk you really should be… since his work has been terrifying people since 1967. Be afraid… be very afraid.

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Stephen Edwin King was born on September 21st, 1947 in Portland, Maine. His father, stepping out for a pack of cigarettes when King was only two years old, never returned and King’s mother raised him and his brother on her own for the rest of his youth. King showed an early interest in the genre of horror, writing while still in school – winning himself a Scholastic Art and Writing Award and being published in different fanzines, such as “Stories of Suspense”, before the age of 20. King’s daughter was born the year he graduated from the University of Maine in 1970. Though he initially wished to teach high school, he was unable to find an immediate job and instead supplemented his income by selling stories to men’s magazines. Throughout this time, King nursed an alcohol dependency that would torment him for many years. 

In 1973, just three years out of University, King’s first novel, Carrie, was published. Fun fact: it is rumored that King initially found it so difficult to write about a teenage girl with psychic abilities that he threw out his original drafts! His wife, Tabitha (whom he is married to to this day), brought it back to him and almost forced him to finish it! His first advance on the novel got him $2,500. Imagine that, with how popular Carrie has remained over the years? Unfathomable!

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 9.39.39 PMKing then had his novel The Shining published in 1977, and The Stand in 1978. In the late 1970s King began a series, eventually known as The Dark Tower, a series which would span the next four decades of King’s life finally ending in 2004. In 1980 King’s novel Firestarter was published, and in 1983 his novel Christine was published – both by the large and well-known publisher Viking. He tried his hand at working on comic books, writing a bit for the X-men series Heroes for Hope in 1985. King published under several pseudonyms for various reasons (now keep a lookout for these names, you hear?) including Richard Bachman (after Bachman-Turner Overdrive), John Swithen (a character out of Carrie) and Beryl Evans (which King used to publish the book Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the World of the Dark Tower). Though he has written many, many works over the years (54 novels, 6 non-fiction books and 200 short stories, to put it bluntly), some of the more popular stories whose names you might recognize (due to their being transferred to the big screen or otherwise) are Children of the Corn (1977), Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redepmtion (1982), Misery (1987), The Man in the Black Suit (1994), The Green Mile (1996), Bag of Bones (1998), and his memoir On Writing (2000). And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the volume of work King has produced over the past many decades.


He has been heralded as both the most beloved horror and supernatural fiction author in the genre and also mocked for his writing as “pop” and not “serious” literature. Despite how you may view the genre, you must admit – the man has done more for those genres than many of his contemporaries! Give him some respect! (Especially on his birthday. And especially because if you don’t IT may come after you… Best play it safe, no?)