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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chapter One Hundred One, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

One of Christopher Morely's friends and favorite poets was Amy Lowell. We have a delightful little 1918 reprint of her book Can Grande's Castle, which title comes from a poem by Richard Aldington. In her preface she touches on the topic of reality and fiction, stating that "to-day can never be adequately expressed" and artists must distance themselves from events in order to recreate them. In the middle of the Great War, she delved into the wars of history, until "the books have become reality to me in a way that they never could have before, and the stories I have dug out of dusty volumes seem as actual as my own existence."

This collection of four poems is written in polyphonic prose, "the freest, the most elastic, of all forms, for it follows at will any, and all, of the rules which guide other forms." Taste and a rhythmic ear are the factors determining which rules will guide the usage of metre, rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and return. In this way Lowell sees polyphonic prose as an orchestral form.

The following sample comes from the beginning of "Hedge Island: A Retrospect and Prophecy."

Hedges of England, peppered with sloes; hedges of England, rows and rows of thorn and brier raying out from the fire where London burns with its steaming lights, throwing a glare on the sky o' nights. Hedges of England, road after road, lane after lane, and on again to the sea at the North, to the sea at the East, blackberry hedges, and man and beast plod and trot and gallop between hedges of England, clipped and clean; beech, and laurel, and hornbeam, and yew, wheels whirl under, and circle through, tunnels of green to the sea at the South; wind-blown hedges to mark the mouth of Thames or Humber, the Western rim. Star-point hedges, smooth and trim.

Chapter One Hundred, in which is presented the second Review of the Slaves of Golconda

Some time around 1884, Oscar Wilde called at the studio of painter Basil Ward to visit with a handsome young man who was sitting for a portrait. When the work was finally completed, Wilde said, "What a pity such a glorious creature should ever grow old." The artist agreed, adding, "How delightful it would be if he could remain exactly as he is, while the portrait aged and withered in his stead." According to Philippe Jullian, this is where Wilde found the inspiration for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
"Years ago, when I was a boy," said Dorian Gray, crushing the flower in his hand, "you met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished a portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment that, even now, I don't know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps you would call it a prayer...."
The first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray appeared on 20 June 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Disappointed with its reception, Wilde revised the novel in 1891, adding a preface (as he calls it) and six new chapters. His preface is an aesthetic manifesto consisting of twenty-four aphorisms, and it answers critics who charged The Picture of Dorian Gray with being a scandalous and immoral tale. Wilde and others devoted to the philosophy of aestheticism believed that art possesses an intrinsic value and need not possess any other purpose than being beautiful. This attitude was revolutionary in Victorian England, where popular belief held that art was not only a function of morality but also a means of enforcing it. Wilde jabs directly at this belief through the words of one of his characters: "The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."

The substantially revised and expanded edition was published by Ward, Lock and Bowden in April 1891. The additions included a romantic subplot with an actress called Sibyl Vane, against the objections of her mother and brother, who reappears with a vengeance in one of the later additional chapters, which also filled out the back end of the tale as Dorian's life spiraled out of control. Boni and Liveright later selected the book to be the first published in its Modern Library series.

The things Wilde said in defense of his novel are striking examples of his relentless jabs at hypocrisy, pretense, and boring conventionality:
     "An artist, sir, has no ethical sympathies at all. Virtue and wickedness are to him simply what the colours in his palette are to the painter."
     "The English public, as a mass, takes no interest in a work of art until it is told that the work in question is immoral."
     "As for the mob, I have no desire to be a popular novelist. It is far too easy."
     "It is proper that limitations should be placed on action. It is not proper that limitations should be placed on art. To art belongs all things that are and things that are not, and even the editor of a London paper has no right to restrain the freedom of art in the selection of subject-matter."
     "The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic."
     "Your critic has cleared himself of the charge of personal malice... but he has only done so by a tacit admission that he has really no critical instinct about literature and literary work, which, in one who writes about literature, is, I need hardly say, a much graver fault than malice of any kind."

The essence of aestheticism is stated by the character of Lord Henry Wotton:
"People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."
Lord Henry is the embodiment of Wilde's contempt for bourgeois morality. He speaks almost exclusively in epigrams, designed by Wilde to shock the ethical certainties of the burgeoning middle class. Our favorite:
     "But, surely, if one lives merely for one's self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing so?" suggested the painter.
     "Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays."
Lord Henry becomes captivated by Dorian Gray and initiates him into "...the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty." He plays the role of the devil to Dorian's Faust, giving him a "poisonous" French novel (unnamed in publication, but refered to in manuscript as Le Secret de Raoul, by Catulle Sarrazin) in the style of the classic of decadence À rebours, by Joris-Karl Huysmans. Wilde also replicated the style and substance of that novel in Chapter Eleven. The plot similarities to Goethe's Faust are emphasized by a woman in the drug dens who refers to Dorian as "the devil's bargain." And in a nod to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dorian comments that, despite appearances, each of us has heaven and hell inside him. Because of these and other obeisances, Wilde has often been charged with being a mere accumulator of writing styles and content, borrowing freely from such authors as Balzac, Zola, Stevenson, Poe, and Doyle. His sole novel, however, is but a small piece of his ouevre, and, in terms of modern popularity and readability, it has stood the test of time better than the three novels mentioned above--witness the reference in James Blunt's recent song "Tears and Rain."

An artist called Basil Hayward has been painting Dorian Gray in many guises of myth and legend. One day he decides to paint Dorian as he really is, instead of a representation of art. When finished he is astonished at the beauty he has captured, and by it Dorian comes to love, Narcissus-like, his own beauty. He expresses the wish that his beauty could remain forever unsullied, with the portrait suffering the degeneration of living. Basil, fearful that everyone will see his idolatry, gives the painting to his subject with the condition it never be publicly shown.

Dorian soon begins a romance with Sibyl Vane. Just as quickly he ends it, devastating Sibyl to suicide, and returns home to discover "[t]he portrait had altered." The painting displays "a touch of cruelty in the mouth." He fears the portrait will now teach him to loathe his soul. Just in time does Lord Henry arrive to pull Dorian back to his narcolectic, aesthetic senses.

Wilde composes his tale through a series of parallels and regular foreshadowing. When Sibyl Vane reveals herself no longer the actress Dorian thought she was, he falls out of love with her; when Dorian reveals himself no longer the simple, natural, affectionate, unspoiled creature Basil thought he was, Basil falls out of love with him. Dorian says, "There is something fatal about a portrait." Basil says "Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face."

When they first meet, Basil describes the experience as would someone who has fallen in love. He is as obsessed with seeing Dorian every day as will be Sibyl. Basil gives up his art for a supposed reality of beauty he sees embodied in Dorian, just as Sibyl gives up her art for a reality of love. With their arts no longer a buffer against life, they are both eventually destroyed by reality. When Dorian states his belief that he has killed Sibyl (indirectly, by his rejection), it is a foreshadowing of what he will end up doing to Basil.

Basil's whole life changes when he recognizes Dorian's beauty. Yet when Dorian becomes a man who lives only for beauty, Basil is horrified. When he realises the changes in Dorian that his portrait has wrought, Basil says, foreshadowing his fate, "Well, I am punished for that, Dorian--or shall be some day." Basil eventually decides to exhibit the portrait, but Dorian fears everyone will then see the dark deeds weighing upon his soul. The two men part company as if they had been lovers who agree to be friends, thus ending what Basil clearly experienced as a romance.

What we find most enjoyable in the novel is the gothic flavor and the decadent style. The near-constant epigramatic dialogue of Lord Henry keeps up the fast pace Wilde will later perfect in The Importance of Being Earnest, and tempers the dark tale with biting humor. The atmosphere in setting scenes is thick and the style of Chapter Eleven is luxurious with elaborate obsession. What didn't work so well was the later addition of chapters. These stood out during our reading in marked contrast to the original chapters--for instance, Sibyl Vane's point of view, leaving Dorian out of the scene completely.

Jeffrey Eugenides says The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel about the spiritual risks of reading.
For years, Dorian could not free himself from the influence of this book. ... He procured from Paris no less than nine large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in different colours....the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it."
Often a reader can tell of a certain book that has changed them, that has held great influence over their thinking, that has drawn them or pushed them into something unexpected and irresistable. Did the mysterious yellow book drive Dorian to unspecified horrors eventually culminating in murder? Or is this a novel about the dichotomy of man's nature? Or is this a novel about the futility of freezing time, of holding back the inevitable ravages of life? Or is this a novel about vanity and its resulting emotional numbness? Or is this a novel about Wilde's personal struggle with homosexuality? Truly it is a combination of all these, which gives it the endurance and resonance it has enjoyed for more than one hundred years.

Fans of Wikipedia might have fun browsing the Uncyclopedia, which is fully stocked with quotes from Oscar Wilde.

A note about the Slaves of Golconda

Coleridge divides readers into four kinds. The first three he believes are to varying degrees lazy, casual, and inattentive. “The fourth,” he says, “is like the slaves in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, retain only pure gems.”

The great Bibliogosphere is inhabited by many thoughtful and articulate readers who regularly share their insights on their own blogs. All are after one thing in their reading, and have a compulsion to pursue it. Nearly every day one can find reactions to a literary classic, a new release, a modern romance, a poem, a pop-up book--the variety is endless. The purpose of the Slaves is to gather these readers who toil without recompense in search of the crystalline truth, and all mine the same book at the same time.

Those who participate (see sidebar for a partial list) will be posting their reactions to the assigned book on their own blog, in their own personal style. Bud Parr has graciously invited the Slaves to post at MetaxuCafe as well, with the hope that a centralized discussion may ensue. Comments are welcome whether one has read the assigned book or not.

Registration with the Slaves is not necessary for anyone who would like to read the assigned book and blog about it on the designated day. Nominations for future featured books are encouraged, and will be chosen by the ruling oligarchy and featured on the last day of each month. And if your reading is not as the sand in the hour-glass, or the sponge, or the jelly-bag, then you may truly number yourself among the eminent ranks of the Slaves of Golconda.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Nine, in which We imagine Ourselves as a Book

If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.
Your Bibliothecary decided to join in the biblianthropologising, and we are pleased to announce which literature classic we are:


Shakespeare: Sonnets

Everyone has heard of you, and almost everybody can find something touching in you. You are calm and control yourself, even though your wisdom and your messages are no lesser than those of others.

Which literature classic are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, February 24, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Eight, in which a harrowing Incident interrupts a placid Life

When your Bibliothecary opened to read Brotherhood of the Renunciants yesterday morning, we were surprised to find a wound in the front endpapers. This particular volume was published in the early 1960s, bound uniquely in human skin. The injury we discovered was a small scar at the top of the joint, just starting to expose the interior binding, and destined to spread quickly with regular handling. Indeed, the wound probably occurred at some point due to harsh handling: removing the volume from the shelf by hooking the finger at the top of the spine and pulling forward; undue pressure placed on the upper board, such as a weight intended to hold it down; a fall, landing on the upper board, thus causing what might be likened to a stress fracture; picking the book up or carrying it by the upper board alone.

We consulted with the Silent Partner, who placed a few calls to friendly practitioners of books, and all agreed ours required immediate attention before the injury could spread. So our meal ended abruptly, our wounded book placed within a carrier designed especially for safe transport of books, and off we headed to hospital.

The De Bury Document Health Center is housed in a modern building, and in addition to addressing the health needs of books, manuscripts, musical scores, maps, and other ephemera, it is also a center for scholarship and a sort of laboratory where new ideas are tested and new methods are perfected.

The center owns one of the largest stockpiles of emergency supplies and equipment in our state. Their major mission is conservation through stabilization of fragile material, rehabilitation, and full restoration. They also hold regular free seminars on using and reading books, on shelving books, on caring for and repairing disabled books. Through a consulting division they provide comprehensive recovery strategies for museums, libraries, universities, and other archival collections. Finally, there is the Emergency Response Team, prepared to deal with any rescue or salvage situation, and whose talented members worked with us on this night.

We entered an emergency room not unlike any at your local Catholic Saint Hospital. A young blonde doctor examined our book carefully. We explained we were unsure how the wound occurred. She had a calm manner and a pleasing demeanor, and reassured us by saying, "A lot of books from independent presses are made with material of poor quality that just can't stand up to time. Boards and hinges and such are moving parts that wear out eventually. What most people don’t consider is that the parts of a book work together as integrally and delicately as the inner mechanisms of a clock, and if injuries like these are ignored, they'll get worse until eventually the book will be beyond our capabilities to save it."

So to the waiting room we went, while the experts at De Bury initiated the protocol for treating the manner of injury to our special book.

A book is commonly believed to have a sort of immortality, to live on, once created, long after the writer has passed on to the great Sophia Library of the Book in the sky. True, we still can experience the observations and enjoy the creations of Oscar Wilde today as fresh as when they were still wet from his pen; this part of him lives on. But what of his writings that have not been preserved? What, to wonder a step further, about a writer whose every work has been lost?

We are presently engaged in reading The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, in which a man of evil reputation murders an author and then runs around the world destroying every copy of that author’s books, thereby erasing both man and works from the true book of history. Though we do not yet know the conclusion of the story, there is truth to its fiction: who now knows The Gall of Bitterness, the only novel written by R.O. Hollyband? Written is Ambarvale in 1712, his book was privately printed in a limited number for friends and patrons, and is no longer extant. There is no immortality for Hollyband and his book. But books are designed to perpetuate and disseminate information, not entomb it. Preservation work done at places such as De Bury is critical to keeping even the smallest scrap of human knowledge from slipping back into the darkness of prehistory, as well as maintaining a strong literary heritage.

So after a few hours which featured a stress test and an ultrasound test, our book went through a brief routine surgery and came out nearly good as new. Prognosis is good for a full recovery, and our book can be returned to full use as soon as next month. We returned to Mad About Books International Headquarters full of relief and thoughts of the mortality of us all.

Modern technology now provides ways of preserving information independent of the container of the book itself. Such books may then survive for only a limited period of time, while their content, like the soul within a human body, may live on. Just as we bury a human body following death, Muslims often bury a Koran when it has exhausted its life. Many bibliophiles will burn their books in a death rite of respect. Some book-fanciers will donate their lifeless books to others for reuse as works of art, or for scientific experimentation, so that technicians like those at the De Bury Document Health Center can gain new knowledge that might one day save another book, bring relief to millions suffering cocking, or finally find a cure for mildew. Consider the cherished copy of Where the Wild Things Are, one’s favorite from childhood, or The Once and Future King, which dazzled one in secondary school—who would feel comfortable, when the time comes, of simply disposing of these books in the trash, consigning them to a mass grave defiled by food scraps and dog waste and soda cans? We hope all book lovers will offer their lifeless books a respectful passing, a deserved final resting place. Such treatment is among the book-fanciers necessary acts of devotion. Books are, after all, more than containers, more than information: they are our patient teachers, silent confidantes, cherished friends, and beloved companions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Seven, in which the print Version is previewed

The other day Pages Turned featured their new magazine cover. Your Bibliothecary thought it would be fun to play along and see what our magazine will look like when it finally hits the newstands.


We will be offering special discount subscriptions to all our Dear Readers, so check back often for details to come. And if you simply can't wait, why not go make your own.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Six, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Visit from Saint Duckett

With out-of-town business to attend to, your Bibliothecary and the Silent Partner were resigned to being unable to attend the two book sales we had long ago penciled on our calender. But before we even embarked on our trip, a dapper young man brought eight boxes and bags of books into the shop to trade, sell, and donate. A small stack found its way directly into our personal collection. A good bagful we will list online to tempt the discriminating buyer. The majority will be fodder for the next local fundraiser. Little did we know these were not mere consolation for a missed hunting trip, but the prefacing tip of a biblioberg.

James Duckett was a Catholic bookseller in London. Laws of the English Reformation prohibited the printing or distributing of Catholic literature. He spent many years of his life in jail, and in 1602 was sentenced to the gallows on the accusation of a bookbinder. Together the men shared a cart to their execution at Tyburn. Pope Pius XI beatified this "bookseller for Christ" in 1929, and Duckett became the patron saint of booksellers and publishers. This weekend the good saint smiled upon us, sinners though we may be.

With time to spare on Sunday, we made a brief stop at one sale along our route. This was the final day, remaining books were half-price, and the selection was limited--lots of Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel, and Robert James Waller. We did manage to turn up one box full for inventory, as well as a few titles to add to our American Revolution collection.

We made our first scheduled stop, and then concluded we had enough time to proceed to the nearest Barnes and Noble. Now, as an independent book seller, Barnes and Noble and others in the superstore coven are more corporate storefront outlets than book havens; they are, however, places where great numbers of books congregate, and so we are drawn to the hunting field. Once inside, we begin to discover armfuls of books we didn't know we were looking for. There are so many beautiful books covering so many interesting subjects--though they are easily purchased, the time necessary for reading them is sold separately. Still, in the till we leave behind four Franklins, and emerge from the stacks with two large bags of booty.

When Necessary Acts of Devotion comes out in book form, mention of two of the books we acquired will be found in their rightful place, among the other Antarcticania in the chilling Chapter Eighty-Three. For now, they must be recognised here. The first is Shackleton: The Story of Ernest Shackleton and the Antarctic Explorers, by Gavin Mortimer. Only one quarter of this trade paperback quarto treats the Endurance expedition, but it gives a good overview of all explorations of the continent, with many photographs. The second book is a hardcover entitled South With Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917: The Photographs of Frank Hurley. This glossy edition focuses, as the title suggests, on the photographic record of the Endurance expedition, publishing many images for the first time, as well as excerpts from Hurley's diary, and an examination of his equipment and techniques.

The next morning Duckett arranged for us time to visit a discount book outlet, where publisher remainders go for a second chance to be read. Here we were able to gather two bags of more books necessary to our survival. A quick side-trip to the local second-hand bookshop was a disappointment, as it was closed. But the good saint was not finished yet with us. One of the sales we could not attend was giving away the remaining chaff. We were able to pull out four bags of more books suitable for inventory.

Finally, we picked up the two volumes of Vermeer which we had won at auction in the madcap Chapter Ninety. These books are so beautiful we were loathe to open them to take a peek at their contents. For now, they make a sumptuous decoration at Mad About Books International Headquarters, hidden deep within an inconspicuous cornfield. Soon, though, their information will be coaxed out, for Vermeer is too compelling a subject to be ignored for long.

So ended our weekend without books. We returned home in our element, and eager to explore the new worlds at hand. And as so many of our Dear Readers have experienced for themselves, we already have more books than we have time to read--do we really need more? Most definitely. And the reason is stated most succinctly by Callie:
I commune among books as Thoreau did among nature.
Like Saint Duckett, who could not live without producing and distributing his religious texts, we find ourselves most ourselves in and among books.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Five, in which opening Lines are celebrated

Ella recently reached into the Box of Books and brought out a few favorite opening lines. (See also Pantagraph for the American Book Review list of 100 best first lines from novels.) Your Bibliothecary thought it would be interesting to share some lines that have touched us. We can, in fact, often be lured into a book by an opening line that has a lot happening:
In the prime assurance of his youth, in the fresh arrogance of his wisdom, and power in wisdom, with a sense of his extreme handsomeness, if not indeed beauty (for Gerta had said more than once that he was beautiful, and his own mirror had pleasantly corroborated this) Jasper Ammen leaned from the sixth floor window and projected his own image upon the world. --Conrad Aiken, King Coffin

At the striking of noon on a certain fifth of March, there occurred within a causal radius of Brandon railway station and yet beyond the deepest pools of emptiness between the uttermost stellar systems one of those infinitesimal ripples in the creative silence of the First Cause which always occur when an exceptional stir of heightened consciousness agitates any living organism in this astronomical universe. --John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance

It was many years ago in that dark, chaotic, unfathomable pool of time before Germaine's birth (nearly twelve months before her birth), on a night in late September stirred by innumerable frenzied winds, like spirits contending with one another--now plaintively, now angrily now with a subtle cellolike delicacy capable of making the flesh rise on one's arms and neck--a night so sulfurous, so restless, so swollen with inarticulate longing that Leah and Gideon Bellefleur in their enormous bed quarreled once again, brought to tears because their love was too ravenous to be contained by their mere mortal bodies; and their groping, careless, anguished words were like strips of raw silk rubbed violently together (for each was convinced that the other did not, could not, be equal to his love--Leah doubted that any man was capable of a love so profound it could lie silent, like a forest pond; Gideon doubted that any woman was capable of comprehending the nature of a man's passion, which might tear through him, rendering him broken and exhausted, as vulnerable as a small child): it was on this tumultuous rain-lashed night that Mahalallel came to Bellefleur Manor on the western shore of the great Lake Noir, where he was to stay for nearly five years. --Joyce Carol Oates, Bellefleur

A sense of doom is always intriguing:

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. --John Irving, A Prayer For Owen Meany

On an April night almost midpoint in the Eighteenth Century, in the county of Orange in the colony of Virginia, Jacob Pollroot tasted his death a moment before swallowing it. --Steve Erickson, Arc d'X

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. --Francoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. --John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. --H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. --Franz Kafka, The Trial

A philosophical beginning brings the question to be answered by the book immediately to the reader:

Why is the measure of love loss? --Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! --Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

And there is our favorite, that we read as conveying a sense of majesty, or grandness:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. --Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. --Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Strong openings are good, but simple openings do not prevent one from reading on:

The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry. --Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

A cool heavenly breeze took possession of him. --Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

Many are the fine lines to be found deep within those books, and others, instead of at either end. The strength of D.H. Lawrence may not be in his opening or closing, but his middles are wonderful. So, too, Shakespeare.

What really enshrines a book for us is the ending. We most enjoy those that seem to collect everything that has gone before and boil it down to one final sentence, that send the reader both backward and forward in time, that echo and resonate through us and beyond:

And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistance of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain. --Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

And what, Stefanie has recently wondered, makes The Great Gatsby, by Scott Fitzgerald, so great? It is in no small part the brilliant ending that transcends the book and its protagonist, to touch us all:

     Gastby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run fasterm stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning---
     So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

We have a book by Georgianne Ensign titled Great Beginnings: Opening Lines of Great Novels which we would like to give away today. The contest, to be judged again by our Dramatis Personae, involves first and last lines. Entries must be received before Monday 20 February. Contestants are asked to identify the book and the author from which the following opening line is taken:
He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

As a tie-breaker, please identify the book and the author from which the following closing line is taken:
There was no priest in attendance.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Four, in which the Hat is passed

About a month back, news of the Book Lover's Ball was spread at BookLust. This event is scheduled for Thursday 16 February, so I am getting to this chapter at the last minute. If my Dear Readers so desire, we can still get one of "Us" in.

Patricia noted how much she would enjoy attending this event. Unfortunately, the ticket prices were beyond her budget. One of her dear readers suggested every chip in to buy her a ticket. Well, that is precisely what I propose we do... better late than never.

Individual tickets cost $350. Patricia had seven readers comment. Would each contribute $50? Or could we get thirty-five people to contribute ten dollars to this worthy cause? That is our goal. We don't know the exact number of Dear Readers we have here, but if everyone participates the task should be simple and painless.

We will of course require a full report from the event, including pictures and autographs if at all possible, and it would not hurt if Patricia dressed up as Mrs. Haversham. For those who donate, feel free to add a comment with a question for Patricia to ask.

We did not reach our goal. Refunds have been issued. A heartfelt thanks to those who generously donated.

Chapter Ninety-Three, in which the Bookshop smells good

Several Dear Readers have commented on the dreams and joys of owning a bookshop. For a book-fancier such comments are undoubtedly true. Yet, unless one is independently wealthy or Bernard Black (see Chapter Seventy-Six), owning a bookshop also entails duties of business, such as paying the bills, keeping inventory records, complying with regulations and laws. And for a small independent operation, your Bibliothecary not only gets to acquire the books, we also get to wash the windows, vacuum the floors, answer the telephones, and take out the trash.

On average once a week we hear from patrons how nice our bookshop smells. A few times someone elaborates that so many other used bookstores smell musty, and ours doesn't. Most books are made out of organic material, and in order for them not to rot away, they must breathe. Musty certainly is not a good smell for a bookshop.

A few days ago we began to shelve our newest acquisitions in the "Newest Arrivals" section. This involved first moving out some of the older new acquisitions, and placing them in their proper category in the shop. One such book was a title by Isaac Asimov. We carried it to the "Science Fiction" section, found the A's, and just as we were about to slide it between two of its brethren, we noticed three Asimov hardcovers with mildew on the top edge near the spine. That's odd, we thought, we don't remember this condition existing when we shelved these books. Nevertheless, we quickly removed them from the shelf and banished them to the dumpster.

The spores of fungi that become mould or mildew are always present in the air and settle onto surfaces to feed when there is sufficient moisture. Basically, mould and mildew eat library materials. They excrete digestive enzymes that allow them to eat starches and cellulose so they can grow and produce more spores. As mildew grows, it leaves a musty
odor; it discolors fabrics, and sometimes eats into them until the fabrics rot and fall to pieces; and it can irreversibly stain books and paper. This was definitely something that is not welcome in our bookshop.

With the flop of our science fiction sale late last year, we have been left with that category exceeding its boundaries, and crowding out the "Adventure" section. So, with a mind toward correcting this imbalance, and restocking the adventure titles, we began to cull the science fiction sections from seven down to six. Beginning with the A's, we almost immediately discovered all the books, in a vertical column in line with the three afflicted Asimov volumes, were being attacked by mildew.

There is a stain in the corner of the ceiling of our shop that was dry and dormant when we moved in. Apparently there had been recent activity in that spot, because the books below it were feeding the mildew, were stuck together, were bulging with damp. The shelves also had mildew. Mildew is like cancer, and will spread if not removed, so we immediately began the Emergency Response Procedures. Books flew to the floor two handfuls at a time. When a nice pile of over one hundred volumes had taken form in the aisle, two patrons walked in the door. Of course, they were interested in Science Fiction.

How does a book-fancier keep the musty smell from a bookshop? By being relentless, and having a policy as clearly stated as one for returns or trade-ins. We had no interest in risking a spread of the fungus, and so instead of attempting to clean and reclaim the books, we destroyed them. Once that had taken place, clean-up could begin.

The first step to conquering mildew is to remove the moisture. This meant for several days we let the empty shelves air out, so that the mildew would slowly stop growing. Once dormant, it takes on a powdery form, which can be dusted away at the risk of releasing some spores back into the air. We vacuumed. After this, shelves and floor must be washed, for which we used an old rag soaked in a mixture of one gallon of warm water and one cup of bleach. Once the shelves are allowed to dry again, we must check to see that the mildew has been completely eradicated. When it has, a new coat of varnish is probably not a bad idea. Once again, we let it dry, and then, at long last, our books may return to their restored home.

Prevention is the best mildew policy. If things are kept clean, well-ventilated and dry, your chances of having mildew are greatly lessened. The National Library of Australia recommends a temperature range of 66 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit; the University of Florida notes that a relative humidity less than 62% stops all chances of mold growth. Finally, when one brings home those new acquisitions, it is always best to quarantine them. At the Georgia State Archives they maintain a "dirty room" where new acquisitions are checked for
insects and mold and treated if necessary before being added to the stacks. Keeping new aquisitions away from one's collection until one knows they are clean ought to be as routine as scanning one's email for viruses before opening, because the consequences could be just as insidious.

Being eaten alive by mildew is a fate no book-fancier would ever wish upon any book, not even The Bridges of Madison County. And until mildew comes out with lavender-, cinammon-, or baby powder-scented versions, we refuse to admit it's smell into our bookshop.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Two, in which Dust Jacket Art is appreciated

Sarah has recently posted a few dust jackets featuring steamships. This started your Bibliothecary picking through our collection for favorite dust jackets. It is often true that one can't tell a book by its cover, but often it doesn't matter if the cover is a work of art itself.

One of the books we acquired last weekend--the one which we hoped would sit on the shelf for a while so we would have the opportunity to read it, and which promptly sold the next day--has a nice clean look with attractive lettering. The art of the lower half of the dust jacket is a form that consistently appeals to us: classic pre-Columbian depictions of life in the New World.

Another category of art that we enjoy can be found on this book. Again, the lettering is attractive, especially the alluring "S." The colorful Baroque style is at once heady and decadent.

Our favorite paintings should come as little surprise. This book features two paintings by the incomparable Vermeer: the titular work, and his "View of Delft" with its famous patch of yellow, "so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself...." (from The Captive by Marcel Proust)

We also have a passion for classic photography, more so when black-and-white, that conveys a mix of beauty and melancholy, as well as nostalgia for the past. This fiction title is a good example, and similar images can often be found decorating fine biographies.

Sarah's steamship dust jackets fall into the category we most ardently seek, those produced in the heydey of the 1920s and 1930s. These are almost exclusively hand-drawn, and difficult to find in good condition so that, beyond their personal appeal to us as a confirmed book-fancier, as book sellers we also find strong demand among collectors.

The Silent Partner is sometimes heard saying we bought a book because it looked nice. A beautiful-looking book is certainly a showpiece for any bookshop. We also have a collection of classic paperbacks solely based on the appeal of the cover art. This book was purchased purely for the beauty of its craftsmanship--the clasps give the volume such a romantic aura. We have even acquired books for the look inside, such as the design, the typeface, or especially the margins. Visit BibliOdyssey for a wonderful collection of the fine art of book illustrations, both inside and outside.

Dear Readers, have you ever purchased a book simply for the look?

Monday, February 6, 2006

Chapter Ninety-One, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Weekend of Book-Hunting (Part Three)

The final location for the weekend book-hunt was laced with people early, waiting in the flurries. This was the first day of the event, which proved rewarding in the past. We adopted a strategy not used before: instead of going first to the main room, where most of the other hunters herded, we set off to another floor where awaited children’s and antique books. After that, we would scout the outer room, where the better books congregated. Finally, we would approach the main room to hunt among the leftovers.

Book sales are always popular spots for parents, because the selection of children’s books is large, the supply seemingly endless, and the prices indulgently low. Thus most of the people on the second floor stayed away from the tables of antique books, which in this case were mostly just old books. The only thing to catch our eye was a biography of sorts that appeared hand-made, by William Darius Fisher, and which proved to be one of only a few copies listed online for sale.

The better books produced better results. Immediately we began stuffing our bag, sometimes with two books in hand at once. A fellow hunter kindly let us know that one of the books we had selected was boring. We turned up a few nearly guaranteed sellers, and a few nice editions for our own collection. The highlight of the group was a title we have been desiring since reading the enthusiastic review at It’s All About the Book, The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Already we are on Chapter Ten, and enjoying it heartily.

Then, into the fray. Tables of books were arranged with about two feet of space between, making it nearly impossible for a small book-hunter with several bags to pass a large book-hunter with nothing. The crowds had not abated, and some sections of the room seemed to writhe like a feeding frenzy of hyenas. We pushed our way slowly through the field, gathering numerous decent titles. The prize was a first edition Mary Roberts Rinehart with dust jacket—a rarity. Our most treasured find was an oversized calendar featuring color reproductions of illuminated manuscripts which should make quite a literary decoration framed on the walls of the bookshop.

We returned from our weekend adventure with several bags of booty, and more money to spare than we had anticipated. The hunt complete, now comes the joys of researching the items for sale, and reading the items for us. We also donated four boxes of books at the first location, and from this new haul there will surely be more to come. So the benefits spread beyond us, the pleasures of reading increase, and already anticipation for the next hunt begins.

But wait! Midday the telephone rings with a surprise. Remember the Vermeer set on auction? Well, we had the highest bid. This is the first silent auction we have won. The books are intended for our private collection, and should go a long way to enhancing our experience of one of the finest painters.

At the first location, one of the volunteers, an elderly man with but a few hairs remaining, offered us a card listing dates of future book sales. Almost immediately he opined that we probably wouldn’t be interested, as the five boxes of books we were presently carting away ought to keep us busy perhaps until our scalp was as bare as his. We assured him we wouldn’t miss the next sale. He commented that, in that case, we must be a dealer. How sheltered must his life be. Does he have no joys, no hobbies, no lifelong pursuits? I told him there is always a good book to be found. Had we skipped the second sale of the weekend simply because we took home hundreds of books from the first, we would have missed, among others, two volumes of Christopher Morley and a fine set of art books. As well as enhancing our collection, the Vermeer books especially will serve as a memory of the weekend, like a trophy mounted on a wall, but ever alive and available to be opened and enjoyed again and again, as well as a passport to another place and time. There are always other books waiting only for us, somewhere—as the protagonist of The Shadow of the Wind notes, waiting perhaps since before we were born. It is among our necessary acts of devotion to find them.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Chapter Ninety, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Weekend of Book-Hunting (Part Two)

We arrive at the second sale location on Preview Night, after the initial rush. The cost to enter is nominal, as are the prices of the books. Accordingly, the crowd is large, and there are plenty of familiar faces, though your Bibliothecary keeps to himself for the most part.

The majority of offerings were ex-library books. These are culled from library circulation when demand falls below a certain benchmark, when they become damaged, or after initial interest in a title has waned—meaning of the original number of twenty circulating copies of Tom Clancy’s last novel, nineteen are no longer needed. Unless there is a book that we are personally interested in, and usually for reference, these have no appeal to us. We came away with only a handful of books. There was also a silent auction for more collectible items, among which was an attractive set of books on Vermeer and his art, for which we bid a nice odd number.

The most humorous moment of the hunt occurred when we spotted in the distance a book that looked by its markings rather familiar. When we drew close enough to take hold of it by the spine and lift it from its surroundings, we discovered a copy of our own first novel, The Last Decadent, published in 1995! It bore the tracking devices of the library, and now returned to the wild, with our hope it would be picked up by someone before the hunt ended.

Aside from the general disappointment of this night, we did come away with two coveted books by our most beloved author Christopher Morley: a copy of Parnassus on Wheels in torn dust jacket, and a crisp copy of Human Being in a well-preserved dust jacket. The latter alone made the hunt a success.

One dear reader posed this question: do we squirrel away somewhere in the store treasures which we hope to read ourself before they are sold to some other lucky book-fancier? Oddly enough, this thought crossed our mind earlier in the day.

After being protected in a clear archival cover, a book like Human Being goes directly to our personal library, never to be seen by another shopper’s eyes. Books not meant for us are researched and, if they meet certain criteria, listed for sale online. Finally, those and the remainders are priced and shelved in the store. One in particular, 1491, by Charles C. Mann, concerning the world of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, had a definite interest for us, yet did not fit in with our collections, and we wondered if we should hold it to the side to read before offering for sale, or if we should shelve it and read it while we are in the store. We are inclined to the latter, but feel certain it will be purchased rather quickly online. There is some degree of sadness to see such interesting books, or attractive editions, sold. We know, however, that there will always be more to be had at the next hunt…

…which is this morning. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Nine, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Weekend of Book-Hunting (Part One)

Book-hunting season began a few weeks ago, but weather prevented us from actually going out on the hunt. Until today.

This morning was Day Two at one location. We usually are the big spenders at this location on preview night, so coming the morning after promised to strain our funds a little less. We arrived about ten minutes after opening, and the crowds were smaller and the selection slimmer than we were used to. That did not mean there were not treasures to be found.

In addition to four boxes of bookstore stock, we turned up several sought-after gems. Yankee Bookseller, by Charles E. Goodspeed has been on our want list for some time, and is now part of our collection. Master Class: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop, by Paul West looks to be of help in combatting writer's block. Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading, by Nancy M. Malone may illuminate the fate of Dorian Gray. Also found were several volumes to enhance our collections in the American Revolution, the Matter of Britain, and some favoritve authors such as Milan Kundera and Arturo Perez-Reverte. A rare first edition of Sycamore, by Constance Wagner is a special treat. Finally, a book we plan to use in upcoming chapters to dazzle and impress our Dear Readers (and perhaps send them scurrying for the dictionary): The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, by Eugene Ehrlich.

The thrill of the hunt continues tonight.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Eight, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

In the private collection of your Bibliothecary is a cherished limited second edition published by Thomas B. Mosher in 1905 of seven hundred and fifty printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper of The Poems of Oscar Wilde, bound in beige paper over boards, with deckled fore edge. All together it is a thing of beauty, which was its initial attraction. There is also much to discover inside.

Wilde was a brilliant man, in work and in character. When he arrived for a tour of the United States, he replied to the customs official, "I have nothing to declare but my genius." He wrote fairy tales, a small bit of fiction, numerous essays, several sophisticated dramas, but he was a poet first, and produced some of the most elegant verse. In 1878 he won the Oxford Newdigate Prize for best poem in English verse with "Ravenna."

Now we continue to stoke interest in Oscar Wilde, in anticipation of The Slaves of Golconda reviews ofThe Picture of Dorian Gray at the end of the month, with a portion of one of our favorite poems, "The Flower of Love":

And at springtide, when the apple-blossoms
     Brush the burnished bosom of the dove,
Two young lovers lying in an orchard would
     Have read the story of our love;

Would have read the legend of my passion,
     Known the bitter secret of my heart,
Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as
     We two are fated now to part.