Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

What We Can Learn from Evelyn Waugh’s “Scott-King’s Modern Europe”

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When you think of the name Evelyn Waugh, titles like Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust probably come to mind. Waugh, an author known for his biting satire and meticulously written prose, was a prolific author of the 20th century. His novella “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” is a classic example of Waugh’s satirical work – complete with profound insights into (unfortunate) cultural decline, the crumbling of “traditional” values, and the occasional absurdity of modern life. Despite its brevity (the work is only 88 pages), this novella is an almost perfect example of Waugh’s trademark wit and language while offering sharp social commentary.

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Set in post-World War II Europe, “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” follows (lo-and-behold) the character of Mr. Scott-King, a classics professor at an English public school, as he sets off on a cultural exchange program to the fictional European state of the “Modern European Republic”. At the beginning of the story, Scott-King shows reluctance to participate fully in the trip, feeling a dedication to preserving the traditions and manners of classical education in a progressively more and more modern, utilitarian world. However, as time passes and as Mr. Scott-King sees absurd bureaucratic nonsense and the inanity of this “Modern European Republic”, he finds himself staring straight into the harsh (yet at times comical) realities of the cultural and moral decline of his world.

Central in the novella is Waugh’s rather scathing critique of modernity and its impact on education, culture, and society in general. Comparing the polar opposites of the world of classical academia and the fairly soulless modern functional bureaucracy, Waugh found a way to reveal the occasionally empty promises of progress and pragmatism. The protagonist’s extreme commitment to the concepts of a classical education and tradition seem to be a rather uncomfortable reminder to value knowledge, tradition and manners in an age obsessed with the superficial, with expediency and convenience. Sound familiar to anyone else? Seems like a reminder we could all use today. And this was written in 1947… clearly it’s an enduring problem!

Throughout the book, Waugh’s writing is full of subtle irony and dark humor – classic hallmarks of his satires. The novella might be short, but don’t let that fool you. Waugh deftly handles themes of identity and disillusionment, not to mention the human battle between our idealistic and realistic feelings and desires. Mr. Scott-King himself is something of a tragicomic character, with a hint of the absurd yet heroic in his own way. He sticks to his principles, even to the detriment of his relationships with those around him. While coming across as a bit of a “stick-in-the-mud”, he also isn’t necessarily wrong in his breakdown of a modern, unfeeling society. 

Despite being published almost eight decades ago, Waugh’s work remains almost remarkably relevant in his critique of contemporary society. Here in the 21st century, we struggle with similar issues! Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Waugh’s commentary and incorporate more traditions and values into our modern society.

Check out our 1st edition copy here!

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“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”: An In-Depth Look at Winnie-the-Pooh’s Author A. A. Milne on the Anniversary of His Death

In the enchanted world of children’s literature, a few household names stand out to the average reader. Not many of them evoke the same sense of nostalgia and peace in us as A. A. Milne – the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. On this the anniversary of his death, we wanted to take a look at what made Pooh, the endearing inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, and A. A. Milne unique, and how he crafted stories that continue to this day to captivate generations both young and old. 

Born on January 18, 1882, Alan Alexander Milne lived a relatively peaceful childhood. He was brought up in London, attended the small independent school his father ran (fun fact: at one point H.G. Wells was one of Milne’s teachers!), and then went on to the Westminster School and to Trinity College, Cambridge where he received a B.A. in Mathematics. He was a talented cricket player and played on a couple different teams, one of which was the Allahakbarries, Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie’s cricket team (along with teammates such as Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse). To say that Milne was privileged and knew all the right people to join the literary scene was an understatement!


After his graduation, Milne wrote humorous essays and articles for Punch magazine. While working for Punch, he published 18 plays and three novels, all of which were well received (even if they did not achieve the literary acclaim that Pooh did, years later). In 1913 he married, and in 1920 his son, Christopher Robin, was born. Milne served in both WWI and later WWII, and considered himself a very proud Englishman. 

After a successful career as a playwright and humorist, Milne turned to his son Christopher Robin for inspiration in his next work. Not yet called “Pooh”, Christopher Robin’s bear first appeared in Milne’s poem “Teddy Bear” in Punch magazine in 1924. He then appeared on Christmas Eve in 1925, in the London Evening News in a short story. Winnie-the-Pooh, however, made headlines in the first book about him, published in 1926, when Christopher Robin was six years old. Two years later, Milne published The House at Pooh Corner, the second book set in the Hundred Acre Wood. Throughout this time, Milne continued working on other things, and even published four plays in these “Pooh” years. 

Both Milne and Christopher Robin’s relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh was strained. During his childhood years, they enjoyed a close personal relationship. However, soon A. A. Milne found himself disappointed that his childish work was overshadowing the multitude of other works he had created over the years. He hated the constant demand for more Pooh stories, and he wished to be taken more seriously as an author than he felt he was. On Christopher Robin’s part, he was relentlessly bullied at school for being the Christopher Robin, and ended up resenting his father for trapping him forever in association with the popular children’s story. We like to think that this bit of Pooh’s history reminds us that art and life aren’t always two completely separate things. 

That being said, how has Pooh pulled on our heartstrings the way he has, for almost a hundred years now? We believe that the simplicity and innocence of the Hundred Acre Wood, which is an idyllic place in and of itself, serves as a safe refuge for us, even in our imaginations. The gentle humor and (often pretty profound) wisdom of the books invites all ages to enjoy them. Pooh himself reminds us of the joy of simple pleasures – from a jar full of honey to a day out with a good friend. 

As we celebrate the life and legacy of A. A. Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh, we are reminded in an often chaotic and uncertain world to cherish moments of joy, embrace our sense of childish wonder, and hold fast to our friendships – for these are the things that will sustain us through rough times. 

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5 (Easy) New Years Resolutions for Those Who Love Reading

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As the year 2024 begins, and many of us find ourselves trying to decide if this is finally the year that we are going to establish the perfect morning routine, devote our time to charity work or actually join that gym that stares us down on our way home every day, we think it’s time to take a step back and form more realistic (not to mention more calming) New Years Resolutions. So instead of buckling up to hear what society believes you ought to be doing, pour yourself a tea or a glass of wine, and let’s discuss how we can make 2024 a comfy cozy reading year instead. 

1. For the love of whatever you believe in, put your phones down! All our phones seem to do these days is remind us of everything we don’t have and aren’t doing with our lives. I know it’s the toughest ask (which is why we put it first), but if we all were to take a little break from our excessive scrolling, perhaps we’d finally tackle that overly large to-be-read pile next to our beds, and feel better about ourselves before we fall asleep. The only understandable part would be if you’re an e-reader and read books on your phones. That being said, most e-readers are probably not reading our antiquarian bookstore blog!

2. Start a book club. I know, I know, I know… don’t get your pants in a twist. I don’t mean one where you are hosting ten friends once a month and having to set up an instagrammable charcuterie board (which you won’t be doing, because of the break from social media, right?). For all we care, set up the book club with your dog. Your sister. Your partner. It doesn’t have to be an endeavor to be valid! Even just setting aside one night a month to solely discuss a book with your partner or friend at dinner works! Perhaps it will keep you both accountable for reading, even if it is one chapter at a time.

3. Mix it up! Expand your horizons. You may not be a big poetry person… or perhaps you just haven’t found the right poet to read, yet! Pick one book this year that is out of your comfort zone, not something you typically find interesting. And try it. Perhaps it will remind you why you detest sci-fi thrillers. Perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Do your research and find a book whose subject matter doesn’t make you want to throw it out of a window right off the bat and try something new. No matter how it ends up, you’ll be glad you did. (Or you’ll send us an angry email. Which, to be honest, might be kind of cathartic and you’ll thank us all the same!)

4. Try a blind book draw. A new fad which we’re sure many of you have seen, is where the covers of books (which do influence us, make no mistake) in bookstores and the like are actually wrapped up, with only a description of the plot to nab our attention. Try it! You don’t even need a bookstore to do so. Grab a book-loving friend, privately pick out some titles for each other, and only tell the choosing person the different plots in your own words. Buy or send the books you each choose to each other!

5. Last but not least… just read. Even if it’s one page a day, one page a week. Don’t get caught up in our crazy world so much that you lose the time, ability or interest in reading. Keep your brain active with a book – not just a news headline. You’ll thank us later. 🙂

Happy New Year!

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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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Edith Wharton – A Literary Queen

As you know, we occasionally like to highlight specific authors throughout the year. One author that everyone knows the name of, but not everyone knows any intimate details about, is Edith Wharton. In the world of literature, Wharton’s literary accomplishments have made her a household name, albeit one usually associated with high school reading requirements! But Wharton wasn’t just a skilled author… despite being born into relative privilege she was also a social commentator who wasn’t afraid to confront the injustice of the social norms of her time! A true force to be reckoned with in the early 20th century. 

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Edith Wharton (born Edith Newbold Jones) was born on January 24th, 1862, in New York City. Wharton’s family belonged to the upper class of New York society, giving her access and opportunity to a world of luxury, culture and high society from a young age. However, her privileged upbringing became a double-edged sword, as her access to the people and views of the upper echelons shaped her perspective on almost all aspects of her life – society, class, love, and gender roles. Her first pieces were published when she was just 15 years old, an English translation of the German poem “Was die Steine Erzählen”, for which she was paid $50. Her family did not wish her name to be published publicly, and her mother refused to allow Wharton to even read novels until she was married. Though occasionally disheartening, these obstacles did not deter young Edith, and at just 16 her father arranged for a book of her poetry to be published under a pseudonym. She also had her poems published in Atlantic MonthlyNew York World, and Scribner’s Magazine. Clearly, Wharton was destined for a literary life. 

Wharton married Edward “Teddy” Wharton when she was just 23. Teddy was a wealthy banker, and from the outside, it must have looked like a solid match for Edith. Unfortunately, their marriage was fraught with tension… Teddy was not interested nor supportive of Edith’s literary pursuits, and though they shared a love of travel, Teddy’s debilitating depression was eventually too much for Edith. That being said, their travels provided much inspiring worldliness for Wharton’s later works. 

Her first novel “The Valley of Decision” was published in 1902, and Wharton never looked back. A few short years later she published “The House of Mirth” (1905), a novel focusing it’s plot on the life of a young high-society woman who sees her life fall apart because she doesn’t adhere to common notions of what she ought to be. Wharton used her own life experiences to criticize the upper class, highlight their insincerity and false superiority – and Wharton gained a name for herself in the literary world. In 1911 she published “Ethan Frome”, further highlighting Wharton’s ability to create evocative worlds with vivid characters, once again imprisoned by their circumstances (though the rural farmer Ethan Frome is a world away from “The House of Mirth’s Lily Bart. More works followed – “The Custom of the Country” (1913), countless poems, and of course, “The Age of Innocence”. The latter being one of Wharton’s most famous works – earning her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921. Wharton was the first female to win the award. 

Wharton never slowed down. During WWI she was actively involved in relief efforts, organizing charity initiatives to aid refugees in France, and using her fame to help raise funds for the war effort. She addressed social issues and advocated for causes close to her heart – primarily those about gender roles, society and classism. Over her lifetime she produced fifteen novels, seven novellas, eighty-five short stories, books of poetry, books on design and travel. She wrote cultural criticisms, and a memoir. In 1937 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Yale University. She was the first woman to do so. 

Wharton indelibly impacted the American literary world, and her works have reached around the globe. Her frank, descriptive and beautiful prose highlighting the complexities of human nature and the constraints of society are unbelievably realistic. One of the most interesting parts about her writing is how she was able to capture society’s issues from all walks of life – from the poor and downtrodden to the unbelievably privileged elite. Throughout her works Wharton explored the human condition with depth and sensitivity.

Wharton died of a stroke on August 11th, 1937 at a country home in France, but one only needs to pick up one of her works to be transported back in time and live a new human experience. 

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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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New Year, New You… New Book! Learn to Practice the Art of Tsundoku

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever picked up a new title at a bookstore, excited to read it, then gotten home and taken one look at your bookshelf, and felt the cold familiar feeling of dread when you’ve realized that you still have 47 other unread titles that came skipping home with you similarly, only to be left abandoned on a shelf, to taunt you?

Oh good, it’s not just me.

This familiar feeling isn’t new to the rest of the world either, apparently. As a matter of fact, the Japanese have a word for being surrounded by piles of unread books. It’s called tsundoku, and plenty of people consider it an art form. Instead of making a resolution this year to finally tackle our unread shelves, here at Tavistock Books we are learning instead to embrace our mini libraries, to acknowledge and admire our uncracked spines, adoringly.

Tsundoku is a word dating back to the Meiji era in Japanese culture (from roughly 1868 to 1912, to be exact), and comes from a combination of two words… tsunde-oku, meaning “allowing things to pile up” and dokusho, meaning “to read books”. In essence… allowing piles of books to be read to sit around, untouched. Feels good, doesn’t it? To know you aren’t alone? To know that your tendency to overindulge in bibliomania is a worldwide phenomenon, one that has even had a word created to describe it. It was first seen in publication in 1879, as an ironic dig at scholars and academics who owned books they never read. That being said, in Japan (and elsewhere), the word does not carry with it a negative connotation – it isn’t an insult or something to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, it has become more of an art form, for some. To surround yourself with books… with new worlds, with other ways of thinking, with doors to be opened… can only serve as a reminder that the world is so very big. It can show us that no matter where we are in our lives we still have much to learn, and so many ways to enrich our lives through the world of books.

So this year? Make a resolution not to feel bogged down by your ever expanding library. Head to your favorite bookstore, pick up an interesting new find, and add it to the pile with a flourish and a smile… knowing you’re simply practicing the art of tsundoku. 🙂

Find out more about tsundoku in this article on Big Think.

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