Category Archives: Events

A 100 Year Old Victory

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In the grand scheme of things, what is 100 years? In terms of your lifespan, it may seem like a lot. In terms of history, on the other hand? Well, in terms of history it is a mere slip in time. Now what would you say if you were to realize that American women have only had certain rights – specifically the right to vote – for this amount of time? 100 years ago today, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment… stating that American citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on their sex – effectively giving women the chance to make their voices heard. It was not an easy battle! In fact, in the US, support for the suffrage movement began as early as the 1840s! It would take over 80 years for their demands to be instituted. Let’s take a look back at this time in history and see how lives were changed for the better, 100 years ago today.

Some tend to trace the modern suffrage movement (knowing and understanding that women should have always had equal rights as men) back to a specific publication that we all know – Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 UK publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft was known for being revolutionary in her ideas, and a stalwart for women’s intelligence and respect. It is said by some that her work helped inspire Sarah Grimké’s 1838 The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women – the work which made abolitionist Grimké to be considered the “mother of the women’s suffrage movement”. Her work, widely circulated from Boston throughout the early United States, helped inspire many hundreds (if not thousands) to begin the quest for women’s rights. The main hurdle that women had to jump before these rights could be established, however, was the idea of the pure, innocent woman – one who did not belong in the public sphere. Long considered roles for men only, women becoming part of the public and even political spheres was shocking and highly looked down upon in the early 1800s. In the 1830s and 40s, the abolition of slavery and women’s rights seemed to partner well together, as most women speaking publicly were speaking out condemning slavery… and the act of doing so was automatically a boon for the rights of women. The radical wing (both men and women) of the abolitionist movement were well-known for their support of women’s rights. Unfortunately, towards the beginning, that radical wing consisted of very little of the general population. 

opposedThe opposition of female public speaking wasn’t simply a hurdle. Much of the opposition was so strong that it led to violence. Many female conventions and rallies were disrupted with extreme forcefulness and cruelty, inciting suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony to state this: “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonized.” Her statement cemented the fact that it was not so much the idea of women voting that bothered their contemporaries, but rather it was women breaking out of the cages they had for so long been held and standing up for themselves publicly that was the problem. 

The Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848 marked a specific shift in women’s suffrage. Abolitionist activists, both men and women, gathered to discuss women’s civil rights. Almost all of the delegates agreed… women were autonomous beings, independent of their husbands, and ought to share the same rights as their brothers and husbands. Adopting the Declaration of Independence to their beliefs, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Amen to that!

Though the women’s movement lost a bit of momentum and support during the Civil War (rightly so), almost as soon as it ended the issues of suffrage and equality reared up again, what with the 14th and 15th Amendment changes for the rights of men of color. Over the next few years, several associations formed to highlight women’s rights, suffrage being only a part of the demands of their followers. Shockingly, equal pay for equal jobs was a large demand of the women in this period. Throughout the Civil War, women picked up the slack needed as men were away fighting. They performed men’s tasks and men’s jobs (all while keeping house and raising children), and some kept this work up even after the war. Their significantly lower pay for the same work highlighted an extreme disparity with how men and women were treated at the time. Associations like the Women’s Loyal National League, the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), and the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA) all held strong beliefs and fought for similar rights (though even they were sometimes on opposing sides of the same team).  

Elizabeth Cady StantonIn 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (two of the main “heavy hitters” in the suffrage movement) joined forces to create the National Woman Suffrage Association, and began the fight for a “universal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution” (History.com). It was Stanton’s belief early on that the only way to change the way women were treated was through government political reform. While some believed that though women deserved rights, support, protection (from domestic abuse) and equal pay – they did not necessarily require the right to vote, Stanton believed the right to vote was integral to all the other matters listed. And she was not wrong. The same year, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Henry Blackwell formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). These two leagues were enmeshed in a bitter feud that would last decades, their participants disagreeing on the Fifteenth Amendment – allowing African American men the right to vote. Some, like Stanton and Anthony, rejected the Amendment, believing that woman’s suffrage was more important, and mistakenly believing that African American men opposed women’s suffrage and would fight against their cause. Stone and other members of AERA, on the other hand, supported their previously oppressed fellow citizens and supported their victories, in hopes they would help support the women’s movement in return. This is not to say that racial bias did not exist in both organizations, as it most definitely did, despite both groups being strongly associated with the abolitionist movement. Their rivalry would last until 1890.

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After tireless years of working to promote ideas of women’s suffrage, the two associations put aside their differences (which by then were somewhat moot points, anyway) to join forces and create the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the massive organization’s first president. “By then, the suffragists’ approach had changed. Instead of arguing that women deserved the same rights and responsibilities as men because women and men were ‘created equal,’ the new generation of activists argued that women deserved the vote because they were different from men. They could make their domesticity into a political virtue, using the franchise to create a purer, more moral ‘maternal commonwealth.’” (History.com) This argument gained them new followers from multiple arenas. Advocates of the temperance movement wanted women to have the vote because they believed it would create a cleaner, purer, more chaste country. The middle class enjoyed the idea of introducing homeliness and kindliness into larger, wealthy political parties.

NYC parade 1917In 1910, some of the Western states slowly began extending the vote to their female citizens. State by state, women were gaining rights (though there was still a significant ways to go). States in the South and the Northeast resisted. WWI once again slowed the momentum of the party, but women’s work in the war effort helped to engender support for their intelligence and abilities in the long run. Their aid proved their patriotism and that they were as deserving of rights as men were. A parade for women’s rights in 1917 in New York City consisted of hundreds of women, carrying placards with over 1 million female signatures on them… a far cry from where they started out, with less than 1% of the population’s support. 

Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee (the last of the 36 states needed to adopt the law) narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making voting legal irregardless of sex throughout the United States. A few days later, on August 26th, 1920, 100 years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment was certified, bringing to culmination an almost 100 year battle by women and men throughout the country. The passing of this amendment enfranchised 26 million American women in time for the 1920 U.S. presidential election. The Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

We are a far cry away from a perfectly equal country – in terms of race, sex and economy. We still have a mighty hill (or a few) to climb in order to reach Utopia. But one thing we do know… 100 years ago, women had fought tooth and nail for the right to vote. The right to make their voices heard, and the right to assist with change on a national level. They wanted to be seen for who they were, not who they were expected to be, and they wanted more than anything to be taken seriously. In celebrating their great victory, let us not forget what they fought for. An election is upon us, and let’s do them proud. Get out there and VOTE!!!!

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AN AGENT OF CHANGE

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On this auspicious occasion – the 150th Anniversary of Dickens’ death – there is no shortage of notional blog topics. We could discuss the strange diet he had on days when he did his public readings (a raw egg beaten in a glass of sherry was part of it), the curious nicknames he had for his children (“Skittles” was probably a joy – who knows what went wrong with “Lucifer’s Box”), or perhaps the ivory toothpick he once used that sold at auction for $9,000.

Given everything going on in the world at the moment, we decided to give whimsy a pass and focus on a single, defining aspect of Dickens. Relevance.

As an author – arguably the most famous in the world during his lifetime – Dickens was well-known and widely read. But that can be said of many authors in many times. Part of what continues to make Dickens fascinating was how he leveraged both his literary gifts and the attention they commanded. Despite his many faults, Dickens was a force for positive social reform and change. One might even argue that for his time, he was a radical agent for social change. It seems a good time to talk about how one man used his pen to give voice to those without one, to infuse entertainment with informing empathy, and to leverage personal fame to help others less fortunate than himself.

It is impossible to look at Dickens’ interest in the poverty-stricken, down-trodden members of society without a brief introduction to his early life. Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on the 7th of February, 1812 into a modest Portsmouth household that boasted his mother, father, and an older sister. Dickens’ father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and for a time the family enjoyed a modest but happy life – a lifestyle some have referred to as “gentile poverty”. At just three years old, the young Charles and his family relocated to bustling London, where his father was transferred after the end of the Napoleonic War. London proved to be a difficult life for the constantly growing family, and the charismatic John Dickens began to fall into serious debt.

At the age of twelve, young Charles was packed off to Warren’s Blacking – a boot polish manufacturer. For a time, the young boy would work from early morning until late into the night. However, soon after Charles began work his father was arrested and the entire family moved into debtor’s prison. It was only after John Dickens’ mother died, leaving behind a small inheritance for the family to pay their debts and survive on, that they were able to leave Marshalsea Prison. This period would have an immense impact on Charles Dickens’ view of the world and on his writing. He would never forget the way being so unspeakably poor had opened his eyes to the world. In short, Charles Dickens lived a truly “Dickensian” childhood, surviving in extremely poor social conditions. Though the term may have been coined based on the living conditions of characters in his books, we can see that Charles did not invent the lifestyle – nor did he have to imagine it.

Skipping ahead, after Dickens achieved success with his writing (after all, the point of this blog is to bring attention to his efforts in social reform, not to his literary successes), we see Dickens becoming an advocate for many of the less fortunate. The Victorian period in England saw many advances in industry and technology – creating a rising tide of urbanization. Industrialism was at its height, but the division of wealth between the wealthy aristocracy and the poor was beyond considerable. The working class was on the rise, true, but the poverty stricken lower class life experience would be considered untenable today in the western world. The extortion of child labor, abuse of labor practices in general, homelessness and/or a lack of sanitation in housing, prostitution and general squalor were only some of the problems facing the lower classes in Victorian England. Though many upper class citizens remained ignorant of these many difficult subjects, Dickens chose to write about them. And because he did so with compelling craft and deeply engaging stories, he was able to command attention that no conventional soapbox could rival.

Combining his skills of humor and satire with a keen observation of society at large, Dickens brought attention to the many injustices against the downtrodden in Victorian England. He did not just write about them fictionally, however. When he could, he donated his own money. When he couldn’t, or wanted to do more than simply contribute cash, he pushed the wealthy to donate their time and resources. Most often, however, he used his fame and celebrity, but most of all talent to aid charitable institutions. Dickens was no stranger to giving speeches, performing readings, or writing articles for causes he believed in. Over his lifetime, he in some way supported at least 43 charitable institutions. Some of these included the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the Metropolitan Sanitary Association, The Orphan Working School, the Royal Hospital for the Incurables, and the Hospital for Sick Children.

 

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One of Dickens’ most well-known and sustained philanthropic efforts was his work with the notable (and extremely wealthy) Miss Angela Burdett Coutts. The two met and became close friends in 1839, and were in contact for many years before Dickens approached her with an idea – a home for homeless and “fallen” women. Dickens wanted to get these women off the streets – many of whom had turned to a life of prostitution to survive – and teach them skills to make a living or marry and have a family. Dickens oversaw every part of this project – from finding the home to helping pick out candidates. Urania Cottage, as it was called, provided safety, a home and support to homeless and fallen girls and turned out dozens of recharged women over a ten year period. Until a rift with Coutts developed in 1859, Dickens worked tirelessly on behalf of his charity for women.

Now, Urania Cottage is just a single example of Dickens’ generosity. He gave to organizations, institutions, and even to families and individuals as often as he could. We have already mentioned how he was able to use his talents in both writing and readings to bring attention and awareness to difficult subjects. He also put forth tireless efforts into the Field Lane Ragged School – a school for destitute children, run by Evangelicals. Though Dickens had reservations about the religious leader of the school, he enthusiastically gave his time, money and resources into creating a safe space for these children to learn “religious instruction, elementary education, training in trades and food” (J. Don Vann) through volunteers in evening classes. He believed in free education, and thought that through equal (and therefore free) tuition throughout England, crime and destitution would decrease. He was not wrong.

The take away from these stories is this… here was arguably the most famous writer in the world since Shakespeare, scouting homes and schools himself for the poor and the homeless, using his time and influence to gain money and support, and keeping involved in the running of the charities even after they were set up. Dickens was not simply an armchair philanthropist. He put himself in the thick of it and wanted desperately to make a difference. Though scholars have occasionally thought it impossible to legitimately trace any direct reform legislation to Dickens’ work, there can be no doubt that he opened up discussions and used intelligence and humor to bring attention to social abuses and system deficiencies. Charles Dickens showed us one path that could be used to direct change – not the only path.

Though as Dickens scholars and purveyors of his work we adore the satire and intelligence of his literature, we realize this does not absolve him of any wrong doings in his personal life and sphere. We are not, under any circumstances, promoting Dickens as the perfect humanitarian. As we stated earlier, he certainly had his faults. But what we can learn from Mr. Dickens, especially in a time such as this – a time of radical positive change, but also of confusion and pain – is that nothing at all will happen if we don’t first put forth the effort.

As actor and Dickens scholar Simon Callow once said: “The reason I love him so deeply is that, having experienced the lower depths, he never ceased, till the day he died, to commit himself, both in his work and in his life, to trying to right the wrongs inflicted by society, above all, perhaps by giving the dispossessed a voice… From the moment he started to write, he spoke for the people, and the people loved him for it, as do I.”

 

Further Dickens reading & information:

Dickens in a Crisis 150th Anniversary YouTube video

Bleecker Street Media

Denton Dickens Fellowship

 

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Coronavirus and the Antiquarian Book World

Hey all you cool cats and… wait, what platform is this again?

Just kidding. We know this has been a stressful month (or more) in many of our lives. Things look so very different today than we ever imagined they would, and so very different than they looked just a few short months ago. We are doing our part by staying home and distancing ourselves from others – and we know you are too! (Especially because you’re reading this blog.) We thought we’d do a quick Q&A with our master and commander, Vic Zoschak, on how life has changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No fear mongering, no obsessing… just good old-fashioned bibliophiles talking about life.

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Q: So Vic, times are kind of crazy right now. What is personally keeping you sane during this pandemic and quarantine? Is it books? Is it being able to still go into the shop, lonely as it may be occasionally? Or… is it Netflix and manhattans? :)

You got it Ms P!  Which is to say, for now, I’m able to head into the shop 5 days out of 7, which goes a long way towards combating going the ’stir crazy’ tendency at home.  Samm & I are staggering shifts, as it were, so as to adhere to the social distancing guidelines, but nevertheless I’m able to continue working, albeit fewer hours in a given day.  Those other hours are, indeed, spent at home, so there’s been a jump in Netflix time as well.  Now into NCIS season 13.  lol

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Q: Vic, based on everything I’ve seen on our social media sites, bibliophiles seem to not know how coronavirus might be affecting the book world. It is hard for outsiders to know what kind of effect it is having on our (book) community at large. Other stores can be a bit more obviously impacted. What have you witnessed?

Well, for me, as a bookseller who emphasized primarily on-line sales, it’s not been so much of a change in terms of how things operate, vis-a-vis my colleagues who depended on walk-in traffic for their livelihood.  However,  the sales side has been negatively affected to some degree, which, I believe, reflects the ’stay at home’ mandate in place across the country, which has caused massive unemployment.

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Q: Have you experienced surges or losses in sales over the last month or two, or have things remained much the same? Personally, I think being stuck at home is a great opportunity to research and buy some antiquarian books, but then again I have also purchased several bathing suits while in quarantine. For non-existent beach life! I simply can’t be trusted.

Not surges in sales, nor precipitous drops, but rather a gradual drop-off… see comment above.

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Q: How has this pandemic influenced book fairs in the United States? Which have been cancelled, what has that done to people’s livelihoods, and also the most important question… do you see the fairs being rescheduled once this has passed, or do you think it will last long enough to make rescheduling redundant?

Here in California, the local Sacramento Book Fair, scheduled for March 28th, was cancelled.  Paris, this month, has been [imo, optimistically] rescheduled for the fall.  Melbourne, this July, was cancelled.  In other words, book fairs across the globe are being postponed or cancelled.  With some infectious disease experts saying it might be 2021 before large gatherings are again ‘doable’, I’m wondering whether book fairs will happen again this year.  I hope I’m wrong, for I would love to attend the Boston fair this coming fall, but I’m not buying my plane ticket just yet.  But with large gatherings questionable, in response, the ABAA and IOBA are investigating a virtual book fair.   Time will tell is this is a viable substitute.

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Q: We imagine that as late president of the ABAA you are still involved in some of their important discussions. Anything you can share with us on the ABAA’s feelings about this virus and its effect on the book world?

Actually Ms P, it’s my experience, both as President, and immediate Past President, prior individuals in the job are not as involved as you imagine..  past presidents have a couple responsibilities, such as serving a trustee on the ABBF, but once the torch is passed, we past presidents are little involved in the day-to-day of ABAA administration. As to the ABAA’s stance, it’s my view that they are very concerned about the pandemic’s affect on the trade, an example of which is their effort to host a virtual book fair.

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Q: What advice might you have for bibliophiles stuck at home with some down time during this quarantine? Have you been reading anything good? Is it time to start a collection? Or time to sell a collection? Or… is it time for us to finally read Bleak House?

That’s a good question.  Presuming one has time on one’s hands, and some available discretionary funds, I say its a good time for developing one’s collection, for you can spend time searching out those elusive titles that one needs to fill the gaps.  And, of course, one can now spend some reading those volumes that have sat on the bedside table for oh-so-long!

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The Book Fair in Pasadena… and the End of an Era

This past weekend saw the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair held in Pasadena. We gave Vic and Samm a few questions to ruminate on while experiencing the fair and their responses don’t disappoint! This fair was also a bittersweet occasion as our Master & Commander Vic Zoschak Jr. ended his two year tenure as President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (or the ABAA) while there. See how they felt about the state’s biggest book fair below!

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Q: So another year, another ABAA fair! How did you two feel going into this 2020 Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair (or the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair, to be precise)?

V: Actually, we took a beating at fairs in 2019, so there was a bit of trepidation as we approached this first one of 2020.  Nevertheless there never was any question as to whether we would exhibit, as it’s the ABAA California fair, and I want to support our local chapter’s efforts.

S: As Vic mentioned above, our fairs in 2019 were rough to say the least. I, too, was a bit “on edge” about how things were going to go – after all, book fairs can make or break your month, or even your season. Luckily though, this book fair – first of the new year – was a great start!

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Q: What all did you focus on bringing this year? How were sales?

V: There were two themes for the fair: celebration of the vote for women, and Ray Bradbury.  We focused on the former, and everything found in our booth had some connection to women, be it as author, illustrator, character, printer, owner, or whathaveyou.

Happy to report sales were steady throughout the weekend, though without that one [or more] blockbuster transaction that would have propelled us into the ‘excellent fair’ category.  But compared to 2019 fair results… night-n-day.

S: I would say our booth was 90% items by women – which we really enjoyed putting together as a tribute to this year’s fair theme, celebration women’s suffrage. Though of course we could not leave out our main man, Charles Dickens, and found a way to incorporate him into our mix as well!

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Q: How would you say this Pasadena fair equates with previous Pasadena fairs?

V: Better, see above.

S: Once again, I must agree with Vic. It was better. We also tried something new this year –  as we had two main, lighted display cases – which while beautiful can also make people feel a bit too timid when it comes to inquiring about an item. Therefore, we also had several boxes of items in mylar sleeves out in our booth. People seemed much more intrigued by this concept as they were able to flip through and pull items out and touch them in a more accessible manner. I truly believe this helped make our booth a bit more “shoppable”. 

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Q: How would you say it holds up in comparison with the Oakland fair? Obviously the Oakland fair is a bit easier for us, but in terms of customers and purchases is there a markable difference?

V: Well, this a difficult comparison…  I think our Pasadena booth location this past weekend contributed significantly in our results.  Our Oakland location was not so positioned.  We’re hopeful for 2021 this changes, especially since, in 2021, John Knott & Tavistock Books plan to have adjoining booths, where we’ll open things up & have a larger, more visible footprint in the aisle.

S: Yes, a comparison between the two is a bit tough as, especially for us locals the Oakland fair is much easier!  We are able to bring more items… and I can sleep in my own bed (huge plus)!

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Q: Samm, how was this Pasadena fair for you? This is your second ABAA fair, right? What was your favorite experience down in Southern California?

S: Set up went relatively quickly, so I had some free time to go to the norton simon museum with a colleague!  sometimes its good to break away for a bit.  but overall the fair was good, met and chatted with several new institutions about what collections they are building and how we can assist.  there were some critiques i was hearing from others but i felt it was a really nice fair and a lovely time down in Pasadena!

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Q: Vic, how did you feel heading towards the end of your Presidency of the ABAA? Did that play any part in this fair?

V: Yes, my term as President concluded with the ABAA’s Annual meeting this past Sunday morning.  As President, I feel like I personally experienced aspects of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity [as I understand it], which is to say, the two years went by in a blink of an eye, but some days dragged on interminably!  lol

My successor is Brad Johnson, in whom I have unwavering confidence that he will successfully meet all the future challenges the Association may face.  And let me again, in this forum, give a shout-out to Brad, who tremendously surprised me with a parting gift…  a San Francisco Giants jacket!*  OMG, I was blown away.  Brad, thank you!

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Q: What’s next on the agenda for you both? Perhaps some to catalogue, we hope!

V: To be honest, I’m not sure what I will do with the time I regain in my schedule…  maybe catch a few more Giants games while sporting my wonderful new jacket!  :)

S: And while Vic is enjoying those Giants games, I will be working on a catalogue! Also, if you find yourself in the area next month, please come and see us at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday March 28th!

Thanks, you two! Samm is right… onto the next!

Some more photos from this year’s fair:

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                                        President out. (Cue mic drop.)

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This week in the book world…

This week is Children’s Authors and Illustrators week! In honor of the writers and artists who helped shape our lives, and will continue to shape the lives of children all over the country, we’d like to bring some awareness to five of the most beloved, or most inspirational, award winning children’s books of all time. (Along with hefty advice to immediately run out and read all three!)

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The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson

We begin our list with the 2020 sweeper (as it has already won the 2020 Caldecott Medal, is a Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award) – The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson. This poem highlights the reality of slavery and its traumas – the power of the civil rights movement and “determination of some of our country’s greatest heroes” (redtri.com). “Kids will not only get deeper insight into an integral period of our nations history but learn the words of change makers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks.” This book, intended for ages 6-9, will no doubt change the worlds of many – as it should us all.

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Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

How could we ignore a classic like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak? Originally published in 1963, the title won the Caldecott medal for its illustrations in the following year. And who could blame the decision committee? The book’s striking illustrations will stay with most of us for the rest of our lives. It has since been adapted for the stage and the screen, but we think we speak for us all when we say that the original is our personal favorite.

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Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

It is hard to choose a single Dr. Seuss title to add to our list, as so many are household names (at least here in the United States). We choose Green Eggs and Ham because it is considered one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. In fact, though published in 1960, at the turn of the 21st century the book was still considered one of the top 4 children’s books of all time. We attribute this to the catchiness of Seuss’ phrasing, the typically colorful and fun illustrations, and the fact that it has single handedly taught entire generations how to say no to food they hate. Oh wait… was that just my own experience?!

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars is a historical work of fiction detailing the lives of ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen in Nazi Denmark. This gripping tale follows the escape of Ellen and her family from Denmark, as Ellen poses as Annemarie’s late older sister in a terrifying and emotional ordeal. Not only does this story pull you in, it also serves to educate our youth on the Holocaust. It was the 1990 recipient of the Newbery medal for authorship, and we couldn’t agree more – it is one of the best.

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Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Now we don’t mean to switch from one end of the spectrum to the next (serious -> funny, I mean), but our last choice has got to be Officer Buckle and Gloria – a dog tale that stole the hearts of many when it was published in 1995. The rather droll Officer Buckle goes from school to school teaching safety demonstrations to children. Unbeknownst to him, his new partner, the police dog Gloria, begins acting out the safety rules behind his back. Buckle becomes very offended when he finally realizes the reason for his success, but despite a brief break from the demonstrations Buckle learns to appreciate Gloria in all her hilarity. Honestly – it’s a hilarious tale and the winner of the 1996 Caldecott medal. Can’t argue there, can you? Check it out – we promise you won’t be disappointed!

 

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The Beginnings of Tavistock Books

For those of you who don’t know, we deal in many genres of antiquarian materials. However, one of our specialities – and even our shop’s name – come from a wildly famous author who we happen to adore… Mr. Charles Dickens. As the author is very often associated with the holiday season, we thought now might be a good time for a little Q&A with our President, Vic Zoschak Jr., on his love of Dickens and the beginnings of Tavistock Books. Enjoy!

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Tavistock House, London.

Q: Vic, could you take our recent followers on a mini journey as to our shop name? I remember getting the question of whether or not your last name was Tavistock!

tavistock2Yes, over the years, I’ve often been referred to as “Mr Tavistock”, but the name actually, rather than being my surname, has a [small] Dickens connection…  back in the late 80s, as I contemplated opening my own business, I cast about for a name that would reflect my firm’s interest in Dickens, but didn’t want to be too overt in that regard..  you know, nothing like “The Old Curiosity Book Shop”, or anything like that.  So, long story short, I settled on Tavistock, the name of Dickens house in the 1850s, which was situated on Tavistock Square.  

Q: So why Dickens? He is obviously a world-famous writer of course, but what about his writing spoke to you, and what made you want to name your store after his house?

Well, back in the mid-to-late 80s, while living in Sacramento, I was in a reading group that read, as one of our books, Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.  While I personally don’t consider that his best novel, what that reading did do was spark an interest in the author himself.  And in pursuit of knowing more about the man, I [luckily] happened across what I consider to be the best biography of Dickens, Edgar Johnson’s Tragedy And Triumph.  On reading that biography, I found Dickens to be a fascinating individual, a genius, which precipitated my dive into that gentle madness known as book collecting.  I collected Dickens from the mid-80s until I opened my shop in July 1997, at which point I used my personal collection to stock the Dickens’ Corner here at 1503 Webster Street.

Q: What is your favorite of the Dickens novels and why? Favorite character in any of them?

Favorite novel is Hard Times.  Many of Dickens’ novels required “32 pages of letterpress” every month, and so often, like in Pickwick Papers, there are literary diversions therein to fill up space….  I don’t see that in Hard Times.  It’s spare, it’s lean, it’s all about the facts.

As to characters, like many, I’m partial to Mr. Micawber, the lovable impecunious fellow from David Copperfield.

Q: Is it true that you refuse to watch Dickens-related cinema? Interesting choice! What are your thoughts behind that decision?

True.  Dickens’ words call up a mental image of each & every character he’s created.  I found that when I watched a film interpretation, my mental image of a given character, e.g., Nicholas Nickleby, engendered by Dickens’ prose was replaced by the individual cast by whatever director was filming whatever version of Dickens’ works.  In comparison, I found I preferred Dickens’ version.  FWIW, he would only allow images approved by him, and as such, they are truly Dickensian.  

Q: And last but not least… who was your favorite ghost in A Christmas Carol and why?

Ah, tough question Ms P!!  I think I’ll go with the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come”.   With these visions, Scrooge realizes his future can change.  That’s powerful stuff, knowing one can change one’s future.

And you know what, Ms P – it’s been a few years since I’ve read this popular novella. I think I’ll revisit it this season… it’s time.  

~ Happy Holidays ~

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A Happy Halloween with Hill House

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As Halloween rapidly approaches, we thought – in honor of this holiday season – it might finally be the moment for a short blog dedicated to a favorite type of literary genre throughout this season – horror stories.   

Upon the recommendation of a friend, I recently finished The Haunting of Hill House, by Mrs. Shirley Jackson. This book, much dramatized in movies and tv and spoken about in literary ‘thriller’ circles (yes, they exist), is one of the most famous of Jackson’s works – one that has you in goosebumps from start to finish. And what, we asked ourselves, is so scary about it? (Warning: spoiler alerts below.)

Realism. Nowadays, it is easy to go to the movies and see a thriller with a screeching soundtrack and people that pop up in mirrors as you wash your face in the evening (my worst fear)… you know the drill. Even the exceedingly gore-filled SAW movies have a following. So what makes classic horror stories so frightening, even in a modern world where we are used to an unimaginable level of psycho made with special effects and computer geniuses?

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This 1st edition of Haunting of Hill House is offered by Peter Harrington here!

We might argue that it is a lack of such “effects” that sets these stories apart. While in high school, my best friend went to see a movie that came out called “The Strangers” (I have a point to this, I promise). This horror flick focused on a romantic couple who come to stay in a woodland cabin for a night (unfortunately directly after a refused marriage proposal, but that’s neither here nor there), where a group of teenagers (spoiler alert!) terrorize them throughout the night. In the morning (I DID say spoiler alert), the teenagers finally and gruesomely murder the couple in front of each other. Their reasoning to the couple? “Because you were home.” Now why did my close friend say it was the scariest movie she, as a horror film lover, had ever seen? Because there were no special effects. It was not that preposterous. It was simply people… terrorizing people. Personally, I would say The Haunting of Hill House has a similar vibe. It contains some ‘supernatural’ elements, absolutely. And perhaps it is the house terrorizing the characters. But at the same time, those elements could be being caused by the other characters – we aren’t ever truly sure. The story centers around four people arriving at a reportedly haunted house – with possibly the best description of a house I have ever read – to see what happens. (This still happens today… only we have tv crews that follow these nutters around while they scream in sinister night-vision.) As the foursome stay on in the Hill House, night after night more strange and creepy instances occur, with one character singled out pretty obviously. As it happens, this character is also quite clearly the most vulnerable and unstable of the group… not to mention the narrator. She gives the impression of being somewhat unreliable from the beginning, giving the audience very little understanding of what is truly going on, and of whether her discrepancies, misgivings and thoughts on the ‘hauntings’ are built up by her own abnormal nature.

Now, I don’t want to ruin the story for the rest of you. I just wanted to give you the slightest chill, given how close we are to (arguably) the best holiday in the entire world. Perhaps you will be inspired to read something spooky, something creepy. What would we recommend?

Well, you can’t go wrong with the classics. Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Stephen King… the possibilities are endless. Just don’t forget… the best horror stories are the ones that scare you – curl your toes – not from frightful voices and things that go bump in the night, but from a solid, well described tearing down of human nature.

Happy Halloween, bibliophiles!

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