Meetings with Remarkable Books: Madame Blavatsky

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Well, such a series would be sorely lacking if we didn’t have an appearance from Madame Helena Blavatsky. The world-traveling polymath of the occult, Madame Blavatsky has had a huge influence on spiritualism. She was central to the burgeoning interest in spiritualism and the occult beginning in the nineteenth century.  After traveling the world, with classic stops in places like Tibet, Egypt and Greece she began setting up various organizations. Most notably, in 1875 Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in New York City with Henry Steel Olcott and William Judge. Soon after she completed some of her most famous work, including The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled both pictured below.

 

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She also ended up with American citizenship, so feel free to celebrate her this weekend. Also look at those beautiful volumes above. They’re also red white and blue! Who knew that a Russian spiritualist could make one feel so patriotic?

Curios: The Gay-Cat

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One of the great, forgotten American road novels, The Gay-Cat: The Story of a Road-Kid and his Dog, is a wonderful example of how a somewhat heavy handed use of vernacular can make a book seem quite different when that vernacular falls into disuse. “A Gay-cat,” according to the book, which thankfully gives a definition a few pages in, is “the scorn of hoboes. He is a fake hobo. He lacks altogether the qualities of a blown-in-the-glass stiff. He will “peach” on his mates.” It goes on in similar fashion, though “peach” could perhaps use a definition.

The book is filled with hard talking hobos, using all sorts of slang. It feels at times a little stilted but then, I am no expert on hobo slang of the early twentieth century, so who knows. I think maybe a dog that the “Road-kid” meets early on is later named Gay-cat, though that seems a little mean given the definition. Either way, the book is filled with great moments of historical interest. A previous owner has written, in pencil, on the front free end-paper a sort of reference page that gives a glimpse of both an unfortunate use of racial epithets among all the other slang, and a concern with labor issues. The first reference labor issues is on page 70 and concerns the importation of cheap labor for work as laborers on a farm, and a fairly astute criticism of the practice. Pages 192-194 concern the I.W.W., while pages 284-286 concern Japanese farm laborers in California. The road-kid is from Grass Valley, a small mining town here in California, not far from San Francisco, and the book takes place largely in California.

“Gaycat, someday when we get tired a bein boes, we’ll go home; back to grass valley and my ma.” Reads the caption.

“Gaycat, someday when we get tired a bein boes, we’ll go home; back to grass valley and my ma.” Reads the caption.

You can come down to the store and check out this and other wonderful titles, or you can find it online, through Abe Books, here.

 

Curios: Cruisers of the Air

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Remember when the majestic airship ZRS-4 was still a rumor? When three days of ponderous air travel across the Atlantic meant a bar with only German cocktails and a strangely lax smoking policy? Those were the good old days of airstrip travel, before the terrible, and almost inevitable Hindenburg disaster turned lighter than air craft into a forgotten dream, a bad idea and a Led Zeppelin album cover. Well we here at Bibliohead don’t exactly remember those days either, but thanks to this great new arrival, Cruisers of the Air by C.J. Hylander, those heady days need not be forgotten.

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This is a really beautiful book with line drawings of airship designs throughout history and diagrams of (once) future behemoths. Published in 1931, six years before the Hindenburg disaster contributed to a general hesitancy over traveling in a bag filled with highly flammable gas, this book chronicles the entire history of the airship, from Roger Bacon’s fantasies to the giants of the nineteen thirties. It is also filled with beautiful line drawings.

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The book itself is also quite beautiful and in great condition. The typeface on the front board is perfect, particularly the u, and this amazing Macmillan logo is also a bit of wonderful. These are some of the best examples of design in the 1930s on a book about one of the worst designs.

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Though I honestly wouldn’t mind traveling around in a big airship if the whole flammable thing were resolved. Come check us out and learn about the wonderful world of lighter than air travel and more.

Curios: Visionaire and Flair

Visionaire is a magazine that really challenges the digitization of all media. Begun in 1991, this super hip fashion magazine is published three times a year with a unique format and theme. Issue 26, Fantasy is currently on the shelves here at Bibliohead, and it features round pages loose in a box, and to add to the sense of mystery and fantasy, it includes this mask by Hermes.

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Visionaire really pushes the magazine format and reminds us that the tactile object is such a different experience than the abstracted content one may come across on the screen. So, don’t trust the pictures alone, come down to Bibliohead and check it out for yourself.

Visionaire 26

Visionaire 26

Visionaire is not the only innovative fashion magazine to grace the humble shelves of Bibliohead. A true great in the realm of fashion magazines, or magazines generally is the unfortunately short-lived Flair.

Flair

 

Flair was started in 1950 by Fleur Cowles. Like Visionaire forty years later, Flair featured some great experimentation with the form of the magazine. For instance, the issue from May 1960, which is currently at Bibliohead, features a die cut cover and a tipped in, staple bound booklet on Roses by Katherine Anne Porter. Innovative, but costly production of this sort helped lead to the regrettable demise of this magazine, but it was really a great thing while it lasted. Besides great fashion from the 1950’s Flair featured fantastic, well curated content from artists and writers. This issue features work by Theodore Roethke, a review of the then current work of Christopher Fry, in which a young Richard Burton is pictured as a “newcomer to win notable attention in Fry’s plays” the aforementioned Katherine Anne Porter piece and of course great fashion from 1950. Come down and check it out along with our other great fashion and art books!


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Curios: Scouts in Bondage & How to Change Your Face

I promise it isn’t what you think. But what you’re thinking is why Scouts in Bondage is the cover image and borrowed title of this particular book. The full title might help make a little more sense of things: Scouts in Bondage, and Other Violations of Literary Propriety.

This amusing little survey presents a variety of books that one English bookseller named Michael Bell collected during his years in the business.  The titles range from how-to manuals to kids’ books. All of his specimens were published before World War II, and that’s the source of much of the mirth to be found here: most of these books suffer from the drift of slang, unintended double entendres, and the more prurient eye with which we read such once-innocent titles. Witness The Captain’s Bunk: A Story for Boys written by M. B. Manwell and published by the Religious Tract Society, or The Danger of Cruising, a book of poems by Charles Sutton published in 1937.

But there are also tiles which are simply, unaccountably odd, like How to Recognise Leprosy, A Popular Guide.

How to Recognise Leprosy (from Scouts in Bondage)

Anyone in bookselling for long enough will come across such odd titles. The introduction to Bell’s selection explains that he put these titles in the window of his shop to attract amused attention, and thus, I would imagine, foot traffic. We use our windows for more thematic displays, but since Bell’s shop window isn’t too far off from our Curios selection, I thought I would make a contribution of our own.

And without further ado, this is How To Change Your Face, by Edward Laidrich. It contains “a course divided into 14 lessons for the scientific study of character and emotional habits represented by each separate facial feature.” It seems to be a guide to a sort of phrenology of the face. The back page’s quick-reference diagram of the whole face explains that the upper lip is expressive of “sexual vitality,” for instance.

How to Change Your FaceSince these are the type of books better seen than described, I’ll let you come by and explore for yourself.  Stop by and ferret out some amusing curios of your own in our antiquarian sections.


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Curios: What You’re Going to Do Tonight

Tomorrow morning you’re going to trip and fall into a wormhole that drops you into the evening gala for the New Orleans Opera Association at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. Since you’re a dot-com billionaire hipster who wears nothing but vintage tuxes all day, every day—and aren’t you glad of it now!—no one’s giving you funny looks when you, looking very, very confused, stumble out from behind a large fern beside the punch table. Lots of people look very confused at opera galas, after all.

“But wait,” you say to yourself, being the New Orleans history buff that you are, “this Auditorium’s been closed since Hurricane Katrina flooded it in 2005,” as you hear the gentle sound of Frank Sinatra singing “Moon River” drift from the radio and a couple dances by you, and you realize that a couple just danced by you to Frank Sinatra and—holy moly it’s 1964.

The 1964 Social Register of New Orleans

Luckily you spent tonight perusing the 1964 Social Register of New Orleans at Bibliohead Bookstore, all the way across the country in San Francisco, so you’re well-prepared to face this crowd on such a pleasant—uh…morning? evening?  Either way, you know where just about every single person in this room went to high shool and college and what social clubs they currently belong to. You even read the entire index of women listed by their maiden names, so you can pretend to ask how your old classmate from the University of Baltimore, Emily Feth is, and then correct yourself, “I mean Emily Hibler, of course! Silly me. I went to her wedding!” Luckily you also have a photographic memory.

Isn’t it great to be you?

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Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Curios: Two Ace Editions of Novels by Shirley Jackson

This Curios post is prompted by the confluent arrival of two books related to two things I am fond of: pulp pocket editions and Shirley Jackson.

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These are Ace pocket editions of Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman and The Sundial. You probably know Ace, whether you know you do or not, and you probably know Shirley Jackson, whether you know you do or not. And if you don’t, I’m here to tell you you should.

Ace is a long-running publisher of sci-fi, fantasy, and dozens of other genres; one of many publishers, like Dell and Avon, of those cheap, thin paperbacks you’ve passed over in thrift stores and that most used bookstores (including us) have a box or two of somewhere.  But Ace also published books that were just too racy or out-there for their times. They were the first to publish William Gibson’s Neuromancer, for example, and William S. Burroughs’s first publication, Junkie, was an Ace Double, a format that packaged two novels in one so that each side of the wraps was the cover of one of the novels. Their reputation was for publishing books that were considered trash, but in doing so they managed to rack up a remarkable list of quality authors and novels that more reputable publishers just wouldn’t touch (but they also published a lot of trash).

One of their other genre specialties was gothic or horror novels. And that’s why you may know Shirley Jackson, as well as why Ace published her. At some point in high school or college you probably had to read her short story, “The Lottery,” about a small town that performs a horrifying ritual sacrifice each year. If you didn’t have to read it in high school, here’s an MP3 of actress Maureen Stapleton reading the story. Many of her novels and stories have a grisly or gruesome plot point, like collective, ritual murder, though she manages them with a remarkable subtlety that is all the more disturbing for being so. You may also have seen one of my favorite movies, The Haunting, based on her novel, The Haunting of Hill House. The 1963 film was directed by Robert Wise, who also directed The Sound of Music and West Side Story, among other things. (Run with all speed from the terrible remake from the late 90s, also called The Haunting.)

We have some of Jackson’s other works on the shelves at Bibliohead, so even if you couldn’t care less about vintage pulp editions, you should stop by and give Mrs. Jackson a shot. Let Jonathan Lethem convince you, if I haven’t.

(Thanks for the page on the Ace Double version of Junkie goes to RealityStudio.org, an unbelievably useful, helpful, and friendly resource for all sating all your William S. Burroughs cravings.)


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Curio: What are the Seven Wonders of the World?

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What are the Seven Wonders of the World? by Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish

This neat volume is a slip-cased edition by the Folio Society of a popular trivia book. This particular edition is beautifully produced, as you can see from the pictures, with an attractive hardcover binding, gilt lettering on the spine, and the addition of intriguing black-and-white illustrations by Richard Beards throughout the text (the one in the picture below is an illustration for the question “What were the 4 chief winds of Greece?”). Each section features several questions related to a single number, such as:

• Who were the 3 sons of Noah?
• What are the 4 voyages of Lemuel Gulliver?
• What are the 5 pillars of Islam?
• What are the 6 flavors of quarks?
• Where do the English names of the 7 days of the week come from?

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And so it goes, on to 12.


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Curio: The Arts at Black Mountain College

The Arts at Black Mountain College, by Mary Emma Harris

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Black Mountain College is legendary, and with good reason. The roster of teachers and students is a veritable checklist of The Major Names in mid-20th Century American Art. And if you were looking for that roster, you’d find it in this book, starting on page 263: a complete list of everyone who taught or attended at Black Mountain. A history of the college and it’s ideals, the book is chock full of illustrations—candid photographs of authors and artists, paintings, behind-the-scenes snapshots—and even includes an unbelievable bibliography of books published about the college, by the college, and by its faculty and students (even including books not associated with the college).


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Searching for Bobu Diran; or, Bob Dylan’s 115th Japanese Nightmare

Words by Bob Dylan/ボブ・ディラン全詩集We all know this: the internet is an enlightening, informative resource. Except when it infuriatingly isn’t, of course. A good number of collectible, obscure, or just plain peculiar books come across our counter at Bibliohead, and while we use this wide web to sell some of our books online, we also use it to find out more about them (especially those peculiar ones): How rare is this book? What about this particular edition of it? Are some editions worth more than others? Has anybody else even seen a copy of this self-published comic that is so bizarrely hilarious and almost nonexistent online that you almost want to keep it all for yourself and not bother figuring out what it’s worth?

Some esoteric aberrations are the sole foundation for identifying the collectability of a book; typos, for example, are frequently the means by which a true first edition, first printing is differentiated from later printings that appear to be firsts in all other respects — and as you can imagine, the internet is a great place for finding out that if the 9th line of page 47 begins “the bnad” instead of “the band,” then you have something exceedingly rare in your hands.

But sometimes you can barely find a stitch of information about a book, and Google becomes a nightmarish maze of half information, incomplete clues, endless circles and dead ends. Take this book, for example: a bilingual, two-volume collection of the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s first ten albums, containing the English lyrics in one volume and Japanese translations of them in the other.

Words by Bob Dylan/ボブ・ディラン全詩集

It’s on WorldCat.org. And that’s about it, in English at least. But you follow a breadcrumb here to a Japanese fan page there, and you surmise that a certain set of kanji must be the title, so you work with that for a while (even though you don’t know any Japanese and you’re not even sure it’s right to call those kanji), then you chucklingly puzzle your way through Google Translate versions of a dozen or so pages, where you discover that apparently the kanji for “Bob Dylan” is transliterated back to English as “Bobu Diran”… And eventually you get an idea of how rare the book is.

However difficult it is to track down, though, it’s a neat book, so we thought you might like some pictures.

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The free endpapers of each volume look like typewritten pages of the English lyrics, and each volume has its own design elements. The Japanese volume has Dylan’s line drawings scattered throughout. The English volume has contrasting page designs with tracklists between each set of lyrics, and some sections also include writings not from the album itself, such as early versions of songs or other—I assume contemporaneous—poems.

If it does nothing else, it ought to make you unbearably curious how someone translated “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.