Image from here Poetry words in great Poetry strike matches together they're lucky They roil and rub compete, smudge kindle rage, dissolve condense, and finally expire. Copyright © 2006 by Nigel Beale.
Archive for April, 2006
Talk of tenmilehouse.com puts me in mind of last summer when I was in Halifax listening to another bar band, clam chowder. Not quite the hard rocked finish of the former, but every bit as good a band in its own Neil-Youngish sort of way. And then I’m thinking, I have this smokin’ article on my book buying trip through Canada’s maritime provinces that I’m too lazy to finish and pitch to any magazine. And I’m thinking, damn it, what is a blog if not a place to post my unrequited writing. Who knows who might be reading. Maybe I wont even have to go through the trouble of pitching it. Some astute magazine editor may just leave a comment like, “we want you” and save me the hassle (as Saltscapes magazine has just done!).
So here we are: an incomplete travel/book collecting article for your reading pleasure exclusively:
“With my two girls safely aboard the plane back to Ottawa, the week ahead lay open for indulging two passions: fast driving on smooth traffic-less highways, and book collecting. Moncton was made from the St. John airport in about an hour. My sporty new post-separation Mazda3 GT had performed beautifully. The drive was quick and construction-free.
The floors at The Owl’s Attic were hardwood and didn’t creak. Most of the books were housed in one large, high-ceilinged room on the main floor of an old Masonic temple. The proprietor, Edward Lemond, had recently moved his business from a storefront on Main street up the hill a block into this solid old square stone building. I’d just missed by days the big fifty to seventy percent off clear-out sale. Timing, particularly when buying at used bookstores, is everything.
I collect Modern First Editions, or more accurately, contemporary firsts, since, as British book-collecting icon John Carter points out in his ABC for Book Collectors, the term ‘Modern’ originates from the 1920s, and was first applied to the books of the naughty nineties. My preferred territory is the past fifty years. Ironically I tend not to read much written after 1980. There are enough time-tested classics to get through before wasting effort on the ephemeral.
Owl’s Attic was the first store visited on my fast-driven collecting tour. I arrived at approximately 3.30pm on Saturday afternoon. The radio was tuned to CBC Two. An opera was playing, free, thanks to the strike, from commentators thinking themselves more important than the programming. There was a little table in the corner of the room with a chess set on it. Two children’s chairs were pushed tightly up against it. No cat was evident. Lemond asked if I needed help… if I was looking for anything in particular. I informed him of my interests and told him my list was too long to recite. He beckoned me to a stack of nearby Firsts. “There are also a few shelves of signed books just around the corner,” he said. “If you need any more assistance please, just ask.” He let me be with the books. Just the right measure of solicitude and space.
The selection was good. So were the prices. Because it is a book of some dimension, my eyes were quickly drawn to a copy of William Gaddis’s JR, a novel noted for its ‘scabrous, hilarious condemnation of American business’ and considered by many to be a masterpiece. It was selling for $125. The book was unmarked and square. The jacket slightly rubbed at the spine ends with one closed tear at the top of the front panel. Unfortunately the price had been clipped off. I judged the book to be in near fine condition. Near Fine (NF) is a term used to describe a book and its dust jacket on a scale that ranges from As New or Fine, to Fair. A book in fine condition looks pretty well as it did when first issued by the publisher, with no noteworthy defects of any kind. Near-Fine (NF) indicates that there is some small defect with the book itself, such as a mildly dented corner or a small dirt smudge, or, in the case of the dust jacket, a short closed tear or creases at the head or tail of the spine. A book’s condition is crucially important to the discerning collector. This holds particularly true of the dust jacket where a whopping seventy percent of a volume’s value resides. Ironic, given that when first introduced, jackets served a mere protective purpose and were discarded as a matter of course. This all changed in the 1920s when talented artists and designers were hired by publishers to help promote and sell their books.
JR was critically acclaimed and definitely in collectible condition; the only things left to determine were its true ‘First’ status and whether or not the price was reasonable. Despite stating First Edition on its title page, I needed to consult my McBride, a handy pocket-sized paperback that lists publishers and the infuriatingly illogical, inconsistent practices they use to designate Firsts. Edward also consulted one of his books and we agreed that we had the real thing. Believe it or not ‘First Edition’ can appear on the title page of a book without it actually being one. The printer may have neglected or chosen out of laziness not to change the original plates. Successful identification of a First requires detective work and the process of elimination. Some cases are straight forward, others impossible. If there’s nothing about a book that suggests a later printing, you can reasonably conclude that it is a First. However, identification isn’t always simple and you can get burned. For example, a book might in every way resemble a First until you venture over onto the back board and spot a small circle, square or leaf shaped indentation at the bottom right hand corner. These pathetic little pock marks identify book club editions which are worthless to the collector. Pulse quickening ‘finds’ turn suddenly into so much blue-bin filler, unless of course you actually want to read them.
Around the corner from the Firsts shelves I found a signed copy of The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace, an early award-winning author who in my opinion delivers on both good read and, though taking its time, good investment fronts. After putting aside several additional volumes I continued to browse, spotting on the way, collections of charming porcelain and stuffed owls perched atop one of the stacks. Next to this was a shelf filled with correspondence and criticism by Northrop Frye. Turns out that Edward organizes an annual conference in Moncton that draws dozens of world renowned scholars. Frye grew up here. Confident I was getting a good deal, and that Edward’s prices were competitive, if not a steal, I put down my money.
The Internet is a double edged sword. In many cases it provides revenues that allows brick and mortar stores to stay open. It provides benchmark pricing and identification info for the collector, as well, unfortunately as reducing the likelihood that sellers will under-price their treasures; these are now found almost solely in the domain of the garage sale, flea market and school and church book fair. There is little doubt that with patience you can find better pricing on the Internet. But you can’t touch and smell the books, you miss the heaven of being surrounded by beauty and knowledge, you don’t meet or learn much from the vendor, you pay for shipping, you risk extortion from our Russian roulette-like customs system and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a purchase that isn’t as described. Nothing beats buying in person from a bookstore. Think about the hours of pleasure you spend browsing the shelves. Your patronage is an expression of gratitude for this experience, a way to ensure that there remain places for peaceful reflection in scattered towns; places to bask in un-harried contemplation.
The impact of the Internet and big box retailers on the used and rare book business was a dominant topic of conversation with booksellers during my tour. The tone was largely one of disgust. One seller observed with derision that when first on the scene Chapters used to carry 350,000 titles. Now its well under 200,000.
The Owl’s Attic was a very pleasant, rewarding first stop. It had given me an appetite so I walked down Main street into a Mexicali Roses. I sat at the bar, ordered beer and a fajita and shared conversation with a guy who judged a city’s culture by the quality of its used bookstores. The only other store in town was further down Main street. Rags of Time had carpeted floors and no cat. It was well-stocked with paperbacks. A place more for readers than collectors. Jazz music played in the background. A young woman, not the proprietor, stood in the foreground. She was the first of many to hand me a pamphlet containing a list of antiquarian and secondhand book-sellers in Atlantic Canada. It became my guide. The sky was dark by now, and I was tired after the excitement. I started to look for accommodation. Within blocks I found a bed and breakfast. No reservations were required, despite it being the eve of Moncton’s annual Acadian festival. I would drive to Charlottetown in the morning sunshine, fill the tank with gas that was sure to be cheaper on the mainland than on the isle and admire the rich red-soiled scenery along the way.
Once over the link bridge on smooth tarmac, the pedal again hit metal,. I was set on arriving early in “Canada’s Birthplace”. One little ‘Books’ sign, however, put paid to this notion and I was soon kicking dust down exit 47. Just as I started thinking ‘goose-chase’ the Bayfield Bookstore came into view looking like it belonged more on a muddy board-walk in the Klondike than in picturesque PEI. I was surprised to see a shelf of sun roasted spines sitting in the front window, more for show than sale perhaps. CBC Radio One prattled in the background. There were no cats but plenty of mosquitoes. The floors were wooden, wide, dusty and creaky. The place felt like an old time general store. I started to work the literature section. A customer was pleading for a better deal on some magazine he’d brought to the counter. The owner wouldn’t have it, which was fine, but there was a clipped haughtiness in his manner, perhaps too close to my own, that I found off-putting. I quickly warmed to him however when he mentioned he had a Colombian wife and a love of South American literature. I found little of interest on the shelves. However, wanting to purchase something from every store visited, I bought a copy of Dean Koontz’s How to write best selling Fiction for six dollars. If anyone could help the pathetic fame-seeker produce a blockbuster it was him. The wonderful irony here is that once home I learned that this book, bought as a sop, was worth about $150.00, making it by far the most profitable find of the trip.
Know your authors and always work the entire bookstore. Important titles often show up in weird places. I once found a $10 First of Kingsley Amis’s delightful $90 On Drinking in the cook book section of a store off Bank street in Ottawa.
Next stop was Victoria-on-the-Sea, a small tourist town full of colourful tangled gardens and quaint sweet shops. Home too to a little theatre.
A bare barn was home to the semi-epynomous Hilary Price Books. Jim Price sat in a comfy chair, reading. The floor was concrete. Don’t recall any music, and if there was a cat it doubtless was out thinning the field-mouse population.
I came up with Firsts of An Ice Cream War by William Boyd, which was shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Award and won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and Richard Hughes’s The Fox in the Attic which features an extraordinary portrait of Adolph Hitler at the beginning of his career. I also picked up a paperback edition of Alan Sanison’s George Orwell after 1984. After complimenting me on my choices, which endeared him to me for life, Jim started musing wistfully about retiring in the Carribean to set up shop in some swank resort. I drove to Charlottetown with this dream sinking roots into my psyche, worrying about how salt and humidity might affect the books.
The Bookman on Charlottetown’s main drag looks like a bookstore. Big bay windows, high packed-in bookshelves , higher ceilings, wooden floors, and a wall of big bound bibles. Smells like one too. No cat though. I’m starting to think that the Canada Council should fund a study on this dearth.
I’d been warned that this store owner could at times be a bit…precious. He wasn’t there. Nor were any of the books I wanted. Lots of paperbacks, good children’s section, good biography, Canadian fiction and Irish writers sections too, plus a trophy selection of folio-sized leather bound Bibles. A brief conversation with the cashier about Hay-on-Wye and Irish writer George Moore (one of the first in English to practice French realism: Zola had been an important influence), the purchase of Nicholas Parsons’s Book of Literary Lists, and I was out of there and into a B&B three blocks away.
Turns out I already have the damned book in hardcover at home. Still, among other gems, it contains Arnold Bennett’s choice of the twelve finest novels ever written “ mostly Russian“ (Danielle Steel hadn’t yet been born); books that had the greatest impact on Tolstoy, (Russian ones of course, but the Brits, notably Dickens, and the Bible, also do pretty well); Connelly’s 100; Burgess’s 99; and Coleridge’s four classes of reader: 1) sponges who absorb everything and return books only a little dirtied, 2)sand glasses who retain nothing, content just to get through the book so they can say they’ve read it, 3) strain bags who retain only the dregs of what they read, and the rarest of readers, 4) the mogul diamonds who profit by what they read and help others to do the same.
After a fresh blueberry ( the small tasty kind) breakfast, I headed three blocks east to The Reading Well where I found a store filled with urban cool, salon.com approved books. Beside the front steps sat a water bowl. For ‘literary dogs’ it said. …to be continued.
Copyright © Nigel Beale.
Image from here
Perhaps I don’t get out often enough, but ho-lee-smokes did I just listen to a kick ass bar band last night or what….
…don’t have a whole heck of a lot to compare these dudes to, other than the original artists… they stack up very nicely. tenmilehouse.com Zepplin, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, The Tragically Hip never sounded so good.
…and another thing. All four band members are muscular looking fuckers…nice and chunky. No skinny little pin cushions these lads. Their shape fits the music perfectly. And man did they look like they were having fun.
Talked briefly to Paul, the lead singer. He has a 17 year old daughter. The band hails from Halifax. The energy in that room…Heart & Crown Ottawa… was big too. No doubt all the cleavage helped.
What a buzz. Check them out.
Why Penises Beat Out Vaginas
Rap as rebellion, slang as hipness, and jargon as obfuscatory exclusionary pretense, these are topics discussed during an interview with world-leading slang lexicographer Jonathon Green last month in his office in London, England. And bloody invigorating it was too. We talk about why penises are funny and beat out vaginas, why slang is negative and misogynist and how it carries a kind of inventive cleverness seldom found in the harmless drudgery of every day language, Samuel Johnson’s political bias, Eric Partridge’s connection with my relative Paul Beale, Jonathon’s insistence on austere objectivity, and the fact that he simply can’t afford to piss around having fun. Copyright © 2006 by Nigel Beale.
KHARTOUM, Sudan, April 28 â€” NY Times reports that: The World Food Program, the United Nations agency responsible for feeding three million people affected by the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, announced Friday that it would cut in half the amount of food it distributed there because it was short of money.
Here’s a incendiary question: Is the white world less concerned than it might be about Darfur because it is black?
Image from here.
Senator Barack Obama of Chicago said the other night on The Charlie Rose Show that Canada had ‘washed its hands’ of Africa, when talking about the terrible genocide that is occuring there right now. If you are a bureaucrat reading this, just google Charlie Rose. You can download the episode for 99 cents. Please don’t waste my taxes by spending 100 times that amount ordering it from Bowdens.
If you want to do something about the Darfur atrocities, email your MP and tell him or her to put Canadian resources toward stopping what’s happening: something of the magnitude, it is reported, of what happened to the Jews during World War ll.
Think about this, as we happily watch our Ottawa Senators cruise their way toward the Stanley Cup.
Go here to learn more.
Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott read at the Blue Metropolis Writers Festival in Montreal several weeks ago. We talk here about England, parents, Ted Hughes, William Blake, combining painting and poetry, the sea, getting laid, and returning. Like most great men, Mr. Walcott is, in addition to being an articulate, moving communicator, humble and approachable.
Update: Re: Latest Oxford Bru ha ha: Listen for Walcott’s dignified response to my comment about poets being poets simply to get laid.
Copyright © 2006 by Nigel Beale.
Gill Coleridge is a partner with Rogers, Coleridge & White, one of the top literary agencies in the world. We spoke at the London Bookfair in March about how discounting squeezes authors; about the role of the literary agent, the championing of her stable of writers, her pick of England's hottest new literary talents (Peter Hobbs, Adam Thurwell, Phil Lamarsh, Louise Dean, Jim Younger), cakes and suicide. I refer to her being related at the end of the interview. Unfortunately it's not to me, but to Samuel Taylor. Copyright Â© 2006 by Nigel Beale.
This from The Onion:
Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That May As Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play
April 26, 2006 | Issue 42â€¢17
PARISâ€”Just weeks after the centennial of the birth of pioneering minimalist playwright Samuel Beckett, archivists analyzing papers from his Paris estate uncovered a small stack of blank paper that scholars are calling “the latest example of the late Irish-born writer’s genius.”
The 23 blank pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed sometime between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting For Godot, and a natural progression from his earlier works, including 1969′s Breath, a 30-second play with no characters, and 1972′s Not I, in which the only illuminated part of the stage is a floating mouth
..now that I think of it, I think I might have the manuscript of another undiscovered Beckett piece buried right here in my office…how on earth did it get all the way over here from Paris?