Category Archives: Americana

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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Report on the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, Pt. II

Answers by Samm Fricke

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So Samm! This is (a bit confusingly) your second Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Could you tell us a bit about your experience, prep and overall impression of the previous Sacramento fair you attended in March of this year? For those of you that don’t know, Samm was brought onboard the Tavistock Books train (what seemed like) mere minutes before this past spring’s Sacramento Book Fair.

Last Sac Book Fair was quite overwhelming for the first hour of set up.  As I was loading in, taking in the surroundings and meeting everyone Vic brought to me saying “This is my new assistant Samm!  Samm this is ….”.  All at the same time! Lots of info and names. But after about an hour of watching other vendors set up booths I was beginning to get a feel for it and settle down a bit. As for the opening of book fair to the public, that was the more easier part as I have done so much book retail in the past, but these were people with more niche interests rather than what I have known of “I’m just looking for a good beach read”.  

How was this last weekend’s fair different from the fair in March for you? Do you feel more at ease with Tavistock’s wares and in the antiquarian book world in general? We know you come from a book background, but we also know that the antiquarian book world is a horse of an entirely different color!

I thought this past weekend was much easier!  I knew where the booth was, I knew our booth mate (Hey Chris!).  The faces of collectors and vendors were more familiar.  I knew where the bathroom was and when was the best time to order food was! Ha! Because I knew vendors a bit more, and they have now seen me, emailed with or talked on the phone with me I was more comfortable making small talk at their booths.  Surprisingly to some, but I am pretty shy! 

As for the wares of Tavistock, yes much more at ease!   And more comfortable discussing product and assisting collectors find items that may interest them.  Knowing the stock is always good, which was not the case last fair!

How did you find turnout and other sellers’ wares? Did any items of note catch your eye?

I only have the last Sacramento Book to compare, but I did think the turn out grander. At the end of the fair Jim Kay got on the mic and said it was the best fair turnout yet – a new record had been set! So shoutout to Jim for doing an awesome job. Perhaps by March 2019 I will have my name tag! *wink wink*

Vic bought a lot of cool items there, more than last year even! (Didn’t think it was possible, but that just shows how much I know.)  You can see them when you sign up for our New Acquisitions Newsletter! (Yes, that is a plug… and yes, you can sign up for it on our website!) As for me, there were a few items that were of interest, though I am not in the position to spend the big bucks on them yet. However, I made many mental notes!
What will be the next fair you are excited about and what do you hope to learn or accomplish before then?

Oakland! I am very, very excited about the Oakland Book Fair in February. Just seeing all the amazing items at Sacramento, I cannot wait to see what an international fair brings! Also, being local means packing and load in won’t be too bad.  

I am trying to have a better grasp on our stock so I select the most interesting items to bring that will also show Tavistock’s interest best! 

We certainly won’t! Thanks, Samm!

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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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Celebrating Women Authors on Maya Angelou’s Birthday

We recently saw an interesting article online, detailing the “Best Female Authors” of all time. On this, what would be Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, we would like to channel her inner strength and power as a leading poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist and honor some of the most famous female authors of all time.

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Top Twenty-Five Female Authors of All Time in One Sentence or Less

Followed by the First Sentence or So Found about these Powerful Ladies on the Internet (A Rather Fascinating Social Experiment, No?)

(Obviously Debatable, but these names are based on Book Sales and those found to be Classics Today)

Jane Austen:an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.”

Virginia Woolf:an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

Charlotte Bronte:is one of the most famous Victorian women writers, only two of her poems are widely read today, and these are not her best or most interesting poems.”

Agatha Christie:Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”

Mary Shelley:an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).”

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Louisa May Alcott:was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.”

J.K. Rowling:is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.”

George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.”

Emily Dickinson:is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.”

Sylvia Plath:was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.”

Toni Morrison:American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community.”

Margaret Atwood:is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist.”

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Elizabeth Gaskell:often referred to as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer.”

Willa Cather:established a reputation for giving breath to the landscape of her fiction.”

Dorothy Parker:was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

Gertrude Stein:was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.”

Ursula Le Guin: an “immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’” 

Isabel Allende:s a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre of “magical realism,” is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay:received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism.”

Mary Wollstonecraft: “an English writer and passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women.”

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Alice Walker:is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, African-American novelist and poet most famous for authoring ‘The Color Purple.’”

Maya Angelou:an impactful civil rights leader who collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. “

Judy Blume:spent her childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, making up stories inside her head. She has spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.”

Betty Friedan: “a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.”

Thank you to these powerful, courageous and wonderful writers for their influence on female empowerment!

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“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.

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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?) 

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Vic Visits the Wine & Viticulture Collection of the UC Davis Shields Library

 

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Who has the greatest collection of wine & viticulture literature in the world?  The Shields Library at UC Davis, that’s who!  To quote the August 22nd BCC announcement of this 15 September field trip, “The wine library at UC Davis houses more than 30,000 books in more than 50 languages, manuscripts, historic records, research data, and materials in every medium, from wine labels to videos.”

IMG_3691Yours truly, along with 14 other BCC members, on our 9:30 arrival at the library, were greeted by Axel Borg, the library’s wine & food science bibliographer, and spent the next 4 and a half hours being regaled with all the treasures that this library has amassed over the years.  We started in the Maynard Amerine room, named after the man who exerted a profound influence on the collection.  Amerine [1911 - 1998] was a “pioneering researcher in the cultivation, fermentation, and sensory evaluation of wine.”  No doubt many of the booksellers & collectors reading this blog will hold one of publications, the 1996 BIBLIOGRAPHY On GRAPES, WINES, OTHER ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, And TEMPERANCE [co-authored by Axel by the way].

IMG_3698After giving us an overview of the collection, and its history, we eventually found our way to Special Collections, where Axel tantalized us with one interesting & fascinating item after another…  here I wish I’d taken notes, for memory fails me as to most specifics, other than the 1287 deed for a vineyard land transfer & a cute little accordion miniature that on first blush appears to be a wine cork.  That said, my fellow attendee, Anne Smith, did, however, take notes, so see her soon-to-be-published BCC piece for more specifics on the books Axel had at show-n-tell.

IMG_3731Next on the agenda was a buffet lunch, which, given we were a willing captive audience, included a presentation on projects UC Davis has in the works… one is a interactive social map showing wine-related connections.  Intriguing, to say the least.  Another is the digitization & searchable compilation of wine price lists, et al.  For food & drink historians, invaluable.

We ended the day in the Harrison Western Research Center, which holds more than 21,000 volumes related to the history of the Trans-Mississippi West, collected by Michael & Margaret Harrison.  Noteworthy in that collection were Catlin’s North American Indians, and Ansel Adams & Mary Austin’s Taos Pueblo.  I confess, the bookseller in me was covetous, but I also assure you, I left empty-handed.

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And so ended this engrossing trip.  My thanks to all the staff at the BCC & UC Davis who made this day possible.  It was wonderful.

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