The Prince of Paradox

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Who WAS G. K. Chesterton?

According to many, he is one of the most prolific and best writers of the early 20th century – and yet he is not one often found on school curriculums or on the average household shelf. So the question is… who was G. K. Chesterton and how did he contribute to the literary world and become his nickname – “The Prince of Paradox”? Let’s find out.

chesterton3Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born on May 29th, 1874, in Kensington, London. His childhood is not elaborately researched, but we do know that he was born to a family of Unitarians, and as a young man was interested in the occult and regularly played (or practiced) with a Quija board with his younger brother (and only sibling) Cecil. He was educated at St. Paul’s School in London, but instead of continuing on to a university as you might have expected, Chesterton attended the Slade School of Art in London – in hopes of eventually becoming an illustrator. Though at Slade Chesterton took lessons in both art and literature, Chesterton left without a degree in either! 

RNS-CHESTERTON-SOCIETYWhen Chesterton was 27 years old, he married Frances Alice Blogg – an author herself, who would prove to be a major influence on Chesterton’s writing and religious life throughout the years. As www.chesterton.org mentions, Frances was in charge of all aspects of Chesterton’s life – kept his schedule for him, kept house, and kept him in check. According to the site, Chesterton often “had no idea where or when his next appointment was. He did much of his writing in train stations, since he usually missed the train he was supposed to catch. In one famous anecdote, he wired his wife, saying, ‘Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?’” To which Mrs. Chesterton would almost inevitably respond with “Home.” The Chesterton’s were perhaps the epitome of the phrase “Behind every great man is an even greater woman.” 

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Chesterton cut an amusing figure, indeed. He was 6 foot, 4 inches tall, and weighed almost 300 pounds. He could often be found laughing at himself, smoking a cigar, and scribbling away in the oddest of places. And what was he scribbling? Well – that is a question, isn’t it! Around the turn of the century, Chesterton worked as a freelance art and literary critic before 1902, when the Daily News gave him his own weekly opinion column. From then until the mid 1930s, Chesterton pushed out a steady stream of work – be they stories, poems, essays, articles, biographies or critiques – Chesterton wrote them all. Some of his most notable works included The Napoleon of Notting Hill (a book said to have influenced the setting of Orwell’s 1984), a critical study of Charles Dickens (which you know we love to hear), Orthodoxy (did we mention he was also a theologian?), the Father Brown short stories (has anyone read these? A Catholic priest who solves ghastly crimes and putters about resolving conflicts in his small town? I love them – think Miss Marple-esque), Eugenics and Other Evils (this guy really does get around in terms of subject matter), and The Everlasting Man (the book which reportedly turned C.S. Lewis’ face towards Christianity). Now that’s a resume, eh?! And of course – that is only a smattering of the work Chesterton produced. (The total of which includes roughly 80 books, hundreds of poems, 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and a few plays – jeez!)

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So why the nickname? Well a paradox is defined as: “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” Throughout his work, Chesterton consistently employs a long scope of humor and wit. This is true in both his fiction and non-fiction – and he often used paradoxes to make severe, if humorous (and not to mention true) statements on government, policies, religion, literature and humanity. For example – one of Chesterton’s political paradoxes could still occasionally be considered true today! He said “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” Ouch! As the Imaginative Conservative (online blog) puts it, “Chesterton show[ed] us that life is full of paradoxes. It is full of those apparent contradictions, those incongruous juxtapositions, that point to deeper truths. Take, for instance, the fact that it takes a big man to know how small he is, or the fact that pride is the sin of a small man who thinks he is big.” Indeed, even more of Chesterton’s paradoxes come into play in his studies of religion – where he considers Christ one of the greatest masters of the paradox. 

In all, G. K. Chesterton is not read as widely as he ought to be – considering the breadth of his work and the fact that, if you look hard enough, there is surely something of his for each and every one of us! My advice? Start with Father Brown… you won’t be disappointed!

Happy Birthday to this author, one of the most influential authors of the 20th century!

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In Honor of Emily

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“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson is the first poem I remember reading and analyzing as part of a school assignment. 

The first time I read it, I definitely did not “get it”. I honest to goodness remember my initial reaction to my teachers’ analysis of the poem itself. It was the first time I asked myself the question… how do we know that that is what the author wanted us to read into it? How do we know for sure that she meant for the bird to signify the innocence of the emotion of hope? With some authors it is harder than others – as some authors left… well… less of a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow. One of those authors was Emily Dickinson – the recluse who, to this day, inspires many with her words, whilst we know relatively little about her innermost thoughts during her most productive literary period. On today the anniversary of her death, we’d like to give a brief background on this interesting poet and focus not on exactly what her words mean to us, but rather on the lasting legacy she left behind. 

emily3Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10th, 1830. She was the second of three children, with one elder brother named Austin and a younger sister, Lavinia. Her father was not only a lawyer by trade, but a trustee of Amherst College, where his father had been one of the founders of the school. With their background in education, the Dickinson children were given a thorough education for the time, certainly when it came to the two girls. At the age of 10 Emily and her sister began their studies at Amherst Academy, which had begun to allow female students a scant two years before their studies began. Emily remained at the school for seven years, studying math, literature, latin, botany, history, and all manner of respected academia. Upon finishing her studies at the Academy in 1847, Dickinson enrolled in the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College). Although the Seminary was only 10 miles from her home, Dickinson only remained at the school for 10 months before returning home – for reasons many have tried to unearth but none can be sure of. 

emily2Though throughout her late teens Dickinson seemed to enjoy life in Amherst socially, and was certainly already writing poetry (a family friend Benjamin Franklin Newton hinted in letters before his death in this time that he had hoped to live to see her reach the success he knew possible), by her twenties Emily was already feeling a melancholy pull, exacerbated by her emotions when it came to death, and the deaths of those around her. Her mother’s many chronic illnesses kept Emily often at home, and by the 1860s (Dickinson’s 30s) she had already largely pulled out of the public eye. By her 40s, Dickinson rarely left her room, and preferred to speak with visitors through her door rather than face-to-face. Unbeknownst to any, Dickinson worked tirelessly throughout this period on her poetry, and by the end of her life had amassed a collection of roughly 1,800 poems neatly written in hand sewn journals. That being said, less than one dozen of her poems would be published during her lifetime. The first book of her poetry, published four years after her death on May 15th, 1886 by her sister Lavinia, was a resounding success. In less than two years, eleven editions of the first book had been printed, and her words spread across nations. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
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It is only now, in researching her life and rereading a few of her best-loved poems that I can see the answer to my question of long ago. We don’t know what Emily Dickinson wanted each word to signify. We don’t need to know. It is the way her poetry made and makes the public feel that gave it the popularity it still holds to this day. “Hope”, indeed. 

Today we honor Emily Dickinson and her lasting impact on the world of poetry. 

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A New Adventure at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair

Recently, Team Tavistock flew out to Chicago to exhibit at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair. A first time exhibiting at this fair for Tavistock, we got the low-down on their experiences below! 

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So Vic, is this your first time exhibiting at the Chicago fair? And if so, what made you decide to try it out?

VZ: Indeed, this was my first time exhibiting in Chicago, and I did so because it was held at the prestigious Newberry Library.  A lovely venue.

Samm, have you spent any time in Chicago before this fair?

SF: Yes, I have spent quite a bit of time in Chicago before this trip. However, I was never in the area we were in – Lincoln Park is, I believe, the neighborhood that the Newberry is in. The park in front of the Newberry is absolutely gorgeous, and the Newberry Library was spectacular! Not to mention that we discovered a lovely breakfast diner called Tempo, and it was a delight. Every time I visit Chicago I seem to find great and beautiful places.

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Vic, how did you decide what was best to take with you, exhibit-wise?

VZ: We had contracted for two trophy cases, no tables. And to save on shipping costs, decided to carry everything with us on the airplane. So selections tended to have two aspects: a connection to Chicago, and being more of a pamphlet or otherwise ’smallish’ item. What inventory we brought with us was supplemented by the 85 Dickens titles I acquired at the 1 May Hindman auction. And no, we didn’t put out all 85! Just a half dozen or so.

Samm, what was load-in and set up like? How did it compare to the previous fairs you have worked on?  

SF: Overall, load-in was easy.  It is always a bit confusing when first arriving at a book fair – where to go and what doors lead to what rooms. But it is definitely the way when you have never even been to the venue before! Other fairs I have attended have had very detailed load-in and load-out policies and rules, but that did not seem to be the case at the Newberry. It is a HUGE venue and easy to get turned around if you are unfamiliar with it. 

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Vic, what was the best part of the fair, as one who has so much experience both exhibiting and shopping fairs around the country?

VZ: In this case, for me, the best part of the fair was the Friday night exhibitor dinner arranged by the fair promoter, Sammy Berk. Was a quite enjoyable evening, with good food, good drink, & good company.

Samm, what was your favorite thing about this fair?  

SF: To be honest, I think its one of my favorite things about every fair I have exhibite at so far. Meeting people I have only talked to on the phone or emailed with! It is always nice to put a face to voice or name. People’s responses to me are typically along the lines of “its nice to meet you in person, I have been seeing you on Instagram and the blog.” Haha!

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And last but not least… Vic, do you think you’ll be exhibiting at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair in the future? 

VZ: TBD! I say this, for despite the fantastic venue, sales were, shall we say, less than robust, and at the end of the day, one must have sales to remain a bookseller.

And there you have it, ladies and gents!

Looking forward to the next book fair report this fall, coming to you from Tavistock Books. 

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Happy Anniversary… To Us!

Just yesterday, Tavistock Books celebrated its 30 year anniversary. 30 years in business. 30 years in this wonderful, insane business we call the antiquarian book trade. We are nothing short of proud, and grateful for all of your support over our many years!

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We were able to throw a little shindig at Tavistock Books’ main residence – 1503 Webster Street in Alameda, California (where we have been located for the last 22 years of our full 30). Samm and Vic made sure there were snacks and champagne galore! A big thank you to many of our bibliophile friends for their encouragement – and for the turn out! We had a steady stream of visitors all day and are so happy to not only call them our colleagues, but our friends as well.

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I don’t believe anyone could have put it better than Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday (ABAA), “It is a pleasure to see someone be successful in this business for 30 years – especially someone who shares that success with others all around him through his mentorship and kindness. He has been mentoring me for the past 12 years and I wouldn’t still be in this business without him! Congratulations to Vic Zoschak and to Tavistock Books.”

Hear, hear!

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The American Anniversary of the (American) English Language

Many men born in the states during and after the revolution were more die-hard Americans than any of the foam fingered MAGA supporters we see today. After all, they were the children of the revolution… either they or their fathers fought hard to ensure our country’s freedom, and they weren’t about to let us forget it. They used whatever skills they had – political? They wrote the Constitution. Physical? They fought in battles. Academic? They wrote Declaration of Independence, or essays on our rights… or a dictionary of the American English language. Today we’d like to discuss one such man – who wrote the first American dictionary. With its over 70,000 entries it was more conclusive than ever before, and included words specific to America.

We may be young… but we invented the word “hickory.” So there.

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Noah Webster was born in 1758 in West Hartford, Connecticut. His father, though a farmer by trade, was at the same time a deacon of their local church, captain of the town’s small militia, and a founder of the local book society (which later because the local public library). Though his father did not have extensive educational knowledge, Webster (Sr.) did have a thirst for learning, comprehension, and understanding. His wife began teaching her son to read and write at a young age, and after attending small, dilapidated schools in the region and using a private tutor, and after his father mortgaged their family farm to pay the tuition fees, Noah Webster was able to enroll at Yale College when he was 16 years old… during the height of revolutionary unrest, and he continued studying during the Revolutionary War.

After graduating from Yale, Webster began teaching, then quit to study law, and finally passed the bar exam in 1781. One can imagine it was trying times to be finding a job and earning a living, what with the Revolutionary War still raging on. He began a small private school in Western Connecticut that he closed shortly thereafter, then he wrote essays for local papers praising the Revolution, and then he opened yet another school, but this time for the wealthy of New York. It was at this establishment that he began work on his first “speller” – a grammar and reader for use in elementary classes. The revenue from this first venture is what enabled Webster to spend the next years working on his infamous dictionary.

webster1Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf in 1789, and as she was of good breeding (man, I don’t get to use that phrase often enough) he was able to join higher levels of society in Connecticut than he had been. (They would later have 8 children, but that is neither here nor there.) Due to his beliefs in the revolution and conviction in America’s greatness, one Alexander Hamilton loaned him $1,500 in 1793 to move to New York and become the editor for the Federalist Papers.  For the next few decades, Webster spent much of his time being one of the most profuse authors of the time, especially when it came to political reports, but also in regard to textbooks and articles across the board.

Over these years, Webster focused on one specific way he personally could help his beloved new country. He wanted to promote an American approach to educating our children, and wanted to “rescue our native tongue from the ‘clamour of pedantry’ that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation.” He said that the English language had suffered the British aristocracy’s approach to spelling and pronunciation – an outdated and elite way of speaking and teaching. He eventually began work on his lifetime’s achievement… The Webster Dictionary.

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In 1806 Webster published the first attempt – A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language – the first actual American dictionary of its kind, but knew immediately it was not enough. He continued working on his opus. He learned somewhere between 26-28 languages in evaluate their importances and meanings, and connected with people around the east coast of the new America in order to gather words and meanings from around the “country.” At the tender age of 70, Webster published his dictionary in 1828. Though at first it only sold 2,500 copies, and Webster ended up re-financing his home to pay for a second edition… we all know the eternal significance his dictionary would play on us all… as the Webster (now Webster-Merriam, after rights were granted to the publishing brothers in 1843) Dictionary is still used in schools and households across the United States today.

This week we celebrate its publication (as the copyright was registered by Webster on April 14th, 1828) and the lasting impact it has had on America… just as Noah Webster wished it to.

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Credit: University of Washington libraries.

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Happy Birthday to the Most Irritating Houseguest Charles Dickens Ever Had

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on the second of April, 1805. As a small child, Andersen’s father read to him Arabian Nights - thus introducing the young child to both classic literature and what one might deem a “fairy tale”. At the age of 14, he moved to the capital to become an actor – and though he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre… once his voice changed the school advised him to focus instead on becoming a poet… a suggestion that he later turned into authorship.

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Fairytales seemed to be part of Andersen’s literary journey from the beginning, as several of his early stories revolved around tales he heard as a child himself. By the age of 30, Andersen was already writing profusely and showing his work. In fact, in 1833 at the age of 28 he had already received a small travel grant from the king of Denmark to travel through Europe and log the stories he found there. And, well… write he did!

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Andersen is most well-known for his fairytale translations, no one can deny this fact. In 1835 he published the first two installments of his Fairy Tales, with the second installment arriving only two years later. Unfortunately, his collection which included tales such as The Princess and the PeaThumbelinaThe Little Mermaid, and The Emperor’s New Clothes did not sell well at first. Part of the problem was in the translations of these well-known stories. Andersen’s ability to write did not cover his lack of innate foreign language skills.

After honing his skills and continuing to publish fairy tales for ten years, Andersen finally had a breakthrough in 1845 after his translation of The Little Mermaid appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany (a periodical). Soon after, his story was published in a few volumes following its reprint, including Wonderful Stories for Children. A review of the story was published in The Athenæum in London in February of 1846, and the review sang its praises as “a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.” Andersen became a king of fairytales (of sorts) and would continue translating and publishing them until 1872.

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During his heyday of publishing fairytales from around the Europe, Anderson published various travelogues that he had written during his many journeys abroad while accumulating stories for his collections. Though his travel journals do approach the subject matter in a similar way to his contemporaries’ travel journals, singularly he used his own strengths to expand the style to meet his own requirements. He combines factual evidence and graphic/detailed reports of his experiences with more reflective and meditative verse on various concerns, including his authorship, the issue of timelessness,  and the essence of works of fiction in the travel writing genre. His travelogue In Sweden even contains local fairy tales! (The man just didn’t know how to take a break…)

In 1847 a most happy occurrence happened for Andersen – he traveled to England for the first time and enjoyed resounding success among his fairytale fans. Andersen was able to meet one of his idols, one Charles Dickens, at one of the many parties of a Countess of Blessington. Both authors resonated on certain levels – they were both immensely popular (though Dickens more so, of course), and both took the time to portray citizens of the lower classes in their works. A decade later, Andersen visited Dickens at Gads Hill Place, Dickens’ home – a visit which unfortunately turned into an over-extended stay of over five weeks. Dickens and his family were dismayed that their Victorian politeness allowed a man, even one as highly respected and liked as Andersen, to overstay their welcome by so long. (Read our blog on the extended stay here.) Eventually Andersen had to be asked to leave, and Dickens stopped communication with the author, much to Andersen’s confusion.

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When Andersen turned 67, he took a tumble out of bed and unfortunately was never able to recover from his injuries. Andersen developed liver cancer shortly thereafter and died surrounded by friends (having never married). He was internationally esteemed at the time of his death, and to this day his name immediately recalls international fairytale stories to all of our minds! Happy Birthday to the king of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen!

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A Sacramento Update in Honor of Samm’s One Year Anniversary!

This past weekend’s Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair marks Samm Fricke’s one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. Some of you loyal blog followers might remember that Samm joined us in panic mode just two days before the fair last March, and we were just as lucky to have her then as we were to have her at this – her third Sacramento Book Fair! We sat down with her to pick her brain on her feelings now versus one year ago, so enjoy this little Q&A on Samm’s experiences at this fair!

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Q: So Samm! This Sacramento Book Fair this past weekend marks your one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. How does it feel? 

SF: I must say it feels pretty good! All in all I think I am getting a handle on things. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my book skin each day, and also learning something new each day!

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Q: What was your favorite thing about this Sacramento Book Fair, and how is it different from your favorite aspects one year ago?  

SF: Hmm, my favorite thing? Haha! Probably the simple fact that is was the Sacramento Book Fair!  The last two fairs we exhibited at (Pasadena and the Oakland ABAA fair) were huge and stressful, so it was quite nice to come back to a less chaotic fair and see some familiar faces.  Some of those faces I of course saw in Oakland and Pasadena, but without us all being so hyped up it was nice being able to relax with my colleagues and fellow bibliophiles! That being said, I also loved that I could actually say I had two Sac fairs under my belt!

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Q: What do you think your most important lesson was this year and how did you go about learning it? Did Vic teach you? Did you make a mistake? (No joke, my first week I dropped a book that Vic had just spent hundreds of dollars having the binding redone on. Both boards snapped off and I had a mini heart-attack. Vic was at a Giants game. C’est la vie.) 

SF: (First of all, haha Margueritte! That is my worst fear!) There have been so many lessons, and still so many lessons I have to learn!  Vic teaches me everyday – “let me show you” and “have I mentioned this bibliography?” – are some of most common phrases I hear each day! I have, of course, made mistakes here and there, its a learning curve! Thankfully none of my mistakes have lead to him going bankrupt or losing items in his collection… yet! Kidding! Within my first week, I was taking photos and bumped the books behind me. One fell. My heart skipped about 3 beats while I saw Vic look over.  Thankfully, however, it was an inexpensive book and nothing was damaged (unlike you, Margueritte!). But I won’t lie – I thought I was going to die.

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Q: What are you most excited about moving forward in the book trade? 

SF: Like I mentioned a year ago, I just want to continue learning new aspects of the book trade. There is always something new, even with the old! And yes, you can quote me on that one.

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We are so happy to have you on board, Samm!

Here’s to the next Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair!

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