Sunday, March 18, 2018

Book of the Day: The British Thurber

Paul Jennings, Oddly Enough (Macmillan, 1st US printing, 1954). Hardcover, unclipped dustjacket, 175 pp. Light blue cloth boards cover with quarter-bound navy spine and edging. Debossed cover caricature of Jennings contemplating a bunch of grapes. Silver spine titling.  Other than slight chipping to the top and bottom of the dust jacket, a very good copy. HBB price: $25.

An accidental writer, Paul Francis Jennings (1918-1989) published his first piece, “Moses Was a Sanitary Engineer” during World War II and did turns in a government information office and an ad agency before becoming a fortnightly humor columnist for The Observer in 1949. His 700-word whimsies fell into the range of James Thurber/Robert Benchley-style humor: the bemused observer of a rather baffling, silly world and the language people use to get through it.

Jennings and Thurber actually had a mutual admiration society, a meeting of which Thurber described in a 1955 New Yorker account of a Jennings dinner party, “The Moribundant Life, Or, With Whom To Grow Old” (later collected in Alarms & Diversions, (1957).

Oddly Enough was the first of nineteen collections of Jennings columns; he wrote and/or edited another eighteen books, and published occasional pieces in all the leading UK magazines and papers throughout his five-decade career.

Here's the week's Rare Book Cafe-

This week in literary birthdays!

March 19:

Richard Burton (1821); Philip Roth (1933)

March 20:

Ovid (43 BC); John Boswell (1947)

March 21:

Phyllis McGinley (1905); World Poetry Day

March 22:

Randolph Caldecott (1846)

March 24:

Image result for gloria steinem

William Morris (1834); Malcolm Muggeridge (1903);  Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919); Gloria Steinem (1934)

March 25:

Flannery O'Connor (1925)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book of the Day: a real-world Indiana Jones

Leonard Clark, The Marching Wind, (Funk & Wagnalls, 1954, 1st ed. ). LOC 54-9738. Hardcover, no dust jacket. 368 pp. w/index. 8 pp. b&w photos, w/maps by Grace Jones from the author’s sketches. 9 x 6”, brown cloth boards quarter-bound in a lighter color cloth, black spine titling. Red spot color on the title page. Aside from some slight creasing at the bottom and top of the spine, the book is in very good condition. HBB price: $15.

Kirkus Reviews considered the work in 1954:

Again on the track of the controversial (The Rivers Ran East (1953) was in search of the legendary seven cities of Cibola) veteran explorer Clark's journal here follows the precarious trip from Hong Kong to the inner reaches of forbidden Tibet in search of the mysterious God-mountain range, the Amne Machen, allegedly higher than Everest. His first reports on this five months trek were greeted with incredulity by the press of this country; Life, October, 1949, openly doubted his claims that the Amne Machen peak, seen and estimated from a distance, was 28,000 feet high - -or higher than Everest. This book, which Clark did not intend to write, is an answer to some of the hostile ""legends"" which have grown up around the 1949 trip and admits that the measurements of the peak were made with outmoded instruments that could be wrong by as much as 2,500 feet -- one way or the other. Regardless of the argument about the peak, this is still an exciting account from its financing by Governor Ma Pu-fang to the time when they viewed the long-sought mountain range. Hunger, hostile tribesmen and a ""mauling"" wind often threatened to force the explorers to turn back and there were times when their goal seemed impossible of achievement. But they did get through, saw the mountain range, collected their specimens and data for use when development of the resources of this wasteland is called for and came home -- to disbelief. Much of the temper of the tribes who inhabit Tibet, ""citadel of isolation"" is revealed; the reporting is straightforward and credible; it's a frank, lively answer to a stay-at-home's wanderlust.

Born in 1908, Leonard Francis Clark attended the University of California before becoming an adventurer, aviator, mountain climber and fortune hunter in the 1930s- a cross between Richard Halliburton and Indiana Jones. Of his first book, A Wanderer Til I Die, (1937), one reviewer noted,

...this young American has adventure in his blood. From tiger and python hunting in China, to treasure hunting in Malaya, a camera expedition in Sumatra, Java, the Celebes, Japan, Borneo, Mexico's highest mountains and so on. The adventures themselves are so mad that the recounting of them seems sometimes not as spirited as it should be. His style is unpretentious, simple -- is it possible we miss the bombast of some fellow adventurers? Illustrated with photographs. For the armchair adventurer.

Another added,

And while his later travel accounts are better known, “A Wanderer Till I Die” is the book that sets the pace for Clark’s event-filled life. Though only twenty-six when the story opens, he’s already armed with a keen eye, a sense of humour, no regrets and his trusty Colt 45 pistol. Clark delights in telling his readers how he outsmarts warlords, avoids executioners, gambles with renegades and hangs out with an up and coming Communist leader named Mao Tse Tung. In a world with lax passport control, no airlines, and few rules, the young man from San Francisco floats effortlessly from one adventure to the next. When he’s not drinking whiskey at the Raffles Hotel or listening to the “St. Louis Blues” on the phonograph in the jungle, he’s searching for Malaysian treasure, being captured by Toradja head-hunters, interrogated by Japanese intelligence officers and lured into shady deals by European gun-runners. But he always comes out smiling, if still broke. For that’s the charm of A Wanderer Till I Die. Clark takes you on a tour of Asia, the “land of sweet sadness,” and doesn’t apologise for his views or actions. His lifestyle, like the world he inhabited, is a thing of the past. But if you crave the vicarious thrill of hunting tigers with a faulty rifle, or if you’ve ever fantasized about offering your services as a mercenary pilot to a warlord, only to discover that the man interviewing you is the wrong general, then this is the book for you. Amply illustrated, “A Wanderer Till I Die” leads you down the road to adventure with a man for whom no danger was too great to entice him to risk his life again and again.

When World War II broke out, Clark joined the US Army and made his way to the CIA’s predecessor, The Office of Strategic Services’ Detachment 101 (1942-1945) from Tibet through Burma, China, and Indochina on insurgent missions and behind-the-lines skulduggery.

After the war- the Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star to his name- Clark set off to find the South American Lost Cities of Gold (The Rivers Ran East, 1953, was the best-selling account he wrote of his  exploits with a University of Lima graduate-guide and a plucky, multilingual adventuress called Inez Pokorny). Undeterred by the brushback he got from Life magazine when he published what became The Marching Wind in 1949, he pushed out the expanded book form four years later. The Amne Machen peaks were a sort of mountaineering grail then: Wikipedia notes,

The first European to describe the mountain was the British explorer Brigadier-General George Pereira on his expedition on foot from Peking to Lhasa of 1921-2, sometimes reckoned one of the great geographical discoveries of the twentieth century. Pereira, who saw Amne Machin from about 70 miles away, thought its "height must be at least 25,000 feet [7,600 m], and might be anything; it dwarfed all other mountains near it."

However, the massif remained unclimbed until 1960. The Amne Machin mountains had been overflown by a few American pilots who overestimated the elevation to 30,000 feet (9,100 m). A 1930 article of the National Geographic estimated the peak elevation to 28,000 feet [8,500 m] according to the report of Joseph Rock, an American botanist and explorer who, despite death threats from the Golog Tibetans, had ventured to within 80 km of the mountain. For a while, the mountains were considered as a possible place for a peak higher than Mount Everest.

Today the consensus elevation is 20, 610 feet.

Clark died exploring for diamonds in Venezuela, a 49-year-old relic of the palmy days of the gentlemen-adventurers of the 1930s. In the field of travel writers and collectors, Clark remains a 20thC master.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Joy of Books, Scifi Division

Book of the Day: reflections by a former senator and presidential candidate

Dole auto.jpg

dole cover.jpg

For Women's History Month, Henry Bemis Books celebrates half of the other US team of married presidential candidates the Doles.

Heres a listing from the summer of 2016:

Henry Bemis’ second-day GOP Convention book pays tribute to the first husband-and-wife presidential team, Bob and Elizabeth Dole. Married forty years, the couple has seen Senator Bob Dole nominated for vice president in 1976; unsuccessful candidacies for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988, and his nomination for president in 1996, as well as Senator Elizabeth Dole’s unsuccessful run for the republican nomination in 2000.

Bob Dole, who turns 93 on July 22, is the only living Republican presidential nominee to attend this year’s party convention.

We are pleased to offer an autographed first edition of Elizabeth Dole’s collection of inspirations from a long career in public service:

Dole, Elizabeth, Hearts Touched With Fire: My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations (Carroll & Graf, 1st ed., 2004). Bon mots collected by the NC native, former senator, cabinet officer, presidential candidate and American Red Cross president over her long career in public service. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, almost fine condition, 8” x 6”. Autographed on the title page at a Salisbury NC bookstore, February 19, 2005. HBB price: $15.

#Elizabeth Dole #Autographs #FirstEditions #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

We missed you today on BookWeek!

Here's the link to today's BookWeek: Thursday in the sordid world of the rare and collectible: auctions- present and future- promise fortunes; author Sherman Alexie's #MeToo moment; the EU worries booksellers are terrorists' catspaws; and how fantasy author Terry Brooks' comic book collection got stolen. 

Book of the Day: A legendary event, from a legendary young adult series of books

Capt. Ted W. Lawson v/ Bob Considine, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Random House, Landmark Books Series, #35), 1953. Hardcover. Condition: Very Good. Lorence Bjorklund (illustrator). 186 pages, index, illustrated. Book in very nice condition. No dust jacket.  12 pp. of maps and b&w photos.

A first-hand account of the April 1942 Doolittle Raid over Tokyo: the secret preparation, the raid itself, and the almost unbelievable adventures of the airmen in the weeks that followed. Published in this edition for the tenth anniversary of the original book. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. HBB Price: $15.

A California native, Ted Lawson (1917-92) joined the Army Air Force in 1940. He showed promise right away, and in late 1941 was plucked out of his training for a secret mission: a reprisal air strike against Tokyo for Japan’s December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

Lawson’s story, written in a conversational style, opens,

I helped bomb Tokyo on the Doolittle raid of April 18. 1942. I crashed in the South China Sea. I learned the full, deep meaning of the term “United Nations” from the men and women whose language I couldn’t speak. I watched a buddy of mine saw off my left leg. And finally, I got home to my wife after being flown, shipped and carried around the world…

While Lawson recovered in Washington, he and Hearst journalist Bob Considine (1906-1975) conceived the idea for a book about the raid. They plotted it out over four nights and two days in a Washington hotel; after the text was cleared by security officials, it appeared in print in early 1943- first as a May through June serialization in Collier’s Magazine, then as a bestselling book. It spent six weeks on The New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list (in those days, only the top five were listed) in July and August 1943. Immediately optioned by Hollywood, it came out as a hit movie in 1944.

Lawson retired from the service in 1945 and worked as a military liaison for Reynold Metals. He later ran a machine shop in California and saw the airfield at Fort Benning, Georgia, named for him. 

While vacationing with his family on Cape Cod in 1948, publisher Bennet  Cerf went to buy a book about the Pilgrims for his young son. The proprietor of the local bookstore told Cerf that there were no juvenile books in print on that topic. Cerf thereupon decided to fill the gap. And fill it he did. In short order, James Daugherty, winner of the Newbery Medal, completed the book about the Pilgrims.

Cerf set the pattern for the series by persuading celebrated novelist Dorothy Canfield Fisher to write two of the early volumes—one on Paul Revere and the other called Our Independence and Constitution. Her name added a certain gravitas to a new series directed at teens, especially since rival series relied on professional children's book authors. Thirty-five out of the 114 writers were women, a high proportion for the day. (Many authors contributed more than one title.) Some of the books were biographies, and some were more traditional histories.

Not a single author was an academic. Cerf clearly preferred skilled wordsmiths, the more famous the better, who could engage a general audience. The early years of the series relied on such literati as war correspondent Quentin Reynolds, Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor, double Pulitzer Prize recipient Robert Penn Warren, and Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck. C. S. Forester, author of The African Queen and inventor of the Horatio Hornblower novels of adventure on the high seas, penned The Barbary Pirates for the series. Shirley Jackson, already famous for her short story "The Lottery," contributed The Witchcraft of Salem Village.

The books first sold for $1.50 (about $13.25 today)—not bad for a hardcover.  Random House wisely packaged them with inviting dust jackets for the general reader, and in reinforced bindings for libraries (often with the dust jacket image embossed on the front cover). The paper was of the highest quality: even today the pages haven't yellowed. All the books came in just under 200 pages, with a legible Caslon font, reasonably wide margins, and even comprehensive indexes. They were illustrated, then the norm for children's books. Each Landmark volume had about 10 one-color block prints, although in the 1960s photographs became more common. Cerf shrewdly linked them to the Book-of-the-Month Club: about 70,000 Young Readers of America, as they were called, received Landmark books on a regular basis, along with a "personal" letter from the author, inviting the reader to dive right in.

The sales figures for the series seem to be gone, but they were assuredly high. The authors apparently received 10 cents per copy as a royalty. Yet from this seemingly meager amount one former writer in the series, whom I interviewed, said that his book—certainly not one of the best sellers—earned him about $10,000 (about $80,000 today), meaning sales of about 100,000 copies. That many of the books overlapped with popular TV series—mostly westerns—boosted sales for the biographies of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Francis Marion (the "Swamp Fox"), Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Kit Carson. A prominent American historian recently told me he read the Davy Crockett biography wearing a coonskin cap popularized by TV series star Fess Parker.

The Landmark series embodied all the strengths and weaknesses of the period. Most of the books celebrated the achievements of white Protestant males, subscribed to the certainty of American exceptionalism, and upheld "the march of progress." Thus, we have books on the Wright brothers, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan, to pick from the list almost randomly. One or two of the books were explicitly racist. But many displayed a wonderful magnanimity of spirit—as, for example, in MacKinlay Kantor's capacious treatment of Lee and Grant's dramatic surrender ceremony at Appomattox. Moreover, the series included 15 books with female subjects, not the least of which was Women of Courage. Seven of the books dealt exclusively or largely with Native Americans, including sympathetic biographies of Geronimo and Sequoyah. And one of my personal favorites was George Washington Carver: it made me want to be a botanist.

If the titles from the 1950s focused mostly on colonial history, the American West, pirates, and inventors, the 1960s highlighted the events of World War II. Most of these were written by actual war correspondents, such as Bruce Bliven, Richard Tregaskis, and John Toland. In some instances, these were adult best sellers simplified for younger readers. William Shirer published his mammoth The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in 1960. The next year, his Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler appeared in the Landmark series.

Bennett Cerf had phoned Shirer, asking for the Landmark biography of Hitler. "It was not so easy as he assured me it would be. . . . How did you write for young people? You couldn't be condescending. You had to respect them. But you had to keep it simple enough for them to understand," Shirer recalled in his memoir A Native's Return. His comment goes to the heart of the success of the Landmark series. The authors had no in-house guide to follow, no formula for how many words of four syllables were allowed. Each author was given absolute freedom to craft the subject matter as he or she saw fit. Most took their task very seriously.

The authors had no in-house guide to follow, no formula for how many words of four syllables were allowed. Each was given absolute freedom.

Cerf's hunch was correct: for young readers it was more important to tell a good story and to tell it in a simple but urbane way. In that regard, it would be hard to find prose more challenging and engaging to a juvenile than Shirer's closing words: "The remembrance of the grisly world nightmare [Hitler] provoked, of the millions of innocent beings he slaughtered, of the hurt he did to the human spirit, lingers on. The memory fades but slowly as the years pass and mankind resumes its ages-old effort to make the world a more decent place in which to live."

The Landmark series has an afterlife. About ten of the titles have been reissued, but in paperback, with different illustrations, with the type completely reset and with tiny margins—noble, but altogether less inviting—by Sterling Point Books. And since so many copies of the original series were printed, they are still to be found in used bookstores and online, and are often employed in the curricula of home schoolers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Birthday: "There is no moral authority like that of sacrifice."


Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)
Author, political activist
Recipient, The Nobel Prize for Literature, 1991

Her parents were Jewish immigrants to South Africa. Her father, whose family had suffered in the tsarist pogroms, was resolutely apolitical. Her mother, whose family had not experienced such things, was an early civil rights advocate who ran a nursery for black children.

Home-schooled, Nadine Gordimer did a year in university, then moved to Johannesburg in 1948. She was a published writer from age fifteen; her short stories found a ready audience. Gordimer believed the short story the ideal form for the times, and produced 22 collections of them over her long career. Her first collection came out in 1949; two years later, The New Yorker published the first of many stories and introduced her to a worldwide audience.

A Gordimer story is one of ordinary people dealing with love and politics, for in South Africa after apartheid went into effect in 1948- everything was political. The 1956 arrest of Gordimer’s best friend in a roundup of anti-apartheid whites galvanized the writer, who joined the banned African National Congress. She became a confidante of Nelson Mandela; when he went on trial, he edited his “I Am Prepared to Die” closing speech to the court. Though she was not, she said, a particularly political person, her work had a profound effect on the politics of her country, and made hard reading for many of her countrymen.

Her positions posed real risks, and real consequences. She banned South African radio from airing her stories; objecting to the stranglehold the government had on media. There was no television there until 1976; Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd compared television with atomic bombs and poison gas, claiming that "they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical."

Dr. Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs at the time, said that TV would come to South Africa "over [his] dead body," denouncing it as "a miniature bioscope [cinema] over which parents would have no control." He also argued that "South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing, and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot."

The new medium was then regarded as the "devil's own box, for disseminating communism and immorality".

For its part, the government banned a number of Gordimer’s works; two of her novels were suppressed for over a decade. Her growing fame- she won the James Tait Black Prize in 1972; the Booker Prize in 1974, and the Rome Prize in 1984, insulated her from some of the government’s more draconian penalties. In contrast, Donald Woods, the editor who took up the murder of activist Steve Biko, was banned: forbidden to write, or even sit in the same room with more than one person aside from his family, and eventually fled the country. Gordimer's South African audience was small, but in the world outside, it was enormous.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990; one of the first people he sought out was Gordimer. Her Nobel Prize the following year secured her reputation as an anti-apartheid leader, and the system was dismantled after Mandela’s election to the South African presidency in 1994.

The great cause won, Gordimer turned her attention to combating HIV/AIDS, then sweeping the African continent, while continuing to publish. Her output included fifteen novels, 22 short story collections, and six collections of essays.

So firm were her views on discrimination, Gordimer declined nomination for The Orange Prize because it was only awarded to women. She died in her sleep, aged 90, in 2014. “She wrote the social history of our nation,” one obituarist wrote. “Through her writing and choices of subject, she strengthened the forces of resistance to apartheid and continued to speak  out against any form of  official censorship.”

#HenryBemisBooks #LiteraryBirthdays

Today's Great Woman Author