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The Bazaar and the Beautiful at the Boston International Book Fair

December 2, 2012 in Bookstores, Classic Literature, Literary Festivals, Literature

In these days of instant information, it’s not often that readers get to indulge their fascination with physical books as objects of desire. At first glance, the 36th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair looked like any trade expo held in a harshly lit convention room. But it turned out to be somewhere between an art exhibition and an exotic bazaar. With only a few hours to inspect the stalls, I felt like a tourist stumbling into a city’s hidden market on the last day of holiday. This is one of only three American book fairs endorsed by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.  It’s an outing not only reserved for the serious collector, but for anyone interested in books and the art of books.  Because this is an International event for the small world of Antiquarian booksellers, it’s also a lively gathering for the booksellers themselves.

With cocktail in hand, Ken Sanders of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City gave me a sense of the camaraderie of booksellers who meet for a couple of days each year for banter, bartering and the renewing of old friendships.  Booksellers have taken a variety of routes into the trade. Ken told me how he quite literally worked his way up the (step) ladder from stacking shelves at a bookshop.  Erin, of Royal Books was an art student with a printing background who started out restoring books in her college library. Erin’s employer at Royal Books, Kevin Johnson, stocks first editions that were made into films and has written about forgotten detective novels that were turned into noir cinema. The Lucius Books stall, which specialized in first editions of crime novels, was manned by suave looking ‘agents’ from York, England.  A selection of gorgeous Ian Fleming first editions drew my eye, and founder James Hallgate explained to me that they were illustrated by a guy named Richard Chopping, who also wrote The Fly.  According to Hallgate a lot of British illustrators in the 50s and 60s were also writers.  Fleming and Chopping were friends, so Fleming’s influence is stamped all over these editions. The gun on the copy of From Russia With Love is a drawing of a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver belonging to Geoffrey Boothroyd, a weapons expert who wrote to Ian Fleming expressing his admiration for the series, but advising that Bond use better weapons. As a tribute, Fleming used his weapon of choice for the cover and created the official armorer character called Major Boothroyd who appears in the novel Dr. No.

One of my favorite booksellers was Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis Booksellers in Portland, Maine. Kahn is an ex-hacker and self-confessed lover of ‘shiny things’. Lux Mentis is located on ‘Marginal Way’ in Portland – an ideal address for an esoteric bookshop.  Kahn describes the logic behind his collection as ‘idiosyncratic crap that I love’. He affectionately maintains a ‘sex ‘n’ death’ section, where I was drawn in by the sublime and the ridiculous, including an interesting high concept art book (not for the sensitive reader) and the gorgeous Séance for a Minyan by the renowned copper engraver Michael Kuch. The book is a moving meditation on the death of Kuch’s lifelong teacher, the renowned sculptor and printmaker, Leonard Baskin. Khan also recommended a book of woodcuts by a Dublin artist about the sinking of the Titanic. The story is cleverly told from the point of view of the printers onboard the Titanic. As strange as it may seem, the Titanic really did have a printing shop aboard.  One of the most exciting things about the fair was the mixing of rare productions by modern printers with older books. Unfortunately, because of the relationship between scarcity and desire, it’s not just old books that have a high price tag, but limited edition zines and relics of pop culture too.  At Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, I saw such treasures as a proof copy of Fight Club, a first edition of the cyber-punk zine Boing Boing and a framed self-portrait doodle by Allen Ginsberg as a cartoon Buddha.  An original photograph of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe was priced at $6000.

If I’d had the time, I would have looked at more children’s books and maps, or lingered at Scientia Books, with its beautiful meticulous anatomy books and its intriguing box of books ‘signed by Nobel laureates’. Among the most impressive items I saw were the propaganda prints of the epic funeral of Charles II. The dynasty was reinforced by over the top public mourning, which lasted for months after the king’s death, throughout France. I was reminded of the theatrical scenes of public mourning at the funeral of Kim Jong Il.

Before leaving, I asked Ian Kahn whether he was ever reluctant to part with his treasures. He said wryly that if he really values something, he prices it ‘aggressively’. But I wonder if he still minds when someone comes along who is prepared to pay the price.  Kahn explains that in the trade, getting the books to their ideal owner is the goal. At the point where someone is willing to pay the price, the right owner is the one who wants it most.  However, Kahn holds on to some old James Joyce editions that were read to him as a child, just in case.

Behind the Article: Taking a Closer look at “Literary Brooklyn Heights”

August 18, 2012 in Behind The Article, Literary Festivals, New York Travel


Join Literary Traveler as we go ‘behind the article’ with Norm Goldstein, author of our August 13th article, “Literary Brooklyn Heights.”  After reading about the wealth of literary history in Brooklyn, we were very excited to learn more about the past, present and future of the borough and all it has to offer the literary traveler.

 Literary Traveler:  So much is written about city life at the turn of the century.  Do you think more attention needs to be paid to Brooklyn?

Norm Goldstein:  Brooklyn, I’m pleased to say, certainly is getting its share of attention these days. It’s the new “in” place; Brooklyn is cool. And it is deserving of the attention. It’s changed dramatically for the better, especially in the last dozen years or so. Its history is fascinating, from the days of the early Dutch settlers through the Revolutionary War to its growth after the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, then the subway extension.  And it all started in Brooklyn Heights, called Breukelen by the Dutch.

LT:  You mention a few books on the topic in your article.  Is there one book on the subject that you would recommend to those interested in reading more?

NG:  I recommend February House  by Sherill Tippins for those interested in more about that unique gathering of talent in one Brooklyn Heights house in the pre-World War II years and Literary Brooklyn  by Evan Hughes for the broader picture.

LT:  How do you feel Brooklyn influenced the work of the writers who have lived there?  Do you think this has changed over the years?

NG:  In earlier times, there’s no question that the lure was cheaper rents. In 1939, W.H. Auden was talked into moving to the so-called February House from his apartment a few blocks away because he’d save money.

This has certainly changed over the years; rents in Brooklyn Heights are far from cheap today. But there is the lure of a quieter space than the usually frenetic Manhattan, the peaceful views from the waterfront, and, of course, Brooklyn’s unique idiosyncrasies — and characters — enough literary fodder for a lifetime of novels.

LT:  Who is your personal favorite writer who lived and worked in Brooklyn in the 19th or early 20th century?  Tell us a little about your choice.

NG:  For that period, I’d have to choose the poets, Whitman and Hart Crane. The latter is a personal favorite for his poem about the Brooklyn Bridge.  I often walk to the Promenade overlooking the bridge and the East River for substantially the same view he had when he described the fusion of “harp and altar” and feel his passion.

LT:  For those unfamiliar with Brooklyn, what is the best way for a new visitor to experience the area?

NG:  Brooklyn is a huge borough, a conglomeration of hundreds of distinct neighborhoods; it’s impossible to see it all. There are bus tours for an overview of some of it, but I suggest a walking tour of Brooklyn Heights, beginning with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to get there.

LT:  For Literary Travelers visiting Brooklyn, do you have any off the beaten path suggestions of things they should see and do?

NG:  Plan a visit during the Brooklyn Book Festival.

(Editor’s note: The year the  Brooklyn Book Festival  is taking place Sunday, September 23rd, with preliminary events beginning on September 17th.  According to the Festival’s  website, “The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York Citypresenting an array of literary stars and emerging authors who represent the exciting world of literature today. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart, diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages.”  This year’s festival boasts appearances by Dennis Lehane, Mary Higgins Clark and Joyce Carol Oates, among others.)

LT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.  I look forward to exploring Brooklyn in more depth, and I have a feeling that our readers will be similarly inspired.

World Book Night 2012

April 22, 2012 in Literary Festivals, Literary News

This Monday, April 23marks the first annual World Book Night in the United States.  Started in the UK last year, World Book Night is an extension of World Book Day, which is in its fifteenth year and is celebrated in over one hundred countries.  World Book Day was originally started by UNESCO and according to their website was conceived as “a worldwide tribute to books and their authors…encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and to gain a renewed respect for the extraordinary contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”  The date, April 23, was chosen in particular for its literary importance, as it marks the birth and/or death of many famous writers including Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.  The date also has historical significance, coinciding with St. George’s Day.  Fittingly, in Catalonia, Spain, the day is marked by the giving of roses and books to loved ones, with the incantation, “a rose for love and a book forever.”

Similarly to this beautiful tradition, the giving of books is the backbone of World Book Night, which is modeled after a World Book Day event in the UK, which sends “tokens” to schools –redeemable only on World Book Day for a free book at participating bookstores.  Started last year in the UK, World Book Night is a spin off of sorts, geared to adults, and while the moniker would suggest an after hours celebration, World Book Night is an all day event.  Instead of sending out tokens to schools, World Book Night relies on volunteers to act as “givers.”  The givers choose their favorites from the thirty titles selected to take part in the event; this year’s choices range from Maya Angelou’s classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to pop culture phenom The Hunger Games and 28 other titles with a variety appropriate for both older teens and adults.  The givers will receive twenty copies of one title and on April 23 will go out into their communities to give away the books free of charge.  The event is made possible through the generosity of volunteers, who give their time, but also the authors, who do not receive royalties, and the publishers and printers, who produce the books free of charge.

As the premise of World Book Night is to promote reading in adults who are not typically avid bibliophiles by nature, givers are expected to go to places off the beaten path for readers.  Instead of schools and libraries, they will set their sights on shopping malls and train stations.  One New Providence, NJ giver spread the word through The Alternative Press that they will be outside of a local Dunkin Donuts handing out copies of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Almost 80,000 givers have been secured world wide and will distribute 2.5 million books on Monday.  The United States makes up 25,000 of those generous volunteers, spread over 6,000 cities and towns.  While it is too late to get involved this year, visit the website and add your name to the mailing list so that during next year’s event you can personally help spread the literary love.  For now, remember, if you are out and about on April 23rd and see someone in front of your local coffee shop handing out books, smile, wave, and wish them a Good (World Book) Night!



The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 


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